Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Gifts

Oh wow......what a difference a year makes.....a year of therapy, a year of hard work, a year of filling my head with all I can about autism, a year of praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life, a year of extreme highs & lows........a year since one of the hardest Christmas seasons I have experienced. Not being able to see Santa, not being able to participate in Christmas parties, not being able to put up all my Christmas decorations, not being able to enjoy watching Ethan in his Christmas program.....all because it was too hard on Ethan....which broke my heart. One of the greatest times of the year, and we couldn't participate in most of the activities......and I wondered if we ever would be able to............

BUT....WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES!!!!!!!!!!!!

This Christmas season has been the BEST! I knew that this time was going to be different when we brought out our first decoration.....Ethan's little Christmas tree. He was SOOOOO excited! He LOVED the lights on it....he kept turning off the lights in the living room, and saying, "Oooooo! Look at the beautiful lights!" Then, he would turn the lights back on and energetically inform us that it was now sunny! LOL! I then pulled out a bunch of plastic candy canes, and I showed him how to hang them on his tree. He thought that was so much fun....and he hung the rest of the candy canes all by himself....and then the rest of our ornaments. That night, my hope was restored.....maybe we could do a little more this Christmas than we did last year? So, because of last year's difficult Christmas season, we have gone a little over-the-top this year...and we are ALL enjoying every minute of it!!!! These are some of my favorite things that we have been able to do this Christmas season....Ethan's Christmas gifts to me.....

Building with Daddy

1. Being able to participate in group Christmas activities - I have already talked about Breakfast at the Manger as well as Ethan's church Christmas program. However, his AMAZING school held 2 different events that the parents were able to attend with their child....and I was privileged to attend both of them! One Friday, the entire school participated in a Winter-Themed Activity Day. It was AWESOME, and so well planned out...which of course I love. We started out in the gym & participated in different stations at our leisure. Ethan first started by wanting to play with the big building blocks. This was my first GIFT from Ethan. When we went to Easter Seals, one of the questions they asked us....and we had been asked many times before by other professionals....was "How many blocks can he stack?" A developmental milestone....to which my response was.......I don't know. He would NEVER want to stack/play blocks with me. So, when he said, "Mommy to play blocks with you"......I really had to fight back tears. It was the perfect gift.

Ethan & I doing a cake walk...standing right next to the music!
Ethan getting the hang of the parachute game
After awhile, though, I wanted to see what else Ethan would enjoy, so we moved on to the other stations. GUESS WHAT!!!???? He participated in a cake walk! We did a cake walk at my niece's birthday party in October of this year, and that caused him great anxiety....which led to us needing to leave the party early. However, he did the cake walk at school like it was no big deal! LESS THAN 2 MONTHS LATER!!!!! I was over the moon! Soooo happy for him!!!!!!!!! Another GIFT! We did several other stations, but the best for Ethan was the parachute station. The brightly colored parachute made Ethan a little nervous....he liked it laying on the floor but when the kids picked it up & made it go up&down....his anxiety started to rise, and he backed away. So I went over to help him & show him how to play with the parachute with the other kids.......and he loved it! He kept wanting to go play with it!


2. Visiting Santa - Next, we left the gym & moved into the classrooms.....where we did a craft, had a snack, and saw Santa Claus. Did you catch that?! We saw SANTA!!!!!! And Ethan was sooo excited....he kept giggling. In fact, he didn't wait for Santa to call him up to see him....Ethan just went right on up! Santa's belt buckle said "SANTA", so of course Ethan loved that....since he can READ!....amazing. He also like the big basket of candy canes that Santa had.....he even tried to sneak an extra one! LOVE!!!!! Another GIFT!!!!!!!



Ethan eating a gingerbread cookie
3. Typical behavior - This past Tuesday, Ethan & I were able to sneak away from our toilet training zone in order to attend his preschool's class Christmas party. It was a gingerbread theme.....and the cutest thing I have ever seen!!! As a teacher, I was soaking up all the things in the classroom & thanking God that Ethan was blessed to be in this particular room....a general education room with amazing teachers who are so creative, talented, and loving. But as Ethan's mom, I was overwhelmed with joy as I looked around the room at the other students, teachers, and parents. As I watched Ethan listen to the story & participate in the party activities, I realized that he doesn't stand out in ways that he used to....spinning, screaming, meltdowns, etc. He was sitting VERY well on the carpet....without any support aids. He needed help with directions, but so did the other kiddos....and so did the kids that I taught & they were older! In fact, I want to say that if you didn't know that Ethan had autism, you wouldn't have known it during this Christmas party. Such a huge difference from last year's Christmas party. This was a BIG GIFT to his mommy!!!!!

4. Crafts - As part of our 25 Days of Christmas, we made our gift bags this year. I love crafting, and one of my favorite things to do with Ethan is make a craft using his little hand. I have done several hand print gifts over the last couple of years, but this year we painted his hand green & place it upside down on the natural colored gift bag. When it dried, we added a star on top (I glued & Ethan placed the star), and we colored a brown base....making it into a Christmas tree. What was this gift? Every time I do a hand print craft with Ethan, he has a difficult time. He didn't like the "messiness" of it....and he gets that from me. He would also keep his hands closed, so we could only do a few at a time....a little bit each day. THIS TIME!? I did hand-over-hand with him on the first one, then he pulled his hand away from me & said, "Ethan do it?".....WHAT!? I was sooooooooooo excited! And he did a GREAT job! All I did was put the gift bag in front of him, but he did the rest! YEA!!!!!!!! GIFT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brown Sugar Vanilla Body Scrub
 5. Cooking - Awhile back, I talked about how Ethan will not cook with me after a loud blender episode. However, since that post, my husband has taken this almost as a personal challenge....to get Ethan to help in the kitchen. My husband & I share the cooking responsibility but he is DEFINITELY the cook in the family. I do not enjoy it in the slightest....unless it's somehow creative or crafty....like cutting shapes out of cookie dough or something. So, I'm happy to announce, that Ethan & Corey have been cooking in the kitchen together! The secret???? Have Ethan read the recipe card! It still amazes me that he can read as well as he can, but we will use this super-power to help him with his other sensitivities. However, Ethan still won't cook with me.....LOL! So, when it came time to making our teacher's their Christmas gifts (a homemade body scrub), I wasn't sure how much Ethan would want to help....because it involved using the Kitchen Aid mixer.....a "loud" appliance. He was happy to measure & dump ingredients into the bowl....and I was overjoyed with just that! My boy was helping me in the kitchen! YEA!!!! Then, similar to the vacuum & hair dryer, I warned him that the noise was coming. He left the kitchen, covered his ears, and counted to three.....all on his own.....great coping skills, Ethan!!!! So, I turned it on, but on the lowest setting. Long story short, by the end of the day, he was staying in the kitchen AND turning the mixer on/off....even up to the #4 setting! YEA!!!! Yet another AMAZING Christmas GIFT!!!!!!

Ethan's room & his Christmas decorations
6. General - Overall, this Christmas season is so different from last year in a great way. I was able to put out ALL of my Christmas decorations, and it hasn't overwhelmed him. We were able to do all of the 25 Days of Christmas, and he has really enjoyed doing all of the activities. He wrote his name on the gift tags, LOVED putting them on the presents, has enjoyed shopping for gifts for others (as long as he goes  home with a little toy too), is singing Christmas songs, reads the incoming Christmas cards, and really has loved giving gifts to others.

Over the last couple of months, I have really noticed big changes in Ethan. He is present. And he is present this Christmas. He is becoming aware of others, and not only himself. He is learning about Christmas & our beliefs/traditions, and not just playing with toys all alone. He is looking outside the window at the Christmas lights, singing Christmas songs, and participating in activities. And my heart is so full of joy. Ethan is doing so well, and that is the best gift for this proud mama.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Officially Toilet Training!!!!!

Well, today is Day 2 of re-trying to toilet train our 3 1/2 year old Ethan. We tried off & on this past summer, stopping when it became too frustrating for Ethan & trying again after some time had passed. Then, when Ethan started daily preschool this year, we put him in a pull-up for school since he wasn't yet toilet trained. For awhile, I would change him into underwear when he came home from school, but with him occasionally napping....and needing a pull-up for that as well, I think it was just too confusing for him.

So, now that he is showing REAL interest in toilet training, I was concerned about putting him back in pull-ups & causing this confusion all over again. Plus, he WANTS to wear underwear....and hates putting the pull-ups back on for bedtime. I am SOOOO thankful for this "change of heart" that he has had about using the toilet. Yesterday, I contacted Ethan's preschool teacher, and we both agreed that it would be best for Ethan to stay at home & focus on toilet training. There are only 5 days of school until Christmas vacation, and we are still hoping to go for his class Christmas party next week...so he will only be missing 4 days. We both felt like we should take advantage of this timing as well as his interest. Have I mentioned that I LOVE Ethan's school????!!!!!

Ethan has been awake for 3 hours now, and we haven't had any accidents. I talked with my sister this morning when she dropped off her kids at my house, and asked her about her experience toilet training her son. I was concerned because Ethan doesn't EVER say he has to go to the bathroom or use the bathroom on his own. She told me that her son did the same thing. She assured me that he will get the hang of it over time.....I just need to be consistent and positive. Awhile ago she bought Ethan a potty watch for him, and we started using it today. I take him to the bathroom every 45 minutes, and we haven't had an accident yet today! YEA!

I am doing a couple of things differently....besides using the potty watch. The first thing I am doing differently is not asking him if he has to go potty.....I am just telling & taking him....every 45 minutes. Eventually, I am hoping to extend this to an hour & maybe longer. The second thing I am doing differently is letting Ethan take the lead. He is REALLY into his picture sequence strip that my friend Jenny made for us. I had to tailor it a little bit.....like adding the words "in the toilet" after the words "go potty".....that was a messy lesson! HA! He is really relying on this support aid, and I am letting him. I have to learn to let him do it on his own. I have to learn to take out my voice/support as he becomes more independent. I have to learn to let him struggle with pulling up his underwear & not step in to help......even though it is very hard for me. But each time, he gets better & better....faster & faster....looks at the picture less & less. In fact, the last time I took him to the bathroom, I literally did nothing except get down the jar of jelly beans for his reward. I said nothing....I just was there in case he needed help, got stuck on the steps or got frustrated with it......and he did great!!!!

I am so glad he is showing initiative! It's so similar to when we taught him to drink out of a straw. We tried & tried to get him to do this...in our eyes....simple thing. Grandma Holly even tried her trick that helped Ethan's cousins "get" it.....but nothing was working. Not that that is a crucial thing for him to learn, but I felt like he was old enough to be out of the sippy cups & into older kid cups....a lot which contain a straw. And then, one day, after weeks of us not trying....we were at a restaurant....and he reached over for his drink & drank it out of the straw! As if it was something he had been doing all along!

I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO excited about this! I am really hoping he gets it this time. I know accidents will happen, but the fact that he is interested in learning & doing it is a HUGE benefit!

Last night, I was telling Ethan that IF he laid in the bed to sleep, THEN he needed to wear a pull-up, and it is okay to do that....he is still a big boy. After he reluctantly let me put it on him, he walked over to his dresser & pulled out a pair of underwear. Corey & I were so excited that we couldn't help but laugh. Corey explained that after he woke up in the morning, then he could wear his big boy underwear. They laid them in a special place in Ethan's room, and Ethan climbed into bed.....repeating what Corey had told him. When I went into Ethan's room to get him up for the day, the first thing he said was, "Go potty & put on underwear"....and that's exactly what he did! He grabbed his laid out underwear & RAN to the bathroom. By the time I caught up with him with his clothes for the day, he was already well into the sequence of pottying. YEA!!!!!! THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(PS.....I would put him in underwear at night time IF he was dry in the morning.....but he NEVER is......his pull-up is very full....so we will work on that later......)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Update to my update....toilet training

You will never believe this......

So, if you remember yesterday, I decided to NOT toilet train Ethan during Christmas vacation, and, instead, work on his independent skills.......brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc. My mind was made up, and I was already starting to plan my next steps......

And then came last night......

After his bath last night, he seemed to be feeling more like himself. He hasn't been feeling well this week. I think he has a stomach bug or something.....not really been himself this week....LOTS of whining & crying. But after his bath, I thought he seemed to be in the clear because he was is such a great mood. As I was starting to get him dressed, he said, "Big boy underwear?".......

Are you kidding me.

So after I asked him several times, in different ways, I was assured that he did indeed want to wear big boy underwear. I explained over & over....IF you wear big boy underwear, THEN you go pee in the toilet. IF you wear a diaper, THEN you pee in your diaper. What do you want to do?.......Big boy underwear.

And here it is.....9:15am......no accidents & he is wearing big boy underwear that he asked for again this morning. I have pulled out all the of the potty training aids, and he is actually enjoying them....his picture strip that helps him learn the sequence, the potty books, etc. He is running a fever again, so he will be at home with me today....which I guess is good, so I can continue to monitor his pottying.....but this is crazy! I JUST decided yesterday that we would put it off a little longer!

OK......I am deciding that I don't want to be a millionaire. :0)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

List Update!

Last week, I made Ethan a 25 Days of Christmas Chain, and he was wanting to open all of them at once. So, in order to help him understand "tomorrow", we made a quick "order of events" list that helped him know when it was time to open another chain link. This was about a week ago.....and he already is independent from this list!

I have noticed that the last couple of days, he hasn't looked at the list in the morning. However, when I pick him up from school, he says, "Step one complete! Step two....come home." This has shown me that in less than a week, he no longer is relying on reading his list. He has already learned the steps....what comes next.....and that is the ultimate goal for any of these step-by-step lists.....to learn/understand the sequence & no longer need the visual/audible support. I'm so excited to see that Ethan is already independent of this list.

So....this is giving me an idea. During Christmas vacation, I was considering trying the potty training thing again. But he is still being very adamant about not using the toilet.....I think I tried it too early & he has bad feelings about it or something. A couple of weeks ago, I quit everything related to potty training because he was holding it in....and we had to intervene medically....yikes. So, listening to my instincts & others' advice, we have backed off completely.

But....there are some other things that we could really focus on during Christmas vacation. And since my husband home for a week as well, this would be a perfect time to work on some things. So....I am planning on working on some of Ethan's independent skills.....getting dressed, brushing his teeth, eating, and so on. I have been doing all of these by giving Ethan the step-by-step instructions verbally. I tried the picture sequencing thing but that didn't do the trick, so I have continued to do it verbally. BUT....he responded so well to the list that I want to try it with these other skills as well. So.....stay tuned......more lists will be coming soon!!!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!

If you've ever read the book or watched the movie of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, this may be a familiar to you.....

...All the Who girls and boys
Would wake bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That's one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!.......

Well, I can relate to Mr. Grinch's point on some level. Although my Ethan is not much on talking, he does not lack for making noise! In the last couple of weeks, I have realized just how much noise he makes!!!!

Most of my understanding of Ethan & his character/personality comes through observations. He can't communicate very well with his speech. Most of his vocabulary is canned phrases that we have practiced with him over & over again until he understands them. Then, he is usually able to do what they call "generalize" these phrases. For example, we worked very hard on "I want a drink, please." Before this, he would just bring us his sippy cup & shove it in our hands. Once he understood that if he needed something, he needed to use his words & ask us, he was able to carry this phrase into other parts of his life as well.....generalizing. Almost a year later, and he still uses this coined phrase......"I want help, please. I want to go to Steak-n-Shake, please. I want to stay home with Daddy, please." He has built onto it, but the same format is still used.

So, if I ask Ethan a question that we haven't worked on, he won't know the answer & he doesn't respond at all. Like today, I asked him, "Who gave you the Santa stamp on your hand?" He answered me with a teacher's name. Then, I said, "What did you do to earn a stamp?" And there was silence. This isn't a question that we have done before.....we have really been focusing on "who?" questions lately. This is why I must use my observation for most of my Ethan information. (And I think a lot of us use observation to learn about each other....autism or not.)

Anyway, back to the noise.....even though Ethan doesn't talk a lot.....that doesn't mean he is a quiet child. My house has noise going constantly! Any toy that makes any kind of noise at all, Ethan loves. And he will play it over & over & over again until the batteries wear out. BUT!!! It's never just one toy....it's usually THREE toys! And, he kind of acts like a DJ with turn tables....when one of the toys stops making the sound, he will immediately go to it & "fix" it so the noise starts again. Last week, his top three toys to play with AT THE SAME TIME were his Shake-n-Go cars, Playhouse Disney's new holiday online games, and a Musical Winnie the Pooh electronic-type game. Now, you may ask, why don't you turn one of them off or take one of them away. Well....that is something that I have tried! But, guess what happens! He will find ANOTHER toy that makes noise. And if he can't find a toy, he will make his own noise.

This past weekend, I was watching him play cars. This means he lines up his Hot Wheel cars one at a time on our big window sill. I was impressed because the only noise that was going on in the house was coming from the TV that Corey & I were watching. However, as I continued to watch Ethan, I noticed that he WAS making noise.....he was making cars sounds. But....these car sounds, I noticed, had a certain pattern or rhythm to them. Then, it finally dawned on me....instead of humming the song, he was making car sounds to the tune of the Menard's jingle. So funny! And right now, as I am typing this entry, Ethan is playing with a gears toy that makes music & turns gears, a musical, dancing Christmas chicken dressed as a reindeer, and a musical penguin that makes noise when you push him over & he pops back up. Nothing else is on....no TV or music. But this is one of the two times during the day that we "allow" Ethan his down time (after school & lunch), and so I just sit here listening to the Ethan symphony.

So, maybe I shouldn't be too hard on the Grinch.....I kinda get it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Chain

I am a list-maker. I have them all over the house. I have a running Grocery List, a Weekly Dinner Plan List, a "To-Do" List, and a Weekly Expenses Accrued List. And now that it's the Christmas season, I have Christmas lists.....those for whom I wish to buy things for, things Ethan would like to have/need, things I would like to have/need, Christmas card list and so on. So.....what's a few more lists........

Recently, my girl friends and I have been thinking of doing Random Acts Of Christmas Kindness with our children. Now that our kids are getting older & more aware of Christmas, we want to teach them, not only the real meaning of Christmas, but also about giving to others...not getting for ourselves.

So, what did I do? I MADE A LIST!!!!! LOL!!!!! I made a list of 25 days of Random Acts of Kindness. Then, when I talked it over with my husband, we realized that it was going to be a bit too expensive for us to do something everyday for 25 days......so I MADE ANOTHER LIST! We listed everything that we already had on our calendar, then things we wanted to do with Ethan during the Christmas season, added our favorite Random Acts of Christmas Kindness ideas, and then filled in the gaps with little fun things for Ethan. When we finally had a good balance of each thing, I made a simple construction paper chain....and Ethan gets to rip off one chain a day.....and we do that activity.

Here is our 25 days of Christmas paper chain. As of today, we are on day 8.
As you can see.....there is also a list beside the paper chain. This list is actually NOT for me. It is for Ethan. While learning about autism, we have discovered that having a visual schedule could help Ethan. We have had several of them, but they have all included pictures AND words.  But this visual list, does NOT have any pictures on it?! And here begins my learning experience this week........

When I introduced our 25 Days of Christmas Chain to Ethan, he LOVED it....and wanted to do more than one link a day. We would rip a paper link off, do that activity, and then Ethan would say, "NOW we can do another color." I kept telling him we would do another one tomorrow.....but he kept asking. This went on for a couple of days, and it would always lead to a very frustrated Ethan. But how do you explain a concept like "tomorrow" to a 3 year-old.....I was thinking about ditching the whole thing.

But then something happened. This past Monday morning, as most Mondays go, it was chaos when trying to get me & the 3 kids out the door for school. I forgot at least 3 things....arg. So, Tuesday morning, I grabbed my Crayola Window Markers (which also work on mirrors), and I made a quick list on my entryway mirror.


Yet another list in my house, but the kids are the ones who are enjoying it the most! And, yes, my coffee is that important! LOL!
After I made a quick list, with the help of my 5 year-old nephew, a magical thing happened. I was no longer having to frantically get us out the door without Ethan having a meltdown due to.....well.....to the loudness of me getting 3 kids ready! Instead, the kids suddenly had the power! They would put on their shoes, their coat & get their book bag without me having to tell them what is next.....Ethan could just read it on the list! They were shutting off lights before I even had my coat on! This morning, my nephew brought me my coffee tumbler from the kitchen as I was putting on my shoes! This thing is MAGICAL!!!!!!

Well, as I said before, we have also been doing our 25 Days of Christmas Chain. One of the things I was really looking forward to doing with Ethan was writing a letter to Santa. My step-mom got Ethan this really cute stationary set a couple of Christmases ago, and I couldn't wait to use it! So, this past Monday, we wrote a letter to Santa.....and Ethan LOVED IT!!!!!



As you can see, I would write a little bit, and then we would hand-over-hand write the words he would tell me. After a few sentences, he really got the hang of it. He was dictating to me at the speed I was writing. So his speech was very slow......this is hard to describe, but it was very similar to this you tube video except Ethan would draw out his words. It was so much fun! He was excited....and so was I!!!!

So....all of these "lists" made me think of a way to help Ethan understand "tomorrow". So....we made one more list....and Ethan dictated the whole thing. He was asking for "another color" as soon as he would get out of bed. So, we made our daily steps leading up to the 25 Days of Christmas Chain.

Step 1 - Go To School
Step 2 - Come Home
Step 3 - Eat Lunch
Step 4 - Put Niece Down For A Nap
Step 5 - Pick Another Color on the 25 Days of Christmas Chain

I didn't think these lists would work because there were NO pictures. But, duh, Ethan can read! So, it is working GREAT! When he wakes up in the morning, he goes to the piece of yellow construction paper, reads it, and then is ready to start his day! No more meltdowns over this thing that was supposed to be fun! YEAH!

Want to know our 25 Days of Christmas Paper-Chain Activities? Here's the list!
1. Help a friend decorate for Christmas
2. Send Christmas cards (Ethan put the stamps on the envelopes....it's like playing with stickers!)
3. Breakfast At The Manger
4. Ethan's Church Christmas Program & Riders In The Sky Concert
5. Write a letter to Santa
6. Make gift name tags (Ethan picked out the name tags for each person & is writing his name on them....a couple a day....we have a lot of people in our family!)
7. Color a Christmas picture
8. Watch a Christmas cartoon
9. Drive around looking at Christmas lights & give an award to the best decorated house
10. Make cookies for church's cookie social
11. Go visit Santa & take him a gift....he has been working hard too, you know!
12. Play with a new Christmas toy (Drug stores have the best little holiday toys, and Ethan loves them!)
13. Donate food to the food pantry
14. Make gift bags
15. Give the mail carrier/trash collectors their Christmas gifts
16. Make our teachers' gifts
17. Christmas with out-of-town relatives
18. Take Christmas gifts to church
19. Letter from Santa arrives!
20. School Class party
21. School Pajama Day
22. Christmas craft
23. Christmas movie at the theater
24. Take a gift to the gas station attendant who is working on Christmas Eve
25. Happy Birthday Jesus! Sing Happy Birthday & eat some breakfast cake!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Our First Christmas Weekend

What a weekend! Like most of you, we were busy, busy, busy! It started on Saturday morning with our church's Breakfast At The Manger. It is specifically for our preschoolers & kindergarteners and their adult guests. So Ethan took Corey & I to his first Breakfast at the Manger. We walked into a our church's gymnasium that had been transformed into an eating area....lots of round tables, beautiful centerpieces, and the smell of pancakes. As we walked in, we were warmly greeted by our Children's Pastor, given name tags, and Ethan received a fuzzy coloring page of the nativity scene to color....and the markers were on the tables. She gave him 3 directions.....put your name on the back, color the picture, and hang it on your refrigerator (she had added a magnet to the back). He listened intently....and did exactly as she said without any reminders from mom & dad.
This is the back of the picture...and the start of Ethan's name.
This is the front of the picture. If you look closely, you can see that Ethan continued to spell his name in green across the front. LOL! Then, he & I took turned coloring the little stars. He did pretty good!!!!

After we colored, we all prayed & started our breakfast....pancakes, eggs, fruit, toast....simple, but sooooo good! When we were all done eating, our Children's Pastor gathered the little ones together to tell the Christmas story. Each child was given something to hold as part of telling the story....animals, the Wise Men's gifts, the angel....and baby Jesus. Ethan was given the honor of holding baby Jesus. Yes, he whacked the doll's head on the manger, but it was so sweet! And Ethan sat with the other kids, listened to the story, and played his part very well. I was very impressed. Thank you Preschool!

Here is Ethan "holding" baby Jesus. He kept his legs so straight so the doll could lay on his legs.
At one point, the kids cheered as the shepherds would have when they learned about Jesus being born, and Ethan did cry. However, it was the shortest cry he has ever done when people cheer! I was fully expecting to have to remove him from the gym after that, but he quickly recovered & was able to participate in the whole program! YEAH!!!!! It was wonderful!


Then, that evening, I had a wonderful Girls' Night Out. We all got together and watched Christmas movies, ate dinner, and wrapped our family's gifts....it was so much fun! I definitely need time for myself every now & then! And when I'm gone......it's Guys' Night In at my house. Corey & Ethan usually do something pretty fun together. This time the boys were low-key & just played cars & games together....although they did make pizza and chocolate chip cookies!

The next morning was Sunday morning....and the day of Ethan's Christmas Program at church. I didn't sleep very well the night before because I was so nervous about how Ethan would handle everything.....the newness, the loudness, the lack of typical routine. However, his 2 teachers are 2 of my best friends & people that he knows/is comfortable with, so that was reassuring. I was only on standby in case they needed me to help out with him.....and I fully expected to be needed. There are 25 kids in his Preschool class at church, and it is hard to give Ethan extra care with a class so big. I totally get that from being a teacher back in the day. However, I was soooooooo wrong.....

Ethan did wonderful!!!!! He plugged his ears when it was loud, but never cried or screamed. He even had a line in the program!!! And I had no idea!!!!! We have 2 church services on a Sunday morning, and Ethan said his line both times!!!! At the end of the 2nd time they did their program, Ethan was definitely ready to be done. I could see that tears were beginning to form the longer he stood on stage. At one point, he made a bee line for my mom who was taking pictures in the front row. As they walked out of the sanctuary, Ethan came into our pew, so one of the male teachers carried him out. But, he did so well! He could not have been able to do this 5-6 months ago! I was so proud of him! Below is a video of Ethan saying his line in the first service. I was running the camcorder so it is a little shaky....because I was bawling! What a gift we were given yesterday!



Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we went to see Rider's In The Sky Christmas Show. My husband works for Caterpillar, and every year they offer their employees a chance to buy tickets to a CAT holiday show. This was our first time going, and we invited my sister & her family. Her son LOOOOOOVES cowboys, so we knew that we HAD to take him. And he LOVED it! It was worth the price of tickets just to watch him enjoying the concert. AND Ethan was able to enjoy it as well! We did take his sound-proofing headphones....which he asked for.....but he was still able to hear the music. When they started singing Jingle Bells, he looked at me with a face that said....."How do THEY know Jingle Bells?!" He was so excited. Then, he said, "Mommy to sing Jingle Bells?"....so I sang right along with the Riders In The Sky cowboys. At one point, he crawled onto the floor and kept laughing....because he shoes glow in the dark & he thought that was funny. But for such a busy & LOUD weekend, he was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

I will never forget last Christmas season. If you read in "Our Story", you will see that there was a significant event during last Christmas season. At Ethan's Early Intervention Christmas Party, Ethan had a terrible meltdown/episode (which turned out to be a blessing because it led us to Occupational Therapy). But as I lay awake in bed the night before his Church Christmas Program, I kept thinking about last year.....and how he just couldn't handle it. I will never forget how I held my screaming child alone in the bathroom while I cried & cried. It was yet another meltdown, and I was at such a loss at how to help him......I felt all alone. And sometimes this road of learning to live with autism is very overwhelming & very lonely. BUT, the more I open up about our journey, the more people surround us with support & love.

And what a difference a year has made! I have cried all weekend because I am so HAPPY for Ethan. I thought we were Ethan's only cheerleaders in the audience this past Sunday, but we were not.....far from it!
All around me people were commenting on how well Ethan was doing, how they were rooting for him, how they too felt the joy that we were experiencing as Ethan stood on that stage.....as I walked out of the sanctuary (after the end of the kid's program but before the 2nd service really began), my eyes met one of my friend's eyes, and we both did a little cheer together! Even still today, I am receiving emails & texts from others who are just as excited for Ethan as we are! I'm so happy that we have so many people rooting for Ethan! What a blessing that is to his mommy!

Never in a million years would I have ever dreamed that he would have done as well as he did this weekend! It is moments like these that reaffirm all of our efforts in working with Ethan, and encourage me to continue....AND further proof that we are on the right path. YEE-HAW!!!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Breakthrough!!!!

This past Thanksgiving, we went over to my sister's house with about 20 of our relatives. It was so much fun. But, as always, I was worried how Ethan would handle all the extra noise & commotion. And, once again, he blew me away with how well he did! He didn't sit for the meal nor did he eat the Thanksgiving food (not a big surprise), but he stayed in the room with all of noise & people....even requested puzzles & games from my sister. He did puzzles with my cousin, he did alphabet flashcards with Corey's mom, and probably did a whole bunch of other things that I am unaware of......he was great! After lunch, we got out Wii Dance 3, and had the music pretty loud. He commented several times about it being "really loud" & covered his ears, but after Corey's mom started playing with him towards the back of the room, he seemed to be just fine. He even played the Wii game with me for a short bit....it was awesome!!!!

However, at the end of the day, we were getting ready to leave.....and he didn't want to go home. He loves going to my sister's house. So....recipe for a meltdown: no nap, lots of new/commotion during the day, didn't eat much, and doing something he doesn't want to do.....it was just a matter of time. And then it started up.....

I was putting his coat & shoes on to go home, and he started hitting himself & saying, "You DO NOT want to go home with me"......his typical start to a meltdown. Honestly, I didn't do much to help him because he had done so well all day, and I figured that he needed this "release". So, all I said was, "It's okay Ethan". Then he started again, but this time he did something different.....instead of hitting himself......he clapped his hands.

HE CLAPPED HIS HANDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the replacement behavior or alternative that I have been trying to get him to do instead of hitting himself. He can still have a meltdown, and be upset, but without hurting himself. And he did it! And without me demonstrating it!!!!!

I was so excited that I immediately started showering him with praise....even though he was beginning to have a meltdown & I usually don't give any praise during those episodes. This must have confused him because he escaped his world for a second & locked eyes with me.....as if to say, "What did I do, Mom?" So, again I told him what he did & how wonderful it was that he clapped his hands during a meltdown....and then he repeated the action.....so I poured out more praise. It was so exciting that I started crying right there.....in front of the family that was remaining. My eyes were so blurry that my husband had to finish helping Ethan get his coat & shoes on.....it was an amazing moment. I got through to him. This was one of my favorite things about teaching, but to have that moment with my own child was beyond exciting. I got through to him....and I saw it realized in his eyes.

So, it has been over a week since that happened, and I haven't seen Ethan hit himself one time. Now, he will clap his hands, and say, "Soooooo, do not do that"......a Grover statement from his iPad book A Monster At The End Of This Book.

The meltdowns are going to happen, and I can't prevent them. BUT maybe now he won't be hurting himself! YEAH!!!!!!

Ethan putting together a 24 piece puzzle with my cousin.

Ethan & Grandma playing with ABC cards.

Ethan & Grandma dancing while.....
me & my cousins play Wii Dance 3...and yes...I'm singing too!

Me, my 2 cousins & my sister....we are really like sisters though. All of these girls & their families have been so interested, supportive, and encouraging as we are learning to live with autism. I love these girls!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"A" is going to Menards......

The week leading up to Thanksgiving, Ethan & I were both very sick. After each of us going to our doctors, we were both told that we had severe sinus infections....awesome. Needless to say, neither of us felt like doing much, so we did a lot of laying around the house & resting. This can cause Ethan to become very restless, so I was trying my best to keep our toys & games as fresh & exciting as one can when being sick.

One morning, I was laying on the couch....sick as could be......while Ethan began putting together his big ABC floor puzzle. As his norm, he took one piece at a time....in ABC order.....from one side of the living room to the other. As he was doing this, he would say the letter as well as the corresponding picture. This is a typical & recurring game at our house. So, in order to keep things fun & interesting, I began to ask Ethan questions about his letter puzzle pieces....which was risky because it interrupted his game. Sometimes doing this can be wonderful & he loves it....other times he will get very upset with me. This time.....I was lucky......

He would say, "A. A is for Alligator." As he started to move his piece to the other side of the room, I asked him, "Where is A going?" He stopped dead in his tracks, turned, looked at me, and then smiled. "MENARD'S!" he said while jumping once. So, I responded, "Menard's? What is he going to get at Menard's?" Again.....another smile......"A Menard's Bear!" (a toy my mom recently got for him). As we both laughed, Ethan placed the puzzle piece where he first intended for it to land. Then, he went to get "B". As he picked it up, he looked at me right away....ready to play this game with each letter. It was so fun, and Ethan's smile never faded. Eventually, as he does, I was worked out of the game, and he would say this, "Where is A going, Ethan? To Menard's! What's he gonna get, Ethan? A Menard's bear!" This game entertained Ethan all morning.....and I was able to still rest on the couch! YEA!

However, I did have to grab a pen & paper in order to write down all he was inventing. So.....here is where all of the letters went....and what they all bought or did.....all original Ethan....LOVE IT!

A - Menard's - Menard's bear
B - Kmart - Books
C - McDonalds - Chicken Nuggets & French Fries
D - Taco Bell - Taco
E - Walgreens - Diapers
F - Casey's - a Drink
G - Burger King - Chicken Nuggets & French Fries
H - Subway - Meatballs & Cheetos
I - All State - Lightening McQueen
J - His Cousin's School - To give his cousin a hug
K - Ethan's School - To play with castle, boat & circus
L - Home - To play with the barn
M - Verizon - To play with crayons
N - Big Lots - To get a cart & diapers

O - Z - These were generally repeats of the above

It was so cute! Ethan has always loved logos & commercials.....and I guess this was a great way for him to play with his letters & logos.....a match made in heaven! LOL!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day 7: Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

This is it! The last day of Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style. And can you guess what the last one is????

ETHAN! 

I am so thankful that I am Ethan's mom. All of the emotions that have come & gone....from being told that I may never be a mother to being told that my only child has autism....it has all been overwhelming. And, it is very easy to look at the sad part of our story.

But.....then I look at that little boy that God has blessed me with......and the sadness instantly goes away. He is such a treasure from God, and I am so extremely blessed to not only know him....but to know him as his mom. He has taught me so much about how to love unconditionally.

He is joy. He is love. He is silly. He is funny. He is excited. He is smart. He is energy. He is curious. He is sweet. He is warm. He is unique. He is innocence. He is perfect.

I am often asked if I could take away Ethan's autism, would I do it? My answer is not at all. He is perfect just the way he is. God made Ethan just the way he wanted him to be, and I am very fortunate that God thought enough of me to select me as his mother......to bless me with this amazing opportunity to learn about my sweet little boy & his wonderfully, mysterious super power called autism.

Here is a video that I have never shared with anyone. This was recorded over a year ago. It is almost bedtime, and we are all in our jammies....and lookin' quite fabulous, I must say. However, this video best shows the bond & love that Ethan & I have with each other. This kid is my heart, and I love him so much. This world is a better place because Ethan is in it....and I am a better person because I know Ethan. Thank you, God, for my beautiful boy.



Thursday, November 24, 2011

Day 6: Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

Although Thanksgiving is over, I am still continuing my week long Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style. Today I am SO thankful for the man that I am fortunate to call my husband, Corey.

I am thankful for Corey in many ways. However, this is specifically in learning how to live with autism. So, I will be only talking about ways that I am grateful to have Corey as my spouse regarding this topic.

This man is amazing. Not only is he tolerant in dealing with his crazy wife (me), but he has strength & patience that I do not have. Every day, this man leaves for work before any of us are even awake so he can be home by 3pm. Being priviledged to have a great job, Corey is able to adjust his 8 hours....and he has chosen to work from 6am-2:30pm. This puts him home by 3pm. He does this every day in order to be home as much as he can with Ethan and me. Now, I know a lot of guys who would choose to sleep in later & be gone from the home as late as possible in order to avoid the craziness of raising kids. But not this man. And I am so thankful for this sacrifice.

Not only does he come home as early as he can, but EVERY DAY Corey starts playing with Ethan as soon as he comes home. Ethan knows that the moment Daddy walks in the door....it's wrestle time! And I am so thankful for that because this is something that Ethan's senses need (see sensory diet) yet I am unable to provide. I am not able to flip him, lift him, spin with him, etc. as much as Corey is able to do. And, to be honest, I do not have that innate wrestling ability that boys seem to have from birth. And this wrestling fun goes on for at least 1/2 an hour....more times than not, though, it goes longer....more like an hour. This also gives me a chance to clean up the house from the day & get dinner started. And because of this wrestle time, Ethan is usually able to sit at dinner table for longer periods of time.

Our evenings usually involve Corey helping someone in someway.....this is his nature. Either working on someone's car, working on a vinyl project, fixing a computer problem, helping a family member.....the list goes on & on. And Corey ALWAYS tries to involve Ethan as much as possible. He will think nothing of pausing his mowing to come do sidewalk chalk with Ethan or taking Ethan with him to run car related errands or playing cars while printing vinyl in his office. Corey is the king of inventing new games out of random things as well.....and Ethan LOVES it. Usually I have to continue the play the next morning while Corey is at work. It warms my heart that they have such a deep bond. I mean, you should see Ethan light up whenever Corey comes home. It's the most heart stirring thing I have ever seen.

And EVERY NIGHT, we have our bedtime routine. This has helped Ethan go to sleep quicker & have less meltdowns at bedtime....because he knows what to expect. So, our nightly routine is that Daddy does bath while I clean up the toys. Then I read books & sing with Ethan while Corey takes out the trash. Then Corey comes back in to pray & do a final good night kiss. EVERY NIGHT.

Corey is also learning all he can about autism as well. In January, he will be returning to school. One of his goals is to learn how to create iPad apps in order to develop more of them......for free. Currently, he is learning all he can about social stories and the pattern that has best helped children with autism. He is also volunteering at our church not only on the Mosaic Ministries Advisory Panel (special needs ministry), but he is also on the Children's Safety Committee. He is participating in a Men's Bible Study at work in order to keep his faith strong. He, too, has reached out to others in the autism community and is finding new ways to help Ethan. He created a online fundraising opportunity for others to donate funds to not only buy Ethan an iPad, but another boy who has autism as well. They raised enough money to buy 2 iPads, 2 stylus pens, and 2 protective frames. And in October, when he learned about Light It Up Blue, he immediately went out & bought a bunch of blue light bulbs.....even though the event isn't until April. He has also been very proactive in utilizing the resources provided to us by Easter Seals.

Corey is also VERY in tune to me & when I need a break. He is constantly encouraging me to take a break in the evenings.....go for a walk, go take a long bath, go get a cup of coffee with a friend, etc. And when I am so overwhelmed that I can't see straight, he is right there to take the reigns from me. (I am a bit of a control freak, so this is not an easy task for him.) He helps me with laundry, cleaning, dishes (ugh), finances/budgeting, planning, getting out the door on time, etc.

I am so thankful that not only do I have a spouse that I adore, but I have a true partner when it comes to parenting Ethan. He loves that little boy as much as I do, and we are both committed to raising him together. The divorce rate among couples with special needs children has been reported between 80% & 90%. When Ethan was 6 months old, we had him dedicated to the Lord in a ceremony at our church. Then, when Ethan was diagnosed with autism this May, we privately both recommitted ourselves to raising Ethan no matter what we faced as a family. I am so thankful that God brought this man into my life.....Ethan & I are so lucky to be his wife & child. Ethan would not be where he is....would not have made the progress he has made.....without Corey.

Oh yeah....one more thing. I am also thankful that my husband would prefer to stay home & play with Ethan on Black Friday. This way, me & my girl friends can go shopping for some great deals!!!!!! LOVE YOU, COREY!!!!!!!

Day 5: Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!!! Since it's the actual day of thanks, I figured it was only right that I share what I am most thankful for as I am learning to live with autism.....my faith in Jesus Christ.

I was always raised in church. Both of my parents are Christians, and my dad is even a pastor. So, I have been attending church ever since I was a baby. As most kids do, I prayed for Jesus to come into my heart almost every Sunday. But something happened to me when I was a young child that changed my faith-life forever. When I was in 2nd grade, my parents separated and then officially divorced when I was in 3rd grade. Since I was at a very impressionable age, I was very acute to how my parents would deal with this heartbreak....and both of them relied on their faith. This was a very monumental point in my life....seeing my parents endure such a difficult time, but never turning on their faith & both of them always relying on God. Then, when I was in 5th grade, my mom took me & my sister to a Carman concert. During the song, The Champion, God got a hold of my heart. I remember sitting down in my chair & crying. When my mom leaned down & asked me what was wrong, I told her that I didn't know. She said, " I think that God is speaking to you." As I silently shook my head yes, she prayed with me & that night I truly accepted God as Savior of my life. I will never forget that moment.

Years passed and I continued to be involved in church & learn more about this God that I now knew personally. The summer before my sophomore year in high school, I participated in a Nazarene traveling youth choir called Destiny. One concert, I remember having that same feeling...God was speaking to me again. I remember during that outdoor concert telling God that not only did I love him with all of my heart, but I wanted him to really be Lord of all of my life....every part.....my language, my activities, my attitude, etc. I wanted to be completely His.

God & I had a great relationship. He was a constant companion...guiding me & leading me through every decision. In January 1999, God brought a wonderful guy into my life. In August 2002, God blessed our marriage, and together as a couple we begin to pray for God to use us for his ministry. A year later, God blessed us with a tremendous opportunity to leave IL and travel to TN for a wonderful career move for Corey. We were so excited and continually felt God leading us down this path. However, a week after we had moved, things went terribly wrong. Things were happening to Corey at work that caused us to doubt why God had brought us there. A very long month later, Corey could take no more & resigned. When the owners of the company got word of the happenings, they sent us an apology letter along with reimbursement for moving expenses. Eventually, the owners came in, cleaned house & took care of the situation.....but it was too late for Corey. He could endure no more, and our faith had been shattered. Why had God so clearly brought us to this place? to this situation? to this mess? We both felt that God had left us. After years of us both loving our God, we both turned our backs to Him. If this is what following God's will was like, we wanted nothing to do with it. We were both mad & hurt.

Thankfully, we have a Christian family & friends who were praying for us when we couldn't. They invited us to Bible studies, church activities, Sunday school, and so on. We participated....begrudgingly.....because we wanted to keep our families happy. I remember during one session of my Ladies' Bible Study, the question was posed....."What role of God do you need him to be in your life?" Examples were: Father, Comforter, Rock, etc. My answer was easy.....Friend. I felt like my dearest & closest friend had betrayed me, and I needed him to be a true friend.....the friend I remembered growing up. On the way home from that session that night, the song, Praise You in This Storm, came on the radio. I just sat in my driveway, and cried. Cried out all the hurt, cried out all the pain, cried out in forgiveness....and that's when the healing began. It wasn't like the next day I was all better, but it was the first step. And over time, God was able to heal our hurt & restore our relationship with Him. I had always believed that even though we may not understand the situation, God always has a plan for us. It wasn't until years later that Corey and I realized why God had led us to that situation. Corey & I have led a very "easy-ish" life.....nothing ever all that traumatic had ever happened to either of us. Not only did it cause us to "grow up", but this situation brought Corey & I extremely close to each other. No one else in this world knows what we went through & how it felt....only the two of us. And when Corey & I talk about that time in our life, we both agree that we wouldn't change a thing. The benefits far outweigh the scars. The bond that was created between Corey & I will never fade. We endured a horrible thing together, turned our back on God together, and found our way back to God together.

Now, fast forward to the day Ethan was diagnosed with autism. Because of what we have experienced in the past, Corey & I knew that, no matter what, God has a master plan. And because of our past, we were able to handle this news better than if we hadn't endured that period of time. Do I ever ask "why?" Absolutely. Will I blame God for this & turn my back on Him? Never. Do I lean on him EVERY DAY for strength? Always. And now I even think that we went through such a difficult time in order to prepare us for learning to live with autism. That God....He is always a step ahead of us, isn't He!

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am very thankful for having a personal relationship with my Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day 4: Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

One of the most important parts of learning to live with autism is having a strong support system. And my family is extremely blessed to have a very large & very strong support system.

Although our little family is just the three of us, we are very fortunate to have a very large extended family. Living in our city alone, we have my mom, Corey's parents, all of our siblings & their families, a step-grandmother & her husband, and 3 out of 4 sets of Corey's aunts & uncles & their families....needless to say the birthday parties are quiet large! Most of my side of the family lives at least 2 hours away including my dad & step-mom, 2 cousins that are more like sisters, several aunt & uncles & their families, and both of our grandparents. Thank goodness for the internet!

ALL of our family is very encouraging & supportive. ALL of our family wants to have a relationship with Ethan and are continually wanting to learn more about how to make that possible. No one in our family has ever made Corey & I feel like we are bad parents due to Ethan's behavior or developmental delays. ALL of our family asks us questions about Ethan & are constantly encouraging us as Ethan's parents. ALL of our family genuinely loves Ethan, and wants to know how they can help us or him. Our siblings & their families always include Ethan in family activities. From Uncle Chris teaching him how to hit a baseball to Aunt Rachel always playing board games with him, this kid is surrounded by love. Not only from our siblings & their families, but our parents have been beyond amazing. For example, when I told our parents that we were able to attend a Dr. Temple Grandin conference, my mom immediately wanted to go too.....and Corey's parents offered to watch Ethan....which included Grandpa changing diapers.....which just doesn't happen. This is the kind of support our parents & family are giving us......they too are being stretched out of their comfort zone in order to better understand autism so they can better understand Ethan & have a relationship with him. Even his 8 cousins who are 10 years old or younger will play a game with Ethan over & over again. Through this repeated play, they are connecting with Ethan.....and whether they realize it or not......they are gently pulling Ethan out of his world & into ours. We are truly blessed to have such an amazing family that encourages & supports our little family.

We are also extremely thankful to have amazing friends that support us as well. I have read about families that have been excluded from activities because their child has autism & their behavior is unwelcome. Thankfully, we have not yet experienced this heartbreak. Our friends are very aware of Ethan & his quirks, but always include us in festivities & events. ALL of our friends are very encouraging....through emails, cards, hugs, and....the most important to me....loving & accepting Ethan as he is. And my girl friends are so amazing at letting me share.....sometimes obsessively so....all about Ethan & what we are dealing with.....good and bad. This support is great, not only as a mother of a child with autism, but as a mother of one child. All of this is new to me....the parenting part as well as the autism part. Some times I discover that Ethan's behavior is very typical and other times they provide excellent suggestions & tips. We are so blessed to have A-M-A-Z-I-N-G friends.

I will never forget the day that Ethan was officially diagnosed with autism. All day long I had been texting family & friends who were praying & waiting alongside with us. On the way home from the clinic, I texted everyone the results. And overwhelmingly our family & friends said this......"It doesn't matter that Ethan has this diagnosis. He is still Ethan, and we love him....now & always." Now how lucky are we to have so many people like this in our lives!? I really think we are the most fortunate people in the world to know love like this.....and how awesome for Ethan to know this love....not only from his parents but from his family & friends. And without these wonderful people in our lives, Ethan wouldn't have made the progress that he has made. Thank you to all of you. We are soooooo blessed to call you our family & friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 3: Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

On the third day of this countdown, I am extremely thankful for all of our support aids! And, yes, I did say OUR support aids.....they help Mommy & Daddy too!

1. Technology - We are so blessed to live in a time where we have the kind of technology that we have. Being able to reach across the world, and connect with other families learning to live with autism has been so amazing. Our family has learned so much from other families that have either been where we are or who are going through it as well. And being able to write this blog has been a sanity-saver. I am able to keep records, recall progress, share victories/frustrations, connect with other families, and share information about autism. Also, the technology "toys" that Ethan has access to is so awesome. He loves to play computer games. However, from my point-of-view, he isn't playing......he is learning. PBS & Sesame Street's online games are his favorite, and these are teaching him how to read, how to categorize, and even modeling the art of conversation. Ethan has also been blessed to receive an iPad. This has been an life-changing tool for our family. The social stories alone have helped Ethan in high anxiety situations such as going to the doctor. This has also been helping him with his handwriting, understanding emotions, as well as his speech. We do, however, limit Ethan's time on these electronics. Ethan could easily spend hours playing with them & withdraw back into his world. If he has spent a significant time playing computer games or watching TV, it is more difficult to communicate with him....so we limit his time for both. It has become a treat or reward, and I am so thankful for this extra support in his development.

2. Sensory Aids - From difficulty sleeping & eating to sensory overload, we use A LOT of sensory therapy aids around here. I am so thankful for all of the families that have gone through this before us and have been able to share their knowledge with us. I am also thankful for Ethan's Occupational Therapies for teaching us what specifically helps Ethan in certain situations. Both of these have, again, been life changers for us.

3. Conferences - From Easter Seals to Dr. Temple Grandin, there is a wide variety of information available to those who are interested in learning more about autism. And Corey & I are very blessed to be able to take advantage of as many of  them as we can. Recently, I was even able to participate in an on-line conference specifically about ministering to those with autism & other "hidden" disabilities. It was wonderful!

4. Coffee - Yes, coffee is a support aid.......to mommy! There are times when I need a "time-out".....a break from the craziness of the day.....and coffee is always there. As soon as I take a drink of that warm fresh cup of coffee, I am immediately soothed, comforted & calmed. Some days require only my morning cup, and other require a whole pot. So, thank you coffee pot, for keeping me calm & sane during those crazy days!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 2: Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

Currently, I am listing the Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style. On the 2nd day of Thanksgiving Week, I am thankful for Ethan's Early Intervention. This includes Child and Family Connections, Easter Seals, and Preschool Family Educational Center.

We started this journey with Ethan in October 2010.....when he was 2 years old. Although we didn't have a diagnosis yet, we knew that Ethan was showing signs of developmental delay. Through the suggestion of a friend, we contacted the Child & Family Connections agency, and began our journey. He joined a 2 day, 2 hour a week developmental playgroup where he blossomed. He also started speech therapy and, later, occupational therapy. We also put his name on the waiting list to be tested for autism at Easter Seals. During our short time with this early intervention agency, Ethan grew leaps & bounds........and I will never forget those people & what they did for our Ethan. I truly am eternally grateful.

In May of 2011, just one month shy of 3 years old, Ethan received his official diagnosis of "classic autism." We then became an Easter Seals family. The resources that have been made available to us are astounding. There is a "resource" room that acts similar to a library. Instead of buying expensive therapy toys & aids that may or may not work with Ethan, we can check them out from the resource room. It really is an amazing resource for families learning to live with autism. They also provide therapy, training, and support to the entire family....not just the person with autism. They are a wonderful organization, and we have learned so much from them. In the future, we plan on Ethan participating in their swim classes, summer ASD preschool program, and possibly help us with toilet training. We are so blessed to have these resources available to Ethan.

In June of 2011, Ethan "aged out".....meaning he was too old for the Child and Family Connections program.....so we were then handed over to the public school system. Currently, Ethan is enrolled in a two hour, everyday preschool program where he also receives occupational therapy & speech therapy. He is a part of a typical classroom which includes a teacher and a teacher's aid. Ethan LOVES school. Although Ethan is very advanced in the academic world, he is still very delayed in several areas.....mainly his social skills. Last week we sat down with Ethan's teachers & his speech therapist, and we reviewed his progress & goals. One of his goals is to "initiate conversation with others." While this is a great goal for us to have for Ethan to have, I made comment that this goal will probably still be on his IEP in high school. Social skills will be a life-long mystery for Ethan.....but we will constantly be there to help him learn. And, not to brag on my child, but his teacher's told us that....on the skills they tested him on (colors, shapes, numbers, etc.)....he not only meets the end of the year goals for the 3 year olds.......he meets the end of the year goals for the 4 year olds! What a smart kid we have!!!!! So, we are already beginning to see his strengths & his weaknesses.

I just think about the past year of our journey with Ethan's Early Intervention Program, and I am in awe. If Ethan hadn't been a part of these amazing programs, where would he be today?! More frustrated, more silent, more withdrawn......I just can't even begin to imagine. The progress he has made in only a year is astounding. I honestly am eternally grateful for all of the people that have come into Ethan & our lives in order to help us learn to live with autism. It's been an awesome journey.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style

During the weekend of Thanksgiving, I will be pretty busy....as most of us tend to be during the holidays. So, last week I wrote double-time, and I created Things I'm Thankful For - Autism Style. It's a tribute to the things that I am most thankful for specifically when it comes to living with autism. Some maybe fun & other things serious, but they are all honestly true.

The first thing I am thankful for is my van. I L-O-V-E my mini-van. This past summer, my sister & I talked about me taking care of her 2 kiddos while she was at work. This would include a lot of driving because her oldest is in all day preschool & my Ethan is in half-day preschool......at different schools. Plus, my last car wouldn't have been able to fit 3 car seats plus coats & book bags & snack/drinks. So....this last August we purchased a new-to-us minivan......and I adore it!

Because toting around 3 kiddos is not the easiest thing in the world, I rely a lot on my van. Her side doors will automatically open at the touch of a button on my key....LOVE! So, when the kids run past me going out the door in the morning, I simply push a button & the kids are already climbing in the van while I am closing the front door. It also helps when I'm running errands & need both of my hands for all the usual mom stuff.....holding kids hands, carrying purse/diaper bag/sacks of merchandise, etc. I can push the button & literally drop my load on the floor of the van....and then get things situated. On the inside of the van doors, there are also push buttons that allow the kids to push the buttons....if I choose to unlock this feature. The kids love taking turns pushing the button to close the doors....and it's one less thing for me to do with my already full hands. As the driver, I have the ability to open the side door of my choosing after parking the van. I love this because I can pick the safer side of the van to gather the kids....and they automatically know which side to exit.

We have gotten our morning school routine down pretty good, and the kids & I are like a well oiled machine. But if I didn't have this van, it would be 10 times harder for me.

Other things I love is that we have the stow & go option, so if we need extra space...I can do it myself & not wait for my husband to help me. I also love that each kid has their own space, their own cup holder, and their own air/heat vent. Initially, I wanted a van that had a DVD player installed overhead, but that would have increased the price of the van. Plus, we don't really let Ethan watch that much TV.....it makes him harder to communicate with because it increases his "withdrawn-ness." So, instead, we use a portable DVD player only for long trips. And the plug in for this is RIGHT beside Ethan's seat. It's a beautiful thing.

It also has a CD player. This means I am the kids personal DJ. On the way to the first school, the oldest get to pick the music. One the way to the second school, Ethan gets to pick the music. One the way home from the dropping the boys off at their schools, the youngest gets to pick the music. And, of course, they all like something different. Then we do the same, in reverse, when we pick the kids up from school. Basically, whomever school we are going to or leaving from gets to pick the music. And, honestly, I LOVE music.....so i don't mind being their DJ.....I would be doing it if I was alone anyway!

It also has........are you ready?.........a tape player! I was actually pretty excited about this! I went down to the basement & dug out the few tapes that I had managed to save. One of them was C&C Music Factory. And guess what??? Ethan LOVES the song Everybody Dance Now, and requests it often.....much to my joy & my husband's annoyance. HAHA!!!!!

So, today I am extremely thankful for my wonderful mini-van. I love her (yes, she is a her because she too can multitask), and she makes my day soooooooo much easier & a lot more fun!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Ethan-ese"

I have a friend who says that her kids have their own language, so she made up a name for it. She would call Ethan's language "Ethan-ese" (said like Japanese). Well, Ethan DEFINITELY has his own language. Because of his autism, he has difficulty with speech. So he has these canned phrases that he has latched on to....and some of them we have no idea where they came from.....but here are a few translations.

"Do you want a drink? Yes!" - This is the format that Ethan uses when he wants something. We are really working on trying to get him to instead say, "I want a drink, please." And if we ask him, "How do you ask?" he will re-ask in the correct way. But, currently, this is how he communicates his needs.

"You DO NOT screaming with me!" - This, sadly, also comes with hitting himself & tears. I don't know where this came from, but this is the format he uses when we tell him not to do something.....like screaming. Then, I tell him, "Don't hit Ethan" in a very "mommy is sad" tone, and he says, "You do not hitting with me!"......and continues to hit himself. This is a very frustrating one because of the hitting portion, but I'm hoping it's just a phase. We just remind him that he's not in trouble & that he is okay, and it usually follows with a hug from us. But it happens every time we tell him no or to not do something.

"I am tired of your incompetence!" - This one cracks me up.....sorry Daddy. He only uses this one with Corey! LOL! Whenever he is having trouble communicating with Corey or Corey is making him do something he doesn't want to do....like putting on shoes to go out the door......Ethan says this to Corey. This came from Mickey & the Three Mouseketeers....Queen Minnie says it to Captain Pete. And it is soooooo hard not to laugh! To hear a 3 year old using such a big word is so funny. AND the fact that he only says it to Corey makes it even more amusing to me! LOL!

"I don't want to get in any trouble, Chuck!" - He says this when other kids around him are getting in trouble or being put in time out. He is very upset, and this usually is a very anxiety filled statement. Again, I just remind him that he isn't in trouble, he is okay, & hugs. This comes from one of his books on his iPad.

"Oh, Goofy! Are you okay?" - This is what he says he falls down AND hurts himself. A common characteristic of kiddos with autism is that they don't seem to register pain. Ethan, taking after his mother, is a VERY clumsy child, so he is often tripping or running into things. However, rarely does he show sign of pain. So when their IS pain registering, this is what he says. Again, it's from Mickey & the Three Mouseketeers.

"I love that song!" - This one is already fading, but it is worth mentioning. This is what he says when he really likes something. If he is watching a cartoon that he really likes, he will say it. If he is playing a computer game that he really likes, he will say it. And one day, after changing his diaper, he stood up, gave me a hug, then looked at me & said it. Ethan will always say, "I love you too, Mom," after I say I love you to him. But NEVER has he out of the blue just told me he loved me......until that day when he looked at me & said, "I love that song." Tears instantly came to me. My son was telling me that he loved me in his own language. Well, a couple of nights ago, I said to Ethan, "I love you, Ethan!" and he said, "I love you too, Mommy....,,(pause)......and Daddy." This was another first, and not completely a canned response. Well, tears didn't come to Corey eyes.........but spread across his face was the biggest smile I have ever seen.

Over time, Ethan's canned phrases will fade away &or change to new ones. These are phrases that he has latched onto in order to try & communicate with us.....instead of having a meltdown. The difficult part is interpreting what he is trying to tell us.

However, Corey & I have noticed a HUGE improvement in Ethan's speech development.....especially since starting preschool.....but really over the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, instead of saying, "Do you want fruit snacks? Yes!" he said this, "I want fruit snacks in a bowl on your (my) lap, please." Once I picked myself up off the floor, I gave that kid all the fruit snacks he wanted! GO ETHAN!!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ethan's 1st Church Service

Once a month, our church does a "Family Service" on Sunday nights. Ethan has always preferred to play in the nursery instead of being in "big church"......he usually won't even step foot in the sanctuary because he is afraid of it. Every time he has been in the sanctuary, it has been too loud or too overwhelming or too new. And we always take advantage of the nursery instead of trying to keep him calm & quiet during a church service. That time will come soon enough since he is getting close to the age limit for the nursery.

However, this past Sunday night, our Pastor asked my husband's side of the family to participate in an activity which would include not only Corey & I but Ethan as well. I told him we would try, but in the back of my mind I never thought it would happen. Ethan is just too terrified of the sanctuary. BOY WAS I WRONG!!!!

The whole gang got to church a little early in order to meet with Pastor & go over what he wanted us to do. Ethan walked right into the sanctuary as if he had done it 100 times.....no biggie. I was so thankful for this small miracle! Then he saw some of his cousins, and immediately left the comfort of my side in order to go play with them. He keep looking at me while he was creeping over to them, and I enthusiastically shook my head 'yes'. Ethan was so comfortable that he felt he could wander away from Corey & I?! AMAZING! Then, after we got our orders, the whole family moved up to the front 3 pews. Corey & I thought it would be best for Ethan if we stayed where we were....in the very last pew. However, Ethan followed the rest of the family, and went right on up to the front! And we followed....

He was Mr. Social! He was walking around the 3 pews of family, talking to everyone, playing with the kids....it was so awesome! Then the service started. Now, the family services are very different from a typical service. It is focused more on families.....thus focused more on kids......and it's not a very traditional service.  So Ethan didn't have to be super quiet, but he did have to sit down because it was still a church service. When we told him to come & sit by us, he kept saying, "Owen? Owen? Owen? Owen? Owen? Owen?" over & over again.....he wanted to sit by his cousin......LOVE!!!! The theme for the evening was "Let Your Light Shine," so they darkened the sanctuary & only lit the platform. Ethan immediately began to tense up, so we offered him his sound-softening headphones. He put them on just as they started a video clip on the screen, and Ethan said, "Oooooooo! Look! A movie!!!!" And the video was entirely a light bright whose picture was constantly moving to show a story. And Ethan has a light bright so he was very interested in this "movie." Then, they started the music portion. I felt myself prepare for the meltdown that was surely going to come....because this is why he doesn't like the sanctuary.....and no meltdown ever came! We sang about 4 songs, including This Little Light Of Mine.....to which he held up his finger & had the biggest smile ever! My heart just melted! Then, another video, and he enjoyed that too. So far, the whole service has mesmerized him.

Then our Children's Pastor when on stage for a "science experiment," and she invited all the kids to come up and join her. Before Corey & I could even look at each other to communicate how we should handle this with Ethan, Ethan was walking up to the platform with the rest of the kids.....no fear! SERIOUSLY!!??? WHO IS THIS KID???!!!!! Corey went up & sat in the front pew, but Ethan was on his own on the stage with the other kiddos. All the kids sat down around the demonstration table, but Ethan was ready to put on a show. Remember, the lights were down in the sanctuary, so.....as my friend pointed out.....the only people he could see in the audience were the first 3 pews.......which was his family. He was so excited & happy! He was talking about how much he loved the apples, counting the apples (they were actually lemons), jumping up & down, climbing on & off the alter....it was so amazing to see him without fear. After awhile, I went on stage to aid him in being a part of the group & listening to the demonstration. This was a new experience for Corey & I....we were prepared to handle anxiety-filled Ethan, but not ham-it-up on stage Ethan!!!! It was great!!!! Then, the Children's Pastor passed out glow sticks. She snapped one & handed it to Ethan. She was telling the kids to shake it after they snapped it in order for it to glow. Ethan says, in his non-inside voice, "Everybody shake 'em!!!" It was hilarious! Then, they turned the lights on the stage down, so we could see the glow sticks really glow. When that happened, Ethan says, "It is SO beautiful!" I was over the moon!!!

Then, they dismissed us back to our seats, and I took Ethan out for a diaper change. As we were in the bathroom, Ethan begins to sing......."This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine"........(pause for tears).................and I thought to myself how Ethan already is letting his light shine. I was so thankful when I heard the door open because it stopped me from bawling right then & there. I was just so happy for Ethan. Well, it was our Minister of Music, and she started singing along with Ethan. He got the biggest grin on his face. He thought that was so cool! As we made our way back inside the service, the lights were still off as our Youth Pastor was giving the sermon. He had a bunch of lights lit on stage include a large revolving multicolored light that was bouncing off the walls of the sanctuary. Ethan loved it. Then, it was time for our family's activity. It's a bit difficult to explain this,but I'm going to try. My husband's older brother is married to a friend of mine. Her family has been members of our church for years & years. Pastor brought HER grandpa up on the platform, lit the candle grandpa was holding & interviewed him. The point was that him shining his light made a difference in his family. Then, Pastor brought up the grandpa's kids.....all of whom attend church....and 3 out of the 4 attend our church. Grandpa lit his kids candles, and they lit their spouses candles. Now there are 5 family members on the platform. Pastor interviewed them. Then he brought up THEIR kids....one of which is my friend & sister-in-law. The pattern continued, and then it branched over to my husband's family.......Corey's mom & dad.....then Corey & I with his other siblings.....and then finally the great-grand kids....including Ethan. Ethan did amazing. He sat with our Children's Pastor while Corey & I were on stage, and he did very well when he was called to the stage. That was the last thing of the service....and Ethan did AMAZING! It was all Corey & I could talk about that night & the next day. It was such a blessing.

When Pastor asked my husband how being raised in a Christian home has effected how we want to raise Ethan, Corey got very choked up. We always knew that we would raise our kids in church. That's how he & I were both raised, and we both found Jesus at a very early age. And this is what we want for Ethan. So, we want to do what our parents did for us. But, with Ethan having autism, this has become a challenge. He can't participate in a lot of church activities due to his anxiety & sensory sensitivity. So, our biggest desire for Ethan has become even more of a challenge to teach & model. But, I continue to pray everyday for Ethan. I pray every day that he would come to know Jesus at an early age, and that he will love Him & serve Him every day of his life.....like Corey & I have. It has been life-changing for us, and we want Ethan to have this peace in Jesus as well. And I don't know what Ethan understands or what he will be able to understand in the future, but I do know that God has big plans for Ethan. And Ethan showed us all during that evening church service that he is already letting his light shine. He is such a gift.