Tag Archive | Autism

It's in the Celebrations

By Shannon Penrod

Last week my son turned 6 years old.  We decided to throw him a dance party.  It didn’t seem at all odd to me, he loves to dance and I wanted to do something that wouldn’t revolve around food and wouldn’t cost a small fortune.  Solution: Dance Party!  IMG00270-20090605-2059We found a great warehouse space that comes with a trampoline, a bouncy house, a Wii and an Xbox 360 (both hooked up to big screen TVs) – the rent was ridiculously cheap and I bartered the services of a great DJ. 

I did this for a little boy who has worked so hard to overcome autism.  My mom and my husband and I watched him at the party, which my friend Therese called a six year old rave, and we couldn’t believe how social he was.

Just three and a half years ago we realized there was a problem when we went to a friend’s birthday party and our son sat in the corner by himself, humming as he played with a Buzz Lightyear toy, he never even noticed there were other children at the party.  Last week he was the belle of the ball, laughing and running from activity to activity, talking to his friends, answering when his friends called him, even cracking jokes.  It was a great night, and it was filled with family and friends who had shown up to celebrate with us.

Towards the end of the party I had a moment.  You know one of those rushes of feeling and clarity that kind of takes your breath away.  I looked at my mom and my son and was acutely aware of how quickly time passes and how precious every moment is.  There were several moments when I considered not having a birthday party for my son this year – In this economy…aren’t we all carefully considering every expenditure? 

But as I looked around that warehouse room and saw all the faces of people we love and that love us, I knew that this would be a night my family would always remember.  In ten years we aren’t going to remember all of the daily struggles to pay bills and buy biomeds and secure therapy hours, we’re going to remember the celebrations.  I thought about the last ten years and the weddings, graduations, births and home comings we’ve enjoyed, there have been hard times too and even a few funerals, but when all is said and done, it’s the celebrations we remember the most.  I’m awfully glad that we took the time to find the joy in life, now I know…it’s in the celebrations

Making it Work with Economic Challenges

by Shannon Penrod

Like everyone else my family is trying to “making it work” in an economy that doesn’t make sense and simply isn’t working.  We’ve tried to apply the Suze Orman rule of “Do we need this or do we want it?” to every purchase.  Sometimes it’s not black and white.  This last week there was Little League to sign up for.  My son is 5; this is the first season he can play.  At $225 to register and about another $75 worth of equipment to get him ready for the first game – I was having chest pain.  I certainly can make the argument that Little League is not nec100_5238essary – or is it? 

My little guy is recovering from Autism.  Baseball is social, it requires standing in the sun (something my vitamin B deficient son requires) it teaches lessons of flexibility, team work and sportsmanship.  Yes, he could wait and play next year, but next year he won’t have the opportunity to play T-ball, the kids will already have skills and he won’t be in “the window” anymore. 

 “The Window” is the all important time when children with autism are capable of making strides that cannot be matched later.  Trust me the window is a powerful argument, one that has carried our family right to the doorstep of bankruptcy. 

So we paid for Little League, and I agreed to do some work that would take away some of my private time.  It’s called making it work. Ultimately, it was worth it.  We are only a week into baseball and clearly my son has found a new love.  I’m yawning but what are a few yawns when you are in the window?

Today's Everyday Autism Miracle

by Shannon Penrod

When you have a child who has been diagnosed with autism your view of miracles changes.  Things that other people overlook on a daily basis become moments of truimph and celebration in my household. 

Today I was sitting at the table with my son working on his homework.  He is in kindergarten and gets a packet of homework every Friday to take home and work on. It isn’t due until Wednesday but after lunch on Friday we sit down and do the entire packet.  You might think that’s very disciplined of me, the truth is that it is the only moment in the week that my son doesn’t have therapy scheduled, so it literally has to get done then. 

The first time we did homework it took over 2 hours and was so painful I cried afterwards.  But both my husband and I have stuck to our committment that there is no getting out of it –for anyone.  I am amazed that 2 short months later it is actually one of my favorite times of the week.  It is an amazing part of my journey with my son.

 Today was extraordinary.  He had a worksheet with six pictures, cartoon drawings, really.  He was supposed to identify the first letter of the word depicted in the picture and if it started with a “B” to write the letter “B”.  The fact that he can do this worksheet at all is exciting and filled me with hope for all of the things to come. 

The third picture was of a bathtub, which he quickly identified as a “B” word as he was writing the letter he said to me, “There’s a boy in the bath, boy starts with “B” too.” 

I was thrilled and praised him.  He looked closer at the cartoon and said, “The boy look mad.” 

I looked at the picture and saw that indeed the boy did look mad and I agreed with my son, thinking how wonderful that he picked up on the boy’s emotion completely unprompted.  Then he said to me “Why he mad?”

I got goosebumps, this was officially huge now – Why questions have come more and more, but this was a why about emotion that someone else was feeling.  I was so excited I could only say, “I don’t know why he’s mad.” 

Without missing a beat my son said “He want to stay dirty?”

I swear to you I heard angels singing.  I grabbed my son and kissed him and told him what a good boy he was.  “Good talking!” I told him.

For those of you who don’t know children on the spectrum, you’re probably thinking, “I don’t get it.”  But this was huge!  Anytime a child with autism can begin to put themselves into the thoughts or emotions of another person, it’s HUGE – dance around the kitchen then get on your knees and thank GOD, HUGE! 

That little conversation that most parents would have taken for granted had been 3 years, dozens of behavioral therapists, two fund raisers, 1,000s of hours of therapy, 100s of gluten free/casein free recipes, one DAN doctor, and endless sleepless nights spent worrying in the making.  And it was all worth it.  It was  a “just everyday miracle”,  the kind I like the best.

My Working Mommy Morning

by Shannon Penrod

As a working mom I always find myself twisting a famous saying into, “I make plans and God laughs!”

Just when I think I have a schedule worked out that feeds, nurtures and satisfies all of my family’s needs, something throws the whole thing off. 

What I forget is that sometimes the thrown off schedule is much better than anything I could possibly put pen to.

Last week I took my son to day camp for the first time.  A new camp, a new behavioral therapist – my son is recovering from autism, new gymnastics facility, new everything.  I found myself feeling a little resentful as I took my son to camp. Because everything was so new I felt obligated to stay instead of returning home to work.  I decided to suck it up and hope for the best by bringing my yellow pad with me.

The truth is that it was a fabulous morning.  I sat on the bleachers and worked while my son had a blast.  I took breaks on a regular basis and managed to take a ton of pictures of my kid enjoying himself.  By the end of the morning I had accomplished more than I can typically get done in two mornings, and I had a ton of pictures for my son’s scrapbook.

Since then I have been taking my son and dropping him off.  I haven’t gotten as much done and I haven’t enjoyed my mornings as much as I did that day. So my new plan is to take a lap top with me  get a lot done and have fun while I’m doing it.  Did I say I have a plan?  I can hear God chuckling. 

Mathilda the Mad Mommy Monster

Something I heard yesterday made me mad.  So mad that briefly I turned into Mathilda the Mad Mommy Monster, she is the Mom equivalent of the incredible Hulk.  When ever some thing involving children and children’s rights is wrong of unfair I seem to get a big estrogen jolt and at least in my mind’s eye I get superhuman powers, bloat up, turn green and feel like I could step on small buildings and crush them.  At least that’s what it feels like.Having said that, and we can all sense a Mad Mommy Monster rant coming on…..I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  I am not anti –vaccination, I am pro parent choice.  I am not a scientist, I am a Mom, the jury is still out for me on vaccines.  But I whole heartedly believe in parent’s rights to choose what goes in their children’s bodies, and I am a super supporter of Mother’s instincts, which I believe transcend science.Okay, end of disclaimer, on to the rant!

A good friend sent me an email yesterday that she has to take her 4 year old in for vaccines, because she was told that he can’t go to Kindergarten without them.  She said she didn’t want to do it, but he has to go to Kindergarten.  Apparently the principal himself told her that her child could not be admitted without the proper vaccinations.

This is a lie. It is a lie that is being told to parents all over the country.  You do not have to have your child vaccinated to send them to school.  Parents all over the country have stood up to the lie, and the schools when challenged have let the children attend school without vaccinations.  I talk to women all over the country who have been faced with school officials who have told them there is no way around it – the child has to be vaccinated, and when the parent would not consent there was always some form in a hidden drawer that the parent or the child’s pediatrician could sign to waive having the vaccines.  I personally have had to do this.

I understand what the schools are trying to do.  They are trying to keep “herd percentages” on vaccines.  In order for a vaccine to be effective there has to be a certain percentage in a herd who actually get the vaccine, once that percentage is reached there is an assumption that there cannot be an outbreak.

I think what makes me mad is the school’s coercive methods attempt to take advantage of our trusting natures.  It doesn’t occur to us that a school official would lie to us about something as important as our parental rights.  No one can force you to vaccinate your child.  Consider religions who do not believe in using certain medical technology.  The courts have never been successful in forcing parents to treat their children unless there were dire medical consequences and even then the courts have not been successful in all cases.

If my friend was scientologist do we really think that the principal would turn her child away and refuse to allow him to attend kindergarten without the vaccines?  No, because that would be unconstitutional, and the principal knows that.  A little piece of paper would be taken out of the dark hidden drawer, the parent would sign their refusal to vaccinate and everyone would go on their merry way.

But principals and school officials all over the country are telling parents lies in the hopes that they will just be intimidated into being in the “herd”.  I’m not a fan of lies, especially where my child is concerned, and I really don’t appreciate it coming from a professional who claims to have my child’s best interests at heart.  It makes Mathilda the Mad Mommy monster really angry!

My point is, where your child is concerned follow your instincts.  Don’t believe everything that nice people in suits tell you, and don’t take anyone’s word for what is right for your child.  Take the time to educate yourself and make the decision that is right for your family and your child.

If you want more information about vaccines, alternative vaccination schedules and how to minimize any possible negative effects of vaccinations, I suggest visiting Generation Rescue.

Mathilda the Mad Mommy Monster signing off!

Being a Virtual Assistant Makes More Things Possible

by Shannon Penrod

Today was my son’s IEP to transition to kindergarten.  If you don’t know what that means take a moment and be grateful.  An IEP is an individualized educational plan.  It is only necessary when your child has special needs or concerns.  My child has Autism.  This was his third IEP.  This is the first IEP that I have attended where I actually had had sleep in the last week.  Why? Because now I am a virtual assistant and I was able to rearrange my week so that I didn’t have to stay up nights to prepare for the IEP. I got to be a sane person, which meant that I was a better representative for my child.

I explained to a friend yesterday that attending an IEP is a lot like buying a new car, you need to know what you want and negotiate your way to an equitable agreement.  Only with an IEP what you are negotiating is your child’s entire future – NO STRESS!  And today there wasn’t.  Because of my job I was able to do my job, for my kid. No small thing.

I talk to parents all the time who are struggling, trying to figure out how to work and see to their child’s needs.  This is true in almost all homes.  It is especially poignant to me in a home with a child who has a disability.  How do you choose between providing for your child’s special needs and being available to take them to therapy, doctor’s appointments etc, etc, etc.  It was a puzzle I couldn’t figure out until I became a virtual assistant. 

To all of you Autism Moms out there, I just want to say that this is one solution that works.  While my son is getting ABA therapy I am in the next room with my baby monitor on listening to everything while I write blogs and articles for realtors around the country.

A Day in the Life of a Virtual Assistant

by Shannon Penrod

People ask me all the time what I do. When I tell them I am a Virtual Assistant they still ask, “But what do you do?” I explain to them that Virtual Assistants do virtually anything from research, to writing and all manner of office related tasks in between.  We just perform these wonders from the comfort of our own circumstances. 

For me that means working from home, around my 4 year old son’s hectic schedule.  You might think, “How hectic can a 4 year old’s schedule be?” You would be surprised.  Most 4 years olds these days are busy.  My little guy is super busy.  He’s recovering from autism on a minute by minute basis which literally is a full time job.  My son goes to pre-school 5 days a week and then has 30 more hours of ABA therapy in our home per week.  Factor in speech therapy, physical therapy, clinics, play dates, and the birthday party ciruit and we’re talking about a schedule that would make the energizer bunny tired. 

So how does all of that translate into some sort of a work schedule for me?  Here is what my day was like today:

6:20 Rise and turn on the computers (I have 2!) Unload the dishwasher while waiting letting the computers boot.

6:30 Placed a call to Florida to tell a new client that I had recieved her faxes

6:35 Converted an AVI video file into a .mov file and a .flv file transfered the files between computers and emailed the files to a client who needed them for his website.

6:40 Wrote 3 blogs for a local real estate legend

7:00 Had breakfast with my son and my husband.

7:30 Loaded my son into the car and drove him to speech therapy.

8:00 Handed my son over to the speech therapist.Organized my day’s schedule and called the AVI file client to make sure he recieved the file.

8:30 Walked my son from speech to his Pre-K class and spoke briefly with his teachers and 1:1 aide.  Kissed my son good bye and drove home.

9:00 Arrived at home and started a load of laundry and sat down to write.  Wrote 2 more blogs for the local real estate legend and emailed them off with photos for approval. Wrote 9 additional blogs for realtors around the country and emailed them out for approval.  Front loaded 8 blogs from the previous days approvals so they will post to the clients blogs in the future.  Monitered comments on 4 websites and answered 5 emailed client questions.

12:15 Had lunch with my son who had been picked up from school by my husband.

12:30 Greeted the first therapist at the door, played with my son while she prepared the programs she wanted to work on with him.

12:45 Back at work, did research on the real estate trends and located pictures for upcoming blogs.

2:45 Played with my son while the therapist recorded data from her session with my son.

3:00 Took my son swimming in our complex’s pool.

3:45 Arrived at home, the next therapist waiting at our door. Changed both my son and myself out of wet bathing suits and updated the therapist on my son’s progress at school.

4:00 Back at work.  Made 4 client phone calls, sent 8 emails answering questions, requests and other issues.  Composed and sent a letter requested by a client.  Compiled and sent out my monthly invoices.

5:45 Cooked dinner with my son as the second therapist compiled data from the session with my son.

6:10 Ate dinner with my son.

7:00 Put my son in the bathtub with some Legos and checked email while he played.

7:30 Watched Word World with my son and then read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone until he fell asleep.

8:15 Checked email again.

8:30 Welcomed my husband home from work and talked about the day’s events.

9:00 Took a look at what the other ladies had to say in their blogs and decided to write this blog.

What’s next?  A shower, a quick fast forward through American Idol to see who was voted off tonight and then off to bed with the latest romance novel.  That’s if I can manage to keep my eyes open.

That was today April 30, 2008 in the life of this mom and virtual assistant.