Category Archives: Autism

Review: No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches by Jeff Davidson

No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Jeff Davidson, founder of Rising Above Ministries, authored a must read book for fathers of special needs children.  No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches: A Father, A Son with Special Needs, and Their Journey with God chronicles his life as a special needs parent.  Jeff presents a poignant and transparent look into his thoughts and feelings, offering the reader a chance to connect with the roller coaster of emotions and spiritual challenges that often accompany special needs parenting.  As the father of a child with severe physical challenges as well as autism, Jeff’s journey resonates across a variety special needs life circumstances. Each chapter is grounded in his theological understanding of God’s grace and love.

Jeff is passionate about filling the gap of support for special needs dads.  He discusses in an opening chapter the need to reach out and encourage dads in particular due to a trend that he calls “vacant dads.” Having walked the journey as a special needs father, Jeff offers unique insights about how to avoid the pitfalls that make it so tempting to “check out.” His is a positive and encouraging message that in no way sugar-coats the reality of hard days.  His voice of wisdom and experience guide the way on a journey toward acceptance, revealing moments that transcend real time when God steps into everyday life with Jeff and his son.

Jeff has created the No More Vacant Dads Initiative, a positive ministry with a mission to preserve, encourage and equip special needs dads. Still in the start-up phase, there is a long-term vision for coaching and mentoring.  You can learn more about Jeff’s ministry through GoodnightSuperman.com.

About the Author: Jeff Davidson is the founder and President/CEO of Rising Above Ministries, a national special needs ministry serving special needs families. A pastor, speaker, and author, Jeff says he was chosen to be the dad of a son with special needs, and called by God to minister to those in the special needs community. Rising Above was birthed by Jeff, and his wife Becky, based upon their own experiences raising their son with profound special needs.   In addition to his own blog, GoodnightSuperman.com, Jeff also is a contributing author to the blog Not Alone SpecialNeedsParenting.net and he writes atComfortinTheMidstofChaos.com. In addition, Jeff is a team member and special-needs writer at 1Corinthians13Parenting.com. He also serves on the advisory team and blogs at Disability Matters WhyDisabilityMatters.org.

 

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Just the Right Teacher

Back to School

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching … (Romans 12:6-7 NRS)

Meet-the-teacher night is always exciting, nerve-wracking, and hope-filled. Thinking back to when my son was young, at the start of a new school year, I would get anxious butterflies thinking about whether or not a teacher would “get” my son.  His behaviors could be challenging. He took up a lot of extra time due to his learning differences.  I would try to fill the gap a bit for his teachers each year by taking things off their plate where I could.  I figured teaching my son ought to come with some perks. I volunteered to help in the workroom, moving my teacher’s requests to the top the pile and doing them first. Every month I’d leave a small appreciation gift in their mailbox just to let them know how much it meant to me that they were helping my son learn despite his challenges.  A small packet of home-baked cookies, a giant chocolate bar, a gift card to a coffee shop or movie theater were just simple ways of saying thanks. My gifts were so small in comparison to the gifts they gave to Craig.

Teaching children is not a gift I have.  You know how some folks can walk into a room, snap the lights off and on and everyone gets quiet and pays attention?  When I try that I have five kids racing to the light switch, “Let me do it!” Math facts? Forget it! Oh I know them.  I just can’t teach them without someone ending up in tears. Often it’s me! Teaching truly is a gift and some have it and some don’t.  Since I don’t, I really appreciate those who do.

One of the greatest gifts I ever received came from my son’s helping teacher in first grade.  She had a great heart for special needs and could see past diagnosis to my son as a child of God, loving what she saw there. Toward the end of first grade we were talking after school one day when I picked up Craig. She was hoping for a child of her own, which was not coming as easily as it does for some.  She told me that she wished she had a boy just like mine.  I commented something about raising a boy is a lot of fun.  She said, “No. You aren’t hearing me.” Choking back tears, “I want a boy exactly like him. He’s amazing!” It was a healing balm for a hurting mother’s heart to know this woman who spent all day every day with my child was undaunted by behaviors and learning differences. Of all the kids she knew and helped she wanted one just like mine. In a way, her acceptance helped me with my acceptance.  I always accepted my child, but autism? It takes a while to make peace with that.  Having just the right teacher taught me a thing or two.

Prayer: Teaching God, We thank you for those who have the gift of teaching. They bless our families in powerful ways. Each child has a teacher who can unlock their abilities.  We pray your blessings on them as they prepare for a new school year. Amen.

Photo: Back to School by nuttakit from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just One Friend Part 2

Calhan_Colorado_High_School_Cafeteria_by_David_Shankbone

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. (Proverbs 18:24 NRSV)

Everyone wants and needs relationships. We are hard-wired for it. One of the biggest hurts I have felt as a parent is wanting my child to feel accepted and connected to others. In the support groups I lead it is a common issue that resurfaces again and again. I talk to parents about nurturing the relationships they do have and they switch to talking about relationships their children don’t have. I have been mulling around an idea that has not really taken shape yet, but it goes something like this. Wouldn’t it be great if churches could host a “Just One Friend” night. Invite the special needs community and anyone else who is looking for friendships. Set up games and activities. Parents stay and help foster connections. This in’t a respite night. It’s a relationship building night. Kids build relationships with kids.  Parents build relationships with each other. The general premise is that folks are coming to have fun and meet new people that they may want to connect with after game night is over. That’s kind of a bare bones snap shot, but I think it could be a way churches could offer important relief from isolation, which is a big part of healing on the journey with special needs.

Here are a couple of practical strategies I used for nurturing friendships when my son was younger. I recognize that this is not a universal list for all the various differences amongst our children. Hopefully it will at least provide some fertile ground for other ideas to spring up as well:

  • Remind your child that everyone will be looking to meet new people. They are not alone in that feeling of being in a class with new people.
  • Have your child talk to kids who are friendly and suggest they ask them questions. Kids love to talk about what they did over the summer. Be an interested listener.
  • Have them look for others who look lonely and talk to them. My son can spot a kid on autism spectrum in heartbeat. Like matches with like sometimes.  They get him in a way others don’t.
  • Have them make friends with grownups at school. The cafeteria monitor can be a great ally in finding friends and avoiding bullying.
  • Dress like everyone else. This sounds basic, but it is amazing what an impact it can have if a child is “over-dressed” for school, especially boys. If they look like they came from a fashion shoot for children’s resort wear change their clothes!
  • If you feed them they will come. If Craig had a friend over in elementary school (not an everyday occurrence!) I’d ask his guest what was his or her favorite cookie and then bake them while the kids played. Over the years Craig’s friends started calling our house Craig’s Pub. As teens, I started calling them the herd that comes to graze. BTW – 5 grazers coming for a half day video game birthday bonanza this weekend. (Number of gamers times number of pizza slices I think they want plus an extra two per person because they are boys divided by the number of slices in a large pizza…) Prayers appreciated that I don’t get trampled in the kitchen!
  • In keeping with the above strategy, drop by once or twice a month to the school cafeteria with a couple of pizzas or one of those giant cookie cakes. Some folks grab a slice and run. Others grab a slice and stay.
  • If you typically pack a treat in your child’s lunch, pack two so that they have an extra to share.
  • Invite others. Waiting around for a playdate invitation that doesn’t come feels lousy. Make the effort to extend yourself. Sometimes there will be rejection, but other times you get a winner.
  • Be intentional about fostering relationships. Even small acts of kindness are nurturing.

What are some friendship strategies that have worked in your household? Please comment and share ideas.  You never know what may help another parent spark a friendship.

Prayer: Loving God, We are wonderfully made to be in connection with others.  Please help those connections to grow among our children. Calm nervous feelings about meeting new people and open pathways for meaningful relationships to flourish. Amen.

Photo: “Calahan Colorado High School Cafeteria” by David Shankbone

Just One Friend Part 1

Calhan_Colorado_High_School_Cafeteria_by_David_Shankbone

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. (Proverbs 18:24 NRSV)

Didn’t summer just start last week or the week before?  Yet there they are. Ads in the paper for back-to-school supplies. My Facebook feed is full of friends caught up in back-to-school preparations. Friends who are teachers are posting pics as they fit in one more vacation before the new school year.

As a special needs parent, back-to-school comes with an oddly mixed sensation of anxiety and hope. I am always hopeful for a new year and new possibilities.  It’s the “what if” gremlins that make me anxious. With a little experience I finally figured out the first day of school routine.  I pray my son out the door with a positive, “God’s got you, so you’ve got this!” and keep the anxiety part to myself as I sit by the phone and wait for the call from the school office.  Autism and the first day of school. The call was inevitable at my house. I learned just to go with it.

My biggest prayer for my son each year is to make one friend. Just one. One good friend will see you through anything. Barnabas traveled with Paul on long and dangerous journeys to share the gospel.  Moses had Aaron on his journey to and from Egypt. David had Jonathan through battles and political intrigue. Of course my dreams were more sedate. I simply prayed for a person to sit with my son in the cafeteria and maybe hangout to build Lego castles and help save the world in the latest video saga. 

Looking back over the years that prayer has been answered each year. Some of those kids my son connected with in elementary school are still friends after high school. Some are neuro-typical.  Others are not. In the long run those differences matter little between real friends. The truth is that sometimes friendships bloom out of the most unlikely connections if well-nurtured, though I did give Craig one piece of advice that really helped.  Look for the kid who is by himself at lunch and go join him.  I bet he would like to have just one friend too.

Check back tomorrow for my post with practical strategies for helping our kids make friends.

Prayer: Loving God, Watch over our children as they look for friends.  Create pathways for connections where they feel loved and accepted.  Amen.

Photo: “Calahan Colorado High School Cafeteria” by David Shankbone

Just Horsing Around

Steeplechase_(2018245)

If I had known the day was going to include a life or death, headlong, downhill race after my son, I would have worn different shoes.  In hindsight, I should have seen it coming.

We moved to Chicago from Alaska while my husband attended graduate school. Living on a tight, student’s budget, we were happy to find a family friendly event in the neighboring town of Naperville, an annual steeplechase.  It was a day in the country with horses jumping over fences (be still my heart!), gorgeous fall foliage, and a hillside picnic where our high-energy, high-rise dwelling three year old with ASD could enjoy the great outdoors and fire his afterburners. Perfect! Thinking it might be a fancy horse event, I wore casual slacks and flats.  That was mistake number one. Oh, I was dressed just like everyone else, but…

We parked in the freshly mown hayfield and climbed the hill to find the ideal place for Craig to run and play, spreading out our blanket with the perfect view of the finish line. Opening our picnic hamper, we settled in for the first race. Eight brush jumps, a beginner round taken at an easy pace.  Craig watched the horses jump the first few fences, bouncing away in my lap on his imaginary horsey, and shouted, “My turn!”

I thought he was joking.

That was mistake number two.

Back in the day in Alaska I rode horses and my husband would meet me at the barn with our son.  After I had finished my ride, we’d buckle on a helmet and Craig would sit in the saddle in front of me, kicking his tiny feet, “Go Alex, go!”  Each time he got to the barn, he’d see me jump a fence or two, call out, “my turn!” and he’d get a ride.

You know how kids with ASD are about routine?  Well, I hadn’t figure that out yet.

He jumped out of my lap and started running down the hill, “My turn!  My turn!”

I called after him that he couldn’t ride those horses, thinking he would stop. Ya, right. All I managed to do was let him get a head start.

That was mistake number three. Game on!

Mommy instincts finally kicked in.  He’s not stopping!  His tiny legs had remarkable turnover as he sprinted for the finish line.  “Craig! Stop! The horses are coming!”

“My turn!”

Dear God help me! No one else knew what was happening. The rest of the sparse crowd had their attention fixed on the finish line. I started running faster, flats slipping on the damp grass.  My husband, realizing the seriousness, was on his feet behind me.  There was no time to zigzag around the other picnicking guests.  I leapt entire families in hurdler form, screaming like a crazy woman, “Craig! Stop!”

“My turn!”

All dignity gone, feet skidding wildly, I finally managed to scoop up Craig about ten yards from the rail. Frankly, I was glad I didn’t fall on him and crush him.

Relieved. Scared. Embarrassed. Elated.

I tucked him under my arm like a wiggly football, full of giggles for his great adventure,  and started the long trudge back up the hill to scattered, polite applause, apologizing to far more people than I care to remember. I was embarrassed, they were amused.

I realized in that moment how deeply I loved my child.  I couldn’t think of logical consequences for a punishment, nor behavior plans. I doubt in that moment I even knew my own name, but I felt an overwhelming sense of love and knew nothing would keep me from chasing after him.

Perhaps that was for me a dim glimpse into the love that Paul writes of in his letter to the Romans.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)

Absolutely nothing separates us from the love of God. God loves us in a deep and abiding sense. God, too, pursues us when we are headed the wrong way, flinging wide protective arms, even when we chose not to see them. When we finally turn to Him, He embraces us. “Welcome home, little one! I’m glad you’ve stopped horsing around.”

Photo by Jason Trommetter “Steeplechase” via Wikimedia Commons

Thank you Sandra Peoples for inviting me to guest blog today wiht this post at  specialneedsparenting.net.  If any parents out there are looking for a great book to use for parent support resources, check out Sandra’s book “Held.”

What I Learned on World Autism Awareness Day

On Wednesday, April 2 2014, I joined in with celebrating World Autism Awareness Day. The tagline of the day was “Light it up blue!” and so I did.  I updated Facebook with a blue cover photo and profile pic, all promoting autism awareness. I also dressed in blue, celebrating the many people in my life impacted by autism, including my son.

Figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge.  I discovered at the last minute that I do not have much blue in my professional wardrobe, but one royal blue cardigan peeked out among a rack of long sleeves. Putting it on, I recalled something else I own that went perfectly with that royal blue sweater, a magnificent fascinator filled with feathers, tulle and a bow, all framed in a malleable brim. I bought it for a trip to the Kentucky Derby that never happened. Just the perfect thing to add a bit of whimsy to a day of celebration for friends whose lives could use to be celebrated publicly much more often. Upon arrival at the office, I clipped on the fascinator at the oh-so-perfect, jaunty angle (no small task that!), snapped a selfie, posted it and tagged my many friends whose lives are touched by ASD.

Originally, I meant to remove my hat after the selfie. I felt a bit self-conscious in the office.  I thought, “If I wear this hat, I’m going to get funny looks and have to explain it all day long.” Then again, isn’t that what an AWARENESS day is for? Creating awareness?  If I just wore blue, I reasoned no one would think that was out of the ordinary. But sporting a headful of feathers and tulle? That’s a whole other matter!

What started as my grand social experiment in creating awareness became something else entirely by the end of the day. At first, it was kind of novel. I encountered the anticipated funny looks and immediately explained to each person why I was wearing a hat. By the time I had done it, five times, ten times, the novelty faded.  It got to the point that I skipped over a few opportunities for explanation and just walked on by, accepting the funny looks and occasional humorous comment.  By noon I found myself almost hiding in my office, knowing that another trip down the hall would be another encounter.  It grew old getting odd stares.  I debated removing my hat. It would have been so easy to just take it off and be “normal.”

I wonder how often people with autism wish they could simply take it off. Wouldn’t it be nice not to get the quizzical looks for behavior that isn’t what others expect? Even just for a while? As a parent of a son with Asperger’s, I’ve felt those stares weighing on me and on my son, especially when he was younger. That repeated question from those who don’t understand, “Why can’t he just (fill in the blank – behave, be quiet, eat what everyone else is eating, etc.)? Well, the answer is he can’t, at least not on that day.  It’s not a choice.  Asperger’s, like other special needs, is not something that can be taken off. My hiding in the office and avoiding the break room reminded me of times when my son was young and I longed to take him to the playground, but knew that was not a place where he met with much success. I would gaze out my dining room window toward the playground. If there were other children and parents there, and it had been a challenging day, I knew we just couldn’t go that day.

In the parent support group that I lead, we’ve all experienced times when we get tired of receiving “the look” and choose to withdraw. It’s easier to be alone, or so we tell ourselves.  It is really isn’t. We are made for community. It reminds me of the story in the Gospel of John.  Jesus was walking through Samaritan territory and he stopped at a well in the middle of the day while it was hot and no one else was around.  Soon a woman came, one who chose to isolate herself from stares and whispers, coming to the well in the hot afternoon sun when others were at home. It was easier for her to be alone, too. But it really wasn’t. And Jesus knew it. By the end of her conversation with Jesus, she was restored to community. So eager was she to get back to her people, that she left her water jug by the well and ran all the way back to her village, inviting others to come and see Jesus for themselves. That is what Christ does for us. He restores us and calls us out of isolation and into community.  Yes, even us with lives touched by special needs.

This reminds me of the amazing story of a church that embraced Max and Emily Colson. Emily posted a blog that went viral sharing her experience of a cruel movie audience that heckled, jeered and mocked, driving Emily and her son Max out of the theater due to Max’s autism. Their church stood beside them and rented out an entire theater so that 500 people could attend Movie with Max.  Their church celebrated autism awareness, not with a splash of blue, but by embracing and including.

Our need for inclusion and understanding is part of the fabric of our beings of which we are wonderfully woven by God. Living into inclusion involves creating awareness in whatever way we can, whether at a movie theater with 500 of our closest friends, or wearing a silly hat to the office. When we stay engaged, even when it is hard, it is one more chance to shine the light of Christ for the ones in our lives who put the “awesome” in autism.

Autism Awareness Day