If a Photo Tells a Story

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Here we are, my youngest son and me. It was as uneventful as it looks. We were waiting in the van for Daddy to come out of the grocery store. My buddy said he didn’t want to go in so he sat with Mommy. He did get anxious while we waited so I decided to distract him with one of his favorite activities, taking his picture. “Cheeeeese!!!” he said while sporting his best cheesy grin. Of course I didn’t like how I look in any of the photos. My hair has been falling out at breakneck speed lately. I also noticed his hair was getting a little long. I am glad his medication hasn’t been doing to his hair what my medication has done to mine. Anyway, he was overdue for his haircut. Although, he’s been doing better at getting a haircut, I thought I’d let him go a little longer before we’d give him one. Autism and haircuts don’t mix well at our house.

That’s how life is for us, things like a haircut that seem simple usually have a story behind it, like this photograph. What you don’t see in this photograph is how swollen and painful my knees were that day and how bad my shoulder hurt. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was causing me a lot of grief. The only other time I had left the house that week was to pick up my oldest son from school. By this time, I was anxious to find any reason to leave the house.

Leaving the house wasn’t what it used to be and I was wondering if I should apply for a handicap placard. You see my cutie in this photo has had a rough life. Here he is at the end of a very rough summer. He has been weaker than usual because his seizures had been increasing. He didn’t want to go in because he had a few seizures that day and he was weak and a bit tired. I wondered if I should get a placard for the times he may want to go in and a long walk to the store would be too hard for him. What about me? Some days I can barely make it down my hall to the bathroom but I worry because neither of us “look” handicap. I had a crazy vision where someone deciding to do their own sort of “justice” was yelling at me for parking in a handicap spot as I unload my kids since I may not give the world some sort of visual confirmation of our need for a placard. There is no membership card for a chronic illness club. I guess it’s best I wait. We’d be okay a while longer, I guess.  I try not to take the kids out alone, it’s too hard on my body. So I thought about another topic; how sad this summer was and how we really didn’t do anything fun. I apparently wasn’t being very positive on this day.

My thoughts were interrupted by my son spitting. Yes, he has a bad habit. I’m not surprised. He has autism and epilepsy, and I have Tuberous Sclerosis to thank for all of that. He does things to make his Mom squirm, like most kids do, it’s just a bit harder to convince him to give up a bad habit. I try to be as patient as I can because I know he has a lot going on. I am not the master of patience yet, but I was getting a lot of practice in the parking lot this day.

He wasn’t interested in much that evening, including his iPad. When we are waiting for a long stretch I usually play a movie for the kids. We got this van specifically for the DVD players. Unfortunately they stopped working. Not great news for me. It’s helpful for times like these when I am at the receiving end of spit. There would be no way we’d be able to fix the DVD system so I tried not to think about it. It would just make me mad. I pulled out the next best thing to the DVD players, my phone. Technology can sometimes be grand and seeing himself on my phone is always grand for him. We took our picture together. We are two peas in a pod, he and I….

The course of my disease is eerily mirroring the one he has already taken. He took a medication that required eye exams every three months to check for vision loss. I am supposed to do the same but we don’t have vision insurance, so I am hoping for the best. He moved on to another medication after that one failed. It is used to treat cancer. He has to have labs done every three months to make sure the rest of his body is okay with the medication. I’m right behind him with Methotrexate and looking to see if I can start, and most importantly afford, to continue to take it after the first of the year. With all of the gloomy thoughts, I’m thankful his smile can put a smile on my face.

I flipped through the photos we took and wondered if my face looked a bit more round than usual. I had been on predisone for a while and I’d rather blame the medication for any noticeable fullness in my face instead of my late night snacking. I noticed how tiny my son looks in the picture. We were at the store so his Daddy could go in to buy him his breakfast shakes. It’s the only thing he will consume consistently. We buy them to supplement his diet. It isn’t cheap but it helps him maintain his weight.

That reminded me to check our bank account. “I hope there is enough in there to buy what he needs,” I thought. I sighed and took a long look at the summer sun. It will be sad to see it go. I wished we both felt good enough to enjoy it. We did miss a lot but we do have this picture together. We can certainly look the part but rarely does anyone really know what’s behind a photo.

There is usually a story behind our photos, as there are stories behind many things in our life that no one knows about. I’m smiling but I am always thinking about our health, money, the future, and sometimes regret. I try not to be negative but it’s hard not to be on occasion. The great thing is that he can always find a way to remind me how to be happy despite the flurry of thoughts that often bring my spirits down. It’s as simple for him as taking a photo with his very best smile. Although it won’t be that easy for me, I am certainly going to give it a try. Someday we may look back at this photograph among others, and I want him to know there was a genuine smile on my face, and he was one of the reasons why. I am blessed for every last moment, even uneventful ones like this time when he and I can take a moment, forget our troubles, and smile. “Cheeeeese!!!”

*d*

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Beauty in a Different Wrapper

We sat alone and waited for the neurologist. “My son has a neurologist,” I thought, “how did this happen?” We stared at the computer sitting on a long table. Shortly we’d be able to see what was causing our baby’s seizures. It was like waiting to unveil and unknown enemy. The neurologist would soon come in, press a few buttons on that computer, and show us what was so different about our little boy. He had a number of different tests over the two days we had been at the hospital but only the M.R.I. would allow us to actually look at what this Tuberous Sclerosis Complex was doing to our baby. The name was foreign to us but yet it was suddenly going to be a part of our lives. A mere three days ago we had a normal little boy but now we had that little boy plus a rare disease unknown to us and most of the hospital staff.

We spent several hours on the phone trying to explain what our little boy had and what it meant for his future but we only managed to muddle through the numerous conversations with family and friends. Whatever this Tuberous Sclerosis was, I hated it and I wanted no part of what it was doing to my son.

My husband and I looked at each other. We gave one another the same look; the look that asks, “What are we going to do?” I am sure I had just as much desperation in my eyes as I saw in his. We felt defeated, broken, and very much alone.

It was in those moments after receiving that terrible news that our life seemed to stop so abruptly. It stopped, we stopped, and for the first time, we had no clue as to where our lives were heading. The addition of this terrible knowledge gave us a heightened awareness of how normal the lives were of those same family and friends we had those muddled conversarions with in those first few hours after we arrived at the hospital. Our normal was gone. I realized everything had changed and life would not go on for us as it once did. We were handed back our life in shambles as it was our turn to get the terrible news. Why did we have to be the ones? Why did our son have to be sick? Things like this don’t happen so close to home, let alone in our home. What was worse was the terrible feeling of isolation. No matter who called us, hugged us, or offered comfort, no one could stand in and take our pain. The gnawing yearning to find someone, anyone who would intimately understand our pain was overwhelming. We didn’t want to feel so….. alone…..

Last year I had an idea, I wanted to start a blog. At first, I really didn’t want to share it with the world. I wanted to keep it within a limited reach. My friend and I loved to write and what better way to turn what we love into a little more. Over the years I have wrote a few thought-filled pieces for my Facebook friends updating them on the condition of my son but the response was minimal at best. I thought that maybe I should be the one reaching out to others searching like me.

So we decided we would write. To keep our little blog confidential and comfortable, we began to use just an initial as our names, *d* and ~L~.  This was good for many reasons; we could have the freedom of writing without backlash from hyper-critial people and if we were at the receiving end of negative feedback, they would be cutting down these alternative personas of us, not the actual us, my friend and I could be viewed as equals in our pieces and we would be able to blur the lines of our differences and write cohesively, and hopefully readers could identify with us much easier. We wanted anyone to say, “Yes, I could be *d* or ~L~ and I feel the same way”. A few months after we began our venture, I decided to submit my work and try to reach a little further out into the world. Since my first submission to The Mighty in June, I have twelve pieces on their site and one of those went on to be successfully picked up by Yahoo Health. I am amazed my voice has made it that far. But there is so much more we want to do. There is a definite purpose in our writing, maybe we don’t fully understand what it is, but I know what I would like it to be….. I don’t want anyone to feel as alone as my husband and I did when our son was diagnosed. I want others who feel alone to find a common thread in our writing. The story of my life is a mess but I feel like I need to share it. I want others to know there is hope and happiness in what seems to be the most difficulty.

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I am often in awe of humanity. It’s easy to get tangled in all the bad news shared on television and social media. It makes me sad when stories highlighting the resilience and goodness of humanity occupy only a few short minutes of our day. We are beautiful creatures. My faith teaches me that we are perfectly designed and created but I also understand that my opinion is as different as we are from each other. Nonetheless, we cannot deny the genuine beauty we all possess. We have and inner strength and beauty that makes us move forward in the face of the most impossible feats and dares us to move even further to explore ourselves. Despite the vast array of our own kind, we hold many unspoken, common bonds. Most of us want commpanionship, we want to feel loved, and we are looking for ways to become better versions of ourselves.

No doubt evil has encroached on the heels of humanity. It tempts us to turn our backs on one another, deprive the needy, and think only of what is good for ourselves. The battle of good and evil will exist long after our generations have passed so that means we have to work that much harder, no matter what you believe, to ensure humanity can continue to shine as a beacon of love and grace.

Finding our purpose isn’t always easy. As a child, we think about what we would like to do when we grow up. When we listen closely to our little ones, a good majority of them want to help others in the future. As we grow we learn and change our opinions of what would be best for us. We also think about if what we want to spend the rest of our lives doing is best for us. We take into consideration finances, schooling, and where we would like to live. But we cannot forget those first thoughts we may have had about our future. The possibilities were endless. Today we may not want to pursue a career in service to others but we can still do great things for each other. These acts may only require a moment of your time but they can impact the world one moment at a time for the good of our future.

I want to write. I want to expose the raw nature of my life and sometimes open myself up to critics to be a voice of hope. While I have come to terms with the very real possibility and reality that I will be at the receiving end of negativity, it all becomes worth it when I have successfully reached across the small screen of my phone to put out my virtual hand to another human being that needs to hear the words, “You are not alone.”

We were not meant to be alone. We were gifted one another. Yes, it’s hard when we are gifted with something that is sometimes difficult to understand or appreciate. Sometimes those gifts aren’t as we imagined but once we take the time to unwrap what we have, we can see the goodness under any wrapping. We sometimes have to tear off shame, guilt, fear, and a common flawed nature to find the treasure inside. We have to take the time to understand that an unexpected gift is sometimes the best gift of all.

Life comes with shocking and truly terrifying moments. These moments can sometimes pull us to the edge more times than we would rather admit but if we are all honest with one another, we would say that our toes have all been dangling over that edge. We have all felt the disparate loneliness that we must face alone. No one else can stand in if and when the word cancer, disability, or death is directed at us. No one else can stand alongside the casket of our precious loved one and receive condolences. There are times when we have to stand alone but that doesn’t mean we have to be alone. We can find comfort when a hand reaches out from across that chasm and a voice says, “I have been there too”.

Eventually those voices and hands that reach out to grab us at our most vulnerable moments are those hands that welcome us home. Home indeed can be made of walls, windows, and our personal memories but home is a place where we feel like we belong. I recently had a conversation with my aunt who has struggled most of her life. She, like many people, have felt isolated and alone because she was different. During a recent conversation she said, “For years, all I wanted was my family.” It took years and a lot of heartache but she has found love and acceptance. And she feels like she has a home. She has a place where she is loved beyond the wrapping she had felt was too different to love.

In the reach of our progress, it is sad when there are people who still feel unloved and alone because their wrapping. They are those who identify themselves as “different” or were gifted something precious in a different wrapper. We must not forget, when we are all stripped down to the core of our humanity, we want to be loved, we want to be accepted, and we have fought for a place to belong. So don’t believe the headlines that scream to the masses that life is only for those who come from a predetermined mold. Humanity is for everyone. Life is meant to be cherished and enjoyed and you don’t have to fit a hypothetical criteria to do that.

We learn to grow and truly appreciate what we have when our toes are dangling over the edge. It is then we look back and yearn for that solid ground. Too soon life can change and you may be asked to break the mold. If that time comes, take all the strength of humanity and break it across that divide. Will you help bridge the gap and fill the void with all the wonderful things that make you different and a beautiful part of us all?

*d*

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A Matter of Perspective

One of the biggest challenges special needs parents face is trying to unravel the complex issues associated with our children. Sometimes it’s asking, “Why won’t he eat?” to “Why is she so anxious during social events?” Parents like my husband and I not only have to deal with issues such as these but we are also trying to understand everything associated with him medically. All these things intertwine like a complex web and pulling at any part of this web will no doubt effect something else.

For example, my one of my son’s diagnoses is epilepsy and when his seizures become poorly controlled, we have to decide the next step in management. Most of the time we choose to increase the dosage of his current medication before trying another medicine or approach. We also know his behavior is directly effected by how much medication he is taking as he has been known to have a low tolerance for anti-epileptics at high doses. This has made finding the right therapy for seizure control challenging. We want control but we also don’t want to see him overly aggressive and causing harm to himself or others.

A few years ago he started a new medication to treat his primary diagnosis, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). The medication is normally used to treat cancer but it has been found to be a promising drug to treat TSC. A year after starting this medication, he was seizure free but he also stopped eating. Feeding issues were not new to him but giving up eating was and we became concerned. After asking adults on the same medication, speaking to his clinic and a nutritionist, we have a better understanding of how the medication may be effecting him and a plan to help him get the nutrition he needs, but we still don’t fully understand how to unravel this complex issue. He could be refusing to eat because of his autism, medication, or behavioral issues. We also realize that we could be partly to blame for his finicky eating habits.

These two examples are not the only ones I could list but they are the issues that have caused the most conflict in our lives. It is particularly difficult for us to pull our son apart from his problematic issues and fully understand how to manage them, so trying to explain it to others is almost impossible.

I know my husband and I are not the only parents who are exhausted by the questions and unwanted advice over subjects we are trying to understand ourselves. We started our son in early intervention at four months of age. I have worked with therapist for years discussing his different habits and behavioral issues. We have spoke to his team of doctors, nurses, psychiatrist, nutritionist, and many more to try to give us the best chance of helping him live the fullest life possible. After seven years, there are many questions that we still cannot answer. There are many questions that don’t have answers. I want to share a few insights to what it feels like for special needs parents when conflicts arise over our child’s issues.

1: Unwarranted parenting advice makes us feel like we haven’t done enough for our children.
Although we have spent years with professionals to try to help our child work through various problems, there is no magic fix. There will still be times when he will have a meltdown, inflict harm on himself or others, and many other things we’d rather not see. This does not grant anyone the right to offer advice when it isn’t needed. The truth is, we don’t like seeing our children struggle either. That’s why we have been working very hard to help our children. Don’t forget that they are often struggling in ways we don’t understand. If you haven’t been working just as hard at helping, then stop the unwarranted advice.

2: Dictating to us about what you think our child should or should not do causes unwanted stress.
We have been there. There is a party and all the kids are lined up, ready to play a game and someone says, “Everyone plays, even (insert our child’s name here)”. We have even been told we HAVE to sing The Happy Birthday song to our son even though it causes him anxiety and will set off a meltdown. We do want to help our child test his boundaries but we are also well aware of those boundaries. We certainly don’t appreciate someone else making assumptions about what our child can or will do. If we choose for him not to participate, we have a good reason and if that isn’t good enough, prepare to get what you have asked for, anxiety from our child or a stern “no” from us. Asking before assuming is always the best approach.

3: Pointing out our child’s flaws is very upsetting.
I don’t understand why others feel the need to point out our child’s issues, like we are blind to them. We are obviously aware of these things, it is OUR child. Instead, try acknowledging the good things our child is trying to do.

4: Fixing our child for us undermines our parenting.
Trying to “fix” things, especially without our consent is not welcome. If we don’t offer our child fruit at the dinner table, we don’t want anyone else to either. If our child hasn’t had a haircut for a while, there is probably a reason for it. Don’t try to save the day with these “fixes.” We are not neglecting our child when we choose not to do or offer things that others may feel he needs. Sensory issues are usually behind the anxiety he feels over getting a haircut or being offered a new food (with a new look or texture) so unless you are a expert on sensory or anxiety issues associated with autism, please stop. The best thing to do is ask, “How can I help?”

5:  Ignoring requests associated with our child will indeed causes friction in our relationships.
My late grandfather meant well when he would ask my son if his food was “good” every time my son sat at the table with him. My son’s response to the question was always the same, he’d scream and hit himself. This never stopped my grandfather, he’d keep asking. This caused us a lot of anxiety because even getting our son to the table was an accomplishment. Mealtime is usually the biggest cause of anxiety for our son. It takes a lot of effort to get him to sit at the table for a meal and getting him to eat is an even bigger deal. After all the work involved, it would be undone with the same question from my grandfather, “Is that good?” Ignoring the obvious friction the question caused made mealtime a problem for all of us.
Sometimes an innocent question or action could cause anxiety for our child, so we ask our requests regarding our child be respected. Don’t be the reason for additional stress.

The bottom line is this; we need the support of those around us. We understand it’s hard for those who love our child to feel helpless because they want to help. The truth is, we feel helpless too but we are doing our best despite the fact that we don’t have all the answers. We want to be trusted to know what is best for our children. When we all work together, we have the best chance at helping these wonderful children have a happy future.

*d*

What is Important to Me in the Coming Election

Dear Presidential Candidates,

I would like to be very candid with you about my life because I am a representation of many silent voters who are watching you carefully. I am an American who is living with chronic illness and I am also an American who has a special needs child. It may be rare to have both a debilitating disease and a child with one but here we are and I want share 6 points that are important to me. By the way, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and my son has Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. Neither disease has a cure so our problems are life long, so we hope for long term solutions to the issues that are important to us.

So, how can my life be important for your champaign?

1: My son collects Social Security Disability Income.
Thus far, I do not. My disease has become more debilitating since my diagnosis and some day I may choose to apply for Social Security Income, but the difficult process is enough to make me steer clear of it for now. Everything I have learned and experienced about social security is difficult. I don’t have to go any farther than my phone to realize how broken our system has become. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this vital lifeline but we have developed a love/hate relationship with this program that was supposed to be designed to help children and families like mine.

2: We are directly effected by drug companies charging outrageous prices on medications.
My son was prescribed a medication for a type of catastrophic epilepsy called Infantile Spasms. We saw a huge increase in the price of this medication after FDA approval. He has since started a new specialty medication and because of the price, we are required by insurance to get preapproval every three months. This means I am a sick with worry every three months wondering if they will approve the only medication that has helped my son have an improved quality of life and seizure control. When has it been acceptable business practice to jeopardize lives to make money? The practice of specialty medications being distributed only by speciality pharmacies has also become an issue. The problems some families run into with these pharmacies is inexcusable. These problems range from allowing delay in medication shipment (even if it means the patient will run out of medication) and dropping a patient without proper notification (we have experienced both).

3: I refused medication to treat my own disease because I didn’t know if I could afford it in the future.
In January our high deductible insurance starts a new year and we still don’t know if we will be able to afford the out of pocket cost until our deductible is met. More private insurance companies are offering skyrocketing deductibles with H.S.A. accounts. They try to say we can thus control our own health care with an H.S.A. but this is false. In the end we are paying a premium, pushing money into an H.S.A. account, and we still don’t have nearly enough money to cover these huge deductibles.

4: My son and I have missed out on equipment, medication and therapy needed to help us live the best quality of life.
Everything comes with a price tag and if you have a disease, are disabled, or have been diagnosed with something like autism or sensory issues, expect a huge price tag. My son has needed protective headgear and a bed enclosure for his epilepsy and we needed help paying for these steeply priced products. He have lived without many items that would certainly make life easier for both of us because paying the price for these items would be nearly impossible, even with assistance.

5: Getting help paying for the variety of different needs is complicated.
Life is already hard with these difficulties and so many people have to navigate the paperwork and hoops to try to get what is needed and/or prescribed. How to get help should be clear and require minimal paperwork.

6: Families are choosing between health and cost.
No one asks to be diagnosed with something life altering. No one asks to live a difficult life made harder by the system that seems to work against people like me and families like mine. The government needs to decide if it actually wants to help or just talk about it. Cutting funding for critical needs programs is a low practice that needs to be stopped. In the end, you aren’t messing with dollars, you are messing with lives.

We are supposed to be living in the greatest county but many Americans are without insurance or reasonable insurance plans to pay for their medication and health care. It is a tragedy when drug companies can set their own prices and have no regard to the lives effected when the medication patients need is out of reach. If you don’t believe it, go to the local hospital and ask questions instead of taking pictures. I guarantee parents still have to leave the hospital empty handed and without what they need to take care of themselves or a sick child. The life of the sick should never carry a price tag. How sad. It’s time to consider what life is like for those who need the most help.

*d*

Pondering the “What If” in Life

It’s Monday and Kristie’s day began before most of the world opened it’s eyes. It’s 2 a.m. and one of her two sons is ready to start his day. Kristie rubbed her eyes, dreary from numerous days of scattered sleep.

“Can I get up?” asked her youngest son Blake standing next to her bed

“Go back to bed, it’s too early.” As he wandered back to his room, Kristie knew she shouldn’t get too comfortable. She knew he would come back and he’d probably ask to go to the toy room. Several minutes later, he was back. ” Come on,” she said as she walked with him to the toy room. She laid on the couch and he grabbed his iPad. She didn’t look forward to the next four hours of interrupted sleep on the couch.

On this morning Kristie couldn’t sleep. She settled on the couch and made her best attempt but couldn’t.  Instead she ended up watching her little boy. Her mind began to wonder about all the things surrounding Blake and her oldest son, Drew. She began to rehash the “what-ifs” and all the other parts of her life she tries not to think about. It’s the same inner monolog that plagued her when her oldest son Drew was born, it’s the same crushing thought that wonders what life would be like without Fragile X Syndrome. What if their two boys never had it and what if she never carried it? “What if,” she wispered to herself.

She began to wonder what their life would have been like without all the harsh looks, awful critism, and impossibly difficult days in the  fifteen years since Drew was born. She recalls the worst of moments when a harsh stare was enough to make her family feel unwelcome and how a terrible comment like, “You should stop having those defective children,” seemed to cut her to her soul. She could still feel the same sting she felt fifteen years ago when it was confirmed that Drew had Fragile X.

She sleepily closed her eyes and  began to dream, or maybe it was her imagination but when she opened her eyes, both of her boys stood in front of her. “Hi Mom!” They spoke with unbelievable clarity, each offering arms open wide. “Thank you,” she heard from both boys harmoniously. In her  confusion she also heard, “We know it’s been hard, sorry Mommy.”

“No babies, don’t say that.” She thought she had spoke but the words didn’t come out.

“I love you.”

“I love you ”

Each boy embraced her. The very real feeling startled her awake. It was Blake. He was pushing on her arm. He wanted to watch a movie. It was 4 a.m. She got him settled again, all the while playing back the vivid vision in her head. She returned to the couch and now she really couldn’t sleep. She felt a gnawing in the pit of her stomach. If getting carried away with an impossible notion where her boys weren’t plagued with Fragile X wasn’t enough, she felt like she got a very real glimpse of it. She was very certain her boys would never fully understand the difficulties their family faced daily. The boys didn’t know life without Fragile X, it’s all they knew, but Kristie couldn’t help but wonder.

What would it feel like without the cloud of anxiety that seemed to hover over her boys. The anxiety that make daily schedules a must, especially when plans change outside the normal routine, small difficulties a big deal, and outings that often feel more like a production. The anxiety that causes fear of the unfamiliar. The same fear that causes tension between the boys and sometimes leads to physical outbursts. Most importantly, what would life be like without her own anxiety over every decision made in regard to her boys?

Kristie and her husband wanted to be prepared because they knew they could not afford take the trial and error approach to parenting. They knew they would need support and help with the decisions they would have to make for their boys and a foreknowledge of how to deal with the issues that come with Fragile X. They have attended meetings and conferences to help navigate life with their two special boys. She and her husband couldn’t simply ask, “When will Drew start school?,” they asked questions like, “What’s an IEP?” and “Will this school be able to accommodate his special circumstances?”. They couldn’t anticipate developmental milestones, they had to work hard to help the boys reach them. Each day is hard work and she and her husband often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle. They fight everyday to make life fulfilling for their boys while trying desperately to somehow fulfill their own needs. So they do wonder what would life be like if every decision didn’t feel like a thread that could pull the complex tapestry of their lives apart.

Kristie blinked heavily, “It’s six Blake, let’s get a shower.”

At this age both her boys should be taking showers independently but both boys need help as developmental delays and anxiety keep them from doing it without assistance. Soon she would have to wake Drew who is often hard to get out of bed and often difficult to bathe.  After the routine of morning showers, Kristie either feels ready to approach the day or ready to go back to bed. Today was difficult. Both boys needed plenty of help and verbal cues to prepare for the morning. It felt like an entire day was packed into a mere few morning hours. Already tired and exhausted, she began to make a schedule for the day, but today was proving to be too much. She began to cry.

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Drew and Blake saw her crying. Drew nudged her and said, “You’re a sad little Mama,” and stormed off but Blake stood for a moment, looked at her, and began to cry.

She couldn’t help but smile through her tears. She looked at Blake and just like any other mom, she saw her baby and wiped away his tears. But Kristie became especially grateful for this moment. There was no anxiety, schedules, or questions, just a moment where she could cry with her little boy. It was a moment when he was moved by her sadness. This small moment reminded her of a great many things.

What would she be like without Fragile X? Would the small and grace given moments such as these be as special? Would she see the world with the same set of eyes if her life wasn’t entwined with it? Undoubtedly, the disease has laced each day with challenges most families will never face, but it has also allowed life with her boys to teach her many things.

She knows patience is not given but learned. She knows even when she has felt like she has failed, there is always an opportunity to try again.

Grace is invaluable. She knows why it is needed because she knows she has needed it.

Love should be given blindly and love is not defined by another’s capacity to reciprocate that love.

“I love you Blake,” she said as he left the room. Kristie wiped her own tears, reminded of why she makes it through each day.

She has been given a gift and although she can’t help but occasionally wonder “what if”, she knows she is filling a greater purpose. Kristie is the woman God has intended her to be, a woman who serves as an example of His unending love and grace. Kristie sees the world with compassion because she has needed compassion, she has patience because she has to endlessly practice it, and she loves her family as selflessly as God wants to love each of us.

Yes, Kristie has grieved the life she envisioned for her boys, she still prays for easier days, and still desires understanding from those she comes into contact with, but with it, she has an opportunity. She knows there will be days when she will wish the world would love and accept her boys as she has but it won’t, she struggles with the inevitable bullying and dirty looks that frequently come their direction, but you won’t see her deny the blessings she has received through each of her boys. Life for Kristie and her family can be hard but they truly love the life they have been given despite the difficulty. They have been given the rare opportunity to show others that true joy comes from the foundation in which you stand.

Kristie knows that on days where she feels like she has had enough, she can still stand because she chose a solid foundation in her faith. It is faith in a God who provides the most joy in what seems to be the most difficult of situations and shines an example of His love through her life. God often uses the broken to do His best work because oftentimes the broken are already asking for His guidance through prayer. No doubt this is Kristie.

At the end of the day, she can look back and thank God she was blessed with another and thankful for the strength to endure. Soon enough the day will start again and she may be tempted to wonder “what if” but she can be assured she will remember why she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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A Brother’s Lesson in Disability

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It's hard to believe they were once this little.

My disabled son is seven and he is the second oldest of my four children. My special needs son was diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex at three months of age. A few of his secondary diagnoses include epilepsy, autism, and intermittent explosive disorder. He is considered multi-disabled. As he grew, his delays became more apparent to all of us, even to my when my oldest son. He and my youngest son are 17 months apart and it was very exciting for him to have a little brother of his own. It didn’t take long for him to notice that his little brother didn’t play with him as he anticipated, and that his little brother was also sick.

At four months, my youngest son developed a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy called Infantile Spasms. These deceivingly innocent looking seizures occur in clusters and are very hard to control. He would have multiple episodes a day and the seizures would be only a few seconds apart and could last up to fifteen minutes. All of our best attempts at controlling the spasms eventually failed. This made it hard for him to reach developmental milestones. His brain was just too bombarded with epileptic activity to make any significant developmemtal progress. So as both my boys grew, the developmental gap also grew. My oldest would be playing ball, stacking blocks, or drawing and my youngest could only watch. His body was weak and he had limited mobility. He also had significant speech delays. It was obviously hard for all of us, but especially for his big brother who wanted to play with the “little buddy” he eagerly anticipated. How could I explain to a three year old why his little brother couldn’t play or talk? How could I help him grasp such a complicated subject in a simple way?

My oldest was very familiar with his room. We spent alot of our time playing there. I first asked him where all of his favorite toys were and he happily showed me. Next, I blindfolded him and asked him to bring me those same items. He did find and bring me what I asked but it took him a while and he needed my help. After that and a few laughs, I explained, “Your brother is just like you, he just sees things differently. It may be harder for him but he knows what’s around him, just like you knew your room even with the blindfold on. And just like you had to take your time, he has to take his time to do all the things he would like to do. You needed me to give you directions on where to go and we have to do the same for him. You eventually got to your favorite things and he will too. You are one of your brother’s favorite things and he will find you. Give him time.” I also reminded him that even though our experiment was hard, we still laughed and he needed to laugh with his brother, even when it gets hard. He smiled and I hoped something stuck but every day from then on I still remind him, and all four of my children, of one or all of these things when life gets hard,  give it time, offer help, give lots of love, and never forget to laugh.

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A Very Happy Birthday Little Buddy

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It’s a quarter till eight in the evening and three of my children surround my husband in our living room. Each are taking turns blowing out a birthday candle and singing the Birthday Song. My special needs son is singing his very best version of the song and inserting various family member’s names into the chorus. No one is celebrating a birthday today, no one is celebrating a birthday this week but we are celebrating.

My son has struggled with autism for the last five years. For the first two years after his primary diagnosis, he was not diagnosed with autism despite his self-injurous behavior. As he grew, additional autistic behaviors became more evident. It was clear he was having a hard time dealing with the world around him. From a terrible experience at Disney World to family gatherings, he was unable to tolerate loud noises and crowds. Birthday parties were the worst, even his own. He didn’t like singing or clapping and the appearance of a birthday cake sent his anxiety skyrocketing. We decided after many attempts to encourage him to participate, we would leave the room with him during the singing and blowing out of the candles. It was hard for some family members to understand this when we celebrated his birthdays but we found other ways to acknowledge his special day.

Since the addition of a new medication to treat his disease, we have slowly seen developmental progress. He has been on it for over two years and his language has improved, he has gained some understanding of the world around him, and he has been able to tolerate noise and crowds much better. We will never be able to redo our vacation…. but we can help him enjoy those experiences he once missed out on.

Last Christmas my son was six and it was the most amazing Christmas with him yet. He was interested in opening gifts where he hadn’t been before, he was excited about the Christmas lights, and he was able to sing us numerous songs he learned at school. It was a holiday of many celebrations. We also noticed he began to enjoy birthday parties and we were stunned when he refused to leave the room for the birthday song. We expected tension and got excitement. So on his seventh birthday, one he shares with one of his little sisters, we made up for the previous years. He was very excited to open gifts on his own, socialize with family, and blow out the birthday candles after singing the Birthday Song. We sung and blew out the candle six times. He was excited each time.

Disability can take these kind of moments away, little moments most people may take for granted. Experiencing these once seemingly unobtainable moments is where I find joy. I cried when I watched him independently write his name, watched in amazement as he sat peacefully playing with toys he has never touched, felt my heart jump in excitement as he ran upstairs to get the Barbie car out of his sisters’ room so he could play with them. It’s those moments when I can let go of the worry and see the little boy under the disease. It’s the little boy who likes the color purple, who loves trucks (he was recently able to verbalize this to me), enjoys watching and playing bowling, loves everything Barbie, and is wonderful just the way he is. It’s time for the world to stop pointing out the same mundane differences. Experiencing deep joy with someone usually happens when we accept and celebrate one another just the way we are, even if it means celebrating the little things that give us that joy together. Happy birthday little buddy!

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Sweet, Sour, and Everything Between

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My husband and I call our disabled child the “Sour Patch Kid.” If you have seen the commericals, you will know why. The slogan for the candy is, “sweet on one side, sour on the other” and their commercials usually show one of the little candy kids getting into trouble followed by a cute hug or something similar. I believe my son has studied these commercials in depth so he can perfect the art of the dual personality.

Typically he saves his sour behavior for home. From the time he started early education (at 4 months – he’s been working at it a long time) he was often praised for his good behavior while at school. My earliest memory of his “patchy” behavior began in the first year of early intervention. One of the biggest issues I saw at home would be him beating his head on the floor. I would take him to class and discuss the matter with the therapy staff and they could not believe he would exhibit that behavior. He would continue to do exceptionally at school and when we got home, he would be at it again. Even as he got older, he would have the staff wrapped around his finger and again when he got home, he’d do something like whack me. We have discipline in place and he sometimes ends up in time-out frequently. Most of the time it helps to curb his behavioral problems but he is continually testing the water with me. Today for example, we were waiting for his bus and it was running late. He was waiting inside dressed in his outerwear. I know it can be hard for him to understand why he has to wear it when he feels like he is going nowhere. He had taken off his gloves numerous times, threw his hat, jumped on his sister and other little things to show his displeasure of having to feel like a penguin. I sat him in time-out twice and the last time he sat he was working at taking his gloves off again. I reminded him that I wanted the gloves on his hands and he needed to behave. (I should mention the bus was a half-hour late). He didn’t like the whole morning and head-butted me in the face. I have a high tolerance for all kinds of ill behavior but getting hit in the face in any capacity is my least favorite. He got more time on the timer for hitting his mom. Shortly after, the bus finally arrived. He gets to the bus and out comes his sweet side. “Sigh.” Fast forward to this afternoon, the bus pulls up and he is happily calling for me. He waves goodbye to his friends and jumps in excitement as the bus pulls away. On the way back to the front door, he whacks me. “Really, little dude?”

This behavior has baffled us since he started showing signs of behavioral issues. We were assured it is normal but no one has any real advice. They refer to the period of time before the kids are ill behaved at school as a honeymoon phase because they eventually start the same problems at school. I am thankful that has not been the case with my little guy. He is still just as sweet as can be while he is at school and much more rotten for me. It is sad because I often feel like everyone else gets the best of him. The most frustrating thing is hearing from family how well he behaved he was until we walked in the door. That comment happens a lot and we always have the same answer as to why it happens. “We don’t know. We are just as lost as you.” We have no answers, just theories.

On top of trying to unravel his medical issues, we have the behavioral problems as the cherry on top. It’s daunting. Some days I feel like he is in time out three times more than the other children, but we have decided to be consistent as possible and require him to follow the same rules as the other children. Although he is allowed an additional warning or redirection of behavior. Nonetheless, he requires and demands a lot of attention, sometimes using the sweet and cuddly side or the sour side. I prefer the cuddly side and no matter his mood, I try to sneak a hug and kiss in, even if he doesn’t like it.

He recently started objecting to everything that happens around him. The staff at school have been trying to teach him how to use his voice to ask someone to stop bothering him (an issue because he is in a specialized classroom with other special needs children and he does get hit). That is all he does at home now. He understands the words, just not when he should use them.

I hug him. “Stop!”

I tell him, “I love you.”

“Quit it!”

One of the other kids sit next to him. “Knock it off, okay?!”

The baby cries. “Stop it, baby!”

He is learning what they are teaching very well. I just wish I could interact with him with less yelling.

My theory – he knows home as his soft place to fall. He is comfortable here and he knows he can take his frustrations to me, or slap them on me, whatever works. He has a gap of cognitive development that has slowed his language and prevents him from being able to communicate how he feels or what he wants. If I tell him that he can’t throw a ball in the house, I could explain why but he doesn’t understand. He has bad days where he is more tired or weak than usual and he is unable to convey that to me. He has no way of understanding why he feels that way. He has to be frustrated so he takes it out on the one person with whom he feels the most comfortable, me (or his dad when he’s home). I am stern with him and I have yelled. Every scream, hit, head-butt, and slap I take chips away at me. It is a crash course in patience every day.

Today when he came home, he crawled in his beanbag chair, covered up and fell asleep before I had time to ask about his day. It happens a lot. He comes home from school and crashes. Today he had a seizure at school so when he got here, maybe that smack was his way of telling me about that unpleasant event and how it bothered him or made him tired. He comes home and he feels like he can be himself and isn’t that what we all want? I don’t like his ill  behavior and we will continue to work on it but I know it’s something we just have to deal with. Maybe I will get lucky and he will let me off with just a “You be nice, Mom,”  as he pulls away from another one of my attempts to hug him. I will take what I can get and readily volunteer to be his safety net. Tonight he slept through the noise, dinner, baths and craziness of our evenings. It breaks my heart. His disease steals so much from him. It steals time with him away from me. My time with my little buddy is precious. People close to our family forget how sick he is. If he seems or looks okay than they think he is okay. The truth is, he has more going on than most people have to encounter in a lifetime and does pretty awesome. I wish more people would look past the sour patch and remember there is a little boy inside missing out on so much at the hands of his disease. I know I’d take any additional time with him I could get, sour patch and all.

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