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Guest Blog: How Autism Saved Me From Depression

 Posted by on January 28, 2014 at 18:22
Jan 282014
 

GuestBlogger-CarmenBlogger Biography: Carmen is a military spouse and mom to a beautiful princess and an awesome, brilliant boy with autism spectrum. She is 26 years old and fairly new to the world of autism, but she says, “I could not have it any other way.”

I know the title sounds a little odd, but it’s true. When I got pregnant with my boy, I was going through a rough change in my life. I was 20 years old and for the first time in my life, I was out of my island, way far of my family as well. We were given the opportunity to be stationed in England, but even though it is a beautiful place, I did not do well with the change or being away from my family. The funny thing is that right after I said I wanted to go to school, work and dedicate my time to building a future and having fun traveling, I got a call telling me I was pregnant! YAY! I could not believe it because we had been trying for a year with no luck! So my son was and is a miracle for us.

Like most of the brand new special needs parents, you can identify with the feeling of failure when you think that everything that is going on with your child is your fault, or that at some point you did something wrong. We all expect to have perfect children, and when they are born we are faced with the truth of not even knowing what perfect is. We all love our children just how they are, and my son is the most perfect creation I have ever seen.

Right after his first birthday, I started to notice changes in his development, and right then I knew something was wrong. Two years later, I got the news I always feared. Deep inside of me, I knew, but I could not accept it. I hoped to hear there was nothing wrong with him, that I just needed help with my parenting. But autism was already there, waiting for me. I did not hear anything else after the word “autism” from the doctor. My whole body shut down, and I could not stop crying.

I blamed myself for everything. I blamed my depression, my incapacity to let go of my family and live the moment! I felt sorry for my son; I felt his whole life was done, that there was nothing to do for him, that I ruined his life. My life was all about blaming myself, and trying to find the “why” of autism. I never felt so bad in my life.

I watched him isolated, sad, lonely in his own world, and it was then when I realized that my son needed me more than ever. It was then when I told my depression to get out of my life. He is my precious, perfect child, and it was time for me to put on the big boots and kick depression out of my door. I am my son’s advocate; I am my son’s bodyguard and protector. There is no one who can tell me that it is impossible. Everything can be done with love and dedication. I will never let anyone tell me otherwise. I am proud that by the age of three, my son was potty trained; he socializes, is bilingual and knows how to play on a computer, tablet…you name it! He has accomplished so many things that those so-called “professionals” told me were going to be impossible.

I am who I am because of my child — because he pulls the best out of me. Whenever I am feeling down, he is always there asking me, “Are you OK?” And I could not feel better after a sweet kiss on my cheek. Autism saved me from my depression. Autism does not give me a break to think about sadness. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is rewarding. Once your child has autism, everyone has autism.

Autism…is my blessing.

This is just the beginning of our journey. We have many things to do, to discover, to conquer, and I cannot wait to share it with the world. Have you noticed that this new adventure we call autism has kept your values from crashing into this new youth growing up? I love the spectrum community. They are the most understanding people I have ever met. You feel right at home and welcomed; you don’t feel judged; you feel compassion, not rejection.

I could not have it any other way.

Aug 142012
 

Guest Blog: Weathering the Storm with my Special Child

Blogger Biography: I am an Army wife of ten years, a former Navy brat, a mother of two, a new convert to the SAHM world, a special needs advocate, a product reviewer, a thirty-something year old woman, and an old soul with a romantic heart and an analytical mind.

Join my journey and hopefully I can add something to yours….  

Preparing for any kind of weather emergency is important and a plan is needed for any family. When you have a special needs child this becomes both required and complicated.

Blondie is five years old and she is our special child. She has and ADHD, adjustment disorder, speech and articulation delays, SPD, and OCD tendencies. For us, Blondie has always been sensitive to thunder and rain. One of her biggest sensory triggers is noise and thunder has a lot of it. We always keep a pair of earbuds or earphones and send a pair to school as well. When things get too noisy and Blondie gets overwhelmed she can put them on and unwind while not having to be removed from the environment. This is especially perfect at school because she gets to stay in the classroom and not miss a thing.

Rain is a little more complicated. She loves to watch it, she loves water in the bath or to drink, but she does NOT like to get wet in the rain or step in any type of puddle. Getting her shoes wet or being forced to walk in a puddle results in a quick 0-60 meltdown and mommy better hope she brought an extra pair of shoes and socks.

However, all of this got even more complicated last summer. We had a “hurriquake” here in Virginia. First time we had ever experienced an earthquake. It was a 5.8 so small compared to West Coast standards but we don’t have those here at all. To be honest, I am used to living at Fort Hood so I assumed it was just the range or the airfield. Then I realized we weren’t in Texas anymore and things started falling off the cabinets and shelves. I was shaken up, Ginger was laughing and pointing at the stuff on the floor but Blondie was freaking out. She was shaking, crying, looking like the world just stopped and there was not anything I could do to convince her otherwise. The few aftershocks we actually felt did not help the matter and she would go grabbing her favorite toys like they were going to disappear or she would wake up and refuse to sleep because she had to guard her room from the shakes.

We had just gotten over this when less than a week later Hurricane Irene came through. At this point, Joe and I were like “Really?” We had both been through Hurricane Hugo as children and a few in Texas so we knew what to do. We stocked up on food, water, and batteries. We watched the news reports religiously. I tried to explain to both girls what might happen but they are kids who didn’t really get it. We were all surprised by how long it took to push though, and by the damage and the power outage.

Part of our daily life is to try to reduce triggers that may set off Blondie and to keep routines, consistency, and structure for her. Needless to say, this all was literally “gone with the wind.” Having no power for almost a week was the worst possible situation at that time. No TV, no refrigerator, no computer, nothing…. We prepared for a day or so but not that. It was a constant battle to calm her down, convince her to eat canned food when she can’t deal with the texture, try to get her to wear the clean clothes she had even if it was a little itchy or too purple or stripey or whatever. We had to constantly reassure her that the power would come back on, that we would be able to leave the house again and the world as she knows it was not gone forever.

To this day, every time it rains or thunders, Blondie goes around the house and checks every single light switch to make sure the power still works. She asks us to check the battery supply and keeps a flashlight in her room.

For us, weathering a storm with our special child includes a lot more than just preparing for it…

Jul 242012
 

Guest Blog: “Summer Shock” with my Special Child

Blogger Biography: I am an Army wife of ten years, a former Navy brat, a mother of two, a new convert to the SAHM world, a special needs advocate, a product reviewer, a thirty-something year old woman, and an old soul with a romantic heart and an analytical mind.

Join my journey and hopefully I can add something to yours….

Hooray, it’s summer! School’s out! No more homework! No classes. Lots of free time…

No more school? The normal routine is out the window. For most children and moms, this is not a big deal. They are able to transition from the everyday routine of school into the usually unplanned chaos that is summer. However, special needs children don’t usually fall into that category and thus we and our children are thrown into what I lovingly call “Summer Shock.”

Blondie is five and is our special child. She has ADHD, speech delays, articulation problems, adjustment disorder, SPD, and OCD tendencies. Around our house, we experienced this with Blondie almost immediately after she graduated Pre-K a few short weeks ago (although it feels I’ve aged a year since). This summer is the first that she will not be attending any type of school or child development center (CDC). For her, routine and consistency is paramount to being able to function and cope with her world. Sometimes, it doesn’t work perfectly but most days it makes the difference in her behavior, ability to regulate her own emotions without redirection, handle transitions, and adjust to situations with more ease.

During the school year, Blondie has a pretty set schedule that she understands and she is comfortable knowing what to expect every day. This, for the most part, makes it easier for us to help her through any changes or surprises that come up. After all, life isn’t scripted and we can’t expect it to go exactly as we plan or hope. Am I right moms? 😉

This past school year, we planned her schedule and organized a printed, kid friendly monthly calendar for her that we hung on her wall. I included pictures that represented each big daily activity so that she knew what to expect. She always knew if the day included school, dance class, soccer, a doctor’s appointment or therapy, etc. We also included her in discussions about what to do on the weekends and allowed her to add her own relevant “entries” in her calendar. She also has a chore/responsibility chart, a “don’t forget” list with pictures (brush your teeth, play nice, please and thank you, etc.) and a daily behavior tracker (each day gets a color, green/yellow/red, based on the overall day). Also, we have a stoplight drawing along with a cut-out picture of her. We move her picture to the corresponding color based on her current temperament. That way she understands visually if she needs to calm down or is heading for a time out, etc.

Now, I’m beginning to consider “summer” a four letter word! Having a child that depends on and thrives with schedule, routine, and limited distractions is complicated enough during the school year and throwing her into a summertime lull in those expectations is a daunting, intimidating thing (and I’m talking about for me). She, of course, is excited to be out of school, home, and having fun. I, on the other hand, know that this initial excitement will be replaced with a long list of feelings, anxieties, and difficulties with adjustments as well as transition problems. I know we are looking at some level of regression when it comes to her ability or desire to regulate her emotions and behavior without redirection. I fully know to expect more meltdowns and increased need to have things perfect and heightened sensitivity to noise/fabrics/food/temperature, etc. She definitely seems to handle all of this much better when the day is planned and when she has a normal repetitive schedule.

So, taking all of this that I know about her, her needs, what works and doesn’t work during the school year, and knowledge of what will be different this summer, I forced myself to attempt to come up with a pan of action for dealing with “Summer Shock.” Of course, I have to take into account I also have a two-year-old in the midst of “the terribles and potty training,” a military husband and all the uncertainties of his occupation/schedule, and anything else life might throw our way.

Our plan, in theory is quite simple, in action will probably be so very far from simple. We are going to continue to utilize as many of the routines, charts, and activities that Blondie is accustomed to as possible. I am still working on lists and a calendar of possible activities, day trips, and other things to do this summer. My hope is to have a not quite set in stone weekly schedule that is fairly consistent all summer and make a master calendar to hang in the girls’ playroom. Again, so they both will have a visual idea of what to expect. I have already seen a huge increase in meltdowns, and temper and sensory problems with Blondie in the short time since school let out. I have resorted to using methods that we needed a long time ago and infrequently in recent memory. Lots of making sure she keeps eye contact with me when I have to discuss a meltdown with her or an unacceptable behavior. I have seen the need to have her repeat what I tell her during these discussions and hope she “gets it” at that time. We moved her stoplight chart to a more prominent location in-house and have included our two-year-old on this method as well. Since both Ginger and Blondie are home all day, we decided to make sure as many things, routines, charts, etc. as possible include or apply to them both.

That’s the plan and I’m sticking to it! You know, at least until it stops working 😉 I hope you all have a great summer and are able to reduce the “Summer Shock” in your home.

Dec 052011
 

Exceptional Family Member Program: Check Out What’s New!

Robert L. Gordon III

One of the most exciting aspects of my job is adapting and improving our programs and services to better support our military families.  An example of this is the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) – we are working continuously to update the EFMP to better serve our service members and their families.

The EFMP offers many great benefits that can help address the challenges that can come with having a family member with special medical or educational needs.  Families can receive assistance with managing appointments, answering questions, and navigating confusing medical and educational systems. The EFMP also provides access to respite care to provide caregivers with an opportunity to rest and reenergize.

Moreover, the EFMP allows service members to focus on their military mission by assuring them that their families are being taken care of.  Once you enroll in the EFMP, trained personnel review the availability of resources in projected assignment locations to ensure that wherever you go, your family member’s needs are met.

Sometimes service members are hesitant to request services or enroll in the EFMP as there may be a misconception that enrollment will somehow hurt chances for advancement or limit choices in assignments.  This is not the case.  Promotion boards do not have access to EFMP enrollment status and enrolled service members will continue to receive equal consideration for accompanied assignments and promotions.

In fact, EFMP enrollment can be a great comfort to a Service member as it can instill confidence that their family’s special needs are being addressed, which can allow them to focus fully on the mission and the important tasks at hand.  The program is designed to support your continued work in the military—not to hinder you in any way.

The Military Community and Family Policy Office of Community Support for Military Families with Special Needs (OSN) is always exploring new ways to improve the experience of military families through technology, improved support resources, and access to important information. The EFMP mobile website allows military families to access enrollment forms, resources, podcasts, and an EFMP locator from any mobile device with an Internet connection. Families can find timely articles, resources, and tips through the “The Exceptional Advocate,” a monthly electronic newsletter can arrive in your Inbox the first week of every month.

In addition, The Special Needs Parent Tool Kit and The Special Care Organization Record (SCOR) for Children and the SCOR for Adults have been recently updated.  The Tool Kit has comprehensive information and tools for helping military families with special needs children navigate the maze of medical and special education services, community support, and benefits and entitlements. The SCORs are great tools for keeping track of important medical and educational information for your family member with special needs.

In September, the Director of OSN convened a panel of military families with special needs to provide input on their experiences, successes, and challenges. The panel resulted in a list of action steps to improve services which include increasing awareness and communication about the EFMP, ensuring the consistency of available resources across the Services, and improving the availability of medical and respite services.

As you can see, the EFMP is working hard to provide the best possible support for our military families.  Your questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcome, so please join our discussion.  If you are already enrolled in the EFMP, let us know how it has helped you and your family.

Our military families serve, too, and we owe it to them to provide the support and resources they need. I encourage you to join the thousands of other military families who have decided to enroll in the EFMP and get the support you deserve!

By Robert L. Gordon III
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy)

Support is Out There and Easy to Find

 Posted by on April 13, 2010 at 11:44
Apr 132010
 

Support is Out There and Easy to Find

EFMPLogoI was an active duty Marine for four years and never stepped in the installation family center. This was in the late 1980s and, to be honest, I didn’t even know the base had a family center. I knew about voluntary education because I was taking college courses. And I knew about the child development centers because the child care providers were always outside walking the toddlers in their multi-seated strollers – they were so cute!

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Exceptional Family Member Program- it Works!

 Posted by on March 10, 2010 at 16:21
Mar 102010
 

Exceptional Family Member Program- it Works!

EFMPLogoI think it’s safe to say that if I was transferred overseas by a civilian employer, the human resources office wouldn’t inquire about any special needs my family might have. Nor would they provide information on the availability of medical and educational support at my new location.

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Are You Prepared?

 Posted by on February 10, 2010 at 13:05
Feb 102010
 

Are You Prepared?

EFMPLogoThe earthquake that struck Haiti earlier this month is a sobering reminder of the devastating power of natural disasters. While the quake in Haiti is unprecedented in the scope and scale of human suffering it has caused, I can’t help but think about the natural disasters that I endured with my husband and children during our more than 20 years as a military family.

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All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.