Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Joy Of My Life

I teach in my music history class that the first music chart in America was Your Hit Parade which began in 1935. It was unique because it showed the most popular songs in the nation at the time. It was a huge hit, and while it continued for 20 years it sparked many other shows including Billboard Charts, American Bandstand, Casey Kasem’s top 40 show, Rick Dee’s and the weekly top 40, etc.  This is popular because people enjoy lists. They want to see what is popular among their peers. They want to know that others are doing and liking the same things.

This is why when I saw a new list about autism I decided to write about it this week. I did my own list recently, but felt this one would be good to add my own thoughts to. This one was written by Jean Winegardener from Silver Springs, MD., and was included in Washington Times Dec. 21. While I’m not going to include everything, I will share the list, and my thoughts as they pertain to Konner.

10. Your kid with autism is going to make you laugh. Konner is a funny kid. The fact that he is very literal and doesn’t hold back the way he feels is usually a surprise to us when he says things.

9. You will become less judgmental. I have expressed in the past the fact that I used to be one of those people who thought that a child acting up in public was disrespectful. That all changes when you have an autistic child. You realize that an outing without an outburst is rare, and you just try to use them as a learning tool and go on. To all those people who think it’s disrespectful, oh well.

8. You will never take a small victory for granted. This is something I touched on a couple weeks ago. Don’t take for granted the good stuff going on in your life. When you feel overwhelmed and defeated think about the positives that are going on. Think about what you have accomplished in the last year, month, or week.

7. You might see them embrace their uniqueness. I don’t think Konner is aware that he’s different in any way. Some of the kids in his class do though. I work with middle and high school kids in my job and I’m constantly trying to convey to them that there are some people who are different and can’t help it. I try to explain that they need to embrace those people and help them no matter what others think. I also worked recently with my scout pack to try to explain why Konner may act differently than them. I think if we educate children early about the importance of helping those who have disabilities and disorders then we can curve any animosity later in their life.

6. You will find friends in the autism community who are like family. There are many people that we work with everyday, including therapists, teachers, and advocates who have become an extended family. All of Konner’s former teachers have fallen in love with him and to this day continue to check on him and his progress. We also have the members of the Parents of Autism who have become a second family. This is because no matter what you are going through, if they have not been through it already they have an understanding that it could be them, or will be eventually. The things that are discussed in meetings are difficult to communicate to others, but with the group we have it’s okay. There have been many tears shed in these meetings, and it seems like they have only worked to bring us closer together. The group is growing, and we are taking “family members” every week. Those of us who have been there from the beginning tend to know each other’s stories and keep up on facebook with the other’s children, both special needs and neurotypical.

5. You finally have a name for those quirks you've had your whole life, but thought just made you strange. The more research you do the more you think you can diagnose people with autism. In fact Jen and I have looked back on people we have known in life and determined each one with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not unusual to think this way.

4. You will find your power.  I’m always talking about my lack of patience and the fact that I have found patience throughout the years by working on it. I also see how strong a woman my wife is by watching her deal with Konner and everything that goes along with it. While I do all the writing on this column, it is my wife and her strength that actually fuels it. She is the one who does all the leg work by finding these things to talk about. She makes all the appointments and makes sure that Konner gets the proper therapy, medicines, and equipment that he may need to succeed. I’m merely a secondary helper.

She has also been put into a unique situation that I do not envy at all. She is a teacher at the same school that Konner attends and has to wear two hats, teacher and mother. This can be very tricky at times because she is fighting for what is best while trying to not upset the people she has to work with on a day-to-day basis. For that, I am amazed.

3. You get to watch your child play adapted sports. While we haven’t moved into this yet it is something that we have been contemplating. There is a great chapter of the Special Olympics in the area. In fact, one of the major supporters and helpers is a member of our Parents of Autism group. Amber Gonzalez is a devoted champion of the Special Olympics program and is constantly looking for volunteers.

2. You will find role models in unexpected places. One of the greatest experiences I’ve had in parenting a child with autism is seeing the many peers Konner has had who have adopted him and helped him in the classroom. Each year it seems that he has had at least one, if not more, friends who will make sure that he gets to where he needs to go, help him find things in his desk, make sure that he is okay when he’s upset, and just be a friend to him. These children are priceless in the life of a child who has issues with socializing. My only fear is that the teenage years will blur their sense of compassion for them.

1. Just as with any child, your kid with autism is going to give you so much love. There are many sayings and clich├ęs involved in autism, but one I saw on facebook recently that seems to sum up everything is, “If you think I have my hands full you should see my heart.” I think that is perfect.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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