The A’s of Autism: Autism Awareness–Autism Anger–Autism Acceptance–Autism Action—Alternate Universe

April 2 may be World Autism Awareness Day but April 8 is my real autism awareness day.  April 8 is the day of my son’s birth. It’s the day I was unknowingly catapulted into the Alternate Universe.  My son will be 33 in less than a week.  Yep.  I’ve been doing this mother thing for 33 years!  My second awareness date is August 18, the day of the birth of my other son.  That’s the day I became aware of what it would be like to raise two boys who could not be further apart in development and outlook.

Autism has changed my life forever.  Autism changed our family forever and autism has changed the lives of both of my sons forever, much of it for the better.  Both of my sons are regular adults with regular adult problems.  Both are married.  Both hold jobs.  And both are fine human beings.

Yes, I’ve moved way past awareness.  After awareness I moved through anger.  After anger, came the best part–acceptance and the peace that comes with it.  Now I live in the action phase.  Every day I take action to help someone with autism. 

My greatest sadness is all the anger associated with autism.  I have spent the last 20 plus years working in a field that is so filled with people stuck in the anger stage.  Anger is everywhere I turn.  Many people living with autism are angry at someone.  Many families living with autism are angry at someone. 

I believe anger is a necessary step toward acceptance and action.  Anger motivates us to do something.  But, prolonged anger can also be debilitating.  Prolonged anger can keep us from the necessary action.

I can get up nearly every morning and say, “today I will do something to make it better for someone with autism.”  Awareness is great.  Acceptance is better.  Anger is debilitating.  Action makes a difference. 

Every day needs to be autism action day!

 

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The Fifth Kingdom of Autism

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that one of my greatest concerns and disappointments is the level of division and acrimony that exists in the autism world.  Recently Thomas Insel published an article entitled The Four Kingdoms of Autism http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/the-four-kingdoms-of-autism.shtml . In my opinion this is one of the best thought-out explanations of why such acrimony exists.

I have spent the last 33 years living and working in all four kingdoms.  It is also safe to say that there are people in each kingdom who both hate and love me for the work I do.  I do what I do for persons with autism.  Period.  Sometimes I get it right and change a life forever and sometimes I miss the mark and learn something new. Such is life.

Hate and division serve no positive purpose.  Hate and division does not bring positive change and outcomes.  Downing or working to destroy someone else’s kingdom does not produce positive change.  We can all support our particular kingdom without trashing someone else’s kingdom.

So what do we all have in common?  We all love someone with autism and want the very best life for that person.  We all want the person with autism (or autistics, if you live in the Identity Kingdom) to have a successful, happy life.  We all want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to apply to persons with autism, and we want the supports necessary for our loved ones to gain this pursuit of happiness.  And this is where the problem begins and grows.  The support each person seeks greatly depends on which Kingdom in which they live.

Therefore, I propose a Fifth Kingdom of Autism.  I’ll call it Support.  In this kingdom all the other kingdoms are welcome.  In this kingdom, the emphasis is always on the person with autism and what they need and want to have a good life.  This is the kingdom of civil rights, a good individualized education, and enough money to live a good life. This is the kingdom where we work for the goals of our individual kingdoms without trashing someone else’s kingdom.  This is the kingdom where the person with autism is king and we are the servants.

I do not know if autism is caused by an illness, and injury, or cognitive social differences in the brain that make persons who they are.  I do know that all persons with autism deserve acceptance, love, and supports to make their lives and the lives of those around them happy, good lives.  STOP FIGHTING!  Join the kingdom of Support and DO SOMETHING POSITIVE without cutting someone else down!

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Is This Your Year for Action?

If you’ve decided this is your year to take action, then I’m looking forward to you joining us in Social Thinking classes this spring!  

I am often asked if teaching Social Thinking® in group settings actually generalizes to the school, home and community. The answer to this is-only if you make sure it does!

It has been my experience that children and adults need a safe, supportive environment to learn complicated and intricate social skills. These skills are rarely learned just by placing students near other non-disabled students without any specific instruction.

Spectrum Autism Services’ model looks like this:

Social Thinking® as taught by Spectrum Autism Services is very much about the person with an ASD learning now neurotypicals think and even more about neurotypicals learning to think like persons with ASD’s. It is a process that is taught first in a Social Thinking® group, generalized to the home school and community.  The result should be learning how each other thinks and building understanding and respect for one another. 
   
Begin your Journey with me today.
Call me at 817-454-6501
 
 
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Fran Templeton’s Response to Michelle Garcia Winners’ Blog Post “Sandy Hook Elementary: A Spectrum Perspective”

I am shocked and dismayed to see Michelle Garcia Winner’s Blog make an association between Asperger Syndrome and violence.

In her January 14, 2013 blog she wrote:

“I think there may be an association among the social mind of some people with AS, their perception of themselves in the world, and their lashing out with rage, violence, murder and suicide.”

While I provide Social Thinking® Therapy for many students each week and appreciate the approach developed by Michelle, I absolutely DO NOT agree with the above statement. 

I am the mother of an adult with AS and have also worked with literally hundreds of children and adults with AS.  I have witnessed the continual misunderstanding and mistreatment that persons with AS must live with each day and I have witnessed the frustration felt by my son and other students with which I have worked and I have also witnessed the DAMAGE this mistreatment and misunderstanding causes in persons with AS.

Let me point out, that while I have witnessed it, I have not lived it!

Let me make one thing clear, when I teach the principles of Social Thinking® I am not trying to change how persons with AS think or change who they are.  When I teach the principles of Social Thinking®, I am trying to teach persons with AS how neuro-typicals think while I attempt to really learn and understand how persons with AS think.

It is my opinion that persons on the spectrum have their own unique, valid way of viewing the world.  It is also my opinion that this way of viewing the world is sometimes quite different from how I view the world.  We must learn to live together respectfully and peacefully.

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Lessons from Bella the Chinese Chicken

I have a good young friend who bought a Chinese chicken at the same time his mother bought ten beautiful leghorn chickens.  Bella looked different.  She was white and all the other chickens were large and had beautiful reddish colored feathers.  She was small and had feathers growing out the top of her head and on her feet!  Bella acted differently, too.  She was timid and scared.  As the weeks passed, Bella struggled to fit in with these confident, pushy leghorns.  My friend began to relate to her and finally he told me, “I’ve bonded with Bella.”  But, Bella had most definitely not bonded with her leghorn roommates. Bella continued to try and find her place in this chicken coop.
One evening my friend came home to find Bella’s eyes pecked out by the other chickens.  She was bloody and sick.  My friend and his mother took Bella inside away from the other chickens so she could heal.  When she healed, she was now a one-eyed, disabled chicken with less confidence and even more timid than before. My friend’s mom has decided to buy her another male Chinese Chicken to help “protect” her from the leghorns. This chapter is yet to unfold.
I’ve learned a lot from Bella the Chinese chicken.  She reminds me of the children with which I work.  Children with AS enter school as children who struggle to find their way around the “chicken coop” of the school environment.  When they start school they aren’t disabled, but they do think and act differently.   They often are timid, anxious and afraid.  Sometimes this anxiety manifests as bravado, inflexibility and aggression. And just like Bella, bad things happen to them.  Other “chickens peck their eyes out,” too.  And after enough eye-pecking, they do end up disabled. Some very disabled—now with multiple labels.
So, just like Bella our children with AS don’t actually start as disabled as they end up.  The true “disability” comes from the years of having their “eyes pecked out” by other children and sometimes even adults.
In looking back I wish I could have thought of other ways to protect Bella, but chickens will be chickens.  We are human. We are adults.  We CAN protect children who think differently.  We CAN accept children who think differently.  We CAN include children who think differently.  We CAN work to change attitudes.  Let’s stop talking and let’s do it!  I work every day to do that.  You CAN too!
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Every Month is Autism Awareness (Acceptance) Month Over Here in the Alternate Universe

As the official Autism Awareness month draws to a close, I have once again been reminded just how much dissention and acrimony exists within the autism world. This was heightened this year by the CDC’s announcement that 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Now, it seems that people who don’t live in this alternate universe are also weighing in on the controversy. This announcement, along with the DSM proposed classification change of how people on the spectrum will be classified in the future, has unleashed a fire storm of opinions in major news sources about whether there is truly even an increase in the number of persons living and being affected by autism spectrum disorders.
So, please let me add my opinion to the fray.
I don’t care whether it is Autism Awareness or Autism Acceptance Month.
One group decided to try and change the focus from awareness to acceptance of autism. As a parent of someone on the spectrum and an educator of hundreds of students and families living on the spectrum, we are all too aware of autism. We have also been forced to accept autism a long time ago. There was no real choice not to be aware of it or to accept it. Autism is right there in our face every day.
Autism Awareness month was not intended primarily for people living in the alternate universe. It was intended to help other people become aware so that they could accept our loved ones! It was intended to bring awareness so that funding for research and autism programs would increase. It was intended to bring awareness so we would have less irritating, short-sighted, judgmental people to deal with each day.
Each group representing persons with autism spectrum disorders has a valid approach to autism support. I have been witness to the Facebook wars over whether it should be acceptance or awareness, whether groups should be spending money on research or treatment, whether its better diagnosis or a true increase brought on by a variety of supposed causes….and on and on it goes.
People! Wake Up! You do not have to attack another group to get your particular message out! Can you not see that all of the different emphases add up to studying different areas of autism? We can continue to emphasize our particular view of autism without attacking another’s point of view. When we attack each other, we weaken the cause and hinder finding solutions.
I don’t care if it’s better diagnosis or an actual increase in the numbers of persons living with autism!
Better diagnosis or an actual increase is not what matters. What matters are the people living with autism! What matters are the families who live with autism every day! Let’s spend all of our time figuring out how to make their lives easier, more productive and happier. That’s what matters!
Stop wasting time debating the wrong issues. Let’s work together to find solutions.

On this we can agree:
There are not enough appropriate services and effective treatments for autism.
Most of our school systems are failing children with autism.
Children with autism grow up into adults with autism and they aren’t finding interdependent places to live and work.
There is not adequate medical care, insurance and effective ways to cover autism treatment for all ages.
Family members are left with the responsibility of care for and treatment of persons with autism throughout their lifetime and we are tired!
I choose not to use a drop of my energy to fight other people who are living over here in the alternate universe with me. You are entitled to your particular point-of-view and so am I.

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Understanding How Social Cognitive Deficits in ASD’s Masquerade as “Bad” Behavior

So, what does this mean for your child with an ASD?  It means that if they have difficulty representing others mental states, such as yours and others beliefs and desires, it will be very hard for them to predict your and other people’s behavior and react accordingly.

Baron-Cohen, Leslie and Frith (1988) go so far as to make a direct association between the triad of weaknesses in ASDs (social functioning, impaired communication and lack of imaginative play) and this single cognitive deficit called Theory of Mind.

Let’s examine how this affects our everyday life with our loved ones with ASDs.

Does your child often interrupt you to talk about what they are thinking about, failing to notice that you are involved with thinking about something else–like cooking dinner or paying the bills or talking on the phone?  As a parent, you can assume they are being rude and purposely interrupting you or you can understand that they think you are thinking about what you are thinking about!  No wonder they get confused and mad when you cut them off.

Does your child speak the same on the playground as they do in the library or church?  Is their voice too loud and are they apparently oblivious to the change of expected behaviors in different environments?  You can assume they are just lacking manners and don’t care about others or you can understand that they do not have the ability to “size-up” the requirements of different environments and think about what others expect and adjust their behavior.

Think for a moment how often we consider what others are thinking about us.  Why do we wear the clothing we wear?  Why do we style our hair the way we do?  Why do we find good hygiene important? Primarily because we think about what other people think about us.  Many of us directly consider what others think of us in choosing our clothing and hygiene habits.  We do not want others to think we are out dated or sloppy.

Now consider that our children with ASDs choose clothing based on comfort and predictability, not style.  Consider that they generally find few good reasons to remember all of their hygiene skills.  Does it make it easier for you to understand why these things aren’t as important to them?  Their primary motivation is not based on thinking about what others think about them.

So, how does ToM relate to behavior?  Many times we believe that our children are willfully displaying “bad” behavior and attribute motives we would have if we behaved that way. When, in fact, there is no willful disobedience behind a “bad” behavior because they haven’t even considered what you will think when they behave in a certain way.  It is simply the result of a ToM cognitive deficit.

Understanding how your child thinks and how efficiently and accurately they can think about others thoughts is very important when teaching appropriate behavior skills.  When we understand that ToM deficits often result in ““bad”” behavior, it makes it easier for us to teach the correct behavior rather than continue to punish the child for displaying ““bad”” behavior.

Theory of Mind skills can be taught in children with ASDs, but individual concepts must be broken down and taught as they are not likely to acquire these skills from tuning in to those around them and learning in ways typically developing children learn.

Next week’s blog will discuss various interventions that have shown promise in teaching ToM to children with ASDs.

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Pete: My Success Story–A Breathtaking Account of Overcoming and the Human Spirit

In this week’s blog I would like to share a story written by one of my former students who has become one of my good friends. I worked with Pete as his In-Home Trainer the four years he was in high school and less frequently as he transitioned into the work world. Pete is an inspiration to children, adults with Asperger Syndrome and parents everywhere. He never had an easy go of it. He did have a mother who never gave up and as he says in the story, “Fran was mine.” Indeed, Fran was and is his and he has inspired me every day with my own son and all the other students I encounter.
“I’m Pete. This is about my big success story.
First of all, I’ll tell you about the problems and lastly the success. My big thing was frustrations with big temper tantrums when upset, plus I was easily bothered and did not feel good unless I was getting to my luxury stuff. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) had me busy twenty-four-seven. I was diagnosed with OCD and Bipolar Disorder at age 3 and later diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 14. I started taking my first medications at age 4. I went through tons of meds and was on lithium at age 8. That was insanely scary to do back then. These medications were only for adults, but my psychiatrist was one of the first to give these medications to young children. At one point in my life I began to have focal seizures and would stare and be slobbering down on the ground unresponsively. One episode lasted for 18 hours. EKG’s, MRI’s and CAT Scans were done and still no doctor figured out what was happening to me.
My case was too difficult for near-by doctors, so my mother drove us to Dallas to see neurologists and psychiatrists. By the time I was three years old, it was obvious by my behavior that I had bipolar disorder and OCD. My psychiatrist said I was one the earliest discoveries that children that young could have Bipolar Disorder. Back then people thought people didn’t get Bipolar Disorder until around age 17. I was such an interesting case my psychiatrist would see me for free!
I got angry if teased, picked on, or did not get my way. My sister was a normal person, and, of course, liked to tease me. It was Tom and Jerry all our lives until I got into high school. I was Tom retaliating at her annoyance—hitting her hard. And who gets in trouble? Me! I got spankings many times per day until I was in the eighth grade. I’ve wore blue jeans most of my life. Why? Spankings don’t hurt as bad on blue jeans as they do on shorts. My anger, though, was crazy. I’d be mad about the same thing for 48 hours. I did some stuff I shouldn’t have done. I would run off in anger (Don’t do this; you’ll regret it). But after time, I would always go back home, even though I was always very angry.
My OCD has changed to different things through my life. As a preschooler, I wanted pictures of anything I saw that I liked and I put them up on the bedroom wall. My entire room—walls, door, ceiling were all pictures. Food had to have a certain look or I wouldn’t eat it. I craved cocoa puffs and demanded them but I couldn’t eat the ones that with the bird in jail on the cover. I couldn’t eat at Wendy’s because I hated their sign with the girl on it. My mom fixed my favorite spaghetti and meatballs. One day she changed up the size of the meatballs and I couldn’t eat it. I couldn’t eat it until she went back to the original size meatball. I loved “Crunch Tators”, when the gator was dressed like a cowboy. Once the bag changed to a gator with a loose tooth, I could never eat them again.
I loved our country house. I lived there until I was age 13. I climbed high in the trees. I made traps the whole time I was up there, sometimes up to four hours. We had a huge sand creek behind three acres. I loved going in it. I played and picked up bugs and spiders. It was paradise to help with my mental strife. From back then most of the kids I went to school with remember me only for what my current OCD was—like fighting (making up tons of moves and styles and sharing them).
Today my OCD is about identity (comparisons of who I’m most like or making up my favorite traits). Until 2008, it hogged my entire day in thought and conversations. In 2008 I began to get control of this and these obsessions have dwindled every year. My current solution is I keep my identity to myself so I don’t talk to others about it and I don’t have to tell others my new form I’ve thought of. At present, when it is at its worst, I obsess a few times a week with others, but only by text message. I’m determined to stop and today as I’m writing this, ironically, I have stuck with the same identity in my head for four days for the first time ever. I love it!
At age 14, I moved in with my mom. My mom had a crazy personality, but was my true guardian. She would stand in front of a bullet for me, if she had to. After seeing one crazy-headed counselor who preached that I would go to hell of not going to school, I attempted suicide (which I had tried a couple of times when I was younger) and it failed! Yay! (Don’t ever do this. It’s lousy for you and the future holds great stuff; there is always a tomorrow!)
I went into the mental hospital and came out diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome for the first time. This got me a lot of help. Knowing about autism and its therapies has made help in my life. Fran Templeton was mine and has helped a lot. I still see her sometimes today. She knows stuff. She helped with my dad about me and he’s nicer than he was when I was in school.
I hated school and would constantly run off and skip school. The school hired a facilitator to watch me so I wouldn’t run away, but I still skipped. I wanted to do good and be a very great guy, but look at what I was doing. I went into the mental hospital a few more times.
My mom found a special school called Vanguard which helps people. She made the ISD pay for sending me there. My pet peeves in life were when people wouldn’t follow the rules. At Vanguard, they didn’t put up with that stuff. I saw bad people actually get in trouble just for being rude. I love that! I was very shy, but well-liked. So I began a journey to make myself good. I practiced and practiced to get better. If I just let this inner satisfaction lay around, I’d still do good, but I wanted to be the best I could be. I wanted in crowds to try to tolerate it. When angry, my answer was to withdraw, but not run away, just get into my room by myself. Still the hardest part was being teased, but I toughened up and began to not let it bother me so much anymore. It took me until age 19, to totally get control of this. But I’m there now. Anger and frustration became a miracle story of self-control. My relatives noticed and were so proud. My mom said I was the miracle story of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.
What about the social problems of autism? I wasn’t fond of talking, so I mostly told my subject or barely answered theirs. I got to where I could answer others, but not all the skills of conversation at all. I went through a bad period of medication adjustment where I talked twenty-four-seven. I was called Random Man. After the medications were changed, I wasn’t afraid to talk any more. I wanted to learn proper social skills. Actually, it’s simple. Listen and talk about what they are talking about. Ask questions. Talk on the same subject. Use manners. I felt like Tarzan learning to talk like a human.
Nowadays, people don’t know I have any form of autism, bipolar, or OCD. They think I’m normal and I keep my diagnosis a secret. And I have lots of friends. They all say I am the nicest guy. I love it! Many people said I’d never be good. Vanguard, my mom, Fran Templeton and my stays in mental hospitals taught me a lot. But like training a racing horse, the horse should get the credit. I had to have self-discipline.
This is my success story. Pete.”
Author’s Note: Pete has been successfully employed part-time at a Head Start Program working with young children for almost ten years. He has attended continuing education classes at his local junior college and he lives in his own apartment and drives his own car. He receives limited assistance from government funding programs.

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Resisting That “We” Versus “Them” Mentality

Resisting That “We” Versus “Them” Mentality
I’ve thought long and hard about New Year’s resolutions for families with autism. I’ve finally come to my resolution, which is a reaffirmation of all the previous years’ pledges. I pledge, again, to lead and encourage families of persons with autism to become a unified force for change.
I’ve been living over here in the alternate universe of Asperger Syndrome before Asperger Syndrome was a listed disability. So I’m no new kid to the universe. Here are some very disturbing attitudes I see of loved ones with autism:
1. Autistic Disorder versus Asperger Syndrome: The most disturbing trend I see recently is whether Asperger Syndrome is even a “real” disability and if so, how it’s so much better to have a loved one with Asperger Syndrome than a loved one with autism.
Wow! People! Get a grip! All disability is undesirable, and, all disability comes with inherent strengths, not just Asperger Syndrome. Why on earth would we spend any time fighting about which one is worse? Talk about a poor usage of time and limited resources!
2. My intervention versus your intervention: This one drives me crazy. People are individuals and individuals must decide what intervention they feel will work for their loved one. Yes, it’s true that parents should have all the information about peer-reviewed, research-based interventions in order to make an informed decision. I will always see that the families with which I work have access to this type of information, but there are a whole lot of families out there who distrust peer-reviewed, research-based interventions.
Families need to understand that fear is the basis for this type of attacking other families because they didn’t choose the same intervention method. Every parent desperately wants to do the “right” thing that will make the most difference for their child and family and when another family chooses another method, it strikes at the heart of that fear, “Did I make the right choice?”
3. Recovery versus lifelong condition: There are clearly two separate camps with thousands of parents everywhere in-between. The recovery camp focuses on totally separate issues from the lifelong condition camp and each side believes the other side is crazy, if not neglectful.
Families need to understand that there as many reactions to autism as there are people. There is no “right” reaction. Families also need to understand that reactions (feelings) change over time, and just because a family is taking a certain approach now does not mean they will be taking that same approach ten years from now.
4. Disability versus gift (fix versus celebrate): Parents of children with complicated, multifaceted disabilities are going to have a totally different perspective from families who have kids with disabilities who also have obvious traits of giftedness along with disability. You bet the parents of kids who are non-verbal, have negative behaviors and overpowering sensory disabilities want to FIX their loved one. You would too, if you were in their shoes. Parents as blessed as myself feel, the importance of celebrating the gifts that Asperger Syndrome brings.
We need to realize that one perspective does not negate another perspective.
5. Inclusion versus specialized services: People who have family members living in state supported living centers (institutional settings) will fight to the death for their loved one’s right to stay living in a familiar environment. Parents fight over whether inclusion or specialized classrooms are appropriate for their loved one. When will we ever realize there is no one “right” or “wrong” approach to educating someone with a disability?
A basic lack of available resources is at the root of much of this division and fighting. There is something sinister that happens when people are given limited resources. Think of people stranded on an island where there isn’t enough food and water for all persons to survive. There is a survival instinct that kicks in and makes us fight to live; to fight over the limited resources because we want to survive. People in these types of situations are released from social norms because survival is at stake.
Unfortunately, there are very limited resources for all persons with disabilities in this country. This lack of available resources tends to lead parents into “camps” or survival groups–willing to fight to get what they feel is necessary for their child and family to survive at the expense of another child or family.
I talked about fear above. Fear is a powerful motivator to fight wars. Look at the history of our country. How many wars have been fought because we “feared” as a nation what would happen if we didn’t go to war. Autism is no different. Fear is all too often the primary motivator in fighting autism and drives too many of our decisions about education and treatment. Hope is a much more stable emotion to access when we are fighting autism’s effects on our lives. When we hope for improvement and change rather than fear what will happen if we don’t do particular thing, the decision is usually a more rationally thought out decision.
If we as parents want our children to be accepted, loved and included as society members, we as adults MUST set an example by being inclusive of others who do not share our particular perspectives.
So, this year I pledge once again to fight fear and division in the autism community and in the disability community in general. Will you join me by focusing on the things we have in common?
1. None of us want to be the parent or a loved one of someone with a disability. Yet, here we are. We all have that in common. No one I know said, “Gee, I hope my child is born disabled.”
2. We are all being discriminated against in various ways. It takes a united front to fight discrimination. Groups experiencing discrimination cannot overcome that discrimination by breaking into factions and fighting among themselves.
3. We all want the best of everything for our children and families. We just have differing ways of achieving this and differing abilities and resources available to accomplish this outcome. Tearing each other down rather than building each other up will NOT result in the best outcomes for our children and families.
Let this be the year that more and more of us come to our senses and learn to respect each other’s perspectives, stop fighting over limited resources and accusing and blaming others for their decisions. Let this be the year we come together as a community to increase resources and seek inclusive, non-discriminatory practices for our children and for ourselves.

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Tips for Fighting that “Bah Humbug” Feeling Over Here in the Alternate Universe

Do you just wake up some days wishing that your life was easier? Do you just wish you were back in your dream life and not over here in this life you have? I don’t know about you, but this is the time of year I wish I’d been dealt another hand of cards. It seems that the holiday season makes me morose. Since I’ve talked with many of you who also have to work to be positive and hopeful this time of year, I thought I’d give you some tried and true strategies for fighting that “bah humbug” feeling.
1. Count your blessings – one-by-one. When I’m hitting bottom, I sit down with a sheet of paper and look at the larger picture. I slowly begin to write all of my blessings out on that sheet of paper. I am thankful for: living in America, for freedom to make choices, for a roof over my head, for the food I eat each day…… and on and on it goes. I stop when I have the sheet full. I put this sheet up on the bathroom mirror to remind me that life isn’t so bad.
2. Call your girlfriends (or guy friends, if you’re a guy) who have kids with disabilities. There is no better medicine than a friend! I can take an hour of two over coffee or something stronger and say anything I feel and listen to anything they feel and the world looks like a much brighter place at the end of that time. This time is usually filled with laughter and laughter is one of the best forms of therapy for the blues.
3. Do something for someone else. When I am doing something for someone else, I’m thinking about them and not myself. I always end up feeling better when I help someone else. The world is full of needs. Find just one need and fill it.
4. Remember the importance of self-care. Often we get down because we push and push and fight and fight and survive and survive until we can hardly stand any longer. To be a good warrior, we must remember that we will not be able to fight on if we don’t pause to take care of ourselves. Every so often, I get up in the morning, look into the mirror and say, “OK, today I don’t have what it takes.” When this happens, I give myself a break and get a massage! A good massage is all about you. Do something occasionally that is all about you. By the way, a massage gift certificate is the perfect gift for the mother of a child with a disability.
5. Just admit you are powerless to change everything and write it off by saying, “Oh, well.” I’ll never forget the day I was providing respite to my girlfriend’s son with significant disabilities who could not be left alone for a moment when the darn dog darted out the front door. I called my friend in a panic screaming, “The dog got out. I can’t leave Bubba to go hunt for the dog.” I am freaking out; in a total panic. Her calm reply was, “Oh, well.” The shear wisdom of that little phrase has gotten me through so much junk in my life. Sometimes there IS nothing that can be done at that moment but to pause and say, “Oh, well.” By the way, the dog came back after a while and I did what was important, I took care of Bubba.
6. And last, tell yourself that it could always be worse—because take it from me—IT CAN BE! Right next to that page of blessings, I take another sheet of paper and write down all the ways life could have been so much worse. I scribble down on that piece of paper all the ways my life could be so much worse. Everybody’s ‘life-could-be-so-much worse” list is very different and personal. I’ll let you write that one yourselves, but at the top of my list is always: I could have never had either of my boys. Life would have definitely been much worse. They are such a blessing to me.

What are your strategies for staying positive and hopeful in this season?

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