Monthly Archives: May 2014

Life Lessons Unexpected

Heather came to live with me as a foster child in 2005.  I was 23 years old, and had been working in residential schools and groups homes for a few years.  I was burned out, and knew it would only get worse as time went by.  So, some genius part of my brain decided that providing foster care for kids with special needs was a brilliant idea.  For the most part, it was.  But not in the ways I expected.  The visions that I had in my head are so embarrassingly naive that I won’t even put them on paper.

9 years and 7 other foster children later, Heather is still with me.  She is different, I am different.  But I am 100% certain that she has taught me more than I have taught her.  I have taught her how to say words more clearly. I have taught her how to do a better job brushing her teeth.  I have taught her how to NOT hit people in public, or spank old ladies bottoms in the grocery store.  I have taught her how to look both ways in the street, and how to hold my hand, because after looking, she still books it straight into the path of oncoming vehicles.  I have taught her to tell me BEFORE she tries to “help” with the laundry, because whatever she’s thinking of doing, it’s most likely NOT helpful at all.

None of these things are unimportant…. but they are not anything like the things she has taught me.

Beauty.

We are beautiful.  We are, every one of us.  It doesn’t matter what the magazine cover says, or the billboard, or the women on TV.  Heather doesn’t fit any of those “ideals.”  And yet, she looks in every single mirror and says, “Cute, cute” or signs “beautiful”.  Because she’s ever-observant, she even turns around and checks out her behind.  I have no idea where she got that. Ahem. She asks for make-up, and a little bit of loose powder and lip gloss is all she needs to look even more beautiful.

If she recognizes that she doesn’t look like that magazine cover, she doesn’t let it affect her view of herself.  She believes she’s beautiful.  And she is. And it gets me thinking that our views perhaps (definitely) rely too much on what we see and hear, and not enough on who we already are.  We are beautiful.  In different ways, but beautiful none-the-less.

Forgiving and forgetting.

She’s got a great memory- she remembers the dance her grandmother taught her when she was 5.  She remembers that one time we took a left to get ice cream in some random place, and insists on going “leeeeft” every time we pass that road.  But she doesn’t remember the time(s) I yelled at her because I was having a bad day.  She doesn’t remember the time my sister accidentally elbowed her in the face.  She doesn’t remember the time I didn’t take her to the playground and we had a huge argument about it.

There have been too many times when I have acted badly, selfishly, ickily… but all she remembers is that I love her.  That I’ll wake her up every morning, and send her off to school.  That if she asks for a hug, I’ll give her one.  That if she wants to sit on my lap with all 19 years of herself, I’ll slide over on the couch to make room.

Some people might argue that she doesn’t have the capacity to remember things, but I think she chooses (whether consciously or not) to forget the bad and remember the good, because it benefits her and makes life more pleasant.  Why can’t I realize that forgiving and forgetting benefits me?  That it makes life more pleasant?

Excitement and Joy.

This girl gets excited about anything.  She finds joy in things that I find ridiculous.  The other day, we were driving to school, and she took a HUGE breath, and squealed in delight…..as we passed a garbage truck.  “ooooooh garbage!!!!!!!”  A garbage truck.  She is thrilled when we pass a CVS.  If I buy her a new notebook (not even a Five Star), she will thank me for hours.  She loves MACK trucks, and will tell me the color of every single one we pass.  “Big orange truck”, complete with hand motions showing me exactly how big the truck is.

I, on the other hand, don’t give a hoot about the big truck.  In fact, it’s in my way.  The garbage?  I have to drag that to the end of the driveway, and frankly, it’s annoying.  Granted, not many people enjoy taking out the trash, but the point is that we can all make more of an effort to find excitement in life.  To find joy in the little things.  To overlook and overcome the feeling of dread at the day-to-day tasks that we all face, and find some joy in something, somewhere, somehow.  I gotta say, the ear-to-ear grin on her face sorta makes me like the garbage truck!

 

We do a lot of teaching as parents, teachers, and providers of kids with special needs…. But when we stop to think about it, we do an awful lot of learning too.  There’s joy to be found in that.  And in garbage trucks!

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As Development Coordinator for CAR, I often receive phone calls and emails from parents, grandparents, family members and friends, of children with ASD, asking what they can do to raise funds for us, in appreciation for all we have done for their family. I enjoy hearing their stories about the positive experiences they have had at a family event or how grateful they are for the information we have provided them and how it’s helped them!

Prior to being on staff here at CAR, I too, was one of these parents! I was so grateful and wanted to give back…and still do! With the help of my family, friends and community, we have raised and donated $23,402 to CAR since 2010! It is such a humbling feeling then knowing that I could help CAR continue to help families like mine, for free!  With this said, I would like to share two of the most recent emails I have received, from families looking to do the same!

The first email I had received was from a woman named Barb. Her grandson has Autism and her family participates in our Hearts & Hands Walk for Autism. Last year, Barb reached out to me and offered to donate a few of her beautifully, handmade weighted blankets and lap pads for our raffle! They were a great addition to our walk raffle and the families absolutely loved them! One of the families who won the weighted quilt actually sent us a picture of her little guy, who fell asleep with it! I asked if we could share the photo with Barb, as I knew she would be happy to see how much her quilt was being enjoyed!

This year, Barb contacted me again! This time, wanting to raffle off another one of her lap-sized weighted quilts, as well as, sell some small items that she helped her granddaughters make. Their brother has ASD, and they were excited to help with this!  Barb had a different idea in mind this year, though. Rather than just raffling this quilt and selling these items the day of our walk, she has already begun selling these items with her granddaughters, as well as selling raffle tickets for the quilt! She is so excited to finish raffling the quilt on the day of the walk, where she will also draw the winning name! 100% of the funds raised from these items and the quilt raffle will be donated to CAR in honor of Barb’s grandson! We can’t thank Barb and her granddaughters enough for their beautiful work, commitment and generosity to our agency!

Barb's beautifully, handmade lap-sized weighted quilt

Barb’s beautifully, handmade lap-sized weighted quilt

Autism Awareness items. Handmade by Barb and her granddaughters

Autism Awareness items, handmade by Barb and her granddaughters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second email I’d like to share is from a mom named, Amy. In her email, she explains how her daughter has participated in some of our events over the last two years. She also said this, “I think it is important for local organizations to get support, and this is our way of giving back for the events my daughter has enjoyed with you.” Amy goes on to explain that with the help of the gym she works for and exercises at, LiveLifeBelieve Fitness Center in Plymouth, they would be hosting a fundraiser for CAR on April 12th. They were looking to make this a casual adult night out with music, appetizers and raffles. Amy said “My hope is to help people understand the community based needs of autistic people and families and that funds for local organizations like CAR serve a unique purpose.  While every charity has its place, I think it is important to make people aware exactly what they are supporting when they make a donation and not just automatically donate to the big names with big advertising budgets.  In a perfect world, this event will contribute to a culture of acceptance and diversity appreciation in my community, which will benefit my daughter and her peers.”

On April 15th, I was excited to receive another email from Amy with the details of how her event went! “Our autism awareness event included music, karaoke, food, and spreading information about ASD and CAR’s role in the community.  We also raffled off items donated from area businesses, one of which was an original painting created by local preschoolers on the autism spectrum.  My own daughter titled it “It Looks Perfect.”  🙂  It was a relatively intimate event, but a great success and I’m proud that we made the amount we did.“ Amy was able to raise $837 with this event! Way to go Amy! We are forever grateful for what you have done!

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

 

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Autism Awareness Event at LiveLifeBelieve, Plymouth MA

Like Barb and Amy, as parents, grandparents, family members and friends, we want to make a difference, a difference in the lives of families living with ASD. Even if just for today, that one phone call seemed to lift the weight of the world off your shoulders because someone can relate to your struggles, we have stayed true to our mission.  We can continue to offer all that we do, to over 3,000 families in our service region because of the generosity, thoughtfulness and commitment our families continue to show us. We couldn’t do it without you!

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ― Robert F. Kennedy