Acceptance is the key to happiness

Do you ever watch people do things and they make it look so effortless, so you think to yourself “I could do that!” And then you try it and you instantly realize that it isn’t quite as effortless as they made it look? That is what motherhood is for me.

Before I had children I would watch other women and think how I can’t wait to be a mom and play around the house all day, go to a mall, dress them in cute clothes, style their hair, and as lame as it sounds, I wanted to have those perfect family photo’s hanging above my mantel.” Now if this sounds like your life then congratulations! You have accomplished what I now realize is impossible for us.
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For example our last family photo we spent majority of the time running through the snow chasing Jacob and when we did catch him long enough to get a picture we had to hold him in place. You can see how Jason held him in place just long enough to get a picture. Year after year our family photos consist of him picking his nose (on purpose), being a dinosour or golum (LOTR), throwing snow in my face, and those are just a few.

another example is just last week we had the opportunity to go to the “Little Mermaid” put on by Storybook Theatre. There is no question that if Jason’s sister wasn’t in it we never would have tried something so risky for Jacob, and for months we avoided buying tickets. The fact is, is that Jacob doesn’t do well in new, loud situations. We decided we would go and he was excited until he found out that once the show starts you can’t leave to go to the bathroom which caused a lot of stress on him. We had a few incidences getting him there and then when he got hungary in intermission there was no helping him. we made it throught the doors just as they were closing for act two. He spent the first 15 min of the second half slapping my arm and calling me names. he then spent the rest of the play curled up in a ball, plugging his ears and occassionally hitting or yelling at me.It was upsetting and reminded me why we don’t put ourselves through situations like that.

So how do I deal with the disapointment you might ask? Well I used to get upset and feel sorry for my self. I would think “why can’t I have one nice, uncomplicated outing with my children?” or “Why can’t I have one nice picture with everyone matching and smiling”? Well I can now answer that question, but it has taken a lot of work and effort to find that answer.

 

When Jacob was Diagnosed, as with any diagnosis, you basically go through the stages of grief.

  1. Shock/denial: Although it was a relief to get his diagnosis I found myself still thinking “there is no way he is autistic because……” But he is and trying to rationalize it away didn’t work.
  2. Anger: I was not so much angry as I was frustrated. Everytime I would hear about some fun, exciting, wonderful thing people would do with their children, knowing we may never be able to do those things made me…… ok it made me mad!
  3. Bargaining: I prayed so many times that if only it could be easier I would do anything. I also bargained with Jacob that if he would just behave and stay calm I would give him virtually anything he could think of. (that got expense really fast so I don’t recommend that as a successful parenting technique)
  4. Depression: I don’t know what to say about this that I havn’t already said in previous posts but I will say that if I hadn’t gotten to that dark place I never would have gained the understanding and love for the challenges in my life. Which brings me to the last step.
  5. Accceptance: This is the part that I most want to talk about, because this is the part that makes the other steps worth it, and this is where I learned the answers to all my “why….” questions.

 

First of all let me say that acceptance does not mean that all of a sudden you enjoy every minute of your life. Lets face it Life is hard no matter what you are dealing with. Acceptance is understanding the importance of what you are going through. For me, acceptance was first understanding what the future would hold for our family. It was understanding that because of the challenges he faces he will always require more attention and explanation. It was understanding that we may never get to go to events or gatherings like other people. I understand that we can’t just have people over for dinner that he doesn’t approve of. I understand that we are those crazy people that are always looking for our son, no matter how closely I watch him. And I now understand that I may always have a child that acts like a dinosaur in my family photos.

However, I also understand that because he requires so much more work, his accomplishments mean so much more, and I have learned so much about what I am capable of because of Jacob. One of the young women in our ward asked me one day if I would want to know the future. I thought for a moment and replied “no”. She actually seemed a little surprised, but I did explain my reason. I said that “life gets hard and if I knew how hard it was going to be I never would have made the same choices”. But because we can’t see the future and we do just have to deal with things as they come, we have the opportunity to show ourselves just how amazing we are.

The next step for me was to lower my expectations. I know how that sounds but its true, and its ok to do. I can’t expect Jacob to wake up in the morning and get himself dressed and ready for the day without a major meltdown, because all that does is set me up to fail, and failling all the time sucks! This is not to say I don’t have goals for our family but I have realized that I need my expectations and goals to be realistic for the people involved.

The next step in my acceptance journey was accepting my life as it is right now. The future holds many scary and uncertain things for our family but I can’t do anything about that, so I choose to live in the moment and deal with the here and now. Dont get me wrong, I make preparation for our future, I just don’t let myself get overwhelmed thinking of what could happen and what will inevitably happen.

The last step has been the hardest for me, and that is that I have to accept that this is my life and it isn’t going away. S far, Jason, Jacob, Sarah and I, all have conditions that will be with us for the rest of this mortal life. While some are more serious than others, and some will only get worse, I have needed to accept that I can’t just wait out the storm. I can’t just sit back and wait for life to get easier. I need to push forward and learn and grow as much as I can.

I want to clarify that acceptance is not giving up, or deciding you don’t need to try because nothing will ever change. Change is why we are here. Changing our attitude toward life is a vital step in our search for happiness. Acceptance in the stages of grief is described as “finally finding the way forward” meaning it is only then, that you are able to move forward with new hope.

Motherhood is hard for me. I feel like I never accomplish anything. I feel secluded and alone, but when someone asks how I am doing I respond with “I’m good”. Now, is everything actually “good”? No. I would say 90% of the time “good” is not an accurate depiction of my life. So why do I say it is good when it isn’t? It is because I want it to be good. Some days all I can strive for is good. So as part of my acceptance I have realized that I sometimes need to talk myself into a more positive look on life. Changing my view of motherhood was hard, but I understand now that being a good mother doesn’t mean I have to have a spotless house, or my children all reverently sitting in a row. I don’t need to pretend that everything is easy. A Good mother tries her best and teaches her children, by example, that eventhough this life can be extremely difficult and overwhelming, “we can do hard things”, and if we try we can see the beauty and purpose in this life.

I am grateful to be a mother. I am grateful to have 4 wonderful children that challenge me everyday. I am grateful to my heavenly father for the guidance he gives me, and the blessings he sends to remind me of his love.

I want to end with my quote for the day. It is by Gordon B. Hinckley, he said

“Don’t be gloomy. Do not dwell on unkind things. Stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. Even if you are not happy, put a smile on your face. ‘Accentuate the positive.’ Look a little deeper for the good. Go forward in life with a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face, with great and strong purpose in your heart. Love life.”

And I will add that we need to accept that life is difficult but that is ok, because we were made to do hard things, and we can accomplish anything.

 

 

 

Mental illness, the stigma……..

DISCLAIMER: let me just say that, like with everything I write, I am sharing to help with awareness not to have people feel sorry for me. I hope that this helps someone feel not alone, and have the courage to get help.

Jacob has always been violent and has for the past 3 or 4 years tried to jump out of windows and run in front of cars. He has ran outside in -30 weather with only shorts on (NO shoes, NO coat, nothing) to try to die because he hated life and me so much. Now I don’t know how many of you have experienced this but having your 5 year old tell you they would rather die than be near you because they hate you so much is not an easy thing to hear, and then to have them try to die is that much harder. In a rage he has also threatened to kill other people in our family. I have been threaten with knives and punched in the face. I have been bitten more times than I can count and although this sounds very extreme it has just become part of my life.

for the past few years we have focused on therapies (Occupational, Behavioral, Language and Psych). These therapies have made a huge impact on my son. He can sit through not only a 10 min story, but he can actually sit through an entire movie and is able to last all through school without meltdown or bolting. This is a major accomplishment for us. Over the past few years Jacob has had over 208 hrs of psych, over 1,100hrs of behavioral therapy, over 600 hrs of language and occupational therapies and that is just the time he spent with trained professionals. I can’t even count how many hrs his teachers, aides and I have spent helping him do things that most of us take for granted.

 

But despite the countless therapies the rage was not going away it was actually getting worse. And after our 4th child was born we decided that it was time to readdress his problems with a pediatrician, but this time I would be prepared. I did my research. I found a Dr that specializes in ASD, SPD and other mental disorders. And I researched drugs and dosages that are used in different situations. As I said, my life has become MY normal. So I don’t always think much of it until I need to tell someone else about it. The look on their face reminds me how NOT normal it is. That was the case with our new Dr. She was wonderful not only was she informed and helpful, she was also really good with Jacob, who usually takes a while to warm up to people. After going through his history and discussing our concerns she recommended some Anti-psychotics. She said that she prefers to try other things first but with an extreme case like this she felt it necessary to start as soon as possible. Well I went home and did what I always do after talking to one of our Dr’s, I googled it. When I read about the medication she suggested my heart sank. This drug is reserved for bipolar, schizophrenics and other extreme disorders. Had it really gotten this bad? Did I fail at therapy? What if I tried just a little bit harder? Maybe there is something else we haven’t tried? Is this the right thing for him? So many questions ran through my head. And for the next few months I avoided making a decision. I took him for all the required test and spent hours researching other option that may work, but with no luck. I decided to trust the pediatrician and get Jacob to try the medication. Although we are still trying to figure out dosages and he still has meltdowns occasionally, he is a different boy. It has changed our families life. I can ask Jacob to get his backpack without fear of retaliation (although he still doesn’t get it), or, for example, this week he played a game with his sisters without an epic meltdown.

About 1 ½ yrs ago my husband was diagnosed with Crohns disease. He was very sick and when his Gastroenterologist prescribed some strong medication to help reduce his symptoms we didn’t hesitate to accept. Physically he had an ailment and why wouldn’t you take medicine. So why did it take me so long to get medical help for my son? I thought I was so understanding of his disorder but I think that I felt like I could fix him myself. That if I just try harder I could get him on the right track. However as Elder Jeffrey R Holland said “there should be no more shame in acknowledging [a mental disorder], than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor”.

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A few years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Nothing in life made me happy. I knew in my brain that life was wonderful and I had so much to be grateful for. I knew I had a beautiful family and enjoyed the luxuries that many others couldn’t even imagine. But I still couldn’t feel happy. There was a dark cloud over my life, that was not allowing the light I so desperately wanted. I tried taking time for myself, and on the flip side I served others, but with no relief. I just avoided the subject and kept saying “it will get better when…..” or “I’ll be happier when…..”. And then at christmas I watched my kids open their presents and I felt nothing. Not happy not sad, nothing. There was no reason, my kids were well behaved and we had a wonderful day, but still nothing. I realized that night that I was depressed. I talked to my husband and we decided that I should go talk to the dr. I was prescribed some antidepressants and reluctantly I took them. It was amazing how different I started to feel. The light was coming back into my life. I felt that this weight had been lifted and I finally felt like myself again. For the past few years I have been on and off of medication as needed, and although I know some suffer much worse than me, I am grateful that I found something that has worked and allowed me to live my life with joy.

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I am not saying that medication is always the answer for everything or everyone but what I am saying is that if you had appendicitis or strep throat, few people would deny medication. But for some reason when faced with a mental disorder people feel that with sheer will power they will be able to defeat it. My body will not make more insulin if I just tried harder, but that is what is expected of those suffering from mental or emotional disorders.

So I want to express my gratitude for the modern medicine that has helped me in my life. Sarah, Jacob, Jason, Eliza and I have all required special medications for different reasons in the past few years (most still ongoing). I am grateful for the countless dr’s that have helped my family over the years. I am grateful that the medications have worked so far. Do not avoid your mental or emotional illness, treat it as you would any physical challenge. Face it head on.

Elder Holland said “In preventing illness whenever possible, watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel. Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill. If things continue to be debilitating, seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give and the solutions they prescribe.”

Whatever your struggle, mental, emotional, physical or otherwise—Know that one day the dawn will break brightly, broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones are healed, and the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.

Integration is the new segregation!

So this week my daughters had gymnastics, which they have every week on Thursdays. unfortunately this week it didn’t go so great. I am not going to talk about how the instructors and manager of the gymnastics centre made it such a bad experience because that is not what upset me the most. What upset me was when I found out that the gymnastics centre at the University of Calgary, and their affiliates, do not allow children with any special needs into their “typical” child classes. Well when I heard that, I knew that was not OK.

Yes my son has autism so maybe I am biased but I firmly believe that you should not be allowed to tell my son that he can’t integrate with “typical” children because he was born a little different. It is just autism. It is not a communicable disease, you won’t catch what he has. For example my son goes to an “integrated” school. He has an aide that assists him and his service dog Sergio, but he is given the opportunity to learn and interact with children that sometimes think and act different from him. No he does not always do the same work as the other kids because it takes him a little longer to understand a new concept, but I think that all children should be given the opportunity to learn and develop together no matter how fast or slow that may be. The gymnastics centre’s explanation was first that they are a liability. URGH!!! They said they are more likely to brake their leg or get injured. This is false. The second reason was that a child with special needs distracts the other children and decreases they opportunity to learn.

Ok some of you out there are probably thinking that I am biased but no I have “typical” children as well that have children with special needs in their class. For example my daughter Sarah is in kindergarten and in their class is a little girl. She can’t speak, she can only walk with a walker and she doesn’t participate in any of the class activities. She sits on the side of the carpet and plays with a ball or other objects. Yes you may think this is distracting for 5-6 yr old boys that struggle with sitting still, and maybe it is, but when I watch the kids take turns helping this little girl retrieve her ball or take turns eating with her so she isn’t alone I see so much hope for our future generation. What I see is children being taught compassion for others, and understanding for the struggles that others have. I love hearing my daughter come home excited that she got to be this little girls special helper.

There are also situations where a child may not be able to speak or hear in a class and yes that may be distracting or take away from your childs learning, but instead of looking at the negative, you can look at what your child has to gain from that experience. Look at how by INTEGRATING those children with others could allow your child to learn sign language or maybe even a basic sense of respect for others. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Yes I would love all my children to be highly educated and to conquer the world with all the knowledge they have acquired. But more importantly, I want my children to learn compassion, love, kindness, generosity and selflessness.

No I don’t feel that all special needs kids should be integrated, but not because they are not allowed but because it isn’t what is best for the child. “Special needs” is a very wide spectrum, and saying that none of them can be with “typical” children is wrong. I chose to put my son in a special preschool and kindergarten where they were better equipped to assist him in his needs. But the key is that I chose, as his mother, what was best for him. I know my son better than anyone else and I know that although my son really struggles and has a hard time in most situations, I know that for him being integrated with “typical” children his age helps him so much. He learns so much from the other children in his class and I am so grateful to his school for understanding how important integrating is for someone like Jacob. I am also grateful for the children and their families that are in Jacob’s class. They are all so kind to him and have been wonderful in accepting not only my son but also his special friend Sergio who has become such an essential part of Jacob’s life. I love my son and it saddens, and lets be honest infuriates, me that there are still people and organizations that believe in segregation. Yes sometimes it is frustrating as I frantically search my cupboards for lunch options because I can’t send a peanut butter sandwich, but anything I can do to help that little childs life be a little less difficult I will do. because if we all looked out for one another and had more compassion and understanding for one another the world would be a much better place.

so to quote the awesome musical Hairspray, “I’m all for INTEGRATION!!!”

I want to be his Hands

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So Yesterday was the Cochrane food drive, and while collecting food I had a very interesting conversation with an older man that I met as I knocked on doors collecting food.

I love serving but I prefer to do it quietly as I am not always the most friendly person. Making small talk makes me very uncomfortable so when we are asked to knock on doors asking for food for the Food Bank my heart races and my stomache sinks. But I know it is for a good cause and I will never get better at talking to people by hiding from conversation. So I took some of our church’s wonderful youth with me and started going door to door. As the driver I waited a bit, hoping that I wouldn’t need to get out but I knew it was the right thing to do no matter how little sleep I got the night before or how lazy I wanted to be. I had only done 1 other house (that had already put food out meaning I didnt need to nock. phew!!!) As the YW walked my way I skipped a house feeling impressed to knock on the next door over, telling the YW to take the door I skipped. I knocked, and waited. Then an older man came to the door and I kindly said “Hi, I am here with Helping hands collecting food for the cochrane Food bank. Do you have any food you would like to donate?” What came next was not what I was expecting. He yelled at me! He said “how dare you ask me to help people that through their own poor choices are in the situation they are in and why would I help someone who wont help themself!” Well I was astonished to say the least.  Our instructions for the food drive did not prepare me for this situation. Many thoughts went through my head as I stood there with him still yelling at me. I thought about how I never served a mission, I have not been trained in hostile rejection! I also couldn’t help but think that I was so glad I knocked on this door and not one of the Young women followed by why did I accept this route? someone more qualified than me should be here. But needless to say  I did accept that route, and I did knock on that door. So there I stood my heart racing and I am sure my face was going red as I stressed about what I would say to this man. My first thought was that I should just say ok thank you for your time and walk away which I am sure would have been fine. But as he continued to share his thoughts on how if bad things happen to you it is your own fault, and you should smarten up and help yourself, I found myself amazed that someone could have such a lack of empathy for others. I started to feel bad for this man because he clearly did not understand the joy that comes from helping those in need. I realized that he feels this way because he attributes all his successes and all his failure to himself, and in that I felt the deepest sorrow for this man as I realized that he has maybe never felt of Gods love for him.

I only spent about 15 min with this man and after sharing some of my thoughts and experiences with service he did change his mind and even ended up donating some cans of food, but I hope I meet this man again and am able to continue our conversation because as I have thought more about it the past 24 hrs I have thought of so many more things to say.

There are many people in this world that feel like they are on their own. That this is their life  and they need to handle the challenges and trials and yes their consequenses themselves. That we should not give handouts, and they should just smarten up and do better. I can say that, because I am definitely one of those people. I 100% feel that we should work towards becoming self reliant. We should learn skills and be hard working. We need to be responisble for ourselves and not expect others to take care of us. But I also think that it can be lonely and very depressing thinking that you must do everything yourself. I have an amazing family that live close by and wonderful friends, but the fact is, is that I feel alone in my trials 99% of the time. The majority of my day I spend going from one thing to the next just trying to get through not knowing how I will ever manage to accomplish all that I have. There are times when I feel so overwhelmed with countless doctors appointments, therapies, medications, insurance claims and of course the never ending cries from my poor little Eliza, that I just want to give up and stop trying because life is just too hard.

Although I still have a firm belief that self reliance is essential, I also know that our loving Heavenly Father wants us to lighten each others burdens. My family has been so blessed that even in our toughest time we have not needed to go to the food bank to feed our family but I have had some very defining moments when people have served me. When they have sacrificed their own time for me. And I have to remind my self that they do that because they love me, they love their savior and they, like him, want to help make others life easier.

That is what I would share with that man if I happen to meet him again. I will tell him that I serve others because it makes the world a better place. Yes sometimes people make bad choices and yes sometimes people don’t appreciate when they are served but it doesn’t matter. Our Savior was the perfect example. He loves all of Gods children no matter who they are. He was willing to give his life for all of us, no matter what choices we make, so that we can live with our families and our Heavenly Father again. No he does not come down and physically help those in need, but not because he can’t, he doesn’t because he wants us to help them. He wants us to learn to love and care for one another. He wants us to give a hug to a lonely friend or shovel the walk of our elderly neighbor and yes even feed those whose can’t feed themselves.

Through my trials I have learned first hand that my Savior is there for me. He knows how I feel and he understands my pain. He wants me to succeed and he knows what I am capable of. So he has sent earthly angels to help me. I have experienced so many miracles in the past 8 years. I know it is because my heavenly father and my Savior Love me and that he is mindful of me and my family.

President Uchtdorf said “The lord doesn’t care at all if we spend our days working in marble halls or stable stalls. He knows where we are, no matter how humble our circumstances. He will use those who incline their hearts to him. God knows that some of the greatest souls who have ever lived are those who will never appear in the chronicles of history. They are the blessed, humble souls who emulate the saviors example and spend the days of their lives doing good.”

I realized that it doesn’t matter to heavenly Father where I am, what my calling is, whether my house is clean or if I have the most followers on pinterest. What matters is that I am doing my best, and that I too strive to be his hands here on earth.

 

Long time…. re think…. Just write!

It has been almost 2 years since I last posted to my blog, but the past few month I have felt impressed to share my thoughts, but I felt that too much time had past that I didnt even know where to start. I also wanted to share more than just my journey and experiences with Jacob and Autism, although that is still a big part of my life. Over the past 2 years life has thrown me some curve balls that have required just as much if not more attention and care.

So with that said I have decided to revamp my blog and share not only about my experience with autism but about my life in all aspects. I want to share all my experiences and how I am trying to navigate this crazy life that I have been given. So Bare with me as I write about my life, what I have learned so far, and how else I still need to learn and grow. I hopefully have a long life ahead of me to continue learning and perfecting the principles, and qualities that I desire. I continually remind myself that I am on this earth to learn and grow no matter how hard or unpleasant that process can be.

 

A life full of trials

Yesterday I spoke in church, and I thought I would share my talk with all of you.

Good morning brothers and sisters.
My topic today is about over coming our Challenges.
First of all, I want to say that in no way do I feel like my life is harder than anyone else, or that I am an expert on overcoming challenges. Every time I have spoken or taught a lesson I believe it was more for my own good than anyone else. But I would like to speak about how my particular challenge has affected me. And some of the things I have learned as I continue on this Journey.

The past 6 years of my life have been full of overwhelming uncertainty, confusion, frustration, and a lot of times, sadness. Last year, after visiting multiple doctors and specialists, and spending almost a year doing assessments, my son was finally diagnosed with Autism and Sensory processing Disorder.
The past year has been especially hard for me. For those of you who have gone through any type of diagnosis you understand how emotional that experience can be. I tried to be really strong and just focus on what we needed to do; however, by Christmas I was not doing very well, and one night while talking to Jason I told him that I just didn’t like the person I was becoming. That I look back at the person I used to be and I felt like I had lost so much of myself. I was really struggling to see the good in my life, and I felt like my spirit had been broken and that the light I used to have in me, was going out.

I am blessed with the gift of Faith. That is something that has always come very easy to me. So it wasn’t hard for me to know that in my darkest hour I needed to pray. I prayed fervently for months, I prayed for guidance and for comfort. And then one Sunday in Relief society I read this quote by President Uchdorft.
“[God] loves you. He does not wish to break your spirit. On the contrary, he desires that you rise up and become the person you were designed to be.”
I knew in that moment that God had a plan for me. And what I needed to do was to be worthy of it.
That day, I began what I call my spiritual transformation. This change has allowed me to feel the joy that comes with the many blessings that I receive everyday, it has helped me to better understand why I am given these challenges, and it has helped to bring that much needed light back into my life.
After that, I started being bombarded with lessons and articles about the trials we face in this life. I knew that God was speaking to me through others and that he wanted to comfort me, and remind me how important I am to him.

President Thomas S. Monson shared this “We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were – better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before. This should be our purpose – to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.”

My challenges have taught me so much. One of the main things I have learned is the power that love has. I would like to share a story that happened a few years ago.
My son was about 4 and I would spend multiple hours, everyday fighting with him, He was out of control, and I tried everything to calm him down. He would kick and scream and say how much he hated me. We couldn’t leave the house without him having a complete meltdown and he was constantly running away and causing dangerous situations at home. I was in tears every day, and was at a loss for what I should do. After an exceptionally hard day Jason suggested that I pray about it. Not for it to be over or taken away but for help to know how to handle it better. So I knelt and prayed. The answer that came to me was “Love him, just LOVE him!” Yes, I know he is my son so of course I love him, but the next day I found out exactly what that meant. He was having a really bad meltdown and I finally placed him in his room and closed the door. As I sat outside his room crying the thought came again “LOVE him, just LOVE him!” I opened the door and very calmly said “Jacob I love you very much. Do you need a hug?” And I was shocked by his reaction. It was amazing to watch his heart soften as he allowed me to hug him. Now this is not always the reaction I get anymore but I have learned over the past few years the importance of Love during his meltdowns.
I started using Love and compassion instead of anger and contention. Meaning, when he would start getting overwhelmed and therefore start hitting or yelling I would respond with hugs and an outpouring of love. When he has a meltdown I first remove him to a safe, quiet place, and then let him release his anger. I usually remain in his room so I can make sure he doesn’t hurt himself, but I do not look at him, and respond to his ranting with only the occasional “I Love you”.
This method, of just love him, although it seems simple, is not always easy. Sometimes it takes everything in me to not start screaming on the top of my lungs. I have been punched in the face, had countless things thrown at me, but I have learned the positive impact that Love has on those situation.

This situation also taught me the importance of Prayer. I was taught since I was little to pray but had never had that overwhelming experience that changed my life; however, as I sat outside my son’s door that day, I felt my Heavenly Father answer my prayer. I was not trained in early childhood education, or taught how to care for someone with special needs, but through prayer I have been given guidance in how to care for my son. Every morning I kneel down and ask my heavenly father to help me and so many times I have felt the Holy Ghost with me, telling me what to do, and how to help him.
The knowledge of Love and Prayer has in turn given me insight into our Heavenly Fathers love for us.

President Monson said: “Gods love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there. Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart.”
Some days become too much and sometimes I give in to frustration and anger but I know that I need to remind myself that God will always love me, no matter what, so I need to provide the same opportunity of Love for my children.

President Monson goes on to say:
“Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.

I believe in miracles. No my Challenge has not been taken away, I believe it will be with me for the remainder of this life. But over the past few years I have seen miracles happen in my life. I have seen the lord provide things that seemed impossible. We have had blessings in our life that has made this burden lighter and has allowed us to find joy in our journey. And yes some days I need to, as he say’s “drink it and be strong. Trusting in happier days ahead”.

Lately I was reminded of a time when I was in Primary. My brother who had just returned from his mission was helping me prepare a talk. I don’t remember the topic but I do remember what he told me. He said that every topic in the gospel can be brought back to the Plan of Salvation. I don’t know if it was sibling rivalry, or what but for years I tried to prove him wrong. But in the past few months I have been focusing my study on the plan of salvation and what it means to me in my life. And I have yet to find a Gospel subject that doesn’t come back to this essential teaching.
The Plan of salvation give’s us answers to life’s basic questions, like: “where did I come from?” “What’s my purpose here?” and “what happens when I die?” Knowing the answers to these questions have given me peace in my life, and strength to endure my trials. I believe that I chose to come here fully aware of what I would go through. In heaven I knew I would be pushed to my limit but I had faith in myself, that I would overcome my challenges and be made better for it.
There are 3 crucial parts to the plan of Salvation. The Creation, The Fall, & The Atonement.
Elder Russell M Nelson describes the creation:
The Creation culminated with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were created in the image of God, with bodies of flesh and bone. but not yet mortal, they could not grow old and die. “And they would have had no children” nor experienced the trials of life. (forgive me for using children and trials in the same sentence) The creation of Adam and Eve was a paradisiacal creation, one that required a significant change before they could fulfill the commandment to have children and thus provide earthly bodies for premortal spirit sons and daughters of God.

Next came the Fall. Scripture teaches that “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” Elder Russell M. Nelson tells us that “the Fall of Adam (and Eve) constituted the mortal creation and brought about the required changes in their bodies, including the circulation of blood and other modifications as well. They were now able to have children. They and their posterity also became subject to injury, disease, and death. Adam and Eve, as mortal beings, were instructed to “worship the Lord their God, and … offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord.” They were further instructed that “the life of the flesh is in the blood: … for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” Probation, procreation, physical death was essential to—God’s “great plan of happiness.”
But mortal life, glorious as it is, was never the ultimate objective of God’s plan. Life and death here on planet Earth were merely means to an end, [but] not the end for which we were sent.”

Which brings us to the Atonement. Paul said, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The Atonement of Jesus Christ became the immortal creation. He volunteered to answer the ends of a law previously transgressed. And by the shedding of His blood, His and our physical bodies could become perfected. They could again function without blood, just as Adam’s and Eve’s did in their paradisiacal form. Paul taught that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; … this mortal must put on immortality.”

Jesus Christ is central to God’s plan. Through his atonement, Jesus Christ fulfilled his father’s purpose and made it possible for each of us to enjoy immortality and eternal life.
Before the world was organized, our Heavenly Father chose Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Redeemer. The Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ made it possible for us to overcome the effects of the fall.
Preach my Gospel says: “To fulfill the plan of salvation, Christ paid the penalty for our sins. He alone was able to do that. He was called and prepared in pre-earth life. He was the literal Son of God in the flesh. He was sinless and completely obedient to his father. Though tempted, he never gave into temptation. When the father asked his beloved son to pay the price of the world’s sins, Jesus was prepared and willing. The atonement included his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and his suffering and death on the cross, and it ended with his resurrection. Though he suffered beyond comprehension, so much so that he bled from every pore and asked whether it were possible that this burden be lifted from him. He submitted to the father’s will in a supreme expression of love for his father and for us. The triumph of Jesus Christ over spiritual death by his suffering and over physical death by his resurrection is called the atonement.”

As we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with Joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The plan of salvation and the gospel of the resurrection and exaltation, has given me great comfort through my challenges. There are days, that I get that feeling that life isn’t fair. And some days I resent the challenges I was given. But as I remember that, my family can receive exaltation in the highest kingdom, and that we can live forever in God’s presence, be perfected, and receive a fullness of joy, I am reminded of the second verse of the hymn Come Come Ye Saints which states:
Why should we think to earn a great reward

If we now shun the fight?
How can I expect to receive all those wonderful blessings for eternity if I am not willing to earn them now.

There are days when I get to see a glimpse of my son’s precious spirit, unaltered by his mental and emotional challenges and I am filled with joy knowing that we will be together, in a perfected state, where I will really get to know him.
In General Conference Elder Jeffrey R Holland gave a talk “like a broken vessel” He says this:
“In striving for some peace and understanding in these difficult matters, it is crucial to remember that we are living and chose to live in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tested and tried again and again. Of greatest assurance in God’s plan, is that a savior was promised, a redeemer, who through our faith in him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the father who sent him and the son who came. IT is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.

I am so grateful for the knowledge this gospel has given me. I am grateful for God’s love for me and for my family. I am grateful for the opportunity I have to go through this life and to gain experience and to prepare for eternity. And I am grateful for my challenges because I know that if I allow my trials to change me for the better I will become the person that He wants and needs me to be.
I know this gospel is true. I know my Heavenly father loves me and that he is there for me. I know that as I draw closer to him through my trials the light of Christ will enter my life and I will be made better than I was. And I know that this life was given to me because I am strong enough to live it.
And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Jacob’s forever friend

So I am finally home from Oakville. I would like to introduce Sergio as the new addition to our family. He is a 1 yr old Black Labrador Retriever. He is so amazing and is fitting in perfectly.

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The training was amazing. I had wonderful trainers who were so patient and fun. I couldn’t get over how smart these dogs are. They are 100% voice command trained so you don’t even need the leash to control them, just your voice. (we do hold the leash at all times just incase something unexpected happens). As I am not a dog person, I was also surprised at how quickly I connected with him. I found myself talking to him, and petting him for no reason. Watching the other families there was so therapeutic. They all have their own unique story but we all understand what each other is going through. We understand the differences and the difficulty of raising a child with Autism. I will miss having a room full of people that understand how I feel.

I was chosen to speak at our Dog Guides graduation so I thought I would share my speech with all of you. It helps portray what this dog means to a family who struggles with a child with Autism. The grammar is not the best. I knew I would be reading it so bare with me.

 

I was nominated as the speaker for our group. So I will be speaking on behalf of Kerry, Li, David, Glen, Jackie, Kathleen, and myself. My name is Alison Williamson. I am from Cochrane AB (near Calgary) and in a few days we will all hopefully be heading home to introduce these wonderful dogs to our child.

As I contemplated what to say to you tonight I decided that the only way we could express what these dogs mean to us would be to first explain what our life is like now. Although everyones experiences are different I feel that in general we all came here for the same purpose. So I would like to share a bit about my son and our life in hopes that you will understand what our children and our families are stuggling with so that you can better understand what these dogs will do for us.

The past 5 years of my life have been very difficult. I am a very out going, friendly person. I love spending time with people and going out and enjoying new experiences, however; Almost from the moment my son was born I was  trapped in my home. From a week old everytime we would enter a store he would scream and not stop until I got him home. As he got older it didn’t get better he just got stronger and faster. Everytime I tried to leave my home with Jacob he would wait until I opened the door and then would take off. I also couldn’t have people to my home. He also could not handle having anyone come. Even his grandma if unexpected could cause a major meltdown. When I was pregnant my body was not doing very well. I could barely walk let alone carry a 40lb screaming child to his room so he wouldn’t hurt anyone.  I would try restraining him to keep him from hurting himself but he would kick or punch me and I would need to leave. I now have 3 children and although Jacob is the oldest my 2 younger girls are expected to go to bed by themselves without stories or cuddles because I need to stay with Jacob until he falls asleep. When left alone Jacob has tried to jump out his 2nd story window, destroyed window screens and has broken numerous doors in hopes of getting out and has caused many other dangerous situations.

When Jacob was Diagnosed as Autistic a friend told me about Autism service dogs. I like most people had no idea what they were about. So after months of research I realized that this could be a good thing. We figured that if we applied now we would have time to figure out if this was right for us and when they come to meet us they would tell us if we were a good fit for a dog. Ian ashworth did our home visit. And when he left My husband and I looked at eachother and I just wanted to cry. We knew that this was going to change our life.

A service dog is about freedom. They allow us to experience the world again. But more importantly They allow our children to experience the world in a way they were never able to. My son asks to go to the store because he loves going out. But I know what will happen when we get there so I protect him from those situations that could ultimately put him and others in danger. He is a lot like me. He loves people and adventures and experiencing new things, but unfortunately his brain and his body don’t allow him to do those things. This dog, over time, will allow him and all of our children to do so many things that they have wanted to do but couldn’t.

A service dog is also about acceptance. The world doesn’t always accept people who are different. And our children are different. I have many times experienced the stares and the comments about my parenting and so many times have wanted to just wear a t-shirt saying My son has autism the more you stare the more he screams. But for me that is what this dog will do. He will help us raise awareness and understanding for these special people. And in time that will lead to acceptance.

 

As parents of children with Autism we live our life in fear. For some of us we can’t open our door in fear that our child will run into the street. For some of us it is fear that our child will never make friends. A fear that they will never be able to cope in a normal situation, that they will never be able to attend school or get a normal education. We are afraid of the future and what their life may become. We are afraid that they may never be independent and able to care for themselves even if in the smallest way.

 

But that is what these dogs are for. They help calm our fears and give us hope for a better future.

I would like to share  a message from Glen’s wife and to her, a service dog means hope. This is what she says:

 

As I sit here and think about what Mercer can do for and with Cailum I am filled with hope. My son Cailum does not make friends easily and I am hoping that is what Cailum and Mercer will become, is best friends. I hope that during meltdowns Mercer becomes a great comfort for him. I hope during bad nights he will reach for him and feel safe. I am hoping that being out in public and doing things most kids take for granted now becomes easier for Cailum. Because he will have the comfort and safety of Mercer. I am hoping that some of our fears of traffic, crowds and stores become easier. I hope we have more enjoyable family trips together. I am hoping that Cailum and Mercer bond and become inseparable. That Cailum’s daily activities become a little easier and more enjoyable because he has Mercer. So for the hope this dog has already brought to us, I THANK YOU

We want to thank all of you families that gave our puppies a home. Thankyou for showing them love and helping them experience the world so they can now pass that onto our children.

We want to thank the trainers who spent months preparing our dogs for us. For spending countless hours getting to know our children so they could find us the perfect dog.

And finally thank you to Dog Guides Canada and Lions foundation, because whithout them none of us would be here.

We want to thank all of you for the time and effort put into taking care of our dogs so our children can receive the freedom, hope, and acceptance that they deserve.

Thank you

I am so grate I had this opportunity. Going there, and learning how to work with these dogs, taught me so much about how to be a better parent. Lions foundation does all the fundraising and asks nothing in return of the families receiving their dogs. I know this was such a blessing to so many who could never afford the hefty $25,000 to pay for one of these amazing animals. It is only made possible by people like you. People that are willing to give a little to make a big difference in the lives of these special children. Please go to http://www.dogguides.com/index.html to make a donation. I am so grateful to all those who have donated money so our family could receive Sergio, Jacob’s forever friend!

Jacobs new companion

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As many of you know, last year we submitted our service dog application for our autistic son Jacob. Last August we had our at home visit with Lions Foundation (dog guides of canada). It was very exciting and nice to have them confirm that jacob was a great candidate for a dog. A few months later we received our official letter that told us we were on the waiting list, and now we just had to wait. About 3 weeks ago as we were literally walking out the door to catch our flight to Disneyland we got a phone call from Lions foundation saying they had a dog ready for us. I fly to Oakville On. on June 5 for an intense 10 day training course. We are so excited!! It came so fast and the timing worked out perfectly.

I get so excited and want to tell everyone I see. When I first tell people I see the excitement on their face, and then excitement turns to a bit of confusion. Most people don’t know what service dogs are for let alone an autism service dog. So I thought I would share some of the things our dog will do for Jacob.

1. Anytime Jacob leaves the house he will be tethered to the dog. Jacob currently runs away very easily. Even going to the park by our house is difficult as I don’t know if or when he is going to run away. When tethered to the dog I will be able to stop Jacob by giving commands to the dog. Jacob will learn how to correctly respond to my requests by following the dog.

2. Jacob benefits from Deep pressure. Right now I need to do deep pressure relaxation excersizes with him constantly through out the day and every night before bed. Majority of nights Jacob can’t even stop his body moving enough to fall asleep so Jason or I provide pressure on him until he is calm enough to fall asleep. Jacob’s dog will be trained to provide deep pressure for him. His dog will be with him all the time. He will lean against him giving him that little bit of extra resistance which will allow Jacob to remain calm. At night his dog will sleep with him and will be able to put pressure on him so he will remain asleep though out the night.

3. Jacob struggles with transitions. He really struggles going from one task to another or from one place to another. Any change causes him to have anxiety and to lash out at people or himself. All transitions throughout that day add to Jacobs anxiety and if he is not regulated properly he will get upset and have a meltdown, and no longer be able to learn.The dog will create stability. (This is when bringing the dog to school is really important). Jacob will have something that no matter where he goes or who he is with his dog will be the same. It gives him a companion that will always be there for him.

4. When Jacob gets upset I currently need to restrain him so he doesn’t hurt anyone, including himself. The dog will be trained to sense when he starts getting upset and the dog will lie on him restraining his arms.

5. Jacobs dog will also help with his social skills. When we are at the store or meeting new people, Jacob has a tendency to yell at people or tell them to get away from him. The dog helps create a barrier. Instead of putting Jacob on the spot to answer a question that he doesn’t know how to answer (even a question like “How are you today”) most questions will be directed to his dog. He will be able to learn how to communicate properly with people.

This is only a few of the things the dog helps with. But there are so many other benefits.

 

When I got the phone call I was so ecstatic, but after a few days reality started to sink in. I started to realize that this is really happening. I have to spend 10 days ALONE in Oakville for training! I have never been away from my kids or husband for that long. I am so grateful to have such great family and friends that are willing and able to help watch my children while I am away. When I first put on Facebook that I needed help I had so many people reply. More than I could use! It gives me so much peace of mind to know that the kids will be with people that care about them.

“I am going to have a dog!” I know it sounds dumb but It just kinda hit me. I know not a big deal for most of you, but for those of you who know me, know what a big deal this is, because I am not exactly an animal person.

I am getting very excited for our dog, but I also get overwhelmed with the level of commitment this dog will be. For the next 10 years the dog will be with either Jacob or I every minute of the day and night. He is allowed everywhere! But with that comes things like finding a place for it to go to the bathroom and making sure it has water when we are out. We will need to constantly explain to people about the dog. They tell you that you quickly become the centre of attention everywhere you go (but I guess it is better that it is because of the dog and not my child throwing everything out of my cart 🙂 This summer will be hard adjusting to our new life, and then as winter comes I will need to get used to going for walks in -40 weather, but I just need to focus on the good that I know will come out of it.

If you have more questions about autistic service dogs feel free to ask me or check out Lions foundation dog guides of Canada. That is the company we are getting our dog from. It also has a spot for you to donate to their great program so they can continue providing dogs to needy families. http://www.dogguides.com/about.html

Extreme Planning

We recently returned from our family vacation to Disneyland. I have had so many people ask how it went so I thought I would share our experience and what I did to prepare us.

When we first decided to go to Disneyland I was so excited. Disneyland was a dream vacation for me. I had dreamt about taking my children there since I was a kid.; However, after a few weeks, reality set in. I started thinking about how Jacob reacts to new situations. Jacob’s behavior is very unpredictable, but one thing I know will always set him off is anxiety over an unknown situation. Any change in routine or surroundings can cause him to break down and become out of control. With this knowledge and my determination to go to Disneyland, I decided to prepare for any situation I could think of that would cause anxiety therefore preventing as many melt downs as possible. I became what my husband and I call an “Extreme Planner”. I am going to share what I did to help my children (and myself) have the best vacation ever!

  1. There are no suprises in our family. This makes me sad because I love suprising people with exciting news or thoughtful presents. But Jacob was able to emotionaly prepare himself for weeks before. By telling our children early they were also able to help us plan our vacation.
  2. About a month before we left the kids and I started watching youtube videos of rides and shows. This helped Jacob know what rides he wanted to go on and what to expect when he went on it. By the time we went to Disneyland he knew the names of the rides and the basic idea of what the ride was.
  3. Look up what rides are running. Very early on I looked up the ride closures. I am so glad I did because there were a few rides that Jacob wanted to go on that were closed. For example: when I told Jacob that pirates of the caribean ride was closed he had a total melt down. For hours he yelled at me that he hated Disneyland and they needed to open the ride for him or he wasn’t going, etc. After a few weeks of him getting upset everytime the ride was mentioned Jacob started to come to terms with it being closed. By the time we left for Disneyland anytime someone asked him if he was going on the pirate ride he responded with “no. that ride is closed”. Although we had many meltdowns about this ride it was always at our house where it was containable. Totally worth the forethought!
  4. I studied the map. When we got to Disneyland I knew where everything was. When Jacob says he needs to go to the bathroom you have about 2 min to find a bathroom so you better know where you are going. Studying the map also helped me navigate the park without dragging the kids down the wrong street over and over again.
  5. Social stories! I could write a whole book about social stories and the benefits of them, but I will try to keep it short. For those who don’t know a social story is basically a book about situations that you or your child will go through. So for example when Jacob’s kindergarten class took skating lessons his teacher made a social story that took the kids through the steps of the skating lessons. I have learned that Jacob needs his to be very specific and also very clearly state that we need to be flexible if something changes. I made social stories (words and pictures) for: the airport experience (for Jacob it needs to be every step. I also used actual pictures of the LAX airport so he recognized it when we got there), Hotel to Disneyland transportation (including actual pictures of our hotel room), Getting on rides and waiting in line, Meeting characters (how to talk to them, how to treat them, etc), pin trading (how to ask to trade pins). These stories helped so much. I would say something to Jacob about it while we were at the park and he would say “I already knew that. It was in the story mom!”
  6. We practiced. Jacob’s aide Amanda helped us practice “going through security” or “talking to characters”. We practiced different situations that could come up and that could upset him. We practiced being “flexible” and talked a lot about group plans and how we need to listen to what other people want to do.  
  7. I called ahead. Before our trip I spoke with our airline, Disneyland, our hotel, the airports, and anyone else I could think of to ask details and to request help wherever possible. Most airports will allow you to take your child through a dry run of check in and security to help them get used to it before you actually have to do it. The airline was also very helpful. They allowed the kids to go in and meet the pilot and were very attentive and kind. Disneyland offers an assistance pass to people with cognitive disabilities. They were very kind and talked me through how to use it.
  8. Packing! I had seen this idea on pinterest where you put each days outfit in a ziplock bag. It seemed crazy, and Jason made fun of me but I thought I would try it. It was AWESOME! Jacob normally does not get himself dressed. (We believe it is because he struggles making decisions for himself.) I put everything needed to get dressed in the morning in each bag and also had night time ones. It worked great for Jacob. He would just grab a bag out of his suitcase dump it out and get dressed. I only had to get him dressed twice the whole week! (not including bedtime) This is a big deal for him, and has made me consider doing this all the time (not actually but I wish he could always do it himself).
  9. Informing the kids. Jason and I have gotten used to talking Jacob through situations so this came a bit more natural to us. At least once every hour I would talk to Jacob and let him know our plan for the next little bit. Although I couldn’t always do a visual schedual for him I was able to talk him through what the plan was. We do visual scheduals for Jacob on a daily basis so I knew this would help him remain calm.
  10. Do not have unrealistic expectations. Disneyland is exhausting for anyone. The amount of walking and patience required makes it very easy to fall asleep at night. The first few days I expected to get so much done. I expected to be there almost all day unfortunately that is not what happened. We ended up only being there for about 5 hours. At first I was upset that we missed out on some of the things everyone else got to do but I then realized that I needed to focus on what we could do and not what we couldn’t. I remembered that the reason they give kids like Jacob a special pass is because he doesn’t last as long as other kids.

Now that our vacation is over I know that all the preparation was worth it. It was the most amazing vacation. Jacob did awesome! What I was most amazed at was his behavior after we got home. Normally Jacob holds it together in public and then completely melts down as soon as we get home. This did not happen. We kept him regulated the whole trip so that there was no let down. We got home and he was still flexible and kind to all of us.

I loved our vacation and would recommend it to anyone. All I have to say is that if you prepare yourself and your child it will be worth it. I do not believe that this kind of preparation is only for autistic children. My daughter Sarah really benefits from all these things especially visually scheduals, and social stories. Feel free to contact me if you need more info or if you need help making any of the helps I talk about above.

I am ready to go back already and I am still unpacking!

Disneyland I miss you!

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