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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Coffee with Laura


It’s not often that I get to sit down to have a coffee and catch up session with a girlfriend. I don’t have many friends...locally...anymore. When you stop having the time and bandwidth to socialize with people, over time most of them forget about you. When things keep coming up, people that you don't have a lifelong connection with stop thinking of calling you and inviting you out for coffee, lunch or happy hour.

The majority of my closest friendships now have a healthy dosage of distance. For the longest time, I wondered why that is the case and it made me so sad.  As I do the work in therapy, I've come to realize that perhaps having distance between me and my friends is what I need. Maybe, for now, that's all I'm capable of giving.

My closest friend is a two-hour drive away. We have to be very intentional with our time together. Other close friends are scattered about the country, mostly in California.  Thanks to this blog and Facebook I have close friends all over the world, some of whom I’ve never met in person. Yet many of them are my biggest supporters. My online autism parent network is a lifeline for me.

I am however blessed with my local friend Laura and a few others who haven't been able to get rid of me yet. No matter how much time passes with Laura, we can get together to catch up and it’s like no time has passed. There are no penalties or guilt.

This time, I think an entire year has passed. She has been busy with her life --her daughter’s wedding, her mother’s illness and her own personal issues. I have been busy with being the beck and call girl for the people in my family and trying to get Kendal transitioned into the next phase of his life.

Laura was my yoga teacher years ago at the local Y.M.C.A. I felt a special connection with her then. I loved her energy --the genuineness of her being. She is authentic, funny, zen and laid back. I connect with people who let me into the realness of their lives. Laura did that in a yoga class where I saw her two or three times a week. This was when the boys were in middle and high school and I was desperate for local friendships at the time. I wanted so much for her to see me, this lonely girl, and maybe want to hang out with me. Eventually, we did connect, and though she stopped teaching a few years ago we have remained in touch. We still get together for lunch and the occasional coffee and chat.

On this sunny, late morning in May, we are sitting in Starbucks catching each other up on the happenings of our families over the past year. I’m bragging to her about how I’m in therapy now. She has been in for years and always encouraged me to do the same. I tell her about how I’m trying to take back my life and set boundaries with my now young-adult children.

“When I go out, I keep my phone on silent. I don’t go out that often so when I do, I refuse to take any calls.”
“That’s great!” she says. “It teaches them that they are capable of solving some of their own problems. It’s much easier for them if mama does it, but it doesn’t serve them as developing adults if we are always fixing things for them. Even though we love them and we want to.”
“Absolutely, girl,” I reply in full agreement. She has been through this a time or two with her own children who are older than mine.

Meanwhile, as we are enjoying our conversation I happen to sneak a peek at my phone which is sitting face-down on the table next to my cafe’ mocha. I have no intention of calling anyone back if there are any messages. I’m just curious to see if there is anything important that I missed. Whatever it is will definitely have to wait until I am finished socializing. Big mistake!

When I turn over the phone and look at the screen,  there are several missed calls from Kendal. Ugh! I punch in the gut. These rumbling butterflies are an automatic physical response from years of panic calls.  If the boys are not in a panic, they want some kind of action or thought from me and they want it NOW.  Everything is an emergency. There is always some problem to be solved,  a thought to process, a list of what-ifs to dispell, a pep-talk to be given.

If you look at the call log on my phone all of the names of my children, my husband, and my mother are listed in a rotation. They are the only people who actually call me on a regular basis. Hence, I have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I keep it on silent. The ringing makes me nervous and usually pisses me off. WTF do they want now? In fact, when I’m out in public and someone else’s phone rings, I feel my heart-rate increase. I jump. I want to ask them to please turn it down or off, especially if it keeps ringing over and over again.

I decided to ignore the missed calls from Kendal. I turned the phone back over, face-down and continue talking to Laura as if everything is totally cool. I figured he will end up calling the house. My mom will tell him that I’m having coffee with a friend, and he will stop calling. Ha! No such luck.


Let me stop here and give some background in case you’re new around here. A month ago, Kendal moved out of the group home. He moved to San Antonio to live with his older brother, Adrian. Adrian is my neurotypical (mostly) son who I raised from the age of five. He is now 30-years-old, has a great job as a Programmer and his own townhouse, that he is willing to share with his brother.  I didn't want to believe it would happen until it actually happened. Because, me getting a break from these boys is like, unheard of.

San Antonio is a ninety-minute drive away from me. Can you hear me smile when I say that?  Kendal can no longer just show up at my door unannounced, come in, drink all of my coffee and be knocking on my bedroom door before I can get out of bed. (Insert eye-roll here.)

So far, for the most part, he is acclimating to his new life. He is working full-time, over-time even, on a contract through Goodwill Industries doing Grounds Maintenance on Lackland Airforce Base.

There have been kinks to work through and I  am still helping him manage the details of his life. There are still several phone calls to me every time he wants to process a thought or work through a challenge. I take some of them, not all.

As crazy as it sounds, a part of me misses him. It's not easy letting go of a pain that you've had in your ass for 22-years. Transitions are tough for most humans.

At the same time, there is also a part of me that just can’t do it anymore. I’m burnt out! I don't want to be the instant human listening machine. The fixer of all problems. That shit stresses me out.

Keep in mind, I am still dealing with the stress of transitioning my 19-year-old into the idea of adulthood. He isn't taking it too well. It's like nobody gave him the memo that adulthood was coming, and I no longer have to do all of the things for him. He is now responsible for his life.

Thanks to anxiety, he's fighting me on everything and has the suckiest attitude. He's just about right up there on the Richter scale where his brothers were at this age, which is why they had to MOVE!  I'm ready for him to get out of my house, like yesterday. Only we don't have a viable exit plan for him yet. To say that everything is not going as I predicted it would is putting it mildly.

Cut -back to my coffee date with Laura 

Phone calls turn in to texts, “I need a ride.”

I refused to call him back, but I did  excuse myself briefly and text him to ask, “Why do you need a ride?”

It’s 12:30 in the afternoon. As luck would have it, he got off from work early. Mind you Adrian (older brother) had given him cash money.  He had $10.00 to eat lunch and catch the bus to get home. He went to Wendy’s and spent $8.25, which left him with $1.75 to catch the bus. The bus costs $2.00.

So what does he do? Borrow a quarter from a stranger? Of course not!
Tell the people at Wendy’s he needs to order something else, so he has enough money for the bus? NO!!! He panics and starts blowing up my phone.

Why didn't he use a credit or debit card for lunch so he would have the cash for the bus?

Well, a few nights before he went on a dating website and was convinced to put in his credit card information. Then the site proceeded to wipe out all of the money in his checking account. Subsequently, we had to shut the credit/debit card down and attempt to get the fraudulent charges refunded to his bank account.

One bad choice leads to another problem and then the domino effect kicks in. Now he has no emergency credit card. He can’t get home from work. It’s 100 degrees plus humidity in San Antonio. He’s hot, frustrated and agitated and probably pretty damned tired after working in the heat all week long.  And who gets to deal with all of that attitude? ME!

I ignored the calls and texts as long as I could, however, a part of me envisioned him exploding in a public place, the police being called and his entire life is shot to hell in an instant. I had to at least navigate him through a way to get home.

I ended up leaving my coffee with Laura after we had been there for over an hour.

She gave me a sample of some DoTerra Essential Oils.  She is now an Advocate for them. She gave me a “Chill Out” blend and a “Shield” blend which is supposed to help protect you from taking on someone else’s negative energy. Lawd have mercy, do I need that!?
I used the “Chill Out” blend before I could even put the car in drive because my heart rate was extremely elevated and it actually worked! I love my friends!

I helped Kendal navigate through getting home to the apartment that he shares with his brother.

His brother Adrian, by the way, has been extremely supportive through this transition and he's a hell of a lot more patient with him than me or his dad. Adrian does, however, have a full-time job and can’t drop everything when Kendal panics.

By the time Kendal made it home, I was completely spent for the rest of the day.

Do you think he learned his lesson with the whole, impulsively putting your credit card that is attached to his bank account information on the internet, after all of the dominoes that fell afterward? I can only hope. I am trying to put some safeguards in place to hopefully avoid this kind of fiasco in the future.

But dear Lord, just when I  think things are getting a little more peaceful around here, I discover that Kendal still has the ability to give me an instant headache from miles away.

I am one burnt out mom.

Never give up on your child, they say. I don’t think they ever met these children of mine.

Kendal, Myself, and Adrian
Good news! Just as I got ready to post this, I got a phone call that the application we put in for paratransit was approved. He will now have curb-to-curb transportation! I am so relieved!







Friday, May 25, 2018

Drowning -A Guest Post

By Carrie...

My son was in elementary school when I became a reader and follower of Karen’s blog. When our regional community was rocked 2 months ago by the drowning of a 14-year-old with Autism Spectrum Disorder after he eloped from his city school, I asked Karen about doing a guest blog. She agreed. It’s been just over 2 months since I first mentioned it. At 4 a.m. this morning the blog hit me upside the head.

Carrie's son Tom
I am a single mom to a 16-year-old young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We live in a rural community in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes (and WINE) Region. I had the first inkling of an autism diagnosis when my son was 2 years, 9 months. He suddenly lost the ability to speak and had extreme, physically violent meltdowns with self-injury; sometimes requiring up to 90 minutes of physical restraint by me.  I had modified restraint training I had received through an employer. With the DSM-IV he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at age 5/6 and had a whole host of rule-out diagnoses. We saw a local developmental pediatrician for many of his early years.

My son started in an intensive Universal Pre K program at 3 years, 1.5 months run by one of our area’s best special needs programs. He had 1:1 aides, occupational therapy, music therapy, speech therapy and more. When he started elementary school at our home district things changed, some for the better and some for the worse. His educational team tried, for the most part, to do what was in his best interests within the constraints of our school district’s abilities. And he even qualified as disabled under NYS’s DDSO (Developmental Disabilities Service Organization.) In 2011 due to regulation changes through DDSO he no longer qualified as disabled.

A couple years later his developmental pediatrician announced her upcoming retirement to us. That led me to seek out a more concrete evaluation from a world-renowned regional autism center/clinic. We waited over 6 months for the appointment/evaluation date, which was 9 months after the local developmental pediatrician made the referral. After spending only 90 minutes with my son and I the specialist, (at this world-renowned autism clinic,) deemed that he had “outgrown the autism” and was most definitely ADHD inattentive type. My heart shattered, to put it mildly. We only had three visits with this specialist, and she tore me down each and every time we met. At several points during our appointments, she would tell me that I was failing him as a parent when I would question her or her recommendations. That immediately instilled a distrust in developmental disability professionals from that point forward. It was 2014, and it took me 3 full years before I would seek out another professional for my son.

In 3 years’ time, he spiraled. Our April 2017 Autism Awareness Month was eye-opening. He punched holes in a large portion of the walls of his room.  He physically broke our outdoor, make-shift clothesline by snapping a 2x4 board in 2 different places just with his shear strength.  And finally, his 3rd quarter school grades came home with 2 incompletes and outright failing one class. I started a renewed search seeking out a counseling professional for my son.

Fast forward nearly a year, in March 2018, to the drowning of a 14-year-old with ASD in the Genesee River in Rochester, NY, a mere 60 miles from where we live. His physical drowning has been enacting some changes in the Rochester, NY area. But where’s the help for those kids and parents who are metaphorically drowning in the rural areas, (and cities and suburbs)?!?

In the past year, we finally have 2 professionals, (a Licensed MSW, and an independent Licensed Clinical Psychologist,) agreeing that my son has Autism Spectrum Disorder as specified in the DSM-V. The school still says he’s a “student with Autism” in his Individual Education Plan, and this has never changed since his first IEP meeting at 3 years old. Yet with all that documentation, and documentation going back to his very first evaluations for services in 2003 and 2004 it’s not enough in the eyes of the former NYS DDSO, (now NYS OPWDD, Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.)

With the help of our local Arc, I recently re-applied to qualify him for services through that state-run office. Despite about 100 pages of documentation showing a continued need for services, the office said he did not show enough of a qualifying diagnosis for services, and his IQ is 4 points too high to automatically qualify under IQ requirements. And because he didn’t qualify for OPWDD services, he doesn’t qualify for Arc services. And if he can’t qualify for OPWDD there’s no way he’ll qualify for Social Security Disability assistance.

After receiving the letter disqualifying him our county had a community input forum in response to several recent teen suicides, overdoses, and other community concerns. My full-time employment with a community based social service agency meant I was well known by one of the facilitators. I had just received the denial, so I opened my mouth to the forum and asked where we were supposed to turn to next for help. That put me in touch with a youth services advocate through our county health and mental health dept. We had a referral put in with another local agency who provides HARP (Health and Recovery Plan) services. However, because my son’s only diagnosis is ASD, he won’t qualify for services in that program without a mental health or addiction diagnosis. We have 8 days to find a medical professional who will agree with a comorbidity of a mental health disorder, or get my son hooked on meth or heroin, or we have to start that process from scratch again too. Meanwhile, I have 3 more days to file my request for appeal to OPWDD and I have lost that paperwork.

But the issues don’t stop there. My son’s 35-week report from school arrived in the mail yesterday. He’s currently failing 3 out of his 4 core academic subjects with grades in the 40’s and 50’s. He is also failing one of his extra academic classes and on the verge of failing a 2nd for not turning in assignments and research projects. These 2 classes are areas he excels at and loves. He also owes $80 to the school for technology and reading items that he never returned.

He struggles with life skills/activities of daily living. He rarely brushes his teeth without adult prompting.  He washes his body only half the time without adult prompting. He’s nearly burnt down our home by being so engrossed in a TV show that he cooked pizza-snackers in the microwave for 15 minutes and didn’t notice the burning smell. The smell woke me from a dead sleep, and he then stood in the middle of our kitchen with a plate that was still on fire IN HIS HANDS.

His inability to know follow-up on his chores caused his air-conditioner unit to flood our living room, requiring a whole flooring remodel, (which I had to take on myself because I couldn’t afford to pay someone else to do it on my meager earnings). It and ruined the box spring of my brand-new bed. 18 months later I’m still sleeping in the same bed and box spring.

He can’t get a summer job because he might have to go to summer school, and I’m not sure he has the skill set to keep a job without an intensive job coach. He has developed skills from volunteering in our church’s media room, volunteering with the free food truck food distribution, volunteering at our local thrift shop, and being a new member of our local fire department. However, he can’t process how to transfer those skills to an employment-based environment. He doesn’t know how to budget or understand money, something I have tried to teach him for years. He doesn’t want to drive; not because he doesn’t know how, (we live in farm country remember) but because the other drivers on the road scare him, and he doesn’t understand the NYS DMV driver’s manual enough to pass the written exam to get his permit.

He still has to be told when to do laundry, because 3 weeks of clothes piling up and no clean jeans or underwear didn’t trigger any response in him to do laundry. Every Monday he has to be reminded that Tuesday is garbage day and he needs to bag up the garbage and clean the cat’s litter box. This isn’t typical teenage behavior as our family acquaintances and community friends try to tell me because it has never gotten better. It’s been this way for YEARS!!! This is just the tip of the iceberg if you were to live our life.

I have begged people publicly for help, I’ve begged Facebook friends for in-person help. I have gone so far as to ask Amish members of our community if they will offer him an apprenticeship of sorts, (talks are still ongoing there.) I’ve asked the school for help with a life-skills class. Next year they are finally offering a cooking class, which my son is currently signed up for.

My son is regarded by many as high-functioning on the autism spectrum because of the skills and abilities he has, but we are metaphorically drowning! I'm wondering, would it take my son physically drowning in Cayuga or Seneca Lake before someone or some agency says, “We should be doing more to help to help families in this situation,”?!?

We are very community involved. My son is a 4th generation firefighter with the same fire department. I have spent over 20 years volunteering between the local fire department and EMS.  I regularly volunteer my time and photography talents to the community and school programs. My son volunteers in many facets of our local church from the media room, to food distribution, to clothing distribution, and will hopefully be attending an out of state mission trip to Boston in July. He plays 2 varsity sports and is a starter for one. He competes in NYSSMA music solo festivals each year and is in honors band and chorus at school.

We give of our time and talents to help those around us in need nearly every day.

Why can’t we qualify for any help?!?

Why are we metaphorically drowning?!?

I don’t want your thoughts and prayers or sympathy.  I want some action, resources, and services! My son has long terms goals. He wants to work in law enforcement. He wants to live on his own, realizing it may only be with assistance. He wants to be a contributing member of society. None of that will happen without help and services in OUR OWN COMMUNITY!!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Carrie is a single mom of a 16- year-old young man with autism, living in a rural area of Rochester, New York. She is trying to raise her son to the best of her ability. This is a story of the frustrations getting the right kind of community support services for him. Her story is the story of so many parents in the U.S. and all over the world. We can't raise these kids alone. If we expect them to be contributing members of society, they need these supports. Honestly, once they reach a certain age, we as parents, literally cannot teach them everything they need to be a successful adult. It really does take a village. 

Thanks for reading. 
~Karen 


Friday, May 4, 2018

Reclaiming My Time

Going on vacation is a wonderful thing. Anytime you have the privilege of getting away from day to day life to see something different in the world should be a cause for celebration and hopefully, an opportunity for relaxation.

In my life, however there are a lot of ironies. Things that other people celebrate and enjoy can be complicated for me. In fact, many things that average families would normally celebrate, can be an additional source of stress and anxiety for an autism family. If you are a parent of a child with any kind of special needs, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

Over the years of raising these children, travel has been a dual between fun and overwhelming. There are so many details to put into place before I can think about going anywhere with or without my children. I also have to add my mom to the mix since she has lived with us for the past eight years.

Before I can travel, I have to make sure that everyone will be taken care of while I’m away. This means arranging for most of the things that I do for them, to be done by someone else. All bases must be covered. Oh yes! Let's not forget about Harry, our dog. I don't like to put him in a kennel. He is used to having someone to sit next to. He's a lap dog. And, Yes. I am a spoiler of all of my children.

I have anxiety from years in this autism life. My anxiety is real and at this point and time, requires medication to keep me functioning without taking someone's head off. The thing about authentic anxiety is that it doesn't have to make any sense to anyone else. It's real inside my head and in my physical reaction to stress. I have worried about every single trip that I have planned since my children were born. 

Will the plane crash? 
I can’t die. They need me! 
If I am leaving them at home... did I take care of every last detail before I left?
Did I write all of the operating instructions for whoever is taking over? 
Did I remember the special foods, the wine for my mom, the projects for school that need to be turned in on time? 
Did I fill prescriptions? 
Did I pack meds? 
Does anyone know what to do if I die?
Yes. I have a will. But still…the details of everyday life. The things that only I know. Most of the time, their father didn't even know the name of their teachers, or their doctors. 

Is there any wonder when my husband or my friends say, “hey let’s take a trip,” I hesitate?

I hesitated when my husband said let’s go to Italy in 2007. I was dying to go to Italy, but what would we do with the kids for ten days? I had never been away from them for that long. How would I get along with my husband for ten days? Would we kill each other? Would we still be married when we came back home?

When we planned our trip to France in the summer of 2016, I freaked out. There was a terrorist attack right before we left in Nice. We were going to Nice! Again, what if I die?

I finally settled on, I'm going. I may die on this trip, but at least I will die having seen France.  I have just about gotten these boys through to adulthood. I’ve already done a lifetime of work. If it's my time, so be it. 

A couple of weeks ago my husband planned a trip to Las Vegas with my best friend and her husband for my birthday. Spectacular, right? Vegas is one big adult playground. He planned everything perfectly. He bought tickets to the best shows, “Michael Jackson One.” He even bought awesome seats to see Justin Timberlake in concert! We had gorgeous adult dinners at gourmet restaurants and stayed in lovely accommodations. 

It's a good thing he planned it because I never would have done it. I would find every excuse not to go. Why? Because of anxiety —that’s why. Like I said, there’s nothing about anxiety that has to make any sense. In my case, it sort of does, because over the years so many things have hit the fan when we traveled. 

Hubby works for a global IT Corporation so he goes to Las Vegas every year for his sales conference. Sometimes, he goes twice a year if there is a Regional Meeting there. The first time I joined him in Vegas for one of his business trips, Blue was in the 6th grade. He was still freaked out by thunderstorms back then.

I left on a Friday morning. The sun was shining brightly I felt so happy and free to be getting on an airplane alone. I made arrangements for Blue to spend part of the weekend with one of his best friends. I can't remember where Kendal was, but he wasn't home. My mom was at the house with Blue. When his friend's mom came to pick him up that Friday afternoon, he would not leave the house because of his anxiety. In fact, he ended up spending the entire weekend hiding out in the bathroom because there was a threat of storms. 

How free and easy breezy can one feel knowing that your child is hunkered down, camping in the bathroom with pillows, blankets, music and a fan to drown out the sound possible storms?

This is just one example of the things that play on a highlight reel in my head every time someone talks to me about traveling. My body  goes into fight or flight tension from all of the years when things have gone wrong in my absence

I usually work through the anxiety. I go on the trip despite the anxiety, but no one can tell me not to freak out. It’s just like when you tell someone who’s having a meltdown to just “calm down.” Yeah. That goes over perfectly. I am working on getting over some of this with my therapist. Hoever, it takes time. I have a lot of crap to work through. 

Our most recent trip was to Washington D.C. We took the entire family (my mom, Blue, me and Alan). Kendal just moved to San Antonio to live with his older brother. Preparing for his move was a whole other source of stress that went in conjunction with the planning of this trip. I won’t even go into the details of that.   

Our family trip was a total of five days. We rented a lovely AirBnB, two-bedroom apartment so that my mother would have accessible accommodations. An apartment, as opposed to hotel rooms, would mean a lot of family togetherness. There would be no quick and easy escapes.

We were also meeting my siblings in D.C. to go to the Smithsonian African American History Museum. No pressure, right?
My peeps

There are extra details to traveling with my mother. Her arthritic knees keep her from being as mobile as she used to be. Wheelchairs were arranged at the airports to get her on, and between, flights. Sitting all together in a row on the plane where I was smushed in-between my mother and my husband was lots of fun for a woman in peri-menopause.

I reserved a scooter with a medical equipment company in D.C. because of the extensive walking that would be required at the museum. The night before we left, she informs me that she refuses to even try the scooter. It was too late for cancellations, so I ended up paying full-price for the motor-scooter rental, while we got an old crappy wheelchair that was hard as hell to push her around in. 

Overall, it was a great trip. The museum was powerful and I'm so glad we were all able to see it. 

Per my therapist's suggestion, I decided to take one day to get some time to myself. Self-care is pertinent when you need to have extra patience. Years ago, I would never have considered gifting time to myself. I would be too worried about what others would think. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Ever. I would just do all of the things whether I wanted to or not.

My mother and my husband were not happy when I told them that I would not accompany them to church and to visit with some of his family. I told them that it wasn’t up for discussion. I know what I need. No one will speak up for me, except me. 

I am “reclaiming my time!” Like Auntie Maxine Waters! The people who were used to me not having boundaries will find themselves disappointed at times. However, they will benefit from the happier person I am after refilling my cup. 

I was ecstatic as soon as they all walked out the door. 

Here’s the video of my favorite moment of our adventure. I highly recommend taking time for yourself whenever possible.


May self-care and self-love carry you through your stressful situations.

Love,

Karen

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Self-Love 101


Today was therapy day for me, also known as “Me Day.” Therapy is usually followed by lunch by myself, reflection and writing. This one of the self-care tools that I have tried to implement consistently over the past few years. It is one of few things I look forward to every week. That is unless someone somehow plans an appointment during my time. Nothing upsets me more than missing my Me-Day. 

Therapy is a full-time job for me.
I go to therapy.
I  drive other people to therapy.
I wait outside of therapist's offices, doctor’s offices, possible employers offices, colleges, beauty salons, you name it. I drive to it.
I’m am the designated personal driver for all of the grown-ass people in my family. 
I actually go to therapy to help me cope with driving people to therapy for no pay, and no tips, while I put my own dreams and personal goals on hold. The worst thing? Half the time my passengers don’t smell so good. At least soccer moms have a good excuse for their passengers not smelling so good. 

Oh! Yes. Also pestering young-adults about the art of showering is also a big part of my job. Who wouldn’t need therapy with a job like this? The reward is ...um. I don't think there is a reward.  

Recently, I have been attempting to as Auntie and Senator Maxine Waters says, “Reclaiming my time!” -in an effort of self-preservation and self-care. I am working hard at maintaining the boundaries surrounding the time that I need to take care of me …to do the things that make my heart smile and feed my soul. This means there are more times when I have to say, “No. I can’t do that today. I have a prior engagement.” Even if that prior engagement is just me sitting at a coffee house or who am I kidding?  A bar --working on a writing project. 

Not consistently taking care of myself made me become this angry, cranky, resentful person. I was feeling like a non-entity ...like I have no right to my own wants and needs. People will try to make you feel like you're being selfish when you start putting yourself first. As if doing things for your personal enjoyment is wrong because after all, you owe them your life. And by people, I mean family. Everyone wants what they want -now. Yet, not one of them pays me one red cent.

My friend Becca of lovebecca.com  wrote a 30-day Self-Love challenge on her website. She also posted it on her Facebook and Instagram every day during the Month of March. 

When I opened Facebook and read an entry I felt like she was speaking directly to me. She wrote about simple things that we as women should be doing to take care of ourselves. Some of the things she mentioned, I have been ignoring for months. 

One day Becca wrote about making your regular doctor appointments. I was like …Wow! Hello. I’m overdue by several months for my annual exam. How does she know this?
She wrote about getting a regular form of exercise and drinking enough water (not including the ice cubes in my vodka cocktail.) I know she had me in mind when she wrote that one.
She wrote about having regular dates with yourself, doing something simple that you love.
She reminded me to spend more time doing something fun and creative.
In other words, we need to find our own personal joy. That doesn't have to mean spending a lot of money. It really just means spending time on the things that make us feel lighter, even if that's just taking a nap!  

I did not complete the 30-day challenge in full. However, I am pleased to report that I have become more conscientious about improving in the self-care department. As a result, I am happier than I have been in a very long time. My anxiety is down. I’m less angry and resentful. I don’t want to run away and change my identity —well, most days I don’t. It’s work-in-progress. 

Of course, when I started pushing back saying no and making plans for myself, this limited my availability to do for others. My bosses don't like it so much. They have come to believe that they are the priority in my life. This includes my two young-adult sons (who do not drive) and my 78-year-old-mother, who lives with me. She thinks since the boys are grown now, it’s HER turn. Nope! Sorry, Mom. It’s MY turn. 

I’ve been working hard to keep boundaries for my time. I leave the house to write more regularly so that my thoughts are not interrupted. During those times I don’t answer my phone. I also don’t answer my phone if I’m out at a social event. If I’m having dinner with friends, I put my phone away, out of sight so that I am engaged and present with my friends whom I see so seldom. This doesn't mean I don't have dozens of missed calls when I finally do check.  Last week I came out of a spa treatment and had 13 missed calls from the 22-year-old. Talk about a way to kill a buzz.   

I have become like the panic-button or the easy-button for my kids. I am not amused. I want them to get to the point, where they stop, think and try to solve their own problems before they resort to calling me. Sometimes, they just want someone to scream at because they’re frustrated. All of that is putting me on anxiety overload. I cringe when I see their names on my caller ID. It's not the school calling anymore. It's them. Did I mention, I keep my phone on silent most of the time?  The ring makes my heart-rate go up. 

Now, I tell them ahead of time, I will not be available between this time and that time. DO NOT CALL ME! My phone will not be accessible. Because -boundaries. Hello. If they call anyway, I don’t answer. I give it time so that hopefully they can figure things out on their own. 

I started painting again. Sundays have become my painting day. I told my mom, “The only thing cooking in my kitchen on Sundays is acrylic paint!”

A friend of mine turned me on to this website www.acrylicpouring.com. I downloaded their “Getting Started” manual and have been watching “how to” videos on You-Tube. So far, I’m not that great at it, but I’m having fun playing with color on canvas. I plan to keep at it until I get better.

One of my First Pours 
I haven’t reached all of my self-care goals, but I’m definitely headed in a better direction. I just hit my 53rd birthday. And the day before I was feeling so tired, I felt like I knew what it's like to be dead.

As my youngest child crosses over into adulthood, he seems to want to walk backward trying to escape it.  Meanwhile, I am running in the opposite direction towards reclaiming myself and my time. The two scenarios make life complicated.

The 22-year-old son is working on relocating to another city not too far away, but just far enough that it may help him grow to the next level. Meanwhile, the transition process is extra work and extra stress for both of us, which makes my need for self-care and proper rest even more important.  

I'm not saying any of this is easy or that it changes your life overnight. My life is always a work-in-progress.

I did finally make it to my new doctor. She didn't seem to be nearly as concerned about my imminent death as I am. But she did do some bloodwork. So we will see. These traditional medical doctors never seem to believe it's an issue when I ask them about a hormonal imbalance,  which means my next step is to find a naturopathic doctor.

I hope you will join me on the path towards self-love and self-care. Don't be like me and wait until everyone else is taken care of because guess what? They will NEVER be!

What are you doing just for you lately?
Remember, you are the most person to love.

Check out my friend Love Becca’s 30-day Self-Love challenge for some ideas.

BTW -do you follow me on Instagram and Twitter? I am kwesleywrites on both. I'm always afraid that someday Facebook will die especially after recent activity. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Autism is Real


Autism is real. It ebbs and flows. It may evolve, but it doesn’t go away no matter the age or level of maturity. Thankfully, we continue to make progress. But then one-day autism shows up and slaps you in the face as if to say,  I'm still here bitches!

Kendal was home Friday morning for a few hours before work.  Autism was on and poppin’ —like, Hello! Don't forget about me!  He was home because his phone was broken and of course, he wanted it fixed or replaced like, NOW! Dad and I are apparently, the fixers of all things.

His anxiety is also high because there are some big changes coming his way. His transition program is ending soon and there is a huge possibility that he will be moving out of the group home. I am hesitant to talk about this (in detail) until it actually happens. There are countless loose ends to be tied up before it becomes a reality. I am excited, nervous and apprehensive, all at once.

His fixation right now is his future. He’s thinking big picture. Where will I end up in five to ten years? Of course, the possibilities are endless.  His brain is working overtime thinking about each and every possible “what if?”

Now as fixations go, this is a pretty good one to have. At least it’s not girls or obsessing about making his body even more perfect than it is.

However, by the time he left my house on Friday afternoon, I couldn’t drive him to work. The constant talking, the repeating, the demands ...my nerves were shot. I literally could not think straight. I was willing to pay for an Uber rather than listen to the same dialog within the confines of my car.

Since his phone is on its last leg and it's difficult to use, when he got off work that evening, he called to ask me to either pick him up or help him coordinate an Uber ride. He wanted to go to a social event with his church. I had had enough of him for the day so again, I opt for Uber.

He calls me from the business phone at work to say he’s ready. I call the Uber.  The Uber is waiting for him when he gets off. But somehow, he doesn't get outside in time and the driver cancels the ride. After a couple of minutes, they think you’re a no-show, so they charge you a five-dollar cancellation fee and they leave.

I'm watching this whole transaction happen on my phone, but I can't get in touch with him because again, dead phone.

He gets outside of work and can’t find the Uber. Instead of going back inside of work to call me again, he wanders down the parking lot and ends up at Arby's.  Not really knowing what to do finally, he asks a stranger can he please call me from her phone. She calls me for him. “Mam, I have your son Kendal here and he’s lost.” This is nearly 30 minutes later. I’m thinking, lost? How did he get lost?" The boy usually Uberss all over town. The difference here is that he doesn't have a working phone.

The whole time I’m sitting here knowing that the Uber has taken off. I’m wondering what happened to him? I’m thinking, maybe he caught a ride with someone from work, but he can’t call me because the phone is dead. NO. That was not the case. He was wandering around for thirty minutes trying to figure out what to do. Autism.

Long story short, I end up having to stop what I’m doing (eating dinner and about to pull out my paints and canvas) to go pick him up because he’s pretty much panicking. By the time I get there, he is livid! It’s all my fault, of course! He’s actually just totally frustrated with the situation and anxious to get to his event, but there must be someone to blame. As always, I get that prize. I'm thinking, I should be the one who is yelling. I should be at home drinking wine! 

I get him to calm down. I tell him my car will not move if there is yelling inside of it --a lesson I've learned over the years. So he gives me the address to the event.  Off we go. I'm driving blindly. Well, I have the navigation, but I really have no idea where I'm going, which makes me nervous.

Once we make the turn off the main road, I can barely see.  It’s a dark, winding canyon,  and I mean pitch black. The navigation lady is talking.  Kendal is talking. I’m like, “Dude! do you want me to find this place or not? Shut up!” I’m highly frustrated at this point. Remember, I should be at home drinking wine and painting. Instead, I’m trying to hear the navigation lady and watch out for wild deer who are probably roaming the hills.

We finally arrive at the gated community and he says, “There’s a code. Do you have the code?”
“How in the hell would I have the code!? I don’t know these people. Don’t you have the code?”
“No," he says and stares at me blankly, like --now what are we going to do?

I’m thinking,  it’s a really good thing that he’s not in an Uber. Imagine, he gets the driver all the way up into this community and he has no access to the gate. He would be angry and disappointed. They would probably have to drive away and he would not make it to the event. The Uber driver would probably think he's nuts.

So there we sit at the gate. Hmm. What to do? A car pulls behind me. I make a quick u-turn to move out of the way. When I see the driver going in, I floor the gas and follow them before the gate closes.  I may or may not have burned rubber.

Kendal’s in the back seat. “What are you doing Mom? Are we going to get arrested? You just broke into this neighborhood,” he keeps asking over and over as I continue to try to listen to the navigation lady.

“No! We’re not going to get arrested! Now be quiet so I can find this damn place!” At least I hope we're not going to get arrested. I start looking around and realize this neighborhood is exclusive, fancy, obviously designed for the very wealthy. The houses are huge, all stucco, with Spanish tile roofs. The streets have these little turnabouts like they have in France. There are even cobblestones in some parts of the street. They have their own special street lights, which are so dim that I can hardly see where I'm going. We are a bit out of place. I just burned rubber and snuck in here. He has an address but I doubt he knows the name of the homeowner. All he knows for sure is that “someone from church” is hosting the event.

If my nerves had not been so fried, this would have been hilarious. Me driving in the dark, trying to find a house that I’ve never been to. The neighborhood is not well lit, at all. I can barely see the names of the streets. I can’t make out any addresses. It’s not your normal, every day, Austin subdivision.

In fact, I’m thinking —I had no idea this kind of affluence existed here in Austin. This sub-division is so exclusive, I bet there are no black people that live in here. Black people probably don’t even know this place exists. Hell! I didn’t know until tonight. They've been hiding an entire neighborhood up in these hills and poor people know nothing about. Are we going to get arrested? Did I damage any property when I burned rubber on that U-turn? 

Finally, we find the house, and not because the address was obvious, but because Kendal kind of recognized the house. Turns out he had been here once before. Wow! Really? Thanks for telling me. You’ve been here before, but you didn’t think to write down the code to get into the gate? Yeah. Autism. 

He gets out of the car. I am praying that this is actually the house and that he’s not walking into a total stranger’s home. I could see the headline, “Black man, carrying a large gym-bag is shot entering white folks home in exclusive neighborhood in Austin.” 

Once he gets inside, I take a deep breath and exhale. Then I notice that he left their front gate open because of course, and there is a little dog roaming the front yard. I get out of my car and closed the gate. Yeah. Autism.

As I’m driving home, I’m thinking to myself, how did I survive years of this and his behavior was even worse? In his teen years, there would have been no cooling down of the yelling when I was trying to drive. I would have had to pull-over and threaten to take him home.

He has matured a lot since then. However, autism and ADHD and are still real and I am a brain-fried survivor.
Me at the beach in California
-my sacred place 


Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Whispers

I confess. I’ve been holding back on my writing here in this medium. The worst thing you can do as a writer is caring what the perception will be if you write your truth. Okay, maybe not the worst. The worst is not writing at all, but it’s certainly not good to worry about the outcome or what goes on inside someone else's head when they are reading your words.

When writing you have to stay true to your purpose. Keep writing (every day the experts say). I write as often as I  can. I write first and foremost for my sanity. I try to keep in mind exactly who I am writing for. I don’t mean the lurkers who are making their own assessments of what they think they are reading in-between the lines. The people I want to touch by my writing, my true audience, are mostly women like me. Women who are tired, who are struggling, who sometimes feel alone in a crowded room, or in a home full of responsibility, children, a husband and perhaps even parent they are caring for. 

Some of us can't write our truth, we don't have the time or the energy. Many of us get enough judgment from our extended family, as it is because of our children's behavior and our family's ignorance about autism. Some of us may not see our reality reflected in society. There are a lot of women out there who project as if they have it all together, especially on social media. Look at my perfect life! Chile, please! I know you got lots of dirt hidden behind that smile.

The women I write for may not be able to express their feelings aloud but they are feeling all of the feelings, wanting to scream, curse, cry or laugh at themselves. Maybe you are doing all of these things but you still somehow feel alone. Perhaps you secretly feel like your feelings are wrong. Well, fuck that! You have a right to feel your truth. I'm just the silly girl, that actually writes mine on the internet. 

Most of my writing has been about the boys. They are a major focal point and a big part of my purpose in life. However, I feel like I’m about to burst from all of the feelings that have been swimming around in my head and throughout my body over the past few weeks about myself. What about me? I have my own thoughts, feelings, yearnings. With Kendal gone and the house quieter, I have more time to think about myself. What do I want? How do I feel? I am tired of being the beck and call girl for these boys. They think I'm just sitting idle, waiting to do the next thing for them.

Kendal, my 22-year-old had the nerve to say one day while sitting on the couch in my bedroom, "Why are you writing and not paying attention to me? Your writing is just a hobby. It's not like you're getting paid or anything." Mother f*#%er what I decide to do with my time is MY choice and MY business! They think I owe them my undivided attention whenever they want it. Um! No. You're a grown-ass-man. That ship has sailed. 

I can only tell my therapist so much in the less than one hour we have together each week. I feel like I should live with her part-time. I don’t see my friends often and somehow I stopped having telephone conversations after so many years of never having enough peace or quiet to talk on the phone. And if I did have time, I was usually all talked out from the incessant talking, arguing and debating from my children.

The family that I see more often than I would like does not understand my innermost thoughts and feelings, nor do they care to. They are all too busy with their own agenda. And more importantly, they are too busy with what they want and need from me.

My husband is a source of refuge for me. He is my rock. But of course, he is highly focused on his job, and he's a dude. We are very different in our thinking and mindset. He gets me more than most people, but he doesn't totally get me. He thinks I'm cooky. I am cooky but...whatever. 

I am going through some kind of change-of-life, midlife, soon to be empty nest, but not-soon-enough-thing. I’m probably going through some kind of peri-menopausal, hormonal mumbo-jumbo as well. I am somewhere in the mix of letting go of my supposed-to-be young-adult children. Yet, because of their autism, they still want me to do much more for them than I want to do. 

I read a quote the other day that said, “I never fit inside a box; no matter how big it is.” I was like damn, that’s it. I am inside of a box that I don’t fit in anymore, that is if I ever did. I allowed myself to be put into this box. I’ve been in it a long time. Parts of this box are cozy, comfortable and familiar. Why leave? But another part of me is dying to get out. Only, a couple of problems… 
  1. I don’t know where exactly to begin. 
  2. I still have obligations inside the box, and those shackles hold me back from my next destination. 
What is that syndrome called when you start getting comfortable with being held captive? Stockholm Syndrome —It usually happens when your capturer has agreed to let you live instead of killing you. You start to appreciate and sympathize with them. You don't even try to escape anymore. Well, my capturers have not threatened to kill me, not intentionally anyway, but they nearly have.  

My current situation of being everyone’s everything, having little left over for my own personal happiness and fulfillment, as much as I may hate it, it is familiar. It’s what I know. It's who I've been. It’s what I’ve done for a long time. I am used to being the on-call therapist, fire- extinguisher, problem solver.

Leaving this uncomfortable comfort-zone and moving forward into the next phase of life is scary. What if I'm not good at anything else? What if most of my brain cells have already died? For a person with anxiety, it can feel overwhelming —insurmountable. 

Being a wife, mother, caregiver, and autism advocate is a part of my destiny. However life has been whispering for a while now, there is something more for me to do. Part of that is really living for myself and enjoying life, doing things that I want to do on a more regular basis. The longer I sit inside of this box, this house, my life in Texas, putting MY life behind everyone else's, the more stir crazy I will be.

I will have no one else to blame except for myself.

Who holds the biggest stake in my life? I do. Change is therefore up to me.

I went through a pretty huge summer depression. Now I’m going through a too many cloudy, cold, gray days, winter sadness. I take medication for anxiety and depression, but medication only does so much. There is still enough sadness that lingers, which tells me there is more I need to do improve my own mental health.

There are changes that I need to make. The underlying issues of being unfulfilled, wanting more, wanting an escape from this box will keep nudging me until I do something different. It’s hideous to believe that life will improve if I keep doing the same thing. 

One of those things is as simple as regular self-care: 
  • Make myself leave the house even on those cloudy, gray days to go for a walk or to yoga. I need regular exercise 
  • Make my OWN doctor's appointments. Right now I am overdue for my annual exam. My excuse? My doctor moved to California over a year ago. I should have gone with her. 
  • Indulge in things that I enjoy more regularly -like painting, visiting with friends, being more social and traveling.  
  • Figure out my true purpose. Who do I want to help in the next phase of my life?  
I know I’m supposed to put myself on the list first. I’ll do it for a while and then shit will hit the fan with one of the boys and I get off track. I am so used to life coming at me hard from different directions. I have forgotten how to take care of myself.

A few years ago I went to hear Oprah speak at a women’s empowerment event. I remember her saying "When there is something that you need to change in your life, the whispers come at you first. Listen to the whispers. If you don’t do anything about it, they get louder like a little thump on the head or a pebble. If you still don’t listen, it gets even louder until it’s like a brick upside your head, which is a crisis. If you still are not listening, the brick becomes a disaster."

I haven’t been paying attention. I’ve been ignoring the whispers. Sometimes I listen and try to find a way to pacify them for a while. It’s like putting on a band-aid when I need stitches. 

I have loved taking care of my children. Technically, one of them is still somewhat of a child. He is eighteen, but in many ways, he is actually a few years younger. He has always been the most independent one. So for him to suddenly start walking backward has caught me off guard. I was not expecting this. Part of me may even be feeling a little resentful that he still needs me so much. He yanks my chain. He manipulates me and I let him. He pulls me into areas of his life, where I have no business. He pulls me in and then rejects me in the next moment. I know, I have to draw the line in permanent marker so that he can’t come back and erase it. I had to do the same with his brother and as a result, we have progress. 

The whispers have turned into pebbles, thumps upside the head. The next thing will be the bricks and I really don’t like pain. So I better start listening. 

I hope that you, my tribe, will learn to make self-care a priority. Pay attention to the whispers that are telling you it’s time for you to do something different. No one cares about your happiness and fulfillment as much as you do. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What A Difference Adult Transition Makes

Here I sit in this dreary conference room in the Special Education office at our high school. This is still considered Kendal’s home campus, although he hasn't attended classes here in four years. He meets his Adult Transition team at various places in the community. However, all official meetings are still held here. 

This is his final annual goal planning meeting for the Adult Transition program. We are planning his exit and graduation.  I’m somewhere between here and existing in a state of disbelief.

Who is this young man sitting across from me sporting a beard --all calm, cool and collected? 

Every once in a while he flashes that million-dollar-smile. I don’t think he knows it’s worth a million. If he did, surely he would use it more often.  

I can't believe this is my son. My babies are all grown-ass-men. Kendal is almost an entirely different person from the teenager who attended high school here. 

In his high school days, he was a bundle of depression, anxiety, and defiance. I was seriously worried about his future. Self-motivation was non-existent. Getting him to school each day was like pulling teeth. I reached the point where I didn't bother with trying to get him to do homework at home. It took so much energy just for him to make it through the entire school day. 

When he roamed the hallways of this high school, he wore what seemed like a permanent scowl on his face to go along with matching clinched fists.  He was a big, angry-looking black dude, in a sea of mostly white and Hispanic students. Yet, he wondered why everyone wasn’t lining up to be his friend. 

How is this kid going to survive in the world as a black man with so much anger? The world isn’t going to care about his diagnosis. When he's out in the world, officers won’t stop to understand his autism before they shoot.

He had absolutely zero respect for authority. One day fed up with his high school existence, he walked into the Vice Principal’s office and proceeded to curse him out. Who does that? Let me tell you, that was a fun phone call to receive. I can still feel my heart fluttering, head throbbing and my stomach turning, just thinking about it.

What a difference a few years and an Adult Transition program makes? He’s a different person now —one hundred pounds lighter, employed and more confident than I ever could have imagined. 

I’m so glad I didn’t snub this program like I wanted to at first. When Kendal was in elementary school, he had been an A student. I believed that all of that intelligence was buried underneath his negative attitude.  I thought that his depression and hyper-focus on how much he didn't fit in, was mostly what was holding him back. I thought he just needed to get out of the high school environment. I rationalized. He would be fine once he got out into the real world. It turns out that it wasn't that simple.

I never turned down any services offered to him because of my pride or because I didn’t want him to have a specific label. It was an internal battle for sure, but I always wanted him to have all of the help possible. I wanted him operating with every advantage, more than I wanted the dream of him being the perfect child that had always imagined having.  

So many kids sit in classrooms with no diagnosis, with parents who don’t know or care to get them the help that they need. They can’t figure out why they can’t focus. They are wondering why they can't the get the work done like the rest of their peers? Why are they always in trouble? 

There are also so many parents who are trying to get special education services, and they are being denied —being told they’re their child is not disabled enough for an I.E.P.

We were lucky. My boys were never in danger of not getting what they needed. I was THAT mom with the big mouth, who just wouldn’t go away. It was my job to make sure that they were understood. I made sure that both their gifts and their deficits were clearly visible and attended to. 

It all paid off in the end. Every phone call from teachers and staff. Every meeting and conference. Every time I sat down with an administrator who tried to discipline them for things that were a direct result of their disability. Every headache and every accelerated heart-rate when the school’s name was on my caller I.D.  It felt like a lifetime of work, and I'm still exhausted from it, but here we are today. 

This is it. The finally.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were meeting to get services for pre-school.  Kendal was 3-years-old —a toddler with a speech delay. He talked plenty —most people just didn’t think it was English that he was speaking. Instinctively, I always knew what he meant and what he wanted. We are still connected by that umbilical cord. Words were not necessary for our communication.  

During his high-school-years, we sat right here in this room in countless meetings where he was utterly oppositional and combative.  One time he told us his biggest goal was to sit in the cafeteria during lunch so that he could to go talk to the cheerleaders and popular girls. Another time his goal was to be popular. The popular kids wanted nothing to do with him. Who cares if he made them uncomfortable? That was their hang up, as far as he was concerned. 
Here in this dingy room with supposed-to-be-white walls, and no artwork, I came up with the creative solutions to help him feel less isolated and alone in those tortuous, high-school days. Everyone in the room, Special Education staff, teachers and administrators supposedly had his best interest at heart. However, no one in that room represented him and his feelings one-hundred percent the way I did as his mother and advocate. I literally felt every inch of his pain and frustration. His pain was my headache and my heartache. 
The administration and some of the staff seemed more concerned with protecting the regular students who roamed the halls freely. My son, made those students feel uncomfortable.  He looked angry because he felt left out. No one except for Kendal and me was thinking about exactly how all of the pain, isolation, and rejection of his high school experience was affecting him and his self-worth. 

I look back on my high-school years with fondness. It was one of the best times of my life. I had friends, first loves, dances and football games. It hurt me that for my son high- school was mostly a traumatic experience. There were no dances or football games. Even the Friday afternoon pep rallies were an exercise in sensory overstimulation that caused meltdowns and negative behaviors. 

I remember watching him swim upstream when everyone else was heading down. He looked so lost and alone in those corridors. I would come in for a meeting, but before leaving I would stalk him from a distance. I wanted to see for myself what was going on with him and sometimes it was painful to watch. 

I sat here in this conference room when I decided to have him volunteer in the class for those more severely affected by autism and other disabilities.  He could be helpful to them. That would be good for his self-esteem. Those kids loved to see him coming. It was an opportunity for him to feel valued in an environment where he otherwise felt like he wasn’t good enough.

The others in the room said, “We want to keep Kendal safe.” Safe from acting out with other students. Safe from making threats of self-harm would make people feel uncomfortable. At the same time, they were isolating him and taking away his rights to walk the hallways like every other student. We implemented my idea, and it helped him tremendously.

Here we are today setting up the final plans for him to exit Adult-Transition (otherwise known as Eighteen Plus Services) and move forward to the next phase of his life. The program has helped him stay employed for the past 4 years. He went from working 10-15 hours per week to now working 35 hours on two different jobs. He is never late for work and seldom misses a day.

He has worked on budgeting, shopping, cooking, creating his own social and recreational routines. Some of the things he has accomplished I don’t think I would have EVER been able to get him to do on my own. If the idea came from me, it was probably not a good one. 

He was willing to listen to the team of professionals that he worked with. He may have argued with them, but he eventually heard what they were saying and moved forward.  Whenever anyone introduces any new idea to Kendal, he has to vehemently disagree with it first. That good old oppositional defiance disorder is always at work. 

For these professionals, I know it wasn’t always fun to work with him. I am forever thankful for the strength and tenacity of the team that he worked with. Ms. G. his Transition teacher for these past two years has the heart of an angel. She always treated him with dignity and respect, which is why he knew she was on his side, even when he was acting like a complete jerk. He would not be nearly as far down the road to independence without her. 

Another vital piece of the puzzle for him was Person Centered Planning. The process was excruciating for years. The Transition Coordinator for our district (another Mrs. G.) facilitated his meetings for almost 8 years altogether. The best piece of this process was putting tons of celebrations down on paper with things he accomplished each month. It also helped him focus on creating and achieving goals. 

People who deal with depression have a hard time seeing their own progress, but it was always there in black and white. There was no denying his forward movement no matter how incremental. 

There were countless others in the village that led him to success, such as Ms. Carol, his Occupational Therapist. His Pastor was once a part of his team, Mr. Mc D. the teacher he volunteered for in high school. There were so many angels on his PCP and Transition team over the years. All had faith that he could do good things, even when I was not so sure. 

I have a special friend that we made through this blog. Paul has Aspergers himself. He once wrote an incredible guest post here. Paul always told me that the boys were going to do great things someday. I was so immersed in the muck, I didn’t understand why he thought that other than the fact that he used to be such a handful to his parents. Now he is a successful husband, father and business owner. I thought of Paul as we sat in this final meeting. Paul -I get it now.

The picture I had painted of Kendal's future was bleak. I wasn’t sure of anything.  What I did know was that I wasn’t giving up and I wouldn’t allow him to give up either. 

On May 16, 2018,  he will officially graduate from the Adult Transition Program and finally receive his very hard-earned high school diploma. 

At the end of the meeting, Kendal asked if he could go visit a few of his favorite teachers before we left the building. They were all happy to see him. They are amazed by his transformation, both the weight loss and his smooth, relaxed demeanor. He gave them a glimpse of his million-dollar-smile —something that they seldom got to see when he was a student here. 

He also wanted to pay a visit to his favorite Vice-Principal (you know…the one he cursed out years ago). They shook hands, hugged and smiled as men. Kendal looked so proud of himself. He knows he has come a long way. 

He still calls me every day with questions and concerns about the next steps of his life. The anxiety abides within him, but it doesn’t keep him from moving forward. 

More big changes are coming. I’m afraid to put them down on paper until things actually happen.
I won’t bore you with all of my worries about his next chapter.  What I know for sure, is that he will continue to grow despite my fears. 

Kendal and the professionals on his team who made it all happen...