6 Steps to Taking the Fear out of Finances

October starts this week.  A time of ghouls, ghosts, and goblins.  Kids are discussing who to go as for Halloween – if trick-or-treating is even going to be something they can do.  Fear is abundant as we look at the last quarter of the year, fiscal health for the holidays, and the fear of sickness.  All things scary. 

This month I am hoping to tackle some of the scary things I get asked about when it comes to parenting a special. The number one questions I am asked about is what happened when we found out about the life-changing diagnosis; I recommend checking out The Moment for more on that.

Today, I am going to attempt to tackle one of the scariest things people deal with in life – finances.  This is a constant fear for most, especially as the unemployment rate rises in America. I was blessed to have parents who taught me the value of work and a dollar.  Because of these lessons, I graduated with my undergraduate degree debt-free and paid off my student loans for graduate degree 2.5 years early.

Understanding finances starts young and should be taught in all households.  A good understanding of finances will lead to less stress, less debt, and a healthier economy.

How do you teach finances to children?  It can be hard, especially if you do not feel comfortable with finances in the first place.  So here are six steps we use with our kid to help him understand finances as he gets older.

1.       Talk about it: One of the most common things I hear from young adults is they do not know anything about finances.  And really, why should they? We stopped teaching it in schools and 62% of America is in credit card debt with 62% of credit card debtors as college graduates! I often encounter people who explain their collection accounts, late payments, and bankruptcy due to being “young and immature.”  This is really a claim of ignorance.  If we want our children to be out of debt, we have to teach them from the get-go.  We have to let them know that food they eat costs money, that light they are using costs money, and those clothes they like cost money.  That money only comes from hard work.  There is a balance.  Talk about it.

2.       Teach work ethic: Chores are an excellent way to teach work ethic.  Having chores for as long as I can remember, taught me to balance, allowed me to work multiple jobs in college while going to school time and a half (and having a social life), and how to creatively think through problems. Work ethic will benefit children, families, and communities.  Good work ethic is reflected in showing up on time and completing the task on time the right way with a good attitude.  This should be reflecting in their chores and school work.  Teaching these young will help ensure our children have this ingrained in them when they enter the workforce.  A good work ethic will lead to better opportunities through more recommendations, higher bonuses, and promotions. 

3.       Teach giving: This is essential and often left out of finance conversations. If you don’t want to give money, try volunteering. This is a great way to change perspective and priorities. Financial giving is financially sound. This helps encourage budgeting by helping you shift priorities.  We practice a 10% rule with my son.  It is an easy number mathematically for him to understand.  Whenever he gets money (for work done or as a gift), we immediately take 10% and save it for whatever he wants to give to.  Sometimes it is the church, sometimes it is the zoo, sometimes it is buying a meal for a homeless person.  He gets to pick.

4.       Teach saving: This one is hard for most people in our instantaneous world.  We are gratified instantly in almost all we do in the first world.  We watch as three bubbles pop up on a screen showing a response to our message. We can stream almost any movie and binge-watch entire seasons of shows.  Waiting is not something Americans, and most first-world people, are comfortable with.  Saving is something that can actually financially save you.  To help our little one, we also immediately take 10% of his money and put it into savings. This is what is used for unexpected expenses as adults (the car tire blew out or pipes blew).  This account can also be used to save for vacations, new toys, and special experiences.  Our son is saving toward a trip to Sea World to meet marine biologists and a loftier goal of adding a red panda exhibit to our local zoo. 

5.       Teach taxes: As a political scientist, I find teaching this concept is really difficult.  Taxes are often taken right out of the check upfront, so when you calculate a budget, this number is very important. Taxes are designed to pay for things like that pothole-free street you drive on daily.  Taxes pay for that public library and park you enjoy taking the kids to.  Taxes pay for those firefighters who fight fires so you don’t have to.  Taxes are helpful to each community.  Taxes are paid either upfront or on tax day, but they are paid.  We teach our son this but taking 10% of his income immediately and setting it aside in a Taxes account.  This way, when he breaks something in the house (which is inevitable), the money to fix it is there.  He paid his taxes, so that glass/towel rack/doorknob, etc. he broke can be replaced.  The household tax teaches him about the income tax and where that money should go. A great resource for kids on taxes and finances is Finances 101 for Kids: Money Lessons Children Cannot Afford to Miss.

6.       Teach budgeting: Budgeting is hard.  It takes self-control and patience.  When practiced regularly, it is actually quite easy and helps prevent that dreaded debt we all hate so much.  Teaching our children this valuable tool is life-changing. Budgeting ensures you always have enough money for what you need and those things that are important for you.  It also helps you shoot for a goal.  If your hourly $10.00 job is insufficient, it gives you a goal target for where you want to be.  Below is an excel spreadsheet that we use for our kiddo that helps.  It is filled in with an example. Sometimes seeing the budget in black and white helps change a concept to concrete practice.

For more ideas on how to help kids become the best they can be, take a look at my Facebook page.

Starting Home School? Here Are 10 Great Curriculums

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This week I have had a significant amount of requests to discuss homeschool.  Questions like “How do you homeschool while working?  What curriculum do you use? How do you socialize your child?” and so many more have poured int.  I will not answer all of them here (in August I will be focusing on the daily tricks for homeschoolers).  Today I will focus on curriculums.

With changes in education due to COVID-19, a lot of parents are really considering homeschool.    It is not an easy choice (even without the pandemic).  If you are anything like me, you wonder if you will be a good enough teacher?  Will your child fall behind in academics, social skills, and emotional development?

The good news is there is so much good news! 

Homeschooling is not new to the world.  In fact, for most of human history, parents taught children or tutors came to houses (if you could afford it).  You know your child better than anyone, so you know where they struggle the most and where they can just breeze through.  You can essentially create your own IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for each of your children.  As my mom used to say, we have “different children with different needs.”

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  SOCIALIZATION

The first major concern is socialization.  I get that.  It was a big one for me.  I will talk more about that next month.  For those who have worked with me in editing or social media marketing, you know how much I value data.  I have even used data in helping with behavior challenges with my own kid

As any good data analysis would do, the first thing I did in answering that question was to track how much socialization my child actually got in school (note, this was done when my son was in elementary school).  My son left the house at 7:30 on a bus and came back at 3:00.  When I learned he was not allowed to talk on the bus, I removed any transportation time from the social component.  Lunch was 20 minutes and the recess was 15.  There was no talking allowed in hallways.  And interactive work with children in the classroom had significantly declined – other than 1 class project a week, my son was learning next to and not with his peers.  Taking all that into consideration, as well as really speaking with his teachers, my son was really only allowed to socialized 30 to 45 minutes a day.  With home school, that increases so much with play dates, co-ops, small groups, sports, and so much more. 

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 CURRICULUMS

There are so many curriculums out there.  And the best part of home school, is you do not have to pick and choose.  If your child is a verbal learner, there are curriculums for that.  A visual learner?  There are curriculums for that.  Learns kinesthetically?  There are curriculums for that.  There are so many, we actually mix and match for our son.

As a researcher at heart, I spent six months reviewing and researching curriculums prior to starting homeschool.  Here are some we use, why we use them, and some we don’t but think are pretty great.  Many of the below have Facebook groups, local co-ops, and more for additional help and socialization for the kids.

1.       Time4Learning***: They are relatively inexpensive with a monthly fee of $25.00 and a military discount.  They also use a refer a friend program that helps decrease expenses.  This is a DOD approved national standard-based curriculum.  This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs.

This is our foundational curriculum.  This is great for military families that move a lot because it is national standards and teaches to that.  They have 4 foundational courses (math, science, social science, and language arts). Their curriculum is interactive, game, and video-based teaching a variety of methods to problem-solving.  They also have built-in Time4Fun (recess of fun games) and the app is mobile so it can be done anywhere.

As I work from home, and reports are due to the school district, I particularly like the freedom this curriculum gives me to work.  It has so many tools for reports (attendance, duration in class, scores, etc.)  It allows me to input the amount of time a week, length of the school year, and pick and choose what I think is appropriate for the mental development of my child.  It then plans the school year for me allowing to change the plan at any time to add in breaks, modify curriculum, and more.

This curriculum also allows my son to have a bit more control of his learning by giving weekly or daily assignments and checklists.

2.       Easy Peasy: This is a completely FREE (yes, FREE) curriculum.  They recommend a once-yearly $15.00 donation, but even without the donation, you can still use the curriculum.  This is a Christian based curriculum. This has all basic subjects as well as Bible, computer, PE, music, Art, Critical Thinking and so much more.  They offer Spanish as a language for middle school.  (Time4Learning does offer Rosetta stone at any level, but it costs a bit more). This is our supplemental program. 

This curriculum also has cash prize contests for writing and science.  For those who want to simulate science fairs and excellent writing, this is a great way to help develop those skills with a great incentive!

3.       Adventure Academy:  This is a fun exploration web-based learning curriculum.  They allow the learner to take some control of their learning process.  I have not used this curriculum, but I like what is offered.  This allows for a more social learning environment by allowing the learner to create their own aviator and work with other online learners.  They are currently having a sale of 49% off the subscription – which drops this curriculum down to approximately $10.00 a month.  It is super fun!  This is interactive and has a lot of visual components. 

4.       Abeka: Based out of Pensacola Christian College, Pensacola, FL, this Christian based curriculum is used throughout the country and states both in homeschool and private schools.  This curriculum has all basic foundation classes, reading, and Bible.  They offer video lessons and standardized testing!  Depending on your state requirements, that can be an essential factor.  This one is more expensive ($100s to over a grand a year and increases with each grade).  HOWEVER, they offer flexible pricing, accredited contents, and for those in high school, a DIPLOMA.  That diploma will essential for those military families using the GI bill for their kids. 

5.       Classical Conversations: The basis of this Christian based curriculum based out of Southern Pines, NC is trifold: Classical, Christian, Community.  The community that comes along with this curriculum is great for those worried about socialization. As you move to high school, the success on the SAT and ACT for those who use this curriculum is high.  For middle school and high school, they offer trained tutors once a week.  This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs! This curriculum grows both the social community and the independent investment for kids.  If you are a working parent, the requirement for in-person get-togethers may be a challenge, but definitely worth looking at.  If you cannot due the community part, you can still access their bookstore with great resources!

6.       Liberty University Online Academy: This Christian based curriculum is fantastic.  This one is pricey, but offers family discounts, military discounts, and payment plans.  They offer structured and customizable learning plans, around the clock access to the curriculum and certified teachers.  This curriculum does offer dual enrollment for up to 60 college credits.  This is something to consider if your state does not offer this.  Dual enrollment has the ability to let your child graduate high school with an associate degree as well!  This curriculum also allows your student to graduate with a diploma recognized nationwide!

7.       Duoling: This is not a curriculum, but a FREE learning resource.  This teaches almost any language with an interactive online environment.  Learning a language at a young age can help with communication, critical thinking, and socialization.  This free program sends weekly progress reports and daily reminders to practice.  With built in incentives of rewards and trophies (much like a video game), this allows your child to move at their own pace.  We do use this, but we do not grade our son on this.   

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8.       Supplemental Learning: I am an avid reader and believe, like Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln, that learning is done through reading. For those of you who follow my son’s amazing history, you know reading taught him to speak.  In addition to the above, we incorporate state level reading into our year.  This is approximately ten books a year.  The book is read, a paper is written and a project is done.  Projects have included everything from building Lego diagrams and book reports to writing a play.  This is usually a month-long process, so my son learns how to executive plan at the same time.  

9.       Unschooling: This is a relatively new idea.  This allows teaching children based on their interests and not following a curriculum.  This is often termed “natural learning” or “independent learning.”  This is not a curriculum, not a method, but a way of looking at children and life.  A great example of this is the movie Captain Fantastic about a family that homeschooled their children in the wood.  (Do not watch this with your young kids; this is rated R and has adult themes).  This type of “curriculum” is an opportunity for you as a parent to educate your child in the way you think is best. 

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10.   Tutors: Yes, tutors still exist. They are also great resources throughout the education of your child. A quick google search will generate thousands of results for tutors near you.  A lot of homeschool curriculums offer tutors, but if you choose one without that and need one for your child, this is a great resource to consider.  Prices will range with each depending on course work, grade level, frequency and more. This is a great resource to have in your back pocket as your children get older as well.

The best part about homeschooling is that it is fluid.  What works for one child might not work for another.  What worked one year might not work the next.  There are so many options out there.  You do not need to feel stuck in one curriculum ever.  Do what works for your family.

Know too, that this is a change for your family.  Anticipate growing pains for everyone.  Give yourself GRACE.  No one expects you to be perfect.  We don’t expect teachers who go to school for years of getting trained to do this to be perfect.  Teaching your kids will be hard (teaching anyone is).  I have a teacher friend who once told me, “I love teaching, but there is NO WAY I could teach my own kids.”  That is a teacher.  Teaching your children is not without challenges.  But, picking a curriculum should not be one of them.

 Go forth in decision knowing you are not alone.  There are tons of communities out there to help.  Reach out to me anytime.  I would love to know how I can be of better service.

*****As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.

Find Something Worth Dying For

“You can’t trust kids these days.”  “They never do what you ask.”  “Kids always talk back.”  “Kids today don’t know how to follow through.”  “If it doesn’t require a social media post, don’t count on your kid to do it.”

Sound familiar? 

I have worked with youth and their parents for more than 20 years.  I hear the same things time and time again from parents, youth leaders, coaches, and the like.

But, in my experience, kids act this way because of the models they have.  In my experience someone meaningful in their lives is absent (maybe spends 60 hours a week at work or just not there at all).  Someone may be in their life but has broken promise after promise.  That weekend promised to teach them to ride a bike or go see them in the school play comes and goes with an apology only.

Children are taught how to behave by adults in their lives. Great children are taught to be great adults by adults who invest in them. It is that simple. 

I was lucky to be raised by a man who worked long hours during the day and went to school at night.  But, every school play, every graduation, every school assembly growing up, if I asked, Daddy would be there.  

Daddy taught me three significant lessons that have instilled in me the very foundations of who I am and how I raise my little one.  These lessons are at the very core of what it is to be me.  These lessons are what I hope to pass on to all those young kids who come into my life.

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Honor Those Who Came Before You

There is no one in the entire history of the world who accomplished great things on their own.  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Martha Tereasa all built on pioneers like Martin Luther, Thurgood Marshall, and John Weasley.

Women today have the right to vote, to work in respectable jobs, and to be educated in the United States because of people like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

American freedoms, the very foundation, were built on the hard work and determination of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who tirelessly worked together writing not just the Declaration of Independence, but researching every known government in preparation for the Congressional Congress created our Republic.

Great-great-great Granddad John Adams, though admittedly opposed to the rule of law of the day, represented the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre to ensure they received a fair trial successfully negotiated the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolutionary War), and went on to be the first American Vice President, Second President and his son became the fourth President. 

These men denied everything, fighting for life and liberty, for a world that NEVER existed before.  In fact, it took over 20 years, war, and near collapse of a nation under the Articles of Confederation from the Declaration of Independence to the signing of the US Constitution and the birth of American freedoms.  Our nation, imperfect as it is, was the first in the world to allow basic human freedoms to the average citizen. 

When I look back at my accomplishments (graduate degrees, excellent job, published, author, award-winning public speaker), I know that those accomplishments are a direct result of those who invested in me.  My parents, my coaches, the amazing adults who poured into me through Youth Focus, Inc. all impacted not only my success, but the trajectory of my life.

Daddy taught me, not only to be aware of this, but to thank and acknowledge those who invested their time, money, and energy into me.  Thank you, Coaches, Mr. & Mrs. S; Mr. and & Mrs. G, Shim, and Brandy, Florence, Carl and Mary Carol, Patty, and most importantly, Mom and Dad. Your efforts have helped create the amazing life I have.  I could not have done this without you.

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               Let Your Yes Be Your Yes and Your No Be Your No

Daddy taught us, no matter what, yes is yes.  Sounds easy.  But in a world where we glorify a social hierarchy that loves self-image, self-entitlement, and immediacy, this is a hard thing to grasp as a kid.

Simply put, if you make a commitment, follow through.  If you said you would help you kid sister learn to ride a bike, but the lead cheerleader invites you to a party, you help your sister.  If you said you would watch your little siblings so Mom and Dad can have a date night once a week, you do that instead of going to the weekly football games.  It means, if you said you were committing to the school play, track team, debate team (pick a team), you follow through with your best the entire season long – especially when it gets hard.

This allows everyone to trust your word – the very basis of integrity.  People will know they can count on you in the big things because you showed up in the small things every day.

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               Find Something Worth Dying For and Go Live For It

The most important lesson Daddy taught me is to “Find something worth dying for, and to live for it.”

That has been Daddy’s motto for as long as I can remember.  And when you think about, it is perfect for finding and understanding your calling.

A key characteristic of leadership is the belief in the cause.  The causes that pass the 24-hour news cycle, are those whose leaders are willing to walk the walk, and lay down their life, if need be.  IF we want to raise excellent leaders, we need to know what their passions are and help teach them how to cultivate them for good.

As our children grow, we often ask them, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” or “What are you going to study in college?”  But these do not get to the root of a person’s passion.  Passion is what will keep one motivated through the dark woods of real life.  Passion is what will change a weak leader to a strong leader.

Instead, let’s ask our children, “What excites you?” or “What gets you fired up?”  “What are some things that you want to change?”  When they tell us, regardless of what we believe about those passions, celebrate them.  Help them cultivate them. Because they will find a way with or without your help. Use the opportunity to help lead and teach them to be the best at whatever they chose.

These questions will start leading our kids to find their passions so that they may LIVE for them. 

This #fathersday week, let us honor those who came before us.  Let us stay true to our word.  Let us find those things worth dying for, and go live for them.  Let us be the beginning of positive change for our children. 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Friendship is forever.  Child with stuffed Teddy on a wooden bridge.
Friendship is forever. Child with stuffed Teddy on a wooden bridge.

Hello from the inside – of the house.  It seems to be the same mantra every day these days.  Don’t leave the house.  Don’t visit friends.  Don’t be routine. 

It is easy to fall into the habit of leggings and bonbons if you are not careful. But this would be devastating to both health and wellness. 

So how do we have a community when we cannot leave the house?

As a parent in the special needs community, I know firsthand how essential it is to have a community – and how hard it is to find.  People hear the word special needs, autism, ADHD, blindness, deafness, cancer (take your pick) and give that sappy smile and gracefully bow out of every invitation.

Now we cannot leave the house and we are still supposed to have community? This seems like an impossible task.

But there is hope!

Some simple steps to a strengthened sense of community that will lighten the atmosphere at your home and remind you that your community, neighborhood and good friends are still there…on the other side of the glass.

Zoom call with most the family - spanning three states across the country and 6 cities
Zoom call with most the family – spanning three states across the country and 6 cities

ZOOM Dates – the New Play Date

Over Easter, we usually have a lot of people over for a feast and egg hunt.  My son will create some form of costume for everyone.  This year he made jackrabbit hare ears for the older kids and snowshoe hare ears for the younger.  We had prepped and told him this year there would be no guests at our Easter table – but he did it anyway. 

When the time came for feasting, he said, “We can’t.  My friends are not sick.  They are coming.”  To which we had to explain again, thank you #COVID-19, that this year was a celebration with just the family.

But this was eye-opening. 

Our normally social only in scheduled events kid was really asking for a play date. So we did what any parent would – Zoom play date with his best friends.

This is an easy way to see faces, hear voices, and laugh with friends. Near and far. It can last as long or as little as you wish.

Battle black blur board game of chess
Battle black blur board game of chess

Make It A Game

During any phone call, it is easy to not want to chat after a few minutes.  It is important to make the play date just as fun as you would if it were in your own home.

Play some games. We used dry erase boards and played Pictionary. Some other great games would be Hedbandz, Speak Out, Bingo and good old fashioned Hangman.

Some other great apps are HouseParty and FacebookKidzMessanger.  The nice thing about FacebookKidzMessanger is the a parent is in control the whole time, and the kids can text between calls.

Spencer writes letters
Spencer write letters

Old Fashioned Letters

It is so nice to be able to see people’s faces and hear their voices with technology like Zoom, Google Video, and Facebook. 

But there is something to be said about getting a letter or card in the mail. 

You know when you get mail (that is not a bill or junk mail), your heart skips a beat and you think to yourself, “Someone thought of me! How nice.” 

Kids get that feeling times 100!  My son sees a piece of junk mail advertising a car and immediately states in excitement, “Guess what!? We are getting a car?!”  (Yes, he missed the fine print). But the excitement is real!

Our son writes to those in the hospital, in nursing homes, his aunts, old teachers and pen-pals. 

There is nothing like seeing him open his mail and immediately want to write back. 

So take a minuet and remember the thrill.  And encourage letter writing all around.

Brothers play with dog in the sunlight
Brothers play with dog in the sunlight

I know it seems like a neighbor and community are things of the past right now.  I know it feels like you are alone in a new world of parenting never seen before.  I know you feel lost, anxious and confused.  We all do.  But these little changes can really impact your health and wellness.  These changes will remind your child (and yourself) you are not alone.  You are never alone. 

Take a minute this week and try one of these things.  See how it changes your perspective.  Then let me know how it worked out for you.  I would love to hear your stories. 

The Moment

When one pictures parenthood they see themselves as perfect parents with perfect kids. Children will be well behaved and, if all goes according to plan, will be captain of the football team or dance diva and go to the best colleges on a full ride. Parenthood is supposed to be filled with lots of girl scout cookies and football games. (Don’t believe me, just get a load of the Netflix show Yummy Mummies!)

No one expects news from the pediatrician, “Your child has some special needs.” Cancer. Downs Syndrom. Autism. Those scary words are not on the top 100 of what you want to hear from the doctor. I have heard it described as a feeling of being put in shackles.

Immediately upon hearing that your child will have more needs than a “streamlined” “average” “normal” child, your life changes. You enter the grieving period. You grieve the football star. You grieve the dance recital. You grieve the sleepovers and parties. You grieve a life you planned for your kid…and yourself.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. These are the five stages of grief. As a parent with special needs, you will (and we did) go through all of these stages…again and again. But, I would argue, every parent goes through these stages over something about their children.

I know parents who grieved because their child didn’t grow up to the NFL football star. I know parents who grieved because their child chose college instead of military service (and viseversa). I know parents who grieved the loss of children. With children (and here is the part they don’t tell you), you will grieve…at some point…over something. Anyone who says something different is selling something.

That can’t be right!

Denial

When my husband found out our little guy had Autism denial was the word of the day. He blamed our son’s behavior on teachers and babysitters. He blamed the delay on lack of routine due to deployments. Autism just could not be true; not for his son…not for our family. Surely the doctor was wrong…surely there was a need for a second opinion…surely this life long diagnosis was not meant for our family.

I came into the picture later in our son’s life. Children were never really a part of what I thought my family life would include. So, as marriage was a packaged deal, I skipped to step six. But many of my friends have told me story after story of denial. It is from their stories that I write today.

Frustration overload

Anger

Hubby never really got angry. He skipped the next two steps…once he came around.

Anger is something I can relate to. With Autism there is never a dull a moment. For every two steps forward, with every small change, one can “regress” four steps back. This gets old fast.

This stage of grief comes in waves for me.

When I see my son make so much progress and then we get orders to move and behaviors I thought we had overcome a long time ago come back; when hormones begin to hit and my son has more challenging behaviors; when no one comes to his birthday party because he is considered the “strange” kid; when no one wants to babysit because they do not understand the diagnosis I get angry. I get angry at the diagnosis. I get angry at life. I get angry at me for not knowing how to better understand or handle a situation. I even, yep, I get angry at God for allowing something like this.

Now, please don’t hear this as life is angry. It is in no way angry. These are just stages that we go through as life molds and changes with us. We have learned to celebrate life. But I would be lying if I said I never got angry over the reality of life with special needs.

What if…

Bargaining

For some of my friends the bargaining starts with God. “God, if you take this from me, I will go back to church” or “God, if you take this from me, I will volunteer more in my kid’s classroom and be a better parent.”

My husband and I both skipped this step. Perhaps because he is logical and just deals with life as it comes and I already believe God has the best plan for me to give me a hope and future. But this stage is often a long-lived stage.

Depression….took second place at State Champions

Depression

When I found out that my little guy had autism…well, I did not deny at first…I skipped to the sixth step. But when I realized his nieces and nephews of the same age were joining sports teams and having play dates and birthday parties, I jumped to depression.

The life of a parent with special needs is a lonely life. People, in general do not understand (or do not want to) the reality of life with special needs.

Many times, when I would reach out to family and good friends, I learned quickly that many challenges with special needs need to be faced alone within our immediate family. Instead of support, I learned we got pity, ignorance, and family and friends withdraw. You quickly learn who your true friends are…and they are few and far between.

For me, add in being a military wife and moving every few years, I have found finding friends and keeping them to be much harder.

A complete family

Acceptance

This is sort of where I came into the process. Because my husband and son are a packaged deal, I just came to terms with the fact that my life was forever changed by the sweetest and most challenging kid I could ever imagine.

It was at this stage I started researching.

I researched what caused Autism (spoiler alert – NO ONE KNOWS). I researched cures for Autism. Guess what? There is none. I researched what effects those with Autism and how to make life easier for them.

There is so much out there! From ABA therapy to diets to vitamins, this field is young but connected. I have learned so much!

One in fifty-nine children, according to the CDC, has Autism. Autism occurs in all races, ethnicities and socio-economic classes. It is the fastest growing diagnosis in America. But it is also the least studied. Yet, nowhere in the research did it say this was a life-ending diagnosis. Nowhere did the research say life stops because of this diagnosis. Nowhere in the research did it say this was the person.

With a variety of tactics and lifestyle changes, my family is more and more healthy because of this diagnosis. We eat better. We spend more time together. We even communicate better – believe it or not.

For those wanting to know right away what we did to get my son from not talking to talking or from not being able to hold a broom to hitting a tennis ball with a baseball bat, I promise to share.

The Moment

For those who just found out their child has a special need or life-threatening condition, it is a process. No one expects you to have all the answers. And the stages will come and go in waves…if you are anything like me.

But, you are NOT alone! No longer should we be a community that hides away. Reach out for help. If you’re angry, be angry. If you are scared and depressed, reach out! No one should have to walk through life alone.

Man is not an island. There are probably more people than you know in your life touched by this need or that need. Go for a cup of coffee and vent or watch a good documentary or enjoy listening to the problems of others (believe me, it really helps to know you are not the only one with problems!)

But, please, don’t let the circumstances of life dictate how you live it. You are the rudder of your ship. You get to choose which way you go.

Choose life. Choose hope. Choose joy.

Celebrate Life

Being the middle of seven children, I have seen the gambit in behaviors. Everything from stitches and fights to games of “War” and dances. I have been blessed to always have a sibling on my side when life turns a sour leaf and family around for holidays…and sometimes when I don’t want them.

But, not everyone is as blessed.

Special needs children are one of the largest groups of children in America…and unfortunately, one of the most often forgotten and ostracized. Many hear the words “special needs” or “Autism” or “Down Syndrome” and immediately think “stupid,” “hard,” and “pity.”

They could not be farther from the truth!

Our little bundle of joy was diagnosed with Autism at age three. And, like all parents who hear that, there was some fear and trepidation (a discussion for another time). At the time, and up until he was about five, our kiddo did not speak. There was loud screams, throwing, tantrums and the like because speech communication was not possible. Getting dressed was a chore as he could not put socks on by himself much less zip a zipper to his pants or button his jacket.

Hard. Yes. But, do I need to be pitied? NO!

You see when my son first started to say small sentences – PURE JOY! When he started to be able to zip his pants – JUBILATION! When he started to got straight A’s having to be pulled from class on a daily basis for doctor’s appointments – PRIDE would be an understatement. I even told my husband my kid was the smartest because he did what streamlined kids did in half the time!

What living with a special needs kid has taught me is… [Read more…]

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1. Celebrate Life

In our day and age, it is really easy to get down and out. We are inundated with negative thoughts and reality. News broadcasts deliver only negative news and life hits hard when it hits. Seeing the negative is like pouring a cup of coffee – most of us do it without even thinking.

Living with Autism teaches celebration of life. When you can constantly find growth it is easy to be optimistic. When you can see that life is not in a diagnosis but a person it is easy to enjoy the beauty of a hand-painted birdhouse or a freshly made pot of coffee.

Life is about teamwork. And when you have a great team (my husband is a rock star!) the support makes life that much more colorful and brilliant.

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2. Enjoy the Little Things

I will admit there are days when life feels like it will sucker punch me every chance it gets. But who’s life doesn’t do that? Living with special needs does not mean that life is easier or harder than for anyone else. It just means we (those of us who have special needs in our lives) face different challenges.

So, like every other family, we celebrate the little things.

We celebrate cutting a straight line. We celebrate our little one talking and playing WITH a peer. We celebrate the full sentence. We celebrate jokes.

These little celebrations may seem little but they are HUGE accomplishments. And they remind us that we are more than scary words. Doctors do not always know best. Just like with every other kid, our kid is more than the sum of his doctors’ visits and school meetings.

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3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Prior to special needs, I would sweat the small stuff. Little things like my sister not emptying the lint trap in our family dryer or how much the scale tipped when I stepped on it were heavy weights on my shoulders.

Autism taught me life is more than the small stuff. There are bigger things to worry about in life like family, doctors, and school.

If it is a choice between my son thumb sucking while focusing on homework or throwing a tantrum because he does not want to do homework, guess which one I am ignoring?

If it is a choice between not reading and reading a comic book, guess which one I am telling his teacher he gets to read?

If it is a choice between rocking in his seat and being quiet or jumping out of it screaming, “Pick me! Pick Me!”, guess which one I am telling the teacher to ignore?

There are big battles and small battles and some battles you just don’t fight. Special needs have taught me how to better see the difference.

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4. Don’t Miss Out!

I know many families in the special needs world. Many on the Autism Spectrum. A lot of families think this diagnosis is an end-all to life as a family. Many do not leave the home…ever. Vacation – thing of the past. Trips – never going to happen. Movies – dream on!

When the word “Autism” came into our lives, our son was not talking, not potty-trained, screamed 90% of the time, was very hyperactive and threw tantrums that would make The Hulk look like a mouse. But, we made the choice early on to not let the diagnosis dictate our lives. We made the choice to hold our son to the same standards as any other child and not let his diagnosis be his crutch.

(I know I hit a nerve with some of you just now. I know there is a spectrum and big trips are hard. I know about Regressive Autism. I know first hand about the challenges of tantrums, non-verbals, and the complete difficulty it is to even get childcare for a couple hours of respite. I understand the reason some families choose to stay home. No judgment. It is just not what we chose.)

We chose to take our son out in public to things like museums, theme parks, and, yes, movies.

We did not do this without a plan. We made sure to follow all applicable guidance. But we did discover, that for our kiddo, the exposure helped with social situations, speech, and relationships.

We have a don’t miss out mentality that has served us well.

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5. Make Time

It is easy to forget to set time aside for yourself in a regular run-of-the-mill-under-the-radar kind of life. But add in multiple weekly doctors appointments in different cities on different days, school IEP’s, parent-teacher conferences and regular life of working full-time and it becomes really easy to forget about yourself and your family.

I don’t mean you forget your family. What I mean is that it is easy to forget to spend quality time with them.

We have learned that time apart each day whether in a workout, reading a book or playing a video game (yes, I said it) is essential to sanity!

We have learned that game nights, arts and crafts and reading together unite us beyond diagnosis and beyond the stress of the battle.

We have learned that date night does not always (and usually doesn’t need) a sitter. We enjoy a movie night in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We enjoy reading to each other. We enjoy sitting out in the hot tub and talking about life. None of these cost a lot of money. None of these require a baby sitter. And all are an essential investment in our marriage.

More to Life

So, does special needs mean a life of hard work? Yes! But whose life is not hard? Does it mean my life is different than most? Yes, but who wants a normal life? Does it mean I am to be “pitied?” No! If nothing else, I have been blessed beyond most. I have learned more than most. I have enjoyed life more than most.

Don’t let the diagnosis stop you from loving and living life. Don’t let a diagnosis of others scare you off from participating in their life. Don’t let the social understanding of special needs (which is highly lacking and often a misrepresentation) be your understanding of them. Be open. Be honest. Be willing. Your life will never be the same again.