Not Forgotten

28 Dec

I said goodbye to a long time client earlier this year, after working with him for over 3 years.

On our last day we wrote a social story about saying goodbye. We took turns filling in the pages; I’d write a sentence, he’d write a sentence. And he got to draw all the pictures. This was our story….

*His name, and the names of his other therapists have been taken out.




It was the perfect way to end our time together: with a story. He even got a kick out of drawing the picture of me with tears. When I wrote “Angelina would miss ___” He looked at me and asked, “Angelina is sad?” I told him, “Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye”. He proceeded to laugh hysterically. He thought it was great to draw me crying. *Shaking my head*

Anyways…9 months after our last session, I saw this client again last week. He attended my company’s client Christmas party. I saw him from behind and couldn’t believe how big he had gotten. I tapped him and exclaimed, “Hi ___!!!!” He turned around, looked at me, and without hesitation he said, “Hi Angelina.”

He remembered me!!!!

I was sooooo happy he remembered me. Without a pause, he knew right away who I was. I gave him a huge hug and told him I missed him and that he was so big.

It was really great to see him again, and I was so glad to see he still knows who I am. After spending so many years together, I would expect him to know who I am. But, you never know with our kiddos what they might recall and what they might not. It was an awesome run-in. And, he has no idea how special it was for me to see him again and have him remember me like it was just yesterday that we worked together 🙂

Merry Christmas

27 Dec

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

I know I did!

I’m so behind and have so much to share…

First was Dylan’s school performance. He rocked it. Seriously. His rendition of Feliz Navidad was one of my favorites. He stood on stage so nicely and sang along to most of the songs. He would look over and smile at me every few minutes. He knew I was so proud of him.

Then, last week I got to take Little D to see Santa. The company I work for put on a big Christmas party for their clients. They had arts and crafts and of course, Santa. Dylan did so well at the party! He participated. He followed rules. He greeted. He made eye contact. And he smiled nicely with Santa.

On Christmas I got to celebrate with him again. We have a tradition, he and I. We do a gingerbread house together every year. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn’t get to do it Tuesday. But, I still gave him one and I know he will enjoy building it. He was engaged and participating in most of the Christmas celebration. My husband and I both noticed how much calmer he was this year, as compared with years past. Every year he seems to be doing better and better with holidays. He did an awesome job, and he really enjoyed opening all his presents.

Here’s a photo summary of my Christmas with Dyl.



16 Dec

First and foremost…I am heartbroken for all those suffering after Friday’s inexplicably horrible events. My prayers go out to everyone effected, directly or indirectly. I just can’t imagine their pain.

Now, just like in the Colorado shooting last summer, people are speculating that the shooter was autistic  (in addition to other things). I wrote a post when people suspected the Colorado shooter was autistic, which you can read here.

Here’s a blurb from that post that I’d like to re-iterate in light of the Newtown horror.

Not every person “lacking empathy”, as some say, is autistic! Not every socially isolated person is autistic!!

Don’t take my word for it…let the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) speak for itself!

Mental illnesses with lacking empathy as a symptom:

1. Narcissistic Personality Disorder 301.81

2. Antisocial Personality Disorder 301.7

Mental illnesses with social isolation as a symptom:

1. Schizoid Personality Disorder 301.20

2. Schizotypal Personality Disorder 301.22

3. Avoidant Personality Disorder 301.82

Actual (abridged) criteria for Autistic Disorder:

I. (A) qualitative impairment in social interaction (In the description it gives the following examples: not actively participating in simple social play or games, preferring solitary activities.) <——Notice it does not say “murdering people”

(B) qualitative impairments in communication

(C) restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities

II. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years:

(A) social interaction (B) language as used in social communication (C) symbolic or imaginative play”

Now, that’s not to say that this Connecticut man didn’t have autism. I never met the guy! I have no idea if he did or not. But, in this case, autism would be co-morbid with some other diagnosis (such as a personality disorder, which the media has also already identified as the case).  In addition, it’s very likely psychosis played a huge role in this as well.

I  know parents are going to be up in arms over the media even mentioning the word “autism” in the same sentence as this massacre. The truth is, maybe he was autistic! That really isn’t the issue though. This man was clearly severely mentally ill, likely with several untreated, or under-treated,  diagnoses.

I got into the mental health field out of a passion for understanding how people become who they become, and a desire to help people become well. This world is so broken… So many people suffer from mental illness. This isn’t the platform for me to share all my thoughts on this…but for a moment can we all just stop fighting? Whether you’re pro-guns, or anti-guns, whether you’re Christian or atheist, whether you believe in mental illness or not, whether you’re terrified your autistic child is now stereotyped as a potential killer or not, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, whether you’re man or woman, or blue collar or white collar, or angry or sad or a little bit of everything….. can we remember what makes us all the same, rather than focusing on what makes us different? Let us love one another. Your words and actions are such powerful tools…do you know all the power they possess? Please don’t make them weapons, even towards those you think so deserve it.

One thing we can all agree on is that the victims of Friday’s shooting did not deserve this…and their families are experiencing pain and suffering only few people can understand.


Siblings- Part 2

12 Dec

I saw an article online today entitled, “Autism’s Invisible Victims: The Siblings,” by Barbara Cain.

You can read the full article here.

This is the last paragraph, and I thought it summed things up very nicely:

“Autism isn’t just a health crisis; it’s a family crisis that impacts all members. Sometimes the impact on siblings can be positive. Aware of their comparative good fortune, these siblings were inclined toward sacrifice and mature beyond their years. Most were prepared to assume full responsibility for adult siblings in later years, and many enter an array of helping professions. But until we recognize autism’s collateral effects and attend to the special needs of the whole family, we will not really be grappling with the far-reaching but deeply felt impact of this disorder.

What I love about that last paragraph is how it mentions some good things that come from having an autistic sibling, while not negating the potentially ‘bad’ things that come with it.

I appreciate the writer’s attempt to enlighten families about the unseen impact of autism on the siblings. Often,  the deep effects go unnoticed. Sure, most parents are aware that sometimes siblings feel neglected or forgotten. Most parents have heard that kids can be jealous of autistic siblings sometimes. But do most parents know that siblings might feel pressured to grow up, to take on responsibilities they weren’t ready for? Do most parents know some siblings may have social stressors revolving around peers making fun of their autistic sibling, or the fact that they may not want friends coming over for fear of their sibling embarrassing them, or that they may have a hard time relating to friends because their life is so drenched in all things autism? There are a million and one ways autism might effect a sibling. So what I think the author was trying to say, and what I would like to echo, is that you just don’t know all the ways autism might be effecting your other children. You might find autism to be a huge blessing and a wonderful thing that should be celebrated, not lamented. But it doesn’t mean your other children feel that way. Be aware. Be alert. Be attentive. And never, ever, overlook or deny a sibling’s experience. And, like the article said, some great things just might sprout from your child having an autistic sibling.

And the award goes to…

6 Dec


My brother got an award this week for a story he wrote. I got to see a video of the ceremony where he got up at the podium, read his story aloud, and then received an award.

He walked up like a pro. He got on his stand, leaned into the microphone and read his story for everyone.


What impressed me more than the story he wrote, which described a field trip his class took to a local farm, was how he presented it to the audience. He first read his introduction: his name and the title of his story. Then he proceeded to read the short story. He spoke with perfect volume. His sweet voice enunciated each word. He followed along on his paper, then turned the page when he needed to. He looked up at the crowd when he finished. He said “thank you” when handed his award. And then he smiled. He smiled because knew he did a great job.

He looked like any other kid his age up there at that podium…. because in so many ways he IS just like any other kid his age! He fit right in.

The things no one taught him were my favorite…. No one taught him to lean into the microphone. No one taught him to turn the page. No one taught him to look up at the crowd. No one taught him to smile. He did all those things naturally. And, I know what a big deal that is.


The saying goes, “You don’t know how far you’ve come unless you know where you started.” Well, I know exactly where this little boy started, and I see how far he has come. Some of his progress I can attribute to direct and intentional instruction. He has worked hard at school and in therapy. But some of his progress is natural maturation. He’s growing up and he amazes me constantly.


Good job, Dylan. I am so proud of you, not just for your awesome story about the farm, but for what a great job you did reading it for everybody.

The Flirt

5 Dec

This is an actual conversation I had with one of my pre-teen clients this week….

Me: Okay, let’s do this problem *points to math problem*

Flirt: *grabs my finger and examines it*

Me: Ummmmm….Why did you touch my finger?

Flirt: Oh! Uh……. Well…. because you’re so young and beautiful.

Me: What??? That doesn’t make any sense.

Flirt: I told you! You’re so young and beautiful!


What video he was scripting from, I have no idea. But it was still worth a smile 🙂

Your holiday shopping guide!

29 Nov

This Christmas season we can make our shopping matter. Below I have attached links to products whose sales benefit various autism organizations throughout the US, UK and Australia. These are really neat items, and even cooler is that at least a portion of proceeds benefit an autism related charity.






6 Degrees of Separation- Part 2

17 Nov

Back in October I posted about helping a little girl get an autographed picture from Jillian Michaels (you can read that story here ). Jillian’s project manager somehow saw my post and got in contact with me to let me know he was inspired by the story and wanted to “pay it forward”.

Yesterday I came home to a package with all of this inside:


3 books and 3 DVDs!!!!

And this one, addressed to me


I was shocked! All of this?! For me?! I am so humbled and grateful that this man saw my story and wanted to send me all of this. And that Jillian wanted to do this for me, too. It is way above and beyond. I just can’t believe it. But it’s an amazing gift, and it came at a perfect time.

And, this all happened because of Allbri and her family over at Because They Chose Us.

Amazing how our lives intertwined again. That little girl has no idea how many lives she’s touched 🙂

I’ve been robbed…

14 Nov

After almost 5 years with 2 of my clients….Their family has abruptly left the company I work for.

I have been robbed of my chance to say goodbye.

In 2008 I first met the little guys.  Since starting with them I have worked with them at least 4 days a week. 4 days a week for the past 4 1/2 years. I have gone to school with these boys every year. The family and I even joked about picking a local college for them to attend so that I could continue shadowing the boys. I spent more time with them than my own family. They became my little brothers. In fact, the whole family became like family to me. I grew close with the mom, and watched the siblings grow up over the past 4 1/2 years.  I was told I was “part of the family”.

I’ll skip all the details, but somewhere along the way…and I really don’t know where, things went sour last week. And in an instant, I went from “part of the family” to hardly more than a stranger; an enemy even.
And in a moment, I was robbed of my chance to say goodbye to the little boys I love as if they were my own brothers.
The finality of this relationship is a pill I’m not ready to swallow. But not having the chance to see them one more time, and let them know I won’t be seeing them anymore but how much I will miss them…. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to swallow that.

After almost 5 years together…. I have been so robbed.

The Spectrum

5 Nov

New York Magazine published a rather lengthy article recently about the overuse, and misuse, of Aspergers and Autism Spectrum diagnoses. You can read the full article here.

It asserted, “this is not a story about Asperger’s, autism, or the spectrum—those very real afflictions that can bring untold hardship to the people who suffer from them and to their families. It is, instead, a story about “Asperger’s,” “autism,” and “the spectrum”—our one-stop-shopping shorthand for the jerky husband, the socially inept plutocrat, the tactless boss, the child prodigy with no friends, the remorseless criminal. It’s about the words we deploy to describe some murky hybrid of egghead and aloof.”

The piece discussed how “aspergers” has become everyday language, “sloppy vernacular”, and is no longer true to it’s origins. It has morphed into a catch-all; everything from a slur to an identity.  It’s a card quickly pulled to describe people who don’t fit into our own box.

A psychiatric diagnosis first observed in four boys more than half a century ago has become common slang, a conceptual gadget for processing the modern world. Weirder still: At the same time it soothes the insecurities of those who would weaponize it as insult, it flatters the vanity of those who’d appropriate it as status credential.”

I notice the rampant overuse of “aspergers” and “on the spectrum” all the time.  Some people are always on the lookout for odd people they can hastily label off the cuff. That kid doesn’t pick up on when people are annoyed by him? Aspergers! That person is obsessed with that thing? On the spectrum!

It really bothers me when people throw out fake diagnoses like candy on Halloween.

First-  I can’t stand the overuse of diagnoses as slang because it completely overlooks a main criteria for diagnosis. In order to be diagnosed with something, the DSM-IV is clear that the symptoms must interfere with the person’s life in some way. Just because you have symptoms of something does not automatically give you a diagnosis!!! Your functioning MUST be inhibited by the symptoms in some significant way in order to warrant a diagnosis.

(ie: DSM-IV criteria for Aspergers:  “C. The disturbance causes clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”)

So what if a kid is aversive to certain sounds? So what if he prefers things lined up or grouped by color? Who cares if he rocks back and forth a little? Unless those things prohibit  him from forming relationships, learning, communicating, etc. it’s NOT diagnosable!

All human beings have weird little things about them. Every single person on this planet. Instead of pathologizing every nuance, let’s be real and recognize all people have quirks.

For me, I avoid touching jeans with my fingers. Wearing them is just fine…but I can’t stand how the fabric feels on my hands. And #2 pencils!! Oh my gosh. I strongly prefer mechanical pencils. I just hate the sound and feel of the lead from writing with #2 pencils. And my stims: I crack my bones constantly (even at the expense of  husband’s sanity). My neck, back, fingers, wrist, ankles, and even toes. I have to crack them all dozens of times a day! I also play with my own hair when I’m upset. It soothes me. I light candles that smell good. I play my favorite songs on repeat sometimes. I shake my foot when I’m sitting. I do lots of little things that make me feel good.

We ALL have oddities and self-stimulatory behaviors. That doesn’t mean we all have autism or aspergers! Which brings me to my next point….

Secondly, it upsets me that people diminish a true diagnosis, and all that goes along with it, by slapping a quick label on people. Not to sound all doom and gloom and rant about how miserable autism is…but it ain’t a walk in the park!! There is hardship and heartache and worry and fear and pain and a million other things that surround a diagnosis. Calling some quirky kid “clearly aspergers” or “totally on the spectrum” negates what autism really is. Yes, autism is on a spectrum and plenty of kids are considered ‘high functioning’ and face less day to day struggle than others. But there are plenty who genuinely suffer with autism. Again, not all experience autism the same. But, I just don’t believe autism is purely some wonderful, magical gift we should all happily embrace. Embrace the child and his or her strengths and personality and traits, of course! But discredit how gut-wrenching autism is for many families…. I would never.

And last, I feel the need to make clear that I do not think people should belittle the validity of  a diagnosis because “that person seems so normal!” or because “we all have stims!”  My declaration that we are all a little odd is in NO WAY a negation of autism and aspergers diagnoses. They are real conditions, with real struggles. And just because we all have little quirks does not mean we are all autistic or aspergers. My wish is simply that people would carefully consider their loaded words before tossing them out.

EDIT: I also feel the need to add that I DO NOT believe WHATSOEVER that the dramatic increase in prevalence of ASD is due to “better diagnostics” or “more awareness”. I actually find that to be a big crock of…. Well, anyways…. Just thought it was worth noting that although I DO see people flippantly tossing out diagnoses in conversation….I do NOT relate that AT ALL to the real increase in real diagnoses. Those are 2 separate things.

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