Let the Rain Come Down

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When I was a small child, I was terrified of thunderstorms. The pouring of the rain, rumble of thunder and striking of lightning often made me quiver with fear. I used to hide under my blanket. I can recall one time when a severe storm woke me up in the middle of the night. I was about 5 or 6 years old. I jumped out of my bed and ran into my mother’s room. I was petrified! She told me to get into her bed. Then, she wrapped her arms around me and held me until I fell asleep.

As I grew older, I became less frightened with thunderstorms. I began to embrace the sounds of rain, the bass in the thunder, and piercing lightning. Soon, I started to see the beauty of it all. The Earth is comprised of about 70% water. The rain makes everything in nature grow. Now, this isn’t about science. It’s about its importance to life.

I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs. I’ve had the pleasure of doing many things I’ve dreamed of. I have a great deal of happy memories and I’ll always cherish them. Yet, I’ve gone through incredibly dark times. Some felt like 2 tons resting upon my shoulders. I’ve cried so many times because I couldn’t see a way out of my situation…I cried a lot!!!

I’m an emotional person. Almost every time I got in trouble, tears poured down my face. I was scolded for crying. The message I received was crying was for the weak. Over time, my crying sessions were done in secret. I didn’t talk to anyone when I needed to. I didn’t want others to think me as a whiny, feeble woman.

It wasn’t until my son’s autism diagnosis that I realized that crying actually the opposite of weak. Many nights I laid awake at night strategizing techniques to assist Preston. I learned mostly through trial and error and, trust, there were several errors before I got it right. Every time, I hit a roadblock, I felt like I was drowning in my tears. It was fight or flight. Those tears helped me choose “fight” EVERY SINGLE TIME! Each teardrop shredded away the pain in my heart and the worries in my mind. They became my shield of strength. I was able to see a solution to my problem. Crying has helped me grow stronger and wiser. It’s rejuvenated my soul and gave me motivation to push through.

Recently, we’ve encountered our most problematic periods. Preston is going through puberty. For years, I was told that raising children on the spectrum can be extremely strenuous during adolescence. I thought I’d be ready but none of the research I gathered fully prepared me for the emotional roller coaster. There are moments where things seem grim. That’s when I’m at my lowest and that’s when I weep until I fall asleep. I’ve learned to appreciate the rain in the same manner. I find solace in rain. I enjoy sitting under shelter and listening to the soothing sounds as it falls. I learned how nature depends on the waterworks to grow.

My tears have helped me realize that in order to support Preston through this phase. It’s given me various perspectives after every meltdown. Also, I’ve realized I had to alter my actions…or more so my reactions. I can’t expect him to necessarily conform to me to the instructions I give him. I’ve had to interpret what he’s communicating even when I view it as being defiant. Maintaining a balance of discipline and understanding that some behaviors are a result of having autism is something I’m working diligently to master.

I feel crying is the Lord’s way of releasing hurt and clearing one’s mind. It brings me closer to Him. It reassures me that I can rely on Him at all times but especially when the odds are stacked against us. I’ve recognized that I cannot focus on how the world could view him but emphasize his value as a human being. He’s an asset to everyone he encounters. His innocent and positive outlook on life is something others can learn from.

Going back to my childhood memory, I can faithfully say that the Lord has always me wrapped up in His arms just my mom did that particular night. I work hard for my son to feel that same security during his rough times in life.

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One Love

As a single parent, I struggle to find free time for myself. I don’t go out much because there’s a level of isolation and trust of who could care for my son because he, sometimes, have meltdowns. For the past few years, the ONLY break I get is when my mother opts to have Preston visit her during the summer in Arizona.

When Preston is with her, it affords me the opportunity to just be Keisha. Yes, I miss him (we talk and Skype frequently) but I enjoy my me time. The day before he was heading to Arizona, I was blessed with something that meant so much to me.

Those who know me are aware that I’m a super fan of two groups from Boston…New Edition and New Kids On The Block. Now, I’ve had great meetings and conversations with New Kids but it was my lifelong dream to meet New Edition.

I remember the hours of practice of learning the various dance routines to their songs but I believe my all-time favorite is BBD’s “Poison”. Preston laughs at me every time I do it at home.

Through me, Preston has become a New Edition fan. He loves many of their songs. Often, I’ve heard him singing and “discovering” different songs on YouTube. I’ve had to download New Edition/BBD songs to his phone.

I’ve chatted with various members of New Edition via social media. There is a personal connection with NE member, Ronnie DeVoe, because autism is a part of his family. He has used his voice and celebrity to increase autism awareness.

Recently, I saw a Facebook post about the DeVoe family granting some parents of children with autism a night out to enjoy themselves. It included 2 tickets to a New Edition concert. I submitted my contact information and to my surprise, I was selected by Mrs. Florence DeVoe (Ronnie’s mother) to go to the New Edition concert and have my picture taken with Ronnie DeVoe.

I was uber excited! I anticipated the phone call from Mrs. DeVoe. For days, I rehearsed the conversation in my head because I didn’t want to babble. I was nervous to speak to the mother of Ronnie DeVoe. The day she called me, I forgot everything I wanted to say. I was in disbelief that I was speaking to Mrs. DeVoe. She was so nice and sweet even though I still babbled.

On the day of the show, Mrs. DeVoe instructed me to inform her if I had any problems. Unfortunately, some problems did occur. The venue security gave me different information for the credentials that was given to me along with the tickets.  I was hesitant to call her but I did. She was extremely helpful. I was simply amazed of how kind she was when I talked to her. Again, I really didn’t want to call her. I felt I should be grateful enough for the concert tickets.

The concert was spectacular. I danced, I sang, and took lots of pictures. Every time, I see New Edition they get better and better. I’m fortunate to have been a witness of their evolution. In my opinion, they’re the ONLY group to be successful as a group, solo projects, and another group…they’re the ultimate supergroup!

In the end, we got backstage access but we weren’t allowed in the room with the group yet. We were told to wait. We patiently waited. Shortly after, we stood there as Johnny Gill and Ricky Bell briefly greeted us as they headed to their vehicles. Then, Michael Bivens and Ronnie walked out. I questioned if they were leaving and my moment of a lifetime. I couldn’t lose it so I walked over to Michael and Ronnie. Mike was so cool. He smiled and hugged me!

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I had to let Ronnie know that I was a guest of his mother’s. He quickly said “you’re Keisha?!” I was surprised he knew my name. I felt so special. The same way his mother, Mrs. DeVoe, made me feel. Quickly, I thought his parents did a wonderful job raising him. He hugged me and was so gracious. I told him how Preston made a video to show to him. I couldn’t find it fast enough so he told me to forward it over to his mother along with the picture we just had taken on my phone. He tried to get Mike in another picture but he had other fans talking to him.

The night didn’t go exactly how I pictured it but I still had a ball. The main thing I feel is that I’ve loved New Edition since the first time I heard “Candy Girl” in 1983. I’ve gone to several concerts in the course of my life. They never disappoint. I can get lost in their music because New Edition is a great portion of the soundtrack of my life. New Edition allows me to be just Keisha. I can be a “Candy Girl” 🙂

If only for that one day, I felt so much love and support from the DeVoe family. Never did I think that autism would tie our families together. I’m extremely proud of their decision to contribute to assisting families with autism. I applaud the DeVoe family for everything that they’re doing and will do in the future for the autism community. They are an exceptional family. I’m appreciative of their helping to increase autism awareness and acceptance. I believe they are a blessing in my life and will be to many others.

One Love

Sometimes it Can Get Cloudy

IEP meetings can be dreadful. Sometimes, parents can feel like it’s them against the school staff of professionals. We want to believe that everyone sitting in the room has one common denominator…the child. They want to believe that the discussions is in the best interest of the child. Sometimes, questions are posed in the parents’ minds.

Recently, I had a staff member continuously tell me “don’t get upset” about disciplinary consequences after my stance on my son not currently being in the least restrictive environment. Immediately, I thought how someone believed they could tell me what and what not to feel. After it being said more than 3 times, I began to hear “don’t be the angry black woman when your child gets in trouble” so I had to briefly address racial differences and racism in society. Now, I’m not accusing anyone in that room of being racist but the dialog hinted of racism; subtle or subconscious.

Being the only person of color in the room, I explained that I’m raising an African American son in a society when young Black boys are being shot and killed by the streets, vigilante neighbors, and police officers. My son looks older than his age (13) and is taller than the average adult male. The odds are already stacked against him and then we have to add autism to the mix. I informed them that I’ve had to spend more time teaching my child how to conduct himself in the presence of police/authority more than I’ve been able to have sex education conversations.

Race is a touchy subject and many don’t want to engage in the conversation unless they’re hiding behind a computer or smart phone. It was uncomfortable for me as well but it was necessary to say. Many of the school staff that engages with my son daily are mostly Caucasian women. Phrases like “we can’t control him” or “we fear for the safety of others and himself” have been stated to me more times than I can count.

I want to believe there isn’t subliminal racial tones occurring in meetings and conversations. I want to believe there is a genuine concern for my son and his well-being going forward. This blog isn’t to assume or imply that there is any sort of racism with the school staff but I can still acknowledge life experiences and media stereotypes plays a part when dealing with people from different races. In the end, I respect the staff 100% and I hope I have the same in return. These are the people I’ve entrusted to give my son a fair and appropriate education.

If You’re on Facebook…

I want to thank everyone that has taken the time to follow and read my blog. Although I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half, there are times when I’ve had not time to write my thoughts and experiences here, but I have a Facebook page that shares positive stories to help spread autism awareness and acceptance.

Here is our Facebook page info. Please click on the link and then “Like” to follow us there  as well.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT!!!

https://www.facebook.com/AvengersForAutism

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A Great Grandmother’s Love

I come from a large family. My mother is one of 10 children. They produced nearly 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My grandmother taught us a great deal about life in many simple ways. It was effortless, but very effective.

I can recall the days of going fishing. I hated it but I learned a survival technique. She used to garden and had us helping out by picking greens, shelling peas, snapping green beans, and whatever else she told us to do. I learned how to grow food for my family. I spent countless hours in the kitchen watching her cook and learning her recipes.

She taught me the importance of having faith and praying. I know she prayed for each one of my family members even if we weren’t praying for ourselves.

The most important lesson I learned from my grandmother was unconditional love. She taught me how to love others without judgement. I told her my fears about becoming a mother. She said that nobody could love my baby the way I would and have faith in the Lord because He would see me through. Oh boy, she was so right!

As big as our family was, she always managed to find even more love in her heart for the babies. My grandma lived an hour away but traveling was difficult for her at times, but she was so excited to attend Preston 1st birthday party.

The night before Preston was scheduled for craniosynostosis surgery, my grandma called to talk. I believe she was actually praying over us though. She was the first person I called on the other side of his surgery.

The calmness in her voice was always soothing and reassuring that everything would be fine.

My grandma saw the best in everybody but she truly was Preston’s biggest supporter and cheerleader. He could do no wrong in her eyes.

My grandmother taught me about faith and how to see the good in people, not to be judgmental of their circumstances, and so much more. She was my everything. Last year on the day after my birthday, she went into the hospital. Two weeks later, she passed away.

Although I have some family members who don’t support or understand autism, my grandmother simply just loved Preston for who he is. She didn’t see him as a disability. She just saw her great grandson. I lost my rock but I’m so thankful for the morals she instilled in me as well the lessons she taught me.

There were moments I’d call and vent to her. She would quiet me with a sentence or two. One of her constant things she’d say about Preston’s behavior is that he had his head cut open and that’s he still the best he can be under the circumstances. She didn’t know about autism mostly because she was in her 80’s, but she refrained from any judgment. I believe it gave her more the reason to give him support by the best of her ability.

Everything she taught in me, I hope to do the same for Preston.

 

 

Don’t Believe Him…Just Watch

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I was told to prepare for many things. Professionals said that the chances of him being independent in adulthood was slim. His ability to do daily living activities would be limited. His cognitive skills would be impaired for rest of his life.

Years later, I’m proud to say he’s on the road to independence. He recently learned how to tie his shoes(to those without children on the spectrum, that’s a big deal). He can articulate his thoughts and feelings more than ever.

I’ve been teaching him how to count money, budget, and pay bills. Also, he’s learning how to cook, wash his own clothes (which he has a strong dislike for), and clean up after himself.

We are practicing filling out job applications and have done mock interviews.

I’ve learned that obstacles can be a determining factor to succeed. A victory is much more sweeter. He has no idea that some are certain that he’s limited in acquiring skills. He knows I believe him and that, in turn, has helped him believe in himself.

I have faith that he will accomplish his goals. Yeah, it’s gonna take extra preparation but it’s not impossible. Yes, I still worry about him being able to live on his own but that’s why I teaching him now. I want to give him a fighting chance. If it doesn’t happen, I’m preparing for that as well.

Being a parent in the autism community, I know this does not apply to everybody. That’s why I’m driven to help families have hope (in any capacity) for their children. In time, I’ll share that information.

Taking Action

Life is filled with obstacles. Everyday, people face roadblocks. We all go through trials and tribulations. Some experience soaring highs whiles others go through extreme lows.

The emotional and mental roller coaster of raising a child on the spectrum is not for the weak. We’re human beings that are automatically thrown in the boxing ring. We have to fight for the rights of our children. Our opponents come from various groups. They can include doctors, therapists, school administration, insurance companies, society, and even family members.

I’ve gone up against all groups mentioned and then some. I’ve had no choice but to advocate for my son. Some seen him as just a case or diagnosis. Others, genuinely didn’t have his best interest at heart. Very few took the time to understand my son and his needs.

I struggled with what to do and what not to do. There was trial and error. I basked in the success and worried about the failed attempts.

Many times, when my son would have a meltdown, I tried to stop them. I knew spectators were judging my parenting skills. During family gatherings, it wasn’t any better. I received many unwarranted suggestion on several occasions.

The falling out on the floor, stomping of the ground, or throwing things (all while screaming and shouting) was hard to handle. I tried ignoring them or attempted to remove him from the situation along with other techniques. Sometimes it worked. Most times, it didn’t.

I learned how to listen to him with more than my ears. Now, I know that may sound crazy but I’ll explain. Babies cannot speak. We listen to their cries but we’re also observing them to pick up on their physical responses. I learned to use a similar method for meltdowns.

One day, Preston had a severe meltdown while at home. I was watching TV and he was playing nearby. It appeared out of nowhere. I was caught off guard. I felt frozen. Thinking…thinking…thinking. I could not respond to him in that moment but I closely observed him. Why was he screaming? What was wrong?  That’s when I heard anxiety and frustration in his voice. Then, our eyes locked. What was he trying to tell me? Suddenly, I sensed he wanted to feel love and security. He wanted my attention. I wrapped him in my arms and he began to calm down. Minutes later, he was able to verbally communicate to me what was bothering him.

Learning his various ways of communication helped me advocate for my son in ways I never thought I could. In turn, it helped get him services that were beneficial to his well being. He’s overcome so many odds and, for that, I’m extremely proud of him. He doesn’t see the obstacles. He’s simply learning how to navigate through life. I cast his worries onto me. My goal is make the mountains into boulders, if not pebbles.

Preston has taught me about overcoming the odds by facing your fears. Years ago, my brother told me he envisioned me going across high school and college campuses speaking about autism. I told him he was crazy. I used to have panic attacks when public speaking. Well, I now have to retract my statement.

While at Eastern Michigan University, I took a Human Diversity/Social Justice class taught by a brilliant professor. This professor is an extraordinary woman who’s done a tremendous amount of work for social justice. I met someone that would change the course of my life. She was a guest speaker. Patricia is a vibrant, hilarious, and strong woman who doesn’t let obstacles stop her from enjoying life. Also, she has a beautiful eye for photography. I connected with her and I came out of my shell in that moment. Now, my advocacy for my son laid the foundation but her presence and her story inspired me to do more.

Now, I’ve been invited to speak in the same class about our life with autism. I almost declined due to fear. My son has inadvertently taught me to face challenges head on. Yes, I still get nervous but it’s becoming more comfortable to do. My current challenge is how transparent can I be. I respect my son’s right to privacy. I don’t want to discuss anything he doesn’t want to share. In fairness, I’m speaking about his life. He’s right by my side at every engagement. He loves it! He likes the attention but I’m almost certain he enjoys leaving early from school as well.

I’m eternally grateful for the experience to share our story; the good, the bad, and the between. If not for the unexpected chance to spread autism awareness, I would not be as motivated to do more in the autism community. We are working something that we hope will be a benefit to those on the autism spectrum.

This journey has taught me the real simplicity of life. Be thankful for everyday. You can’t have the good without the bad. How else would you relish in the happy moments?Enjoy special moments with loved ones and grow through the hard times.

Preston and I have become closer than ever. Together, we’ve tackled challenges. We’re ready for whatever lies ahead. We’re a team and we always say “Teamwork makes the dream work”. To us, family is paramount.

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