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.

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.

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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He Will…

He will be fine. He will experience happiness. He will have a fantastic support system. He will enjoy life and all its possibilities. He will surpass many doctors’ expectations.

He will always collect all things Iron Man. He will create special masterpieces with Lego sets and the Minecraft video game.

He will tell me his dreams and plans. He will go on believing in himself. He will leave a life-long lasting impression on others. He will entertain people. He will make others laugh because his is so infectious. He will light up a room with his smile.

He will conduct himself accordingly…most of the time. He will have times when he displays impulsive responses. He will continue to work hard minimizing meltdowns.

He will receive an adequate education. He will be more than a label. He will NOT be a statistic. He will NOT be on the School to Prison Pipeline. He will NOT go to jail. He will NOT be in the next viral video of a police shooting an unarmed black male.

He will learn self discipline. He will have structure. He will learn to make lifetime friends. He will become part of a team. He will have a sense of safety and security. He will have goals. He will accomplish them. He will gain independence. He will discover his passion.

He will date. He will know how to respect girls. He will have his first love. He will have his first kiss.  He will be exposed to heartbreak. He will find love again.

He learn to overcome obstacles. He will know to trust his instinct. He will know who to trust. He will forgive others when they betray him but he will NOT forget. He will make mistakes. He will learn from them.

He will have positive male role models. He will learn from them the proper tools going  into manhood. He will be able to count on these men for advice and guidance.

He will become a man. He will know that involves more than just getting older. He will know a man is measured by his character and virtue.

He take accountability for his actions. He will strive to be best he can be. He will NOT give up. He will NOT walk away when situations become too strenuous.

He will get married. He will be a loving husband. He will be a respected father. He will be a provider. He will make certain his children are high priority in his life.

He will reflect on his childhood and have a multitude of precious memories. He will remember the special trips and the incredible adventures. He will appreciate those who gave him guidance.

He will know who was there for him and who wasn’t.

He will be fine…without you.