Single Moms Raising Autistic Sons

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Here is the cake that I made for him today. Tomorrow we will have pizza, pepperoni of course, and chocolate Elmo cake in his classroom with his little buddies. I want to thank my dear blogging buddies for helping me to feel better so that I might enjoy my son's birthday tomorrow. I will definitely take lots of pictures so that you can see him having fun at his party. I would like to thank K.C.'s mommy for helping me out when I was so low and rallying support for me in my time of need. But this is not about me, it's about my little angel and how he has grown up so much in 4 short years. He has shown such tremendous improvement and progress that it is simply phenomenal. You are my super hero Griffin and I adore you. You are the "Sonshine" of my life, the light in my darkness and the warmth in my cold cold winter. I am eternally grateful for the gift that I have received in you. I have been blessed with the most precious present that I could have ever imagined. As I have said before, you bring me tears of joy and of pain and for this time I have learned to savor the moments in the ways that I know how and to let you know how much I love you and appreciate your unconditional love. Regardless of your exceptional intelligence you are the greatest child that any mommy could ever have hoped for bar none. Just being in your presence is truly an experience in the beauty of life and living. You have saved me from an otherwise empty existence and there are no words to describe how enriched I feel and how proud that I am to be your mommy.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Not Just "The Blues"

I must say that I haven't been feeling that great lately, my depression has still got its ugly grasp around my throat and the increase in meds hasn't helped me yet. My ANP increased my Abilify from 10mg. to 20mg. but she also said that it can take up to a month for me to feel the difference. As I wait each day to feel different, and I'm not holding my breath, I struggle to keep my head up and can't even seem to force a smile when I go out in public. It seems that since I have been so low that little things bother me so very much and I can't seem to shake 'em. For instance the baby pictures that I have of Griffin, for some bizarre reason I didn't put dates on them and now I can't even tell you what age he is in this photo and it is bugging me really bad. I know that I shouldn't beat myself up over something so trivial but it really makes me feel like an inadequate mother. "How silly", you must be saying, but to me it is something that was so simple to do but for some reason I failed to do it. I have no way of knowing how old he was in the pictures and when he reached his milestones. I can only guess.
Another thing that is bothering is that my ANP told me that I have Psychomotor Retardation which means that my mind and body have slowed down considerably due to the severe clinical depression. It is so hard to think and to process information, even the simple stuff and I move like a three toed sloth. I even read that there are similar symptoms to dementia. There's nothing like reading about yourself , knowing that it is true, but also knowing that there's nothing that can be done about it. At least not until the dark veil of depression has been lifted. One thing is for sure is that I have had enough energy to go through the motions of living and caring for Griffin. My memory is so poor that I have to keep a daily journal to be able to recall what I did the day before.There is no laughter in my life, no playing around with my child the way I once did, there's no trips out of the apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. We are isolated. Griffin does go to school 5 days a week full time so he does get out of the apartment.
I am apt to start crying at a stupid commercial on TV and there's not a damn thing I can do about it . Tears started welling up in my eyes the other day when a friend of mine told me that her husband was leaving for 4 months to go out of town for work. I guess that I was feeling sad for her because I can't say that I am sad that he is going even though we are good friends. It's things like that which make me feel really uhmmm........."dumb" for lack of a better term.
Severe clinical depression is not something that you can "just get over". It's not just SAD or "the blues" it is a significant imbalance of chemicals in the brain that only the right medications can help or should I say, the right "combination" of medications.
I am writing this not because I feel like complaining but perhaps that it may help someone who is suffering the same ill effects of clinical depression but may be undiagnosed. It is crucial that if someone is Bipolar like myself and has bouts of depression and unexplained bouts of excitement, euphoria, or anxiety that they seek out professional help and get the proper medications. Also Bipolar Disorder causes more than just regular insomnia it can cause people to not sleep for days on end. Without my Seroquel I wouldn't be able to sleep at all and I am not exaggerating.
So, for those of you who frequent my blog, aka my blogging buddies, and you notice that I haven't written much on my post well, you'll know now that Lora is having a rough day and the words just can't seem to come to her. It is then safe to assume that I am okay as long as there is some kind of post within a few days of each other. Even if there is only a picture it means that I am keeping my head above water and I do still care about the things that are important to me like this blog. It means a lot to me to communicate with others and if I only get through to one person out of the average 65 people a day who visit my blog , then it will mean the world to me. I've just gotta keep on trying and sharing my stories and maybe I'll make some new friends along the way. You just never know in this blogging community. The support here is phenomenal and I have to say that I appreciate each and every one of you and the kind words of encouragment that you have so graciously given to me.
Griffin is doing just great and still playing with his abc/123 blocks, his letter tiles, his PowerTouch book, his abc/numbers puzzles, and his V-Smile. I decided to only allow him to play with the V-Smile for short periods of time so he doesn't lose interest in it. Griffin is still pronouncing out words and I don't mean sight words either, totally new words he can sound out and figure out the words. I got his progress report and his teacher, Kathleen, said that he is working with materials from Kindergarten and get this..........First grade level reading and math!!!!!! Griffin will be only 4 years old on Tuesday January 31st.
One thing that depression hasn't stolen from me is the pride that I feel for my little genius. :)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

My friend Amy recommended that I buy a V-Smile for Griffin so I went to Wal-Mart and compared it to the Leapster. The Leapster cost half as much but didn't have the cartridges to go with it that Griffin would like. V-Smile however, had Elmo's World, Nemo, and Blue's Clues all of which Griffin absolutely adores. I must admit that I was a bit concerned about him playing with a video game and actually learning from it but sure enough Amy was right on target. Griffin said for the first time, " Hi, it's me Griffin". The most amazing part of that is that he used the word "me" in a sentence and said it while patting his chest emphasizing the word at the same time. He was saying it because Elmo was saying "Hi, it's me Elmo" and Griffin actually adapted the pharse and used it properly. Way to go buddy! It looks as though it not only holds his interest and he learns from it, but it is challenging enough for him that he keeps going back for more. The nice part is that he is able to let go of it when it is time to change activities. That says a lot about his level of maturity and the great progress that he has made.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Little Computer Wiz

Griffin showed a great deal of interest in playing with the keyboard at a very young age so I got one just for him. Pictured here I think that he was about 4- 6 months old. I am not sure because I forgot to put a date on the photo. In retrospect, I don't think that he liked the keyboard itself necessarily but the fact that there were letters and numbers for him to look at. I mean, that is what makes him so intrigued with it now. So, I guess that it really shouldn't be surprising that he likes the computer as much as he does. I mentioned in my last post that he has been losing interest in the computer because I didn't think that he felt challenged by it anymore and I asked for suggestions as to what might be a challenge to him. He has shown interest in his alphabet blocks of course since he loves letters and numbers so much but has lost interest in legos. Since he has mastered catching and throwing a ball then that doesn't hold much of a challenge for him. Jodi mentioned the Suzuki violin method which I think was an excellent idea but I did a search and found that there is not a teacher in Alaska. The Leapster idea is great, thank you Julie, and I am going to go out and find one for him because I think that it might hold interest for him. Jenn, if I can find those sorting game that you recommended then I am sure that Griffin would love it.
Griffin's private O.T., Tracy, has started him on listening therapy and it has helped him a great deal as far as being able to focus and having a much calmer disposition. This has helped him to stay on task much better at least while he is listening to the cd. It is quite fascinating because it isn't just regular music with words,and Griffin still loves to listen to it. I will gather some information on it just in case anyone is interested. I am just amazed by it so I will be sure to post about it really soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Griffin is learning to spell out words correctly as well as sound out new words and not just sight words either. This is what Griffin did when he needed help with opening a bag that contained a toy. He tried and tried to open it and when he could not he arranged these letters on the fridge and then came to me to show me and told me at the same time. I was so impressed that he actually spelled out "want" because before, when he would type it out on the computer, he would spell it out phonetically. His spelling and sentence structure is now not just purposeful but also correct and appropriate. Griffin is communicating at a higher level than his NT peers and now I need to make sure that he is challenged and does not get bored.

If anyone has ideas of how to keep Griffin challenged and avoid boredom I would really appreciate any suggestions that you may have. He has, as of late, seemed to be losing interest in using the keyboard/computer. Mostly all he wants to do with it is type out numbers and even though I encourage him to type out words he doesn't do it on his own any longer. Maybe because to him it doesn't serve a purpose unless he is getting some reward for it. I usually tell him to type out his requests on the computer if he wants something even though he can say it just fine but now it has become so easy for him it is just no big deal anymore. He has several computer games that are educational like Sesame Street, Clifford, and Blue's Clues but he lost interest in those months ago. So, that's no longer an option and the games that are at a higher level he doesn't like because they are Arthur, Reader Rabbit, and other characters that he has no interest in. There is my quandary and once again, I would greatly appreciate any ideas that you may have on how to keep him challenged and to peak his interest.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Griffin Writes His Name

Griffin wrote his name all by himself for the very first time today in O.T. and he drew this lovely little character all by himself as well.Tracy said that he was holding the pen properly when doing it also. He just keeps amazing me every single day. I don't even know what to write about it other than how darn proud I am of him and to thank Tracy for being such a wonderful O.T. for him. Next post will have a picture of Tracy and Griffin , I would put it in this post but I don't know how to insert more than one photo. If anyone cares to let me know how to do it I would appreciate it. I don't want them side by side but one down below this paragraph would be good.

I am just so overwhelmed with joy that Griffin wrote his name and drew this little face that I am speechless. I will create a post tomorrow and let you know about what Tracy has been working on with Griffin and how it is that she gets to be such an incredible Occupational Therapist.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Great Numbers Game

This is what I found on the fridge today. It speaks for itself. Griffin is not yet 4 yrs. old and he is already spelling like a child in kindergarden (phonetically). His progress is absolutely amazing. This is the title to one of his Sesame Street videos that he asks for by name therefore he knows what it means and it's not just his hyperlexia. For those of you who may have just found your way to this blog Griffin is quite advanced in spelling and with his understanding of numbers and I posted this just as an example of the level of his knowledge. Not to mention that I like to brag about my little genius :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


This picture is from when Griffin and I were seperated over the holidays and he was staying at his teacher's house, Kathleen's. Here Griffin has fallen asleep to the sound of mommy's voice on the telephone. Is that adorable or what?

Griffin seems to be doing much better since I have gotten better and my depression has decreased significantly. Isn't it strange yet wonderful that our children are so intuitive. I mean, it is strange because it is so eerie that he can pick up on all my emotions whether or not I am even aware of them. It is wonderful because we have developed a deep, strong, and meaningful relationship due to Griffin's ability to bond. Griffin is a very affectionate little guy who loves to give hugs and kisses freely. He also asks to "snuggle" when he is ready to go to sleep.

Sometimes I wonder about what has been said about autistic children/individuals not being able to feel empathy because I have seen glimpses of it in Griffin. Just the other day when I was so frustrated that I started to cry, Griffin stopped what he was doing and looked me straight in the eye and made this face of sadness as if he was feeling my anguish. It looked as though he was about to cry as well and as soon as I saw this I smiled. Not because it made me happy that he was feeling sad but because it was a sign that he was feeling empathy for his mommy and that was a big step. Whether the steps are big or small Griffin walks right into my heart and opens the door every time leaving me with a greater appreciation of life. Each moment I learn to not take for granted and to treasure those special times as they occur because one just never knows when there may not be another moment to share.

There are times of frustration and anger that cause me to lose track of what is most important and get wrapped up in the past or the future. Those times create a rift between me and my loved ones. This is when I must capture that moment take hold of it and savor it and welcome the challenges that come with it. That is when I can truly cherish all that the autism has to offer and every aspect of my son's difficulties and gifts.

I would love for you to share your stories with me of how your child shows emotions or some moment that you have found to be particularly poignant.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

This is Pisgah Griffin's kitty and one of his best buddies that is next to Abby his service dog. Pisgah is named after Mount Pisgah in the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina. Beautiful and serene the Pisgah National Forest is one of the places where my family would go to cool off in the hot summers when I was growing up. For some reason when I found the kitty it made me think of that wonderful place of my childhood.

Griffin has learned to be very gentle with the cat and just loves to snuggle up and love on him. I need to get a picture of them together but the snuggling doesn't last long because the cat is not terribly fond of it. Even though Pisgah is quite tolerant of Griffin's affection he doesn't stick around for long. It's so funny because Griffin loves to squeeze him when giving him a hug and lie on top of him but Pisgah just takes it and eventually escapes Griffin's grasp.

I am working on getting a really good picture of Abby, but for some reason she is afraid of my camera and won't perk her ears up for a photo. I'll be working on that and have one up soon. Nothing very exciting happened since my last post really. Griffin has started reading signs everywhere. Today he read the "closed " sign at the cash register which took me by surprise. He's been reading signs like Chuck E. Cheese's, Carrs (our grocery store), Fred Meyer (another store), and also reading some labels on food products. The guy is just doing so well that I don't even know where the heck it's coming from. Yes, I do. It's coming from his incredible intelligent mind that is being stimulated and educated by the TEACCH method for the past 2 years! Not to mention all the hard working therapists, teachers, and teacher's assistants who work their butts off to help Griffin excel. And excel he does! I'm having a hard time keeping up with him. For sure he will be smarter than his mommy in a matter of a couple of years especially when it has to do with math.

Oh and for those of you who don't know where we're located we are in Anchorage, Alaska where the TEACCH program is alive and well and has been for many years. We are planning to move to North Carolina where the TEACCH method originated at the prestigious University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So, if there's anyone out there who is living in North Carolina and know of some great schools in and around the beautiful mountainous region of Asheville or Hendersonville please let me know. I am not eager to leave my home of 15 years because it is near and dear to my heart and so are the friends I have made along the way. Alaska has one of the best school systems in North America and the best teachers too but I must say though that I am ready to live near my family and for them to meet Griffin. It has been almost 5 years since I have visited my family and seen the place where I grew up so it will be a bittersweet transition for me and I hope that it doesn't trigger my manic depression while going through it.

Traveling can be hard on a bipolar individual triggering bouts of mania or depression or in my case what is called "mixed states" where one is both manic and depressed at the same time. I also have what is called "rapid cycling' which means that I can go from mania to depression in a short period of time, sometimes just a matter of hours. Let me tell ya that it is not any fun! Anyhow, my depression is being held at bay by my wonderful medications YIPEE! Each day is different but at least I am better than I was over the holidays.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Stephanie and Griffin

This is Stephanie (Griffin calls her 'Stephame') our respite provider with Griffin she is fantastic and we love her. Stephanie is so sweet and gentle with Griffin yet he responds to her and has few behaviors when she is with him. I said it like that because when I am so sweet and gentle he pushes my buttons so I have to be kind yet firm with him in order to avoid behaviors. If that makes any sense. You mommies know what I am talking about don't you?
The latest thing that Griffin has been doing is writing his ABC's and the numbers 1-40 on the chalkboard (with some help on numbers 5 and 8) and singing the new songs that he has learned at school like "Six Little Snowmen". In fact, he got on the phone to my parents yesterday and starting singing it over and over, they just loved it of course. Then Griffin pipes up and says "Hi nanna" which totally surprised me. His social interactions lately have been just wonderful with more and more each day. His pediatrician commented that every time he sees Griffin his social interaction has improved vastly.
I attribute this to all the early intervention mentioned below and the great TEACCH program that he has at school. I know that TEACCH is an incredible program, this is his second year in it, and that it helps to create a well rounded child. Griffin responds well to it and I am happy that he is showing so much success because of it. There's no other program that I wish for him to attend at this time because "If it ain't broke.....". Why push more on him if the TEACCH program works and he has private O.T. and speech which help him as well? Anyone who has read this blog or even just some of it, knows that Griffin is an autism success story with increasing progress each and every week, if not a day.
I am going to ask Griffin's teacher to either lend me the information on the TEACCH program that she has or to write a post for me. I know that I am cheating that way, by not doing it myself, but she is the expert just like Sheila is in her field. So, Kathleen if you are reading this ......I have a favor to ask :)

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Following Post

The following post is about Griffin's early intervention from age 15 months to age 3 with Sheila and the Programs for Infants and Children here in Anchorage. Griffin will be age 4 on January 31st so he has aged out of the program and is now in an autism classroom in the public school system. I have had requests for a post on Griffin's early education so I had asked Sheila to write some about how she worked with him and how he got to be where he is today.

Griffin's Early Intervention by Sheila Sellers, MA Ed. Early Childhood Special Educator

Lora asked me to write about some of the things that I worked on with Griffin when I first started seeing him. I hope that she will publish this on her blog in its entirety, because it is important to know that the intervention strategies alone would not have gotten Griffin to the point he is at today. It was through a mother strength, courage, and unconditional love that Griffin has made progress and because he is a little boy with the character and spirit of a thousand men.

Before Griffin was actually diagnosed with Autism, when he was around 15 months, he began work with an early interventionist through Programs for Infants and Children. I am happy to say that that Early interventionist was me. I offered suggestions and recommend strategies; we met weekly for about an hour. The rest was up to Griffin and Lora!

Although Griffin was sensitive to outside stimulus such as noise and visual effects, I noticed his lack of awareness of his body in space and low alertness to taste in regards to eating and minimal joint interaction. Griffin would mainly watch videos and self-stim spinning a chair or perservating over a spoon or particular toys; regardless of efforts to interact or engage in communication or play. He would have silent tantrums and it was obvious he was in a huge amount of distress.

If you watched him you could see that he was going through some kind of lonely agony and was crying silently for someone to hear him. His mother did hear his pleas and we began work. We decided to make some environmental changes to help Griffin's sensory system and we knew that we had to get him to start communicating his wants and needs. I believe that getting his sensory issues under control is what helped him start communicating and tuning into us. We would spend the first 5-10 minutes of therapy with some sensory activity such as swinging, squeezing, spinning, etc. Griffin responded best to swinging. We started working on speech while he was in a swing that Lora rigged up in the hall of her house. We worked on ready, set, go….the first word I heard Griffin say was "go!" and his language has not stopped since.

Other strategies that worked with Griffin included Floortime, following his leads and cues, imitating his movements and vocal sounds. He began to increase his joint attention and his eye contact increased as well (sometimes I think he was probably saying "Who is this crazy women, that has invaded my world?") we used a lot of imitation, hand over hand, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, baby signs to request wants and needs and eventually PECS.

To help his diet we tried very spicy and sour foods. He began to request foods, which he had never before, by signing more, please, and all done. We used his interests of Teletubbies and Sesame Street to introduce PECS and have him request his favorite toys. We made changes in the environment, putting his toys up high and withholding favorite things until he made some attempt to communicate. Lora also used a tight spandex vest to help calm his sensory system. I continually observed Griffin and tried to learn what he was telling us. I used things to encourage his communication identifying his interests and arranging activities to incorporate his favorite things. Griffin's joint communication had increased greatly. He increased eye contact, starting making gestures, and increased his vocalization. Through play, using books and toys, we worked on pointing and making other gestures. Before long Griffin started pointing and signing more, please, and all done. He would say "go" to swing. And he would look at right in the eye and smile!

Griffin, Lora, and I worked for about 6 months. Griffin was communicating with sign, using PECS to request, saying about 4 words and his tantrums had almost stopped completely. Through the use of prompting and placing his hands on my lips, I was there the first day he said "Mama".

I knew that I had taken him as far as my knowledge could take him. I referred him for an OT to continue to manage his sensory needs and later to a speech therapist to work on his speech. By that time Griffin had an official diagnosis. Both the OT and SLP worked amazingly… along with Lora using various strategies to help Griffin get to the point he is today.

We used a lot of familiar strategies that others use to work with children with Autism. Floortime, imitation, prompting, sensory diet, reading his cues, environmental changes, etc. However, I believe that the two most important factors that contributed to Griffin's accomplishments have been…… 1. Lora's determination and dedication to her son .
2. Having the right people listen to " Griffin". Griffin is thriving in "this world, this environment" because we took the time to try to figure out "his world".

Griffin and Lora have enriched my life more than they will ever know. Griffin and Lora both are what I call "old souls". Each and every time you are with them… you learn something new about them, about life, about yourself. Lora has an amazing spirit that never stops advocating for her son, Griffin has a smile and a laugh that nestles down within your soul. He has these beautiful dark eyes that takes ahold of your inner being and remains with you wherever you are. I know that I am a better person, a better teacher, and a better spirit for having worked with Griffin and Lora.

Sheila Sellers, MA Ed. Early Childhood Special Educator