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Teaching Generosity

The crazy season is upon us. That is what I call it anyways. That season of time when people are becoming almost neurotic over holiday preparations, gift shopping, and attending every holiday event possible. The stress can be high for even the most calm souls. In that time of controlled chaos, what message are we sending to our children? Knowing that they learn from example, are they seeing only the hectic and harried side of the holiday? Or are they being shown the side that promotes charity and compassion?

In our home, we make as many of the gifts by hand as possible. We want the children to learn the value of giving of their time and talents. We have done it this way for the past couple of years since we began keeping the Christmas holiday. In the middle of this, a wonderful thing has happened. Little Miss is learning generosity.
It is too soon to know how much Pookie is learning. But, being that he has no real emotional attachment to most things, he does give to others easily. It is only a matter of knowing how aware he is of what he is doing when he gives things he makes to those around him.

One of the benefits of teaching the children to make their gifts is that they have to use their own time and talents. This has several benefits. Using Little Miss as an example, let me share some of the benefits. First, she has to hone her skills to do her best work on a gift. She always wants her gift to be the best that she can make. So, she spends a lot of time practicing how to do new crafts and use new to her art techniques. Once she chooses a gift to make, she plans it out and works on it to the best of her ability. She takes great care in it. One day, this same trait will serve her well in her chosen career path. Secondly, by putting so much work into her gift, she has developed an appreciation for the gifts that she receives from others. Especially anything handmade. She knows from experience just how much time and work goes into making gifts. That experience has taught her to value the fact that others’ have done the same for what they give her. This carries over to store bought as well. She understands that the person has taken time to plan out what they bought and has matched the gift to what they think she will enjoy the most. This is very true of gifts made or given by someone that she knows has little themselves. Some families that we know are really struggling to make ends meet each month. Little Miss highly values time spent with them and is deeply appreciative of anything they do for her. Another benefit is that the kids are learning to value the time and talents of others more than the price tag of the gift they receive. If it takes Little Miss a few days to make a set of potholders for a gift to a neighbor, then she can appreciate the gift’s value that doesn’t come from a store tag. She knows how much hard work and time went into making a gift. She knows first hand that to spend time and talent making something has a value that you cannot put a price tag on.

Our way of celebrating may not be what everyone would choose. We chose this way as our way of honoring the meaning behind the season. Christ gave of Himself to all mankind. By making our gifts, we are giving of ourselves to others. We are sharing in our time and talents. If we have opportunity to serve with a charity, then that too becomes a way to be the hands and feet of the Lord in the holiday season. My husband was against the celebrating of Christmas when we first got together. He disagreed with the commercialism of the holiday which took away focus to why we celebrate Christmas. Once he learned of what the church taught on this topic, we came to a compromise. We celebrate the birth of our Lord at Christmas. We make sure the children know that this is the reason behind the celebration. We also don’t go into debt with credit cards or small loans to buy gifts. Instead, we give of ourselves through the making of as many of the gifts as possible.

The results have been a blessing to our family. We see a maturity in Little Miss where generosity is concerned. She has things which she values, but is always willing to give it to someone else if they need it more than she does. That has become a blessing of the season that was a precious gift to see as a parent. I love how the Lord has shown us how to use the celebration of Christ’s birth as an opportunity to teach our children selflessness towards others.

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When you become a Momma, you are filled with dreams. From the moment that you learn of your pregnancy, you start thinking about your child and the life they may have. If you already have children, you think about how the new baby will grow up with their siblings, building bonds that will last throughout their life. You think of the children playing together and at times conspiring together. Of course, being siblings they will experience the occasional rivalries or times of angst. But overall, the bond you dream for them will be strong enough to withstand what the world throws their way.

When your baby is born, you are ecstatic. You cuddle your little one close and continue to have dreams. Play dates and parties, along with the fun times you will have as a family and the children have with their friends drifts through your mind. You have friends who have children of their own. You talk and share in the joys and challenges of parenthood. Throughout it all, you feel the bond of friendship, a sisterhood, with them.

Then comes the day when you get the news. You learn that your precious little one has been diagnosed with Infantile Autism. Soon, there are therapy appointments, doctor visits, and home therapies that begin to take priority in your family’s life. There are meltdowns and seemingly irrational fears or distress from your little one that are painful to watch. But as Momma, you have to face it all with a steadiness that will provide a calming balm to your little one. You balance your time so that you not only give the little one all that they require, but time to the rest of your family as well. At times, it can feel like you are walking through an emotional minefield. All of your family needs your attention, each in their own way, and you pray that they allow you to take care of their needs one at a time. You carve out times for each child so that none feel slighted.

Your friends offer supportive comments when they see you out and about. At first, you take them seriously when they say, “If you ever need me – even just to talk – give me a call.” Your eyes get opened up pretty quickly though when you do reach out. Unanswered texts or unreturned calls are not unusual. You don’t reach out but rarely because you know that people without a special needs child have no understanding of what you are dealing with on a daily basis. They may mean well and can have compassion, but they just don’t get it. They have not lived with a child who is severely delayed in their development. They haven’t experienced first hand what it is like to have a child who screams or cries in frustration because they cannot communicate to you a need that they have. They haven’t tried to go to the store to do some necessary shopping, only to leave you cart behind because the stimuli in the store was more than your little one can endure. They don’t know how inadequate a parent can feel at those moments when their child is having a meltdown from over stimulation and others are less than compassionate towards you and your child. In the middle of all the chaos are the siblings who you also have to reassure. In the beginning, the reassurances are needed much more than later. Sadly, the siblings gain an acceptance that meltdowns can happen. In a way, it is a relief though when they make that realization.

The times of stress, when you are dealing with new behaviors or meltdowns are happening over new situations, you want to reach out. But to whom to you go? By this time, you have already learned that people want to hear that all is well and don’t want to hear about a difficult day. You have heard, “You are such a strong woman” so many times that it is no longer a comfort but another weight around your shoulders. You want to tell them that you are not strong enough to face these situations alone. No, not because you are suffering from depression . It is simply that people were created to be relational. We crave, by our own nature, the companionship of friends. Think of all the times when simply talking with a friend made a tough time a bit easier. They may not have eliminated the cause of your stress, but just being able to talk it out gave you relief. A Momma of a special needs child is no different. We have had to mourn the dreams of what could have been and accept what is. We have to develop new dreams for our child that are more in line with their true potential. That is painful! It puts an ache into your heart to go from a dream of college for your child to praying that they will one day be able to live in an assisted living home and not a full care nursing home.

There is no more times of meeting up with a friend for coffee. You find that suddenly everyone is too busy. Some of the people whom you always thought of as friends turn out to be the fair weather variety. They are there when all is well before you had your little one, but suddenly have too much going on once your special needs child came along. One of the things that I found is that these friends really don’t mean to stay away or ignore you. They really do have other things on their mind, For some, they may be uncomfortable with the realities of the special needs. They don’t understand it and so avoid it. Then there is a classic reason known as “out of sight, out of mind.” They don’t intend to alienate you, they just get so focused on their own life that they forget you are there until they see you again. It isn’t anything to put blame on. It is simply a reality. Just as the sun comes up in the east each morning, people will let you down.

One of the replies that has me mentally shaking my head is when people tell me, “Stay in prayer because the Lord will always give you strength.” Yes, that is true. But, let me ask this. What if the way the Lord helps to strengthen us in difficult days is the reaching out of a friend? A common saying in churches is that “we are the hands and feet of the Lord.” This meaning behind this being that it is through using us that the Lord can bring about blessings to others. What if, it is through you making a phone call that the Lord is able to help lift the spirits of someone having a bad day? What if, it is through just a simple text message or email that the Lord helps someone to not feel like they are walking the path alone? What if?

It is the little things that can make the rough days feel lighter. Yes, the special needs issues will always be there. Truly knowing deep down in your heart that you have a strong support system through your friendships can make it much easier to manage. It doesn’t take much. A simple card or postcard in the mail, a phone call, a text, or even a hug when you see the friend can lift the weight of the stress for that moment in time. The real gift then becomes the moment that you, the parent of a special needs child, have that peace in your heart. Placed there by the Lord through the love and compassion of people in your life that are genuine in their feelings. That is the gift. It is also one of the most rare jewels you will ever achieve in your life.

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Story Stones

I have been finding the cutest idea on Pinterest lately. They are called Story Stones. These smooth stones are small enough for preschoolers to handle, yet too big to be a choking hazard. Buying a set of story stones can be pricey. Today, I found a preschool blog called Pre-School Play that tells how she made them herself. She also shows a good number of examples of the ones that she made. I am thinking of so many ideas for using this idea.  Alphabet letters, numbers, stones painted like dominos, and of course the story elements.

Here are some more story stone idea links that I found that are very inspiring.

Easter Story Stones includes the story

Fairy Dust Teaching has a photo tutorial on making the story stones

Adventures at Home with Mom has a great post about the benefits of story stones along with examples of the ones she has made.

Crafty Mom Share has a blog post about the Nativity story that includes a picture of the Nativity story stones she made.

Thrive 360 Living has a great example of story stones they made for the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

My Small Potatoes has a great picture tutorial on hand painting story stones.

 

I am so excited to give this craft idea a try.  I am always looking for new ways to incorporate pictures or other hands-on elements into story time with Pookie.  I can see so many uses for this, including using them for story sequencing activities.  These websites were very inspiring.  Making a set of story stones for the Nativity would be a great gift idea for the little ones in the Children’s Church class.  Maybe make some for other Bible stories using elements of each story to paint or decoupage onto a stone.  The ideas are only as limited as our imaginations!

Enjoy!

 

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The Tapestry of Autism

The puzzle piece has come to be known worldwide as a symbol for autism. This colorful design is one that has meaning to many who are impacted by autism. It says so much, and yet…..it leaves out so much.

I look at autism as simply one thread in the rich tapestry of our son’s life. Tapestries are beautiful works of art. They can tell a story or give you a glimpse into the life of the one who made it. Each thread interweaves with the threads around it. A single thread touches many. Think of how a weaving is done. You have the main foundational threads on the loom through which the colorful threads are woven to create the design. Autism is simply one of those foundational threads. Why do I say it is foundational? Each and every thing that Pookie learns or experiences is touched by autism in some form or fashion. Whether it be through the developmental delays he is challenged with, interacting with others, or simply going grocery shopping with me, autism is always there. You cannot separate fully the autism from Pookie’s life experiences.

But, Pookie is far more than just that one thread. He is a much loved son, brother, and friend to those in his life. He may not play with kids in a way considered “normal” by society’s standards, but he likes to be around other kids. At church, the older children have taken Pookie under their wings so to speak and they include him in their activities as much as he able to participate. At home, Pookie loves to simply hang out with Little Miss. If he finishes his homeschooling before she does, he gets antsy for her to finish so that they can go outdoors together.

Pookie loves to paint. Some days, he simply makes what could be considered background designs. At other times, he has made paintings that are reminiscent of the Impressionist style. I will always cherish the first of these that he made at age 4. He was standing at a window looking out and seemed so sad. I tried to distract him without success until I asked if he wanted to paint. He came to the kitchen table and chose the paint colors that he wanted. The end result was the painting below.
DaddysTruck10-25-2012

He was telling me something in that picture. His Daddy was gone on the truck and he was missing him. When I asked if he missed his Daddy, Pookie smiled at me. His mood lifted after that. We had found the source of his sadness and acknowledged it.

Pookie loves music. He loves to listen to K-Love, a Christian radio station. When we are in the car and the radio is not on, he will fuss and gesture towards the radio. If I turn on a station other than K-Love, he will fuss again until I change the station. Luckily, we all enjoy listening to it. He listens to the three VeggieTales CDs that the kids own. Often, after listening to them, he will hum the tunes or sing them in his own way.

Pookie has a sense of humor. He laughs easily. One quirk that is present with him is his ability to make himself laugh by tickling his own belly. He has a joy that is infectious to those around him. His happiness can make anyone smile or laugh.

Cuddling is important to Pookie. He loves those times when I sit down to read to him. I will tell him to choose a book from his shelf. After making his choice, he comes to the couch and cuddles next to me while I read.

There are so many ways in which our lives are blessed by Pookie. Often, we don’t even consider autism in his behavior or developmental skills level. He is simply our son. We accept him as he is. Of course, we are working towards him becoming as independent as possible. His therapies are helping us to achieve that goal.

When it all comes down to who Pookie is, there is much more than just a diagnosis of Infantile Autism. He has a life that is full of the love of family and friends. He has talents that we have only begun to see being developed. He is a little boy who has so much to offer those around him. He is a walking testimony of the grace and blessings of a God who is more powerful than autism. He is our son.

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Gaining Independence

Since finding out that Pookie was autistic, we have been working at helping him to gain as much independence as possible.  There is such a stigma attached to Infantile Autism.  Unlike those with the higher functioning autism spectrum diagnosis, kids like Pookie are often underestimated in what they are capable of.  Many times, a parent of a severely autistic child will be given little hope.

Last September, a Pre-K school teacher told me to not worry about teaching him academics in our homeschooling.  She felt that he would be better served by focusing on life skills only.  Her reason? She said that by focusing on the life skills, we will help him to be less of a burden on his caretakers in the future.  Her words were cutting, but I have had to take a step back as really examine her thinking.  Unfortunately, unless your child is moderate to high functioning, this attitude is not uncommon.  It doesn’t mean that those who say it are correct, but possibly uninformed.

A reality that we face with Pookie is that his ability to do a skill can change literally from one day to the next.  For example, he was learning to feed himself then lost the ability after an illness.  It is like someone erased the knowledge of how to perform that skill from his mind.  After a time, he slowly regains the skill.  It takes a lot of work though, as well as a lot of patience.  You have to look past the idea that he could feed himself before the illness and start over from square one.  Sometimes, the amount of time that it takes to regain the skill is far less than it took to learn the skill the first time.  That is a blessing in and of itself.

Most recently, Pookie has been working on the self-feeding issue……again.  He was only using a spoon or fork for about 2 months before he was ill with a fever in September.  Ever since then, we have had to work with him to re-teach the skill to him.  Suddenly, after a couple of months of working with him, I was able to get this picture.

peanutbutter

Pookie loves peanut butter.  I usually buy several of the small jars from a $1 store each payday.  I had noticed that the larger jar of peanut butter was getting low a lot faster than normal.  Then, I found out why.  Pookie had learned to remove the lid, grab a spoon from the drying rack and feed himself the peanut butter.

Watching him, I realized that he would do this with peanut butter because it stuck to the spoon.  Pookie gets easily frustrated if the food he is eating falls off of the utensils.  The stickiness of the peanut butter made it the perfect food for him to eat on his own.

I also noticed that he is able to hold these little peanut butter jars much easier.  Unlike a plate, bowl, or even the larger peanut butter jars, these little ones offer him more independence.  With that in mind, I saved several of the jars to use as dishes for him.  I have a baby food grinder that I bought back when Little Miss was a baby.  It allows me to take any meal and turn it into a finely chopped food that is similar to a junior baby food consistency.  At that texture, the food stays on his spoon far easier just as the peanut butter does.  I place his meal into the jar and he is able to feed himself.

This may seem like such a little thing.  Pookie is 5-1/2 years old.  What people don’t always realize is that developmentally, he is far younger than his chronological age.  For him, this step towards becoming more independent is huge.

With this single skill, he is able to take more control over his eating habits.  Being able to self-feed eliminates nearly all the frustration that he had been feeling during meal times.  He doesn’t have to wait for someone to feed him each bite.  He is able to do it for himself.

Another self-feeding development is that he is once again feeding himself finger foods.  If we go to Wendy’s for lunch, I just have to cut his food into bite size portions.  He can now feed himself, as long as someone touches his arm or shoulder.  We jokingly refer to it as his start button.  Just another autism quirk he displays.  As long as you touch his arm or shoulder, he will feed himself.  If you don’t touch him, he will wait until you do or will start getting fussy as he waits.  We went through this stage before.  It doesn’t last terribly long and always proceeds him becoming fully independent in whatever skill he is working on.

It is a journey.  I am constantly amazed at how many basic skills come seemingly by instinct in typical kids.  Seeing how hard Pookie has to work to obtain these seemingly natural skills makes me more aware at just how intricate a child’s development can be.  Milestones that others take for granted are hard work for Pookie to achieve.

Each skill mastered, however big or small, are simply a step towards him becoming as independent as possible.  We have high expectations for Pookie.  We are realistic, yet we refuse to set the goals too low for him.  If we expect little from him, he will gain little.  If we expect him to reach the stars, then he will continue to work towards that goal.  He may not actually reach the goals, but he will be much further down the road than if we expected little from him.

Our goal for Pookie is for him to have a life as an adult where he needs little assistance.  Who knows? Maybe one day he will be able to overcome his challenges enough to marry and have a family of his own.  There is only one who has the authority to set limits on what Pookie will be able to do in his life. That authority belongs to the one who created Pookie.  No, I don’t believe the Lord made Pookie autistic.  I do believe that He allowed it for a purpose.  I truly believe that one day Pookie will be able to share his testimony of what he has been able to accomplish, in spite of being autistic, with the Lord’s grace and blessing.

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This past month has been one with a huge leap forward for Pookie.  He began feeding himself finger foods and with aid would use a fork or spoon.  Yesterday, he finally began to eat with a fork completely on his own!  No one had to help him hold the fork or assist in getting his food onto the fork.  He did it completely by himself!

Having a child with severe autism, you never take for granted the steps they take towards independence.  With each step that they take forward, they gain a confidence that cannot be gained in any other way.

Mealtimes used to be a time of stress.  Pookie would try to indicate what he wanted, then get upset if you didn’t give him a bite of the specific piece of food he was pointing to.  He also became upset if you didn’t give him a bite as quickly as he wanted.  It took a while for him to accept that he had to take turns, allowing you to have a bite of your own meal in between him being fed his meal.

Now that he is feeding himself, he is happier at mealtimes.  He sets the rate at which he is fed and can choose which piece of food to eat.  He has control of his meals.  During this past week, he has stopped using a booster seat at the table also.  This has him very happy as well.  He is able to leave the table on his own when he is done eating.

The best response I have heard all week to Pookie’s achievements has been from Little Miss.  When she watched her little brother feeding himself independently, he became teary-eyed and said, “God answered our prayers.”

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Audio Books for Kids

We are a family of readers.  I read to the children each day, both for homeschool and bedtime stories.  Little Miss is reading on her own now and Pookie loves to look through books.  While on the truck, my husband has been known to take audio books with him.  Needless to say, books are enjoyed by us all in one form or another.

Each day, the children have an hour of quiet time after lunch.  We awaken early each day and that midday rest period really makes a difference.  I have been thinking about the idea of allowing the children to listen to audio books during that time.

Here are some links to a few of the free audio book downloads that I have found.

Storynory

Kids Audio Books

Kids LearnItOutLoud

Books Should Be Free

Light Up Your Brain

62 Places for Free Audio Books for Children (Links Page)

While I was searching, I also found some sites with free downloads of Bible Stories for children.

Christian Communicators Worldwide

Little Lambs Ministry

Bible Stories My Kids Love

Free Kids Bible Stories

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