Singing Surprise

Singing

Sunday at church Emma and Ethan, along with their cousins, performed the special music for the congregation.  They sang, “How Great is Our God” and did a beautiful job. They blessed everyone with their praises to God but the biggest blessing was an unexpected vocalist that decided to join in. Caleb was sitting next to me and I noticed he was intently watching the other kids sing and attempting to sing along with them!

This is not the first time that we have noticed music helping Caleb find his voice.  A few months ago he discovered the twins karaoke machine and we were amazed at how well he did trying to sing every word as he watched the lyrics on the screen. Here he is singing along to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” on the karaoke machine. It’s one of his favorite songs!

What a blessing!  I know God has a plan for Caleb’s life and I am starting to think that this plan may include singing or music.

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Different, Not Less

 

“What’s wrong with your brother? Why can’t he talk?”

Ethan looked up at the little girl at the park who asked him this question and said, “There’s nothing wrong with Caleb. He CAN talk, but just not the way you and I do.  He’s different, but he’s a lot of fun and I love him just the way he is.”

When I heard the little girls question I cringed and my motherly instincts almost caused me to jump in and answer for Ethan since I thought that it might be a hard thing for an eight-year-old to explain.  I was so glad that I held back because Ethan’s answer brought tears to my eyes.  I was so proud of him for sticking up for his big brother and for helping to explain to his new friend that although Caleb is different that does not mean that there is something wrong with him. 

I led a small group last Spring for mothers of special needs children and one night we watched the HBO film “Temple Grandin” based on the true story of Temple Grandin’s life.  Temple is now an adult, but the movie covers the struggles she had growing up with Autism and how her mother fought long and hard to make sure she got the education she deserved.  I love the quote from Temple’s mother when she tells a teacher that although her daughter had Autism she didn’t want her treated as if she were stupid.  “She is different, but not less” Temple’s mother explained to the teacher.

Dwight and I have learned over the years that instead of trying to “fix” Caleb and make him conform to the world’s definition of “normal”, we need to embrace his unique personality and special gifts and meet him in his world.  We have found that by focusing on what Caleb CAN do instead of what he can’t do helps us see him as the special and amazing child that God has made him to be.

The best way we can help others to accept children with Autism is to increase awareness of what Autism is (and what it isn’t).   Each year Dwight and I go into the school and talk to Caleb’s classmates in the Fall and educate them on Autism. We talk about how Caleb is like them in many ways : He watches Spongebob Squarepants, he loves to go swimming, and  his favorite food is pizza.  Next we talk about the ways that Caleb is different and explain his sensory issues and why he sometimes gets overwhelmed when there are a lot of sounds and distractions.  We also tell them that Caleb can sometimes become frustrated when he can’t communicate and ask them how they would feel if they couldn’t tell someone when they needed a snack or wanted to watch their favorite TV show.  We explain that this frustration may cause him to cry or have other behaviors that they may not be used to.   We also teach the students ways that they can include Caleb so he feels accepted and alternative ways they can communicate with him. 

The more children (and adults) learn about Autism the more they will come to accept the differences of those with Autism and realize that they are pretty “cool kids” to hang out with.  Caleb has made some great friends at school this year and all his classmates have been so accepting.  They will give him a high-five or fist bump and even run up and say “Hi” to him when they see him at Wal-Mart, McDonald’s or the movie theatre.   Caleb’s teacher and his aides have gone above and beyond to make sure Caleb has the same opportunities to learn as any other student.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day … A day set aside for the people to learn more about Autism and what they can do to help individuals on the Autism spectrum and their families.  Take time to learn that children with Autism are not retarded or stupid. They are beautiful and smart and have so much potential!   There is no limit to the obstacles these special kids can overcome when they have teachers, peers and family members who support them , believe in them and love them just the way they are.

You can learn more about Autism and Autism Awareness Day at www.autismspeaks.org

He’s My Brother

“Hurry up! We want to get good seats!”  I said as I led Emma, Ethan and Caleb into the Jr. High Building.  We were coming to watch our oldest son, Drew, play percussion in the Jr. High Band Concert.  We entered the auditorium and filed down the middle row to the first group of open seats we could find. 

I got all the kids settled in and Caleb was happily watching “Bee Movie” on his iPod while Emma and Ethan scanned the crowd looking for kids they knew from school.  “Hey, there’s Grandpa!” Emma said as my Dad walked into the auditorium and came over to join us. 

As the lights dimmed and they introduced the orchestra Caleb threw his iPod into my lap and sat forward intrigued with what was going on up on the stage. He watched and listened as the music began and then started bouncing in his seat and squealing with excitement (making what we like to call his “happy noises”). 

“Wow ! That is unusual for Caleb” I thought.  Every other time we had attended one of Drew’s band performances Caleb would just sit quietly and watch movies on his iPod not even paying attention to what was going on up on stage. Occasionally he would cover his ears if it got too loud or when the audience clapped, but other than that he seemed to be off in his own little world and totally engrossed in the movie he was watching.

Tonight was different and I’m not sure why. Caleb definitely was fascinated by the music of both the orchestra and the band and he could hardly contain his excitement as he bounced on his seat throughout the entire performance.  When each song ended he would clap along with the rest of the audience and he would crane his neck to look for his brother up on the stage. As soon as he saw Drew he would smile and clap even harder.  

What a wonderful evening!  Drew did an awesome job playing the three selections the band played and Caleb surprised us all by helping us congratulate Drew on a job well done.   I even heard Caleb softly say, “Dew” as he clapped at the end of the performance.  This simple word and the smile on his face were Caleb’s way of saying, “Yep, that’s my brother up there and I am so proud of him!”