Do You Want to Be My Friend?

IMG_9340As Caleb walked into the waiting room at the dentist office this afternoon he didn’t waste anytime. He walked right up to an older woman, looked her straight in the eyes and stuck out his hand for a handshake.

“Hi!” Caleb said.

The woman looked up at him and said, “Hello. Do I know you?”

Caleb moved on to the next person, a middle-aged man.

“Hi!” Caleb said

The man looked up and then kept reading his magazine.

“Hi!” Caleb said again, getting closer to the man and trying to get him to look up and return the greeting. He bent down, trying to see the man’s eyes – Caleb is fascinated with eyes!

“I’m sorry.” I apologized to the man, “He’s just really friendly.”

Caleb continued to work the waiting room and most of the people were very friendly. Those who weren’t, eventually realized that Caleb wasn’t going to stop saying “Hi” until they responded with a handshake or at least a greeting of “Hi” or “Hello”.

Eventually, Caleb settled down into a seat but as soon as anyone new entered into the dentist office he would jump out of his seat and bounce over to greet them. Those of you who know Caleb know what I mean by bounce … he “bounces” when he gets really excited. Caleb had a great time while waiting for his siblings to get done with their appointment.

As I watched Caleb, and sometimes had to intervene when he got a little too friendly, I thought about how much he has changed in the past few years. When Caleb was first diagnosed with autism around age three, he was very withdrawn and didn’t want to interact with other people. He had to be prompted to greet others and often even rewarded with a reinforcer, such as goldfish crackers, in order to be motivated enough to participate.

I first noticed a change about three or four years ago when Caleb became interested in eyes. This is interesting for a child with autism since making eye contact is something they usually are uncomfortable doing. Caleb wanted to look at people’s eyes, study them, and watch them move. Then about a year ago Caleb started participating in our “meet & greet” time at church. He would walk around with me and shake hands. More recently he has become even more interested in this social time at church and he will now even venture out on his own initiating the greeting with church members by looking at their eyes, shaking hands and loudly saying “Hi!”.

The more I thought about this, the more I regretted apologizing for his behavior and intervening to interrupt his overzealous greetings. I don’t want to ever discourage Caleb for these interactions, even though they may be uncomfortable for others. I know that Caleb has stepped way out of his comfort zone to overcome his social anxieties and learn to greet and interact with those around him. Making eye contact, shaking hands and verbally greeting others (especially new, unfamiliar people) is an answer to many years of prayers. I imagine that God is looking down and smiling every time he sees Caleb bouncing up to shake hands and greet a new friend!

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A Prayer for Caleb

One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord,  “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  This verse has been one I have read over and over as I have prayed for God to guide me as I seek his will for Caleb’s life.

When Caleb was first diagnosed with autism nine years ago I went through a very dark and frustrating time in my life. I worried constantly about Caleb’s future.

I cringed every time I would read a negative article from a magazine or website that listed all the things that my sweet little boy would never do.

*Never be able to be communicate

*Never be able to make friends

*Never be able to graduate from high school

*Never be able to live on his own

*Never be able to hold a job or sustain himself financially

The list went on and on ….

When I would read books with stories of other parents who had recovered their children from autism, and often in seemingly miraculous fashion, I would cry out to God “It’s just not fair! Why won’t you heal our son!” I wanted to wake up one morning and have a “normal” child who could talk and play with other kids.  I tried all the treatments and therapies I read about: speech therapy, occupation / sensory therapy, cranial sacral therapy, gluten-free diet, chelation, digestive enzymes, B-12 shots and many other vitamin supplements.  However, I didn’t notice any big changes and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

It was during this period in my life that a small group from the church we were attending gave us this poem that they had written and told us that they had been praying for Caleb.

A Prayer for Caleb
Lord, I pray for Caleb’s brain that it would be healthy so you can fill it with your boundless wisdom
I pray for Caleb’s eyes that they would be able to see you and the mighty works of your creation
I pray for Caleb’s tongue that it would be full of grace and ready to be used as your instrument
I pray for Caleb’s lungs that they would be healthy and strong, ready to shout your praises from the mountains
I pray for Caleb’s heart that it would be strong and have more space for you to dwell
I pray for Caleb’s shoulders that they would be big enough to carry the burdens of his brothers and sisters in Christ
I pray for Caleb’s arms and hands that they would be willing and able to do your work
I pray for Caleb’s legs that they would be strong enough to run the race
I pray for Caleb’s feet that they would look to your word for direction and that they would follow you in your footsteps
I pray for Caleb’s body and all that is in it, so that it would be a temple sanctified by you forever and ever
In Jesus’ name,
Amen

I read this poem and started praying for Caleb differently. I asked God to show me his will, not mine, for Caleb’s life. With this change in focus and attitude I became more aware that God was blessing us with miracles everyday. They were just lots of small miracles instead of one big one.  I had been so focused on what I wanted for Caleb and the big miracle I was praying for that I had been missing the little miracles!  I asked God to continue to open my eyes to see how he was working in Caleb’s life, as well as lives of the rest of family members.

Letting go of my plans and following God’s will has been hard at times. However, the rewards and blessings have been too many to count! I have learned to accept Caleb for the wonderful creation of God that he is. I still sometimes think about what life would be life if Caleb didn’t have autism but more and more I find those thoughts being about the people I would never have met and experiences I would have missed out on.

God has used Caleb to touch so many lives and that his cheery spirit and giggling laughter can brighten even my darkest days!

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The Case of The Flying Cupcake

Emma came running through door afterschool shouting, “Mom! Mom! Caleb had a bad day! He was throwing cupcakes in class!”  Emma is the one who always likes to “report” (ie: tattle) on the happenings of the school day that Mom and Dad NEED to know.  In Kindergarten Emma and Ethan were in the same class and her tattling got so bad that Ethan insisted on being in a different class than Emma for First Grade so that she wouldn’t keep getting him into trouble.

I looked at Emma and said, “What do you mean he was throwing cupcakes in class? Who told you this?” Emma proudly replied, “I found out on the bus from a kid in Caleb’s class.”  This didn’t surprise me because Caleb is a master at making messes, but I was curious to how it all came about. Since Caleb is very limited in his speech due to his Autism I was not sure how to find out what happened.

Shortly thereafter, I received an email from Caleb’s teacher with the story of the flying cupcake and fortunately, it does have a happy ending.  You see, one of the boys in Caleb’s class brought in cupcakes to share because it was his birthday.  Caleb was offered a cupcake, but he declined as he usually does.  The boy who sits across from Caleb picked out a cupcake with bright green frosting and Caleb became very excited and started pointed and making his “chirping” noise that he makes when he is happy. The birthday boy went back over to Caleb and asked him again if he would like a cupcake and Caleb answered “SSSS” (which means “yes”). He picked out one with bright green frosting like his friend had but he was nervous about touching the cupcake, so his classmate got it out for him and sat it down on Caleb’s desk.

Caleb was elated and kept looking back and forth from the cupcake on his desk to the matching cupcake on his friend’s desk and he was smiling from ear to ear.  He enjoyed it when the class sang Happy Birthday to the birthday boy and after they were through his teacher said it was cute to watch Caleb trying to figure out what to do with the cupcake. Caleb is not big on sweets and wasn’t sure what to make of the bright green frosting.  Since Caleb is mainstreamed into a General Ed Fourth Grade class, he has an aide with him at all times and so she helped Caleb by taking off the cupcake wrapper and placing the cupcake in Caleb’s hand.  Caleb was fascinated by the cupcake and studied it carefully.  Caleb’s teacher and aide and all the students in the class watched excitedly as they waited for Caleb to take his first bite.

However, when Caleb went to bring the cupcake to his mouth he panicked, screamed and chucked the cupcake sending it flying through the air.  The cupcake bounced off of the shirt of Caleb’s friend who sat across from him and landed on another classmate’s chair. 

Although Caleb had to apologize for throwing the cupcake, his teacher, aide and parents were thrilled by this chain of events. You see, when a child has Autism one of the biggest obstacles they must overcome is their lack of social skills. In Caleb’s case, he has an ever greater challenge because of his limited speech, but there are so many other social aspects involved.  Children with Autism are often described as being “in their own little world” and they don’t care or even recognize what the people around them are doing. They don’t have a desire to be around other people or interact with them and they lack imitation skills.  

Caleb’s social skills have increased so much over the last few years and he not only can tolerate being with other children, but he actually will seek out ways to fit in and be part of a group. His desire to have a cupcake with green frosting, just like his friend, and his willingness to venture out of his comfort zone and attempt to eat it was a HUGE accomplishment for Caleb. We are so excited that he is making such great progress and are thankful for all the ways Caleb’s teacher and classmates encourage Caleb and celebrate his progress …. even when it involves flying cupcakes!

Birthday Wishes

We always have a hard time knowing what to buy for Caleb for Christmas and his birthday since he can’t verbally tell us what he wants.  With Drew, Emma, and Ethan it’s a constant stream of “Oh, mom … come see this commercial! I really want THAT for my birthday!” or the excited chatter from the toy aisle at Wal-mart,  “Mom, mom! You gotta come see this cool new toy! Oh, and this one too …”  Many times Caleb will open a present, take one look at the toy and then toss it aside and go onto the next one.  We can’t tell if he doesn’t like the toy or if he was expecting or wishing for a certain toy so he keeps unwrapping hoping that the next gift he unwraps will be that toy he has dreamt of.

Although Caleb can’t verbally give us ideas for his birthday or Christmas list we have known that there had to be toys on TV or in the stores that he wanted.  We knew that he probably had a mental wish list of toys, DVD’s etc. that he wanted to ask for but didn’t know how.  The challenge to Dwight and I as parents has been trying to find a way to access this mental wish list and provide ways for Caleb to tell us what toys he would like to have.

Caleb has always liked computers and recently has been fascinated with watching clips of Mickey Mouse, Rolie Polie Olie and Spongebob on the internet. He found YouTube with the help of his older brother, Drew, and he was in heaven.  He then started using the Google search and looking up his favorite characters to watch videos, see photos of the DVD jackets and his favorite thing … reading the credits (he loves to read the credits and see who the producer, editor, director, etc. for that particular episode is).

One day when I logged onto Amazon I was looking at the “recently viewed” items on my account and noticed all these DVD’s of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and Spongebob. I realized that since Caleb had been using my computer to “surf the net” he was logged in under my account in Amazon.   I went to YouTube and saw similar video clips.  All of the sudden it hit me that I could tell what videos and movies that Caleb liked best and use this information to find presents that he would like.

I also noticed that he really enjoyed watching this clip of an animated Mr. Potato Head and he even showed it to me one time and kept rewinding and watching it over and over and laughing hysterically. I had to admit this Mr. Potato Head was pretty cool and since he seemed to like watching the video I thought he might like it for his upcoming birthday so I went ahead and ordered it along with a few of the videos he had recently viewed on Amazon.

When Caleb opened the DVD’s of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and Spongebob he was excited and started to run off with them to put them in his DVD player. “Wait, Caleb … you still have another present to open” we said as we handed him the wrapped Mr. Potato Head. He took the gift and slowly tore one strip of the wrapping paper. He saw the writing on the box and realized what was inside and his face lit up. He quickly tore the rest of the wrapping paper off and looked up at Dwight and I was a huge grin on his face and his blue eyes were dancing with excitement.  Caleb’s birthday wish had come true and he had gotten the gift he had dreamed of.   “Happy Birthday Caleb !” we all said as we helped him take Mr. Potato Head out of box.

Here is a video clip of Caleb playing with his new toy :

Autism Everyday

As I was up with my son Caleb at 4:00 am this morning I found myself wondering what life would be like if we didn’t have a child with Autism. 

What would life be like without the constant worrying about him running off like he did last summer? (missing for 30 minutes that felt like 30 hours)

What would life be like without the meltdowns and the judgement from onlookers who don’t understand Autism and think that I just need to “learn to control” my child?

What would life be like if Caleb could talk and communicate? If he could make friends and tell me about his day at school?

What would life be like without the fear that Caleb may never graduate … that he may never get married … that he may never be able to even live on his own?

I found this video by Autism Speaks on YouTube. Autism Speaks is a great organization doing wonderful things to help brighten the future for children with Autism and their families. It made me cry to listen to these mothers because it is true …. Autism is there EVERYDAY. It’s a part of your life and it can consume all your time, money and energy.

On days like today it helps me to think about the positive things that are going on it Caleb’s life. The gains and progress he has made in the last month or the past year help me see that there is hope and that I need to keep going and not ever give up! 

Last week Caleb introduced himself to a classmate. This may not sound like much, but for a child like Caleb it is HUGE. Caleb pointed to his classmates name plate on her desk and kept running his fingers over her name and looking up at her until she said her name, “Jacee. My name is Jacee”. She smiled at Caleb and then he put his on his chest and said, “Caub” and did this until Jacee said HIS name. “Caleb” she said and then he got excited and smiled back at her. 

Yes, God is doing great things in Caleb’s life and will never give up on his potential and all the great things he has planned for his future. Neither will I!