I’m so happy to announce that Tony has joined the team at Finley’s Barkery! He is proud to be working in the shipping department and aspires to someday feed every dog he sees a wonderful, healthy, homemade treat!
When I first heard about this local startup, I immediately fell in love with the concept. Dave and I have talked in great detail about finding the right fit for Tony and really thought about starting a similar business for him with our famous gluten free chocolate chip cookies that we make 2-3 times a week here.
Yes. 2-3 times a week in half batches. Sugar haven, I know. But he loves the process.
So this is a nice calorie-free alternative for Tony (and me) and Beau Becker II gets to benefit!
It’s a win-win!
Created by teachers, Angie and Kyle, their vision is to employ talented young adults with special needs.
From their website:
“Finley’s Barkery is named after our 30 pound miniature German Shepard mix, who would spin and shake for anything peanut butter! The Mission of Finley’s Barkery is to provide a meaningful, exciting, and empowering work environment, while preparing young adults with special needs to gain work skills they need to live a successful life. Our talented workforce bakes, packages, and sells the best NATURAL dog biscuits on the market today! As word spread, orders began to come in. The community and dogs LOVE their natural dog biscuits and the mission behind it. Currently leading the charge are former students of Co-Owners, Angie and Kyle. Operating out of a kitchen in Chanhassen, MN, Finley’s Barkery continues to build on our dream that has become reality. Thank you for your support!”
Please check out their website and place your order by clicking this link:
“Handcrafted natural dog treats made, packaged, and sold by adults with special needs. A delicious dog treat igniting a movement to unleash potential!”
Like them on Facebook: Finley’s Barkery
and support this wonderful opportunity for young adults with special needs.
And be sure to tell them Tony sent you!
Welcome to all our new followers and friends!
As our original followers can tell, I’ve taken a slight writing sabbatical these past couple of years. I’ve focused more on social media and building our audience. I’ve also started on book #2, coming out hopefully in the next year or so.
I’ll admit it – I hit a wall — a complete burnout on the subject of autism.
It had to happen sometime. It’s been a part of our lives for 21 years now.
Towards the end of 2014 we were consumed with my youngest son’s senior year in high school and his senior football season. What a joy it was! My Mom came to help watch Tony for every single game so I could attend. Every. Single. Game. What a blessing she is! It’s funny because Dave had been a football coach since 2000 when my older son started playing, I believe. So everyone knew him! I was the “mystery wife” because I was home with Tony the whole time. So THIS season was incredible because I was every game and event!!!
As the season ended and the holidays kicked in, amazing things started to happen. My older son got engaged and wedding planning had begun. That kept me busy until the wedding — which was on January 2nd of this year. (See post Tony’s Bestman #1 Speech)
So 2015 brought an engagement party, a spring break trip to Puerto Vallarta with my youngest and a group of his friends and parents, prom, graduation, graduation party, college selection, birthday month, Joey moving away to college (sniff, sniff), wedding planning, holidays, wedding planning, grooms dinner and — did I mention? — a wedding!
Needless to say many things took me away from writing and it was a huge blessing to be able to concentrate on other things for a while.
Tony had a great year of growing, tested his boundaries a bit, and worked at this original job (see post Workin for a Living) for 8 months. After he mastered his work, it was getting increasingly difficult for him to stay focused and challenged, so he took a “leave of absence” to be a “wedding planner” with Mom. And he really did help! He’s a master list maker and loves to check things off as they are completed. He totally kept me in line.
So that brings me to present day. Tony has been home with me full-time since last July. It has had it’s challenges, but I try to keep a positive attitude. We strive for good balance of getting enough social activities in for myself and for Tony, while keeping him occupied and entertained. We introduced a new med, with weight gain side effects but major behavior improvements. We have daily activities and exercise plans. Beau Becker II gets a ton of attention (see original post about our dog in our book and here: Beau Becker II) Our main focus was working on independent life skills — planning our day, cooking, shaving and personal hygiene, laundry, exercising, communication and language skills, computer skills, reading, field trips, good behavior rewards and incentives, trips to Goodwill, baking, etc.
And in that arena we’ve won! Now that Tony has learned to text, it has literally opened his world and others get to see his personality — including me and my husband — complete with selfies (more on that later)
We have been looking for opportunities for Tony to work and have started the project of future housing. It’s daunting and overwhelming. But we’re taking it one step at a time.
The main thing that has struck me about Tony at age 23, is that there are minimal opportunities for him. Minimal. Most he’s either not high functioning enough or he’s too high functioning, or he’s aged out of available programs. He’s unique — as most young adults with autism are — and he needs to be challenged. He’ll most likely need a job coach, if the noise level is high and he gets overstimulated. He’ll need breaks. He’ll need snacks. He’ll need routine.
So we’re searching. We’re praying. We’re networking. And in the meantime, we’ll continue to work on life skills that will take him to the next level.
Everyone needs a purpose. We’ll never stop fighting for him.
As always, keep the faith,
Autism Breakthrough Moment!!
There are moments in life that take your breath away, and this was surely one of them. Our Tony wrote a surprise speech for his Bestman toast at his big brother’s wedding this past weekend. He was Bestman #1 and his younger brother was Bestman #2 (at least in his eyes). It was Tony’s way of being present at this important life event. Tony was able to wear a tuxedo and be there for pictures before the wedding.
Even though my husband and I watched this video quite a few times before the wedding, our emotions overcame us. And when our guests of 250+ people roared at the end of this toast and gave Tony a standing ovation, that is when we truly fell apart. Not a dry eye in the house, I guess, including the staff at our venue. Please take the time to watch this heartfelt message! #autism#autismawareness
And many thanks to his PCA for making this possible, Rachel Aiken and her sister Tara Hemmelgarn! #blessedbeyondmeasure
Click the audio link below to hear my first interview prior to our book release. I needed this today ~ keeping the faith while we navigate his next steps.
It’s never easy to share your story, but I’ve been reminded lately of just how many it’s helped. It may seem scary, but it’s comforting and humbling when someone reaches out to say they can relate or that they’ve learned from our experiences.
I will be back. I promise you will hear from me soon 😉
Keep the faith,
In honor of National Siblings Day, I am pulling a post from the archives because I truly believe it honors those siblings who not only love someone with autism, but live with it as well.
Originally published March 2010 and also published in our book
I read an article today online that was published in the March issue of the journal Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. The findings show that some siblings of autisic preschoolers show signs of developing hyperactivity. It also supports the notion that mothers of young autistic children experience more depression and stress than mothers of typically developing children (hmmm… I’ll address this at a later time)
The article states that siblings of children with autism probably should be watched with appropriate academic supports in place, says Laura Lee McIntyre. “Our findings are rather positive overall, but these kids should be on our radar screens,” she adds. “It has been shown that around 30 percent of siblings of autistic children have some associated difficulties in behavior, learning, or development.”
Well… I’ll give you my professional advise on the subject. Just some thoughts from a Mom who has lived with this subject for over 15 years now.
Siblings of a child with autism are a special breed. They are thrown into a world of chaos and unpredictable moments. Every trip to the grocery store, community center, or even restaurant is sometimes humiliating and extremely stressful. Every holiday is an adventure in coping. They are asked to help watch their sibling so the parents can run errands, or have a conversation, or work from home, or even take a bath. They are asked to not talk loudly, play music, or watch a movie as it might upset their sibling. They are asked to limit visitors to the house to avoid extra chaos. They sacrifice their rooms, clothes, bathrooms and sometimes computers. They watch in horror as a melt down occurs and try not to add to their parents stress.
I see these siblings as incredible people. They are exposed to more in their first 18 years than most adults in a lifetime. They learn to accept people for who they are, and to not judge someone if they are different. They learn to share. They learn that life is not fair. They learn that short term sacrifices will help achieve long term goals.
They learn to not ‘react’ to their sibling. Reacting just creates more chaos, more stress. They know that their sibling does not ‘hear’ their words but only sees their actions, which just makes the unwelcomed behavior continue.
Siblings change their diets so support their brother. Siblings give up a saturday night with friends so their parents can get a much needed break.
I don’t doubt that the above findings are true. I’m sure they will find a lot of long term effects on siblings of a child with autism. I just wish some of the studies would also ‘find’ the incredible, undeniable, God-given coping skills that these kids develop. They are the true heros of autism.
I love this particular blog entry from a fellow Autism Mom! I wanted to share it with all of you because she took the words right out of my mouth.
It made me chuckle. And that’s good.
What I, an Autism Mom, can and can’t do
As an Autism Mom (I capitalize it because it’s a double-time job which deserves capitalization and perhaps a large, red cape. But I digress.), I have faced, and will face, many challenging times. I have also discovered what I can and cannot do, and/or put up with.
• read any autism books “just for fun.” I’m all read-out.
• see any movies about autism or the like. Think “A Beautiful Mind.” or even the Temple Grandin movie. I live it, so I don’t need to watch it for fun. For me, not so fun.
• listen to anyone starting a sentence with “no offense, but…” Think about your words first. I’m very open-minded so chances are it won’t offend me anyway, but if I’m in the middle of autism hell you may want to save it for another time.
• “Just get a sitter.” Can’t do it, so please don’t recommend it. My sitters have to be trained. By me.
• go out, even for a quick cup of coffee, without my phone face up next to me. If TJ is having an issue at school (“Mom, I forgot my binder AGAIN!”), I have to be available to help fix it before his entire day is shot.
• think too far down the road. I have so much to handle right here, right now. I can’t plan his future beyond this month. I hope that he has huge successes and accomplishments in his future, but I can’t predict his growth, or accomplishments, or desires. And if you had asked me a few years ago if I thought he’d be doing well in high school, I wouldn’t have been able to answer that yes, he is meeting his challenges in a way I never dreamed possible. In time, he will show us just what he can and can’t do, but it’s completely unpredictable.
• listen to your stories about struggles your child is going through, as a growing teenager. I can usually relate, even a tiny bit. I appreciate these stories more than you know, and it makes me feel downright “normal.” It’s a rare feeling, so keep ‘em coming.
• answer honest, thoughtful questions about autism. It’s not a scary topic, and I don’t mind when you ask about it. Education and awareness make us all a closer community, and your interest in what it’s all about promotes understanding.
• take a hug when it’s clear that I’m going through a rough time. It’s small, it’s simple, and it’s fuel for me to keep going. Sometimes a wordless hug from a friend is all I need to plow through another stumbling block.
• listen to your funny kid stories. I love them, and I have plenty of these to share too. TJ is like our own private comedy show.
• talk about other things. My life is not autism 24/7! Sometimes it feels that way, but my life is full of other joys and struggles, just like yours.
• be connected to other autism families. I love it when a friend introduces me to another mommy warrior. I find it very fulfilling to be a support to others, and love having the additional support of new autism friends.
• make jokes about my life. I find healing in laughter. Please feel free to laugh along with me.
Lauren Swick Jordan blogs at I Don’t Have a Job.
As always keep the faith,
As Tony and I sat down to do our holiday card this year, I realized just how much traditions mean to him. I let him do the card on his own last year (hense, the blurry picture), so I thought I’d at least check his work this year. He carefully chose a picture of himself with his brothers from his graduation in May, and then added a picture of Dave and I on the back from our spring break getaway, where we renewed our vows and celebrated our 25th anniversary. He even edited it to Sepia tone, centered, and added a phrase that I quoted to him — then changed the font! I loved it!!
For five days he hounded me to update my Christmas labels and print them out… so when the cards arrived the process could begin. It only took him a couple of hours to assemble the cards. Had I known he had started, I would have written a little note on each one. So for those that received them — sorry about that! Tony is a man of few words and of mass production. So chop chop! Off they went in the mail.
Next started the tradition of decorating the house, putting up the tree and pulling out ornaments old and new, changing Beau’s collar to his “Christmas collar”, baking anything and everything, all while playing nonstop Christmas music all day – every day. All. Day. Every. Day.
I love that he (we’ve) established these traditions (routines) for him (us). We all smile and play along, as if we’re doing this for Tony. But I know in my heart of hearts that we’d being doing it anyway.
I mean, who doesn’t love holiday traditions?
A big thank you to all for sending your holiday cards this year! So many have been posting online instead, but as you can imagine, this house still loves to get them in the mail. Tony watches for them daily, practically running down our mailman when he gets home from work. He’s quite disappointed on the days that no cards arrive… frowning he’ll say, “but no cards?” and then “sad mood”.
(quick side note: another milestone when he can finally express a mood!)
And as always, the cards are displayed in our kitchen with mounds of scotch tape.
With so much to look forward to in 2015, we realize just how far we’ve come since Tony’s diagnosis in 1995. Twenty years of unknowns — denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. We’ve hit every stage of grief and we’ve hit them hard.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — even though life can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. It took me years to come to that conclusion.
Learn from our trial and errors. Use the blessings you were given and run with them. But use YOUR blessings — not somebody else’s.
Do not compare your life with anyone. No other person can walk in your shoes on a daily basis. That is why YOU were chosen for the job.
Learn to reach your child through actions, not words. Because even though they may be nonverbal, it doesn’t mean they’re not listening.
And may God bless you today and always – no matter where you are on your journey.
Wishing you many blessings full of traditions old and new this holiday season!
Keep the faith,
A mother in my online autism support group posted this yesterday. It brought me to tears. One of the sweetest videos I’ve seen.
I love everything about this — love the SpongeBob in the background, the perfect pitch of her voice, the toy she’s hugging, even the cape she’s wearing.
Taya is 14 yrs old and has autism. Everything about this is perfect. Even the almost eye contact at the end
Keep the faith,
We’re entering November and I can’t even believe that this year is nearly gone.
How did this happen?
When we last spoke, Tony had just graduated from the high school transition program and there were a lot of unknowns ahead.
Summer came and went and we did our best to keep him occupied. My niece, Elizabeth, came to help out this summer and moved in for awhile. It’s fun having a girl around! She’s great with Tony and it’s fun for him to have a “sister” in the house for a while. We managed to get Tony out on the lake a few times, which he loves.
Even Beau got to the lake
Of course, there were weekly trips to thrift stores
(notice his crazy uncles in the background)
There was an introduction to a new family member
And construction projects
We survived football season and all the pre and post game “meetings” too!
Although Tony was not able to attend the games due to the large crowds, noise, and incredibly high stress/loud cheering among family members — Ok… I’m talking about me here — I truly feel Tony followed all the games and knew exactly if we’d won or lost. He always waited up for us (which was not always a good thing, because we elevated his stress levels at times).
I was able to make every single game for the first time ever!!! And that was because of my completely unselfish and caring mother who drove up for every game to stay with Tony so I could attend all of the festivities and watch Tony’s younger brother play football. And let me tell you, I attended with gusto and had a ball! I think I’m just now getting my voice back. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mom… I will always treasure those memories.
Although there were times this past summer when I felt like I had no freedom, no flexibility, and the days would drag on, there was always something on the horizon. Something on the books. I realized what it felt like to be Tony at times — needing a plan, needing things on the calendar, needing something to look forward to.
There were behavior issues this summer too, as I watched Tony wanting to become more independant and certainly not wanting to be “watched” or “babysat”. He only ran off a couple of times (thank you, neighbors, for your watchful eyes) and we always were able to work through it after time passed. Only two broken pieces of furniture and a broken iPad this summer — I’d call that a success!
So, after a summer that, at times, felt like it was the longest one of my life, Tony finally started his work program at the end of September. We hit a few bumps in the road to getting it all set up for him, but in the end it really feels like a good fit and he’s doing great.
He has a job.
He has a routine.
He has purpose.
He’s a workin’ man and he’s so very proud.
Even though life can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be a struggle.
Pave your way. There’s always a sunrise on the horizon.
Keep the faith,
Today is the first day of summer vacation for Tony… for the last time. He’s 21 years old and has officially graduated out of the school district’s transition program. And as I sit here at the kitchen table wondering just what to do next, I can’t help but reflect. Sitting in front of me are his final IEP and Evaluation from the school district. My mind shifts back to the last day of Kindergarten over 16 years ago and my panic of what to do next…
“He’s not ready!” I remember pleading, as tears rolled down my face. “He’s not ready for the next step!” I cried as I watched him cling to a Barney video that he wanted to take from the classroom.
I’m sensing the same panic this morning.
Only he’s not the one clinging… I am.
But that’s only because it’s CHANGE. I know that. I’m well aware of change, growth, moving forward, new beginnings and everything that goes with it. And I’ve always loved change. I love to start new and reinvent. I do.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not butterflies — or that it’s always an easy thing to do.
Tony still needs constant observation and redirection of behaviors. He can show physical aggression towards others or destruction of property.
Yes. We’re well aware of that, as he’s “destructed” two flat screen TVs since March.
He needs structure, predictability, and consistent environment and schedule in his day.
We need to pre-teach all expectations, such as any outing, appointment, or visit.
Has he come a long way? Absolutely.
Does he have a long way to go? Absolutely.
Is my heart full? Absolutley.
In the powerpoint presentation from last night’s ceremony, here’s the note we contributed to our Tony:
Congratulations on graduating from County College! We are SO very proud of you and are very excited for you to start your new job and your new career. You have the ability to do things the rest of us can’t even imagine! You are talented, smart, handsome, and friendly. We will always love you and help you as you grow older and wiser.
Our family is forever,
With love, Mom & Dad, Michael & Christy, Joey, Beau, Kelly & Bella Rose”
There were tears. There were hugs of gratitude.
And there was a quick exit — chasing Tony out the door.
I guess he was ready to go.
So the moral of the story? Sometimes you have to literally run out of your comfort zone and into the next chapter. Sometimes there’s just no other way.
Keep the faith,
p.s. I’ve been absent in my writing, and for that I apologize. You’ll hear from us more as we pave our way into his future. Thank you so much for your continued support, texts, letters, and emails. It means the world to us to have such a support network and we can only hope that we are paying it forward to those families reading this who will someday face the same challenges.