The Mom Who Uses Pennies and Old Military Vests to Help Kids With Autism

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When John Lyons turned 3 years old, he suddenly became withdrawn and far less talkative, according to The Stir. Soon after he stopped speaking entirely, John was diagnosed with autism.

John struggled to pay attention in his sign language classes following the diagnosis. To help provide her son with a sense of security and hopefully improve his progress in school, Crystal Lyons, John’s mom, began looking for a weighted support vest, a common tactic for soothing children with autism. After learning the vests were expensive and not covered by insurance, she devised her own solution — a vest made from one of John’s dad’s old military vests, weighed down with pennies. When John began wearing the vest, his performance in school improved — within a month, he learned 50 new signs and even began talking again.

Lyons decided to make sure no child in need of a weighted vest should ever go without one. She started Vests for Visionaries, an organization based in Columbia, South Carolina, that makes vests out of military uniforms and sends them to families free of charge. Lyons began making the vests out of her husband’s numerous old uniforms, but now she receives donated military vests from all over the country.

Since the program was founded in the fall of 2014, more than 100 children with autism around the country have received a repurposed military vest, The Stir reported.

I just want people to know not to give up after diagnosis,” Lyons told The Huffington Post, “and to know there is help and there are people willing to help if you just let them know.”

Learn more about Lyons’ inspired project in the video below.

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What It’s Like to Know I Shouldn’t Be Alive

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“Before my accident”… “since my accident.” I find myself saying these words all the time. Though I’d rather not continue to look at my life that way, the truth is that the “accident” has so profoundly changed me and the way I look at the world that I can’t not see it as a sort of rebirth. The following is an essay I recently wrote for a scholarship application about challenges I’ve had and what I learned from them. I think it is fitting for the third anniversary since my accident.

It is no surprise that the biggest challenge in my life has been my accident and becoming paraplegic. I have always been an active person and lover of the outdoors. In June of 2011, I was finishing up my physical therapy school applications and traveling to Colorado to enjoy my last summer of freedom before graduate school.

In Taylor Canyon, where I fell.

On my second day there, I fell almost 300 feet in a tragic rock climbing accident.

I broke my ankles, femur, pelvis, and back in two places, leaving me paralyzed at T6. I had 6 surgeries and spent three and a half months in the hospital.

My surgeon said that this had been a record-breaking fall and I had survived the unsurvivable.

This knowledge helped me to remain largely positive after the accident. While still in the hospital, I was researching “extreme wheelchair sports.” Knowing I shouldn’t be alive, I have tremendous gratitude for what I see as an extension of my life.

From the moment I woke up in the hospital, everything was new and to be savored, like the bites of non-hospital food and the sun on my face. I have learned that even in moments when you are overwhelmed or unhappy, you can focus on these little things and feel gratitude for the miracle of being alive.

Even with this positivity, it has been a difficult transition, especially getting out of the hospital and back to normal life. Reality sets in that your life is forever changed, and you think that maybe some of the things you dreamed of will never happen. However, I have learned to challenge thoughts of “I can’t” and try anyway.

For example, six months after my accident I started sit skiing. It took at least 40 lessons over two winters to learn to be an independent monoskier. This is longer than I have tried and failed at anything! Before my accident, I would have just given up. But I knew the freedom of getting out of my chair and flying through nature again on a sit-ski was something my soul needed, and I continued. This past winter, I enjoyed an entire ski season of independent monoskiing, and it was the adventure and the therapy I knew it would be.

Before my accident, I had been plagued with concerns about my weight and appearance. It took being broken to realize how perfectly healthy and beautiful I had been! However, I could easily continue to feel shame about my new body. I constantly try to extend this awakened knowledge to my present body, knowing that I am perfect and beautiful even as I am. Getting down on yourself is a waste of precious energy.

After my accident, I decided to continue to pursue my dream of becoming a physical therapist. After all, I thought that the hardest part of my life was behind me and I had so much insight to offer to rehabilitating patients. I applied to two schools in places that I could see myself living. When I got interviews at both, I was so happy that the schools could also see what a unique asset I would be! But I got rejected from both, one of them stating that it was due to my disability and inability to do essential functions of the job.

I was distraught. Could it be that this accident had taken away from me my dream of becoming a physical therapist, a goal I had been working toward for years? I decided that physical therapy was indeed my dream and that I would not be defeated. The following year, I applied to 12 schools all over the country. I interviewed in New York, California and Colorado. One by one the rejections came back, again. What was going to become of me?

Then one evening, I received a call from the personal number of the director of the PT program at the University of Puget Sound. “We will never accept you into our PT program because of your disability,” she said. But I sensed hope in her voice, an opportunity. “We would be willing to transfer your application over to the Occupational Therapy program, who sees no limitations for you.” I suddenly saw myself in a career that recognized me as an asset, where I could apply my skills, knowledge, and experience in unlimited ways. Finally, I was accepted into the Occupational Therapy program at the University of Puget Sound!

I think one of the hardest challenges in life is knowing when to fight for what you want, and when to relax and go with the flow of where life is taking you. This is a lesson I have had to learn through the process of being injured and its repercussions.

Living in a wheelchair in Bend, Oregon and going to occupational therapy school is something I never saw for myself. However, I truly believe that my life is becoming better and better all the time, and I am happy! Without this experience, I would have never been introduced to the incredible world of adaptive sports and all of the amazing people that inhabit it, athletes and able-bodied assistants alike.

I would have never known how kind other people can be or strong I am. I am putting my trust in life to challenge me, help me grow and reward me with awesome experiences, because that is what I have known so far.

This post originally appeared on Danielle Lancelot Watson’s blog.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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What Harry Potter Had to Do With My Recovery From an Eating Disorder

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In 2010, I went to Overeater’s Anonymous (Anorexia/Bulimia) meeting in New York City. It was in a large room — fluorescent lighting, bare walls, uncomfortable plastic chairs arranged in a circle. There were more than 30 people in the room.

And as we went around and shared, “recovered” anorexics and bulimics spoke about their struggles, their relapses, and the fact that, even in recovery, this horrible disease would plague them every day for the rest of their lives.

I left and called my mom, hysterical.

If this was my fate — poor lighting, uncomfortable chairs, and daily struggle — then f*ck it. Count me out.

Recovery felt like a lot of work for nothing. Why get better if nothing gets better?

I was in an unfortunate state of mind when I went to that OA meeting so many years ago. I was deep in the thick of my depression, and I was very much locked in a dangerous embrace with ED as we danced toward the abyss…

But after I left NYC, got my job at Apple, and slowly began the long road toward discovery, things shifted, and I realized that, while I may always bear the scar from this emotional wound, a scar that sometimes causes a hot flash of pain when the right trigger is hit… this doesn’t make me broken.

You know what it makes me?

THE BOY WHO LIVED. 

Yes, I’m about to reveal my inner nerd big time, but stay with me here:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably at least remotely familiar with Harry Potter, and his unmistakable scar that sits right in the middle of his forehead.

This scar is a reminder that Harry lived when he should have died. It is a scar that ties him to the evil that would have killed him. It is a scar that burns and gives him flashes of crippling pain when the evil begins to flare up once again.

It is healed, and it is not healed. He is free from his would-be killer, and yet he is still at its mercy. He lives a good life, but it is not without its reminder of pain.

Harry Potter is not a victim; he is a hero. He is a hero who overcomes not because he has no pain, but in spite of it. He is the boy who lived — and lived, and lived. How many times should he have been killed in the course of that series? How many times did Voldemort try to take him out?

And yet. He lived.

And so did you.

Eating disorders are deadly. 60 to 70 percent of anorexics relapse. Between 5 and 20 percent might die because of complications relating to anorexia.

But you lived. You’re still living. Yeah, you have a scar, and yeah, it hurts sometimes. There are days when the blinding white pain of weight restoration overtakes you, and you can barely breathe. There are days when all you want to do is purge (exercise or otherwise), when the compulsion to overeat or restrict is the only thing you can think about. There are days when the weight of having to be okay is so heavy that you feel like it may crush your bones.

But you lived.

You have been poisoned. You have been cursed.

But you lived.

How f*cking miraculous is that?

You are a triumph. A miracle. Your scar is just a reminder of that miracle. You’ve beaten death, even if you don’t think you ever really got that close. The pain is a blessing, a reminder that we’re all living on borrowed time.

It is horrible that you have to hurt. It is unfair that you will always bear this scar.

But.

It means that you are the hero of the story. It means that you don’t have to give in to the evil. It means that you are the boy who lived.

So go live.

This post originally appeared on In My Skinny Genes.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Photo source: Harry Potter Wiki

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My Brother’s Drawings Say the Words That He Can’t

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My twin brother, Daniel, has been drawing for as long as I can remember. It all started with logos from television shows and his favorite restaurants when he was a child. Give him a pen and a piece of paper and he will create a masterpiece within a few minutes. His drawings are incredible — jaws literally drop when others see his work.

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What a lot of people don’t know about Daniel’s artwork is that it always has some sort of strong emotion of his attached to it. Some of the moods behind his drawings are extremely twisted, silly, or scary, while others are genuine, loving, and pure. Dan does speak, but he doesn’t always know how to use his words appropriately. He is now 23 years old and the more he has grown up, the more he’s used his drawings to communicate the feelings that he couldn’t verbally put forward to my family and others around him.

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A lot of the time, his drawings feature a character from a television show that he’s in the phase of watching at that moment. Those television characters, as well as the messages he places in his drawings, are often metaphors for the situation that he is dealing with or the mood that he is currently feeling. For example, when he feels that my mother is being a little too protective or controlling him more than he would like, he calls her a puppeteer and then he then draws himself as a puppet with a big open mouth and some strings.

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Other times, Dan will actually draw the person that made him feel a certain way. The person that looks angry in his drawings is the person that made him feel upset and the person that looks happy is the one that may have made a fantastic impression on him.

When my father annoys Daniel, he draws him with a red face, a big mouth and steam coming from his head. One time, I was watching the television and Dan came up, took the remote, and changed the channel. I then said, “Hey! I was watching that!” Right after that incident, Daniel drew a picture of me with a giant mouth, pointy eyebrows, and a speech bubble that contained what I had said to him.

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It’s been  fascinating to see that my brother uses his drawings not only as his catharsis, but to also show my family what we have done to put him in his current state of frustration, happiness, confusion, or amusement. He recently has shown interest in having my family draw little pictures of how we feel back to him during an argument. My parents and I usually review the pictures the next day or so (with Daniel) and we all just find enlightenment, as well as humor, in what he has drawn. He finds his own pictures to be funny to look at after his serious situations have had time to blow over.

I feel blessed that my brother has found a way to express his feelings and desires to us when he has a difficult time communicating that to us verbally.

The Mighty wants to read more stories about siblings, whether it’s your favorite memory or a tough moment that taught you something. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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To the Person on the Other Side of the Table in Our Son’s Placement Meeting

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The tension in the room was palpable. We both came to the table with a chip on our shoulder — You because I was questioning too much, and Me because I didn’t like your answers.

The problem is that we come from different sides of the track, you and I. You’re all about the purse strings, while I’m all about the heart strings. You see my son as a burden while I see him as a blessing. You see him as an adult who’s a fiscal drain on your limited funds while I see him as my baby boy who’s as deserving as the next. You’re all about the quantity while I’m all about the quality.

You see me as irrational while I see you as un-emotional. You feel I’m asking for too much, that my expectations are too lofty. You try to convince me we should be happy with the minimum. You make me feel greedy for wanting it all for my son. You see me as stubborn. You also see that you will never convince me that he’s not deserving of his own room in his current community where we can be active participants in his life. He’s deserving of all of it! Why can’t he be afforded the same opportunities as anyone else?

If only we could trade glasses for even a day. If you could see my son the way I do then you would fight. You would do everything you could to ensure he has a safe and happy environment. You would understand my fears for his uncertain future. You would do whatever it takes.

I’m not sure we will ever see eye to eye, but that’s why I’m glad you met us. You need to see that there are faces behind the names that come across your desk. It’s easy to say no to a piece of paper, but when you have a living, breathing family in front of you it has to touch you. I pray we touched you in some way.

I’m resilient. You saw me cry, but don’t confuse that with weakness. I’m battered and bruised after our meeting, but I’m not down and out. We’ve faced  greater adversaries than you, and some how, some way we always emerge victorious.

So excuse me while I pick myself up, brush myself off and figure out a way — there’s always a way.

Oh, and give me back my glasses, I can’t see a thing through yours.

This post originally appeared on Monkey Business.

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When We Realized Why My Sister Understands My Son With Autism So Well

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I am the oldest of three sisters. One sister is two years younger than I am, and one is five years younger. I was born a social rule follower, always working towards being an appreciated member of the team. Middle Sis was… different. As a baby, she always wanted to be held by our mom, and would cry and fret if she was set down. Others couldn’t hold her, it had to be Mom. No one could kiss her except Mom.

As she grew older, she was still… different. She would often be in her own world, not hearing her name when called, and you would have to get in her line of sight to gain her attention. She was not motivated to be part of the family team, to follow the rules like I did. She just did her own thing. It was very confusing for me as a child.

I once drew in black pen on our concrete patio. My consequence was to clean it up, and after scrubbing it off I never drew on anything I wasn’t supposed to ever again. Middle Sis preferred crayon as her artistic media, and walls as her canvas. All the forced scrubbing in the world did not deter her.

When she crayoned on the neighbor’s garage (orange circles on white stucco) the whole family helped clean it. I was 5 and furious. What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she learn?

It wasn’t that she wasn’t smart. When I entered elementary school and started learning to read, I came home and taught her. She was reading along with me at 3. She had a retentive memory especially for comedy, and could be counted on to quote the perfect line at the perfect time for maximum hilarity.

As we grew up, I watched her mature, how she struggled in some ways and triumphed in others. I grew to appreciate the full complexity of her and all her facets, the ones I understood and the ones I didn’t. She became one of my best friends.

She has been extremely supportive on our journey with my son, the Navigator, offering me a shoulder when needed, timely words of wisdom, and important new perspectives. She has also been an unexpected support to the Navigator, more than just the loving aunt.

As we learned more about the Navigator’s autism diagnosis and what it meant for the Navigator, she began to identify similar characteristics in herself and I began to see similar characteristics in him that I had seen in my childhood. After reading blog articles, she would tell me that she recognized certain behaviors or feelings that I described in the Navigator.

And he adores her. She knows exactly what to say to him at exactly the right time. She insists that he call her “Aunt Genius” and he thinks it is the funniest thing ever. It has become a wonderful thing when he does something and he doesn’t quite understand why he did it. “Don’t worry about it,” I will say. “Aunt Genius used to do that when she was a kid, too.” He smiles and is obviously reassured. If someone as cool as Aunt Genius does it, it can’t be that bad.

I believe that one of the reasons we are able to meet the Navigator’s needs as well as we do is because I already had experience unconditionally loving a person who was… different. What confused me as a child I now celebrate, which makes it that much easier to celebrate the same in the Navigator.

I am doubly blessed.

This post originally appeared on Autism-Mom.

The Mighty wants to read more stories about siblings, whether it’s your favorite memory or a tough moment that taught you something. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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