This Mom Is Creating a Mega Play Place Where Kids With Autism Won’t Be Judged

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One mom is taking an important step toward filling an ongoing need in the autism community.

When Shell Jones’s son was diagnosed with autism at age 2, his mom quickly began looking for a judgment-free community where she and her family could feel bolstered and accepted, Shell Jones told Fox News. After searching high and low, Jones realized that for her and many others, no such place existed. She set out to develop the community herself.

Jones is now the driving force behind Play-Place for Autistic Children, a play area and community center currently in the works in her hometown of Sterling Heights, Michigan. There, children with autism and their families will be able to play together free of the judgment and stares they might receive elsewhere.

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Photo via the Play-Place for Autistic Children Facebook page

The play place includes a playground, but it will be much more than that — the 25,000-square foot facility will also include a computer cafe, an art studio, calming rooms, after-school programs for children with autism and their siblings and resource management forums for parents, according to the project’s website. The venue even plans to include a haircut parlor and a sensory sensitivity-friendly movie theater.

Autism Play Place
Painted mural inside the play-place via the Play-Place for Autistic Children Facebook page
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The beginning stages of the computer cafe via the Play-Place for Autistic Children Facebook page

Every amenity in this one-of-a-kind venue is designed to interweave fun with therapeutic techniques to help children with autism develop important life skills in a nurturing environment.

[My] biggest dream for my son is for him to become a productive citizen of our community,” Jones says in the play-place campaign video below. “For him to be able to effectively communicate with others – his wants, his needs, his dislikes, his desires.”

Jones told Fox News she hopes to open the facility to the public by the end of 2015, but before that can happen, she and the Sterling Heights community have a bit more fundraising to do. To learn more about this project and find out how you can contribute, visit the Play-Place for Autistic Children website and Facebook page.

Learn more about Jones’s story and her vision for this play-place in the video below.

Learn more about the play-place and the opportunities it offers:

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When a Stranger Shared Her Experience as a Special Needs Sibling

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I received a private message a few months ago from a complete stranger. Her message was warm, kind, and sincere. She has a sister with special needs and my family’s experiences have touched her, so she felt compelled to reach out. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to gain some insight from a sibling. A few things she wrote resonated with me, and I think about her words daily.

“Amazing children are on the sidelines.”

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We do know this. It wasn’t just our life that changed when we received their little brother’s diagnosis; theirs did, too. The other day I realized just how amazing our (almost) 5-year-old is when I realized how he sees his brother. We were visiting a child with severe strabismus (crossed eyes), and when we left he expressed deep concern regarding this. I explained to him that sometimes people’s brains have a hard time telling their eyes what to do and that his brother has this same problem. He looked at me as if I was speaking Russian and adamantly stated “He does not!” He doesn’t see congenital disorder of glycosylation with global developmental delay, failure to thrive, sensory processing disorder, hypotonia and strabismus. He just sees him.

We have to leave places early or change plans last minute depending on their little brother’s mood and needs. I can’t imagine how they feel when their brother is the one who is running the show time and time again. But I’ve never heard them lay the blame on him, and in fact, sitting in their car seats after a meltdown at Target, I hear “I’ll sing to you to make you feel better.”  So, yes, I do know amazing children are on the sidelines, and I promise to never forget this.

“I wouldn’t give up my experience.”

I pray this is true. I always have a small fear in the back of my mind that we’ll be resented for extended hospital stays, constant appointments and the tremendous amount of care that takes time away from them. I pray they grow up with empathetic hearts and advocate for the underdogs. I hope they’ve learned to persevere even when odds are against them. I want them to know it’s up to them to choose how they will react when life hands them something unplanned. I hope they choose to walk with their heads held high and never give up. I pray their little brother has taught them to always find joy even on the darkest day. I pray after watching their brother’s determination, they never take their abilities and experiences for granted. I hope when they reflect on their life without a “typical” brother, they see a life with a phenomenal brother.

“I just wish someone would have told me it was OK to need attention, because I felt bad for wanting it.”

I can’t tell you how happy I am that she wrote those words to me. I’m so grateful I have the chance to tell our kids they deserve our attention and we will always be here for them. Yes, their brother requires so much, but they do, too. They need love and attention just as much as he does. I want them to know they should never feel guilty for wanting time with us, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk around the block to collect things for our “idea box” or a drive to Dairy Queen. The last thing I want is for them to grow up and think they were slighted or deserved less. I’m forever indebted for this reminder.

I’m not just a special needs mother; I’m also a mother to smart, silly, amazing, typical boys. All of our boys are unique. All of our boys are special, and all of them are loved beyond measure.

I’m grateful I opened my message from a stranger.

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Follow this journey on The Special 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 to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Best Thing They Do for Their Sibling With Special Needs

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When my younger son, Saul, was first diagnosed with fragile X syndrome at 1, it became clear that parenting him would be involved. I felt especially overwhelmed because he was one of three children. I had always planned on two children but having a toddler and then twins equals three. And now one of them had a new and scary diagnosis.

I was jealous of the other special needs families who could focus on the latest therapy, diet or activity for their child while I rushed from the speech therapy group in Boston to pick up the other two at their preschool in our suburb.

I felt guilty all the time and was convinced I was short-changing Saul. I was so worried that I would never notice how his best smiles were always for his older brother and twin sister or how his early intervention sessions always went better when they were around to participate. He actually loved picking them up at their typical neighborhood preschool although it caused anxiety attacks and crying bouts for me.

When Saul is upset, all the occupational therapy techniques and soothing from me don’t do nearly as much as the private “cool guy” handshake from his big brother. My daughter is an amazingly kind and loving sister to Saul and is now becoming quite the advocate for special needs. She and her kind friends chat over after school snacks and play with Saul even though they go to different schools.

They do something I could never do. They just see him as their brother, just as a kid. My children know all the words: special needs, inclusion, small classroom, big classroom and fragile X. They hear us worry about the services, the education, the opportunities Saul is receiving or missing. Those words swirl around us always.

But my other children aren’t thinking about that when Saul runs up to them. He’s their brother, the only one they have ever had. And while we do sometimes discuss how he will always need help, I feel certain that’s not what they’re thinking about. They’re simply playing with him or fighting with him or ignoring him. Teasing, taunting, bickering. Everything that regular kids, regular families and regular folks do.

The most important thing about Saul isn’t measured by diagnoses, scientific terms, percentiles or scores. He’s their brother and a 9 year-old-kid. The very best thing they do for him is showing him, and me, and the rest of the world exactly that.

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The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a time someone went out of his or her way to make you and/or your child feel included or not included. 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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Her Parents Were Told She May Never Speak. Now, Listen to Her Sing.

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Listen to the video below and you’ll find it hard to believe that Annie Titus, from Buffalo, New York, only starting singing seven months ago.

The 26-year-old with autism started taking classes at her local community center in December and discovered she has an immense talent for music, ABC News reported. Her music teachers couldn’t believe she’d never taken lessons before.

I was astounded,” Titus’ teacher, Maria Lindsey, told the outlet. “I was convinced that she had been taking lessons for a long time.”

When she was being diagnosed with autism around age 5, Titus’ parents were told she may never learn to talk, according to the description in the video below. Now Titus not only talks, she blows people away with her singing voice.

Her newfound talent has also helped her to come out of her shell and gain more confidence.

Watch the incredible video below, of Annie Titus’ first ever performance:

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8 Apps That May Help Maintain Your Mental Health

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While some studies suggest overuse of technology can be linked to depression, apps that actually help maintain mental health exist. They’re of course not meant to substitute professional care, but they can be integrated into any mental wellness plan.

The Mighty did some research and also asked our readers on Facebook which apps they use to maintain their mental health. Here were 8 mental health-related apps that stuck out to us:

1. The Now mindfulness app [Free] 

The Now
The Now

This app sends inspirational quotes as mindfulness reminders throughout the day. According to its website, the app’s goal is to encourage users to engage in the present and achieve a constant state of mindfulness.

Recommended by Zow Grow.

2. Talkspace counseling app [Free to download, additional features for purchase]

Talkspace

This app discretely allows users to chat with licensed therapists. The free version offers limited access to therapists, but for $25 a week users can send unlimited daily messages to a therapist. Other plans available for in-app purchase include video therapy sessions for $29/every 30 minutes.

3. Bejeweled game app [Free]

Bejeweled

One reader recommended finding a silly game as a mindless distraction. Bejeweled, for example, fills the screen with colorful jewels that need to be organized into rows of three or more jewels of the same kind.

Recommended by Leah Sturdivant 

4.  Smiling Mind mediation app [Free]

Smiling Mind

This customizable meditation app offers guided mediation exercises based on age. According to their website, Smiling Mind is ideal for young people and beginners. Get an online trial or download the app here.

Recommended by Susanna’ N’ Martin Flanagan

5. Wunderlist productivity app [Free]

Wunderlist

This app allows users to make to-do lists, label lists, set deadlines and collaborate with others. Among many available list apps, Wunderlist shines for its clean interface and simple navigation. For some, making lists can help make life seem more manageable.

Recommended by Mara Katherine Meyer

6. Optimism

Optimism

Optimism is about more than staying happy. It helps users track their moods and see patterns in what triggers their negative thoughts. The app also helps users create self-care plans to manage their emotions. It’s available in mobile or desktop versions.

7. Operation Reach Out suicide prevention app [Free]

Operation Reach Out

Originally designed to prevent suicide in the military community, this app is useful for anyone experiencing depression or trying to help a friend who has suicidal thoughts. It offers 12 short videos directed towards people considering suicide and a customizable list of help resources. There are also 10 videos for people who want to offer support to others such as, “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Tough Questions.” **

8. SuperBetter mental wellness gaming app. [Free]

SuperBetter

This app helps build personal resilience and gives people the tools to creatively tackle their problems. It’s designed like a video game but was created after consulting with doctors, psychologists, scientists and medical researchers. Users invent their own “Quests” and can draw on support from others when defeating their “Bad Guys.”

Are there any we missed? Let us know which apps you use to maintain your mental health in the comments section.

**If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Lead image credit: Pexels 

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Why My Life With a Chronic Illness Is a Lot Like a Banana

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Sometimes I feel like my life with a chronic illness is a lot like a banana. I’m not talking about the superfood, power-inducing, on-the-run snack, I’m talking about a banana that’s been bruised, blackened and abandoned in the fruit bowl.

Over the years, we slowly begin to build up layers of identity around us. Career, social status, health, beauty, fitness, etc. What this presents, if you will allow me, is the image of a perfectly formed banana. However, when chronic illness hits (in my case, chronic fatigue syndrome), you and your identity might become damaged, bruised and blackened.

The first to go is your healthy self. This is when that layer of protection around you is peeled back, a layer I’d always taken for granted. You’re no longer a healthy individual. You’re in pain, and you might feel riddled with guilt and doubted by those around you, even those in the medical profession. As yet another doctor tells you they can’t find anything wrong and maybe it’s psychological, bruises begin to appear on your now unprotected body.

Then fitness, body image and self-esteem get peeled back. Maybe you’ve gained or lost weight. You’ve gone from training for marathons to being out of breath just walking from your bed to the bathroom. You could look physically sick. Or if you have an invisible illness, you look fine on the outside, but no one truly knows how awful you feel on the inside and how much makeup was required to cover the bags under your eyes. You feel beaten and defeated. Bruise.

Any social life you once had might get stripped away as you enter the land of hibernation and Netflix. Your social standing you once wrapped tightly around you is gone, along with a lot of the fun in your life. Another bruise.

Perhaps the layer of your identity tied to your career disappears. It might be hard to continue being a successful, powerful, high-achieving colleague. You’re feeling less and less of who you were. Bruise.

Maybe you can no longer shop for yourself, clean your house, cook your own dinner or live independently. You feel like all of who you once were is gone. You’re now dependent on others. Who you were and what you thought defined you have been stripped away. Bruise, bruise, bruise.

As the world moves on around you and your friends earn promotions, get married, have babies or travel the world, maybe you begin to feel even more like that last bruised banana sitting in the fruit bowl.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Despite chronic illness stripping away everything you once held dearly, you slowly begin to realize your identity hasn’t actually disappeared. Yes, it has changed, and it has shifted from what society perceives your identity should be, but it’s still there. You are you! You’re an individual who is fearfully and wonderfully made. You’re an awesome superfood with purpose and hope.

Even if you feel like a bruised banana, there’s so much beauty in who you are and so much hope. When you’re in that place, you might not be able to see it, but anyone around you who takes a moment to consider it can see it shining through. You’re an encouragement to others and an inspiration. You’re abundantly greater and stronger than how you may feel your chronic illness has changed you. So keep on fighting; you’re truly worth it.

And, really, when you think about it, it’s the bruised and blackened bananas that without a doubt make the best banana bread!

Follow this journey on Make It, Bake It, Fake It.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? 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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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