How Eminem Helped My Son With Autism Improve His Speech

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Yes, you read that right. Eminem.

So, my son Liam is on the autism spectrum. He actually spoke early, but he was super hard to understand. We were translators for years, and sometimes we still are. When he was 5, I was told that even though he spoke, he was still considered to have a speech delay.

Let me take a minute and say thank you to the two women who’ve been my son’s speech-language pathologists. He’s been in speech therapy since he was 5. People can finally understand what he’s trying to say, and he’s doing much better with context. However, he sometimes stutters and still has issues with some words. This is where we feel Eminem has helped.

I love music. We have always exposed him to all forms. (Hearing your 2-year-old sing “Jailhouse Rock” is adorable, even when it’s hard to understand what he says.) When he turned 7, he decided his favorite musician was Eminem. He loved to listen to him rap. I downloaded all the clean versions of Eminem’s songs I could find and filled Liam’s tablet with them.

Liam would listen to the same song, repeatedly, all day. If it came on in the car, he would screech until everyone was quiet so he “could rap.” Little by little, he was getting it. If you’re a fan of Eminem, you know how fast that man can speak. He also speaks very clearly, and you can tell what he’s actually saying. This was great for my son.

While Liam can’t keep up with all his songs, there have been a select few he has nailed. Of course, they are his favorites, and I really couldn’t count how many times he’s listened to them, practiced them and rehearsed them.

We went out on an errand today, and Liam asked for “his” Eminem. I obliged. It wasn’t long before my partner Pita and I were tuning out Eminem so we could hear our son singing. He nailed it. Every word. (Except for the curse words — those are spun out.)

To hear a boy who was once so hard to understand speak so clearly, so fluently and with such confidence — well, it warmed my heart. It warmed Pita’s, too. I commented quietly on how much Eminem’s music has helped him, and he agreed.

When listening to “Slim Shady” 15 years ago, I never would have thought my future son would be such a huge fan. I also never thought that Eminem would be helping my son to speak better. Funny how life works.

Therapies come in many different forms. Something that may seem like a kid just listening to music could be a child learning to speak better.

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Liam rapping along with Eminem in the backseat of the car.

(DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way endorsing that Eminem will help your child speak better. I am merely relating our experience.)

Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam.

Feature photo of Eminem from Eminem’s Facebook page.

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An Open Letter to Parents With Children With Cerebral Palsy

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I don’t know what it’s like to have a child with cerebral palsy (CP), and I don’t know what it feels like when you are told the diagnosis for the first time. However, I think we can all benefit from talking about the hard things — the things we would rather keep to ourselves in fear that the other person might not understand. Be that as a parent to their child or a person with CP to their parent.

Throughout the years I’ve battled with my own emotions and thoughts about having CP. I somehow managed to get through it all and end up as a relatively happy person on the other end, even though some parts of the struggle never end. When talking to my own parents and other parents, I gained a deeper appreciation of all the challenges they faced. Out of these conversations, there seems to be three different categories to group these difficult feelings and thoughts into: guilt, loss and regret.

Guilt

Guilt relating to CP can mean a few different things. It could be that you as a parent feel you’re to blame for your child ending up with CP and that it’s somehow your fault. Maybe you didn’t do enough? What if you only had eaten healthier? Maybe you were too stressed during pregnancy? Well, let you tell you right now, it’s not your fault. Cerebral palsy isn’t “a hereditary condition,” according to CerebralPalsy.org, and its causes are difficult to ascertain exactly. Your child loves you as the ones who care for them deeper than anyone else. They don’t blame you for CP and neither should you.

Guilt can come creeping in other forms as well. Maybe you feel bad for not being there as much as you could for your child, or maybe you feel you are overprotecting them or sheltering them too much? As someone with CP, I can say I have felt overprotected or sheltered at times. And sure, it may have led to some outbursts of anger or frustration, especially in my teens. Do I hold any sort of grudge or feeling of resentment toward my parents today for this? Not at all.

I’m not a parent myself so I can’t speak from experience, but it seems from my viewpoint that parents of kids with CP balance on a constant tightrope. On one side, they want to grant their child freedom and independence, so that they won’t feel so isolated or dependent on you as a parent. On the other side, you know the reality of the world out there: the bullies, the judgment of others and the mental hardships they may have to endure when they realize their dream may be stopped because of CP.

I think what you have to consider when facing all these difficult situations is this: Your child loves you, admires you and looks to you for guidance, even if they don’t tell you straight up. They know you’re there for them if things get really tough. Life didn’t prepare you for the challenge of having a child with cerebral palsy. And considering that both the parent and child are thrown into it head first with no instruction manual, you’re doing pretty awesome just getting through the day.

Loss and Regret

I decided to group these two together because they’re pretty closely related. If you feel loss as a parent because of CP, chances are regret follows closely behind. I believe it’s completely normal for you to feel loss as a parent and to feel loss that your son or daughter won’t have the life of an able-bodied child. I believe it’s also normal for you to feel regret about all the things in daily life your child may miss out on as a result of CP. This doesn’t make you a bad parent. Nor does it make you selfish.

As someone with CP, I’ve felt loss and regret, too, because of CP. I felt loss when I realized I had to give up my dream as a kid to become a professional soccer player, and I’ve felt both feelings when I couldn’t participate in something with my friends or felt like an outsider. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate something that has always been there as a part of CP, and that is my initial perspective on life.

Life with CP is all I know and all I will know. This has some really good benefits. It means I won’t always feel the need or desire to be closer to “normal,” simply because I have no idea what it means not to have CP. I can’t really imagine it. This can create some conflicts between the person with CP and their loved ones, too. Whereas the parents may want to push their child to exercise more, stretch more or try harder to walk or walk better, the person with CP may be content with their functional level as it is and may not see the point.

We both have a responsibility here. The parent should try to understand we don’t necessarily want to be just like an able-bodied person. Some may, but that may lead to more harm than good. You can’t change CP; you can’t cure it, at least not right now. And because of that, if you constantly want something you can’t have, and you’re constantly hating what you have and what you are, you’re going to be pretty miserable. Therefore, I would advise you to help your child accept their CP rather than fight it. It’s not your enemy, nor is it theirs — it’s a part of them.

As people with CP, we also have to understand that even if we don’t always see the point in stretching or exercises, or even surgeries, we should try to think of the fact that we want to stay happy in the future. The work you do now can be really important later down the road. I used to hate this kind of reasoning, and I’m not expecting you to like it either, so if that doesn’t motivate you, try to find smaller, more achievable goals of improvement you can accomplish in a shorter time period.

Also, remember that because your parents want you to exercise more, or walk better or what have you, it doesn’t mean they think you aren’t good enough; you are, and it’s not about that. They view life from their perspective, and what they have been able to do and enjoy in life. They just want you to feel many of the joys in life that they have, because they love you, not because they don’t think you’re good enough.

It is my hope that we can continue to learn from each other and grow together. That way, we can heal each other, so I hope you will accept and embrace this open letter as my contribution toward that.

A version of this post originally appeared on CPExperience.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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Why I Loved It When a Girl Yelled at My Son With Down Syndrome

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There are some people who are just extra special and have “the gift.” I’m not one of them, at least not how I’m describing it.

Today, we had an 8-year-old friend of our son’s over. In the last two years, Wil hasn’t been invited to a birthday party or a sleepover, yet I know many kids his age are frequently enjoying these activities.

I understand. I get it. I don’t say this to make anyone reading this feel guilty. It’s simply our current reality.

Just the other day, I watched Wil play ball with a group of typically developing boys. They fully included him and encouraged him and were very patient with his slower reaction times in catching and throwing the ball. Wil has great hand-eye coordination and athletic ability, considering his low muscle tone and cognitive delays, but even so, among most typical second graders, the gap in abilities is clear. When Wil grew tired of the game and walked off on his own volition, I could see the sense of relief in the boys’ faces. They could again play at their own faster-paced level. Though each of the boys varied in ability in their very own way, the difference was not so great as with their friend with Down syndrome.

You may say, well, that’s a good lesson in patience and acceptance for those boys, and yes, I would agree it is. But, really, they’re 8 year olds. They just want to play. Didn’t you? I know I did.

So today, when Wil’s 8-year-old friend, Lila, who asked for this play date with him, came over, I was just as thrilled as Wil. She was not cajoled by her mother out of the act of kindness or charity. She simply — out of her own will like most typical 8-year-old kids — asked for a play date with her friend she enjoys spending time with.

I was also a little nervous. When she came over before, Wil’s two older sisters were here. This little girl is smart and definitely not lacking in confidence. She can easily hold her own with tight twin girls who are two years her senior. When you are 8, that two-year difference is a big deal, but not for her. When Wil had his stubborn moments, he could have a break while she played with his sisters.

Not today.

Wil’s sisters were with their Grandma and Grandpa Taylor on a fun swimming and boating day with another 10-year-old friend an hour away.

The play date started off well with a new introduction to toys then lunch. That part is easy for just about anyone. But Wil doesn’t speak on the same level as Lila does, and his favorite television shows are “Dora the Explorer” and “Doc McStuffins.” Kid stuff. Fine by her, we’ll just move on to something that doesn’t need an age limit. Let’s play Wil’s drums!

Boom, bang, cling! (Oh, yeah, the cymbals, too). Out came the recorder and whatever else I had in that music box. It was the happiest I’ve been as a mother of three in the midst of ear-shattering noise.

Then it was off to the hose and the slide that goes into the little pool. Splashing, spraying, laughing and squealing. Backyard hose fun is always equal playing ground. That is, until Wil sat at the top of the ladder and wouldn’t budge.

I have seen similar instances of this at the park. Wil has very little control over his environment. Everything and everyone moves so much faster than he does. So what would you do if you felt you had little control of your surroundings? If you could sit at the top of the slide and make everyone wait when they’re usually moving at warp speed ahead of you, wouldn’t you delight in making them wait? Just a little bit? So at the top of the slide, Wil sat, unbudging.

At the park, I see two types of reactions. Kids either “mother” and sweet talk Wil or they just wait until I come over and take care of the situation. Oh, but not this girl. This girl has “the gift.”

“Go down the slide, Wil!” She said it loudly and with authority. He gave her a look, saw that she meant it and down he went. I love it! She called his bluff!

You see, there is this delicate balance between being mean, being an enabler and understanding when someone is simply being a stinker.

She saw stinker and she called it — frank and to the point. The next moment, they were back to laughing and spraying each other with the hose.

It seems so simple and so typical from the outside looking in. But I’m on the inside now, and Wil is just not treated in that typical way, because, well, in some ways, he’s not typical, and people just don’t know what to do with that. So when I see something like this, I see it for the gift it is.

I’ve heard it said that everyone should have a child with special needs. And now I know exactly what they were talking about. I likely would never have appreciated a simple ride down the slide so completely or would have been fulfilled by something as common as a play date. The simple is just not so simple anymore. And I’m thankful for that realization.

I wasn’t born with “the gift.” And I think that is exactly why I believe I have been gifted with Wil. I would have missed so very much without him.

Christie Taylor the mighty.1-001

Follow this journey on Autobiographical Reflections.

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What I Want You to Know About My Misunderstood Autism

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My son, Philip, is 12 years old and has nonverbal autism. He has been communicating through spelling on a letterboard and typing for three years. We credit Soma Mukhopadhyay’s technique Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) for developing his skills to allow his voice to be heard. Before Philip could communicate, I had no idea what my son thought or felt. I had made many wrong assumptions about what he understood and needed. Through his blog, Philip has been educating me and his readers by answering their questions and explaining his insider viewpoints about autism and the world as he sees it.

In My Misunderstood Autism

I am Philip. I believe God made me this way. When I was younger, no one appreciated me being autistic. I was seen by my deficits, not as a person. It made me feel so lost. It was the worst. I am so happy I am no longer there. I thank God and Soma for getting me out of my silent prison. Being thought of as “retarded” and “unteachable” is like being locked away in solitary confinement, except people are all around me thinking I am not there.

I talked with a mouth which did not say what I wanted to say. Meaningful words stayed behind in my mind. How I wanted to get them out. People assumed I only thought what I said. I was not in control of my body either. I made many mistakes on my school drills. I felt like I had amounted to a pet to train through ABA (applied behavioral analysis). It wasn’t the right fit for me. Instead, the solution accepted by my friends and me is acceptance of autism as another way of being. Then good education and a reliable means to communicate must be given. Addressing anxiety and brain-body disconnect is also important.

Each day I am learning as a neurotypical learns. I can understand everything people say. I mean to be able to do more to show people I am smart. Autism can really make it hard to control your body. In my case, I can look like I don’t care or I can’t comprehend. I think many autistics are underestimated like I was. I am learning some easier ways to good communication. Pointing to letters is easier than speaking. No method has helped me more than Rapid Prompting Method (RPM). I was able to show I could learn. I am advocating for regular education with accommodations such as using iPads and letterboards in the classroom.

I think many autistics invite mental challenges. Good instruction about the world prepares us to choose an interesting life for ourselves. I prefer learning to what I consider childish ABA activities. I advise being very patient with us doing academics. We can understand what you teach, but our bodies might betray us. Most of the time I cannot be independent in my work because my body gets distracted so easily. I believe if you assume competence, we will do better. Meaningful pieces of good advice can prepare us to enter the learning world with a good attitude toward others. I can very much feel freer to hear you and respond if you care and are persistent.

I search among people a quality of lots of motivation to get to know me. My success comes from a lot of Mom persisting I work every day. A quest of mine is getting parents and teachers to practice RPM more.

Autistics like me need believers in us. We need you to accept our challenges and help us work through them.

Follow this journey on Faith, Hope, and Love…With Autism.

Spread the Word to End the Word! You can head here to pledge to stop using the R-word. It’s a step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

Editor’s note: This story represents one person’s experience and opinions.

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How My Dyslexia Set in Motion All the Greatest Things in My Life

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It’s serendipitous that my passion for science started in third grade, although it didn’t seem like at the time. I hated third grade. It was the year the teasing began. The year I spent every night crying. The year I wish I could forget.

The biggest, meanest bully in the whole school happened to be in my class. He was my teacher. He picked on me and made fun of me the entire year. I was diagnosed early on with a very obvious and often debilitating case of dyslexia, which affected me severely in English and mathematics. This made me a very easy target for my horrible and disgruntled teacher. To make matters worse, the whole class followed his lead. Because of my dyslexia, I was forced to watch like an outsider while kids played, learned math and read books. I found myself isolated, without friends and falling further behind every day. Each school experience was wrought with heartache and was permanently scarred into my memory. There is not a year of my life I remember more vividly than third grade.

My teacher was eventually fired. He shoved a little boy into a bookshelf and was let go with just weeks left in the school year. It was toward the end of his time at my school that our class had a guest speaker come in and do a physics demonstration. It blew my little mind. Nothing he did was new. I had seen pulleys and ramps and levers. I already knew what they did. What I didn’t know was how they did it. The demonstration took something so common and boring and made me see it in an entirely new way. All of a sudden, I became aware of the invisible forces of the universe.

As the years went on, my life improved socially. But I could never get caught up academically from the year I lost in third grade. I continued to struggle in school. In an attempt to help me achieve “attainable” goals, my educators suppressed and discouraged my passion for science. Instead I was always steered in the direction of careers that I “would be more capable of achieving,” but unfortunately was less interested in. Despite my resistance and best efforts, I couldn’t overcome who my educators thought I was. My high school math teacher told me I was unteachable. My English teacher said extra tutoring would be a waste of both our times and the guidance counselor advised me against taking any courses that were too challenging.

Through immensely hard work, I got into university and studied international affairs. But as much as I enjoyed my program, I still couldn’t forget third grade and couldn’t forget science. As the final weeks of university approached, Newton’s third law of motion weighed heavily on my mind. So, with my liberal arts degree in hand and absolutely no qualifications, I began applying to as many science-related jobs as I could. I relied on my belief in Newton’s third law of motion and the knowledge that it would help me.

I’ve always remembered the third law. If you asked me to tell you the first and second laws, I couldn’t. But that third law…it struck a cord with me. I thought often of it when life got tough. It tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Anyone who has observed the kickback of a gun or seen footage of a rocket launching to space knows that this is true. It’s a simple concept but an important one.

I quickly came to believe that Newton’s third law of motion had real-life implications outside of the context of physics. Even in the events of day-to-day life we experience the equal and opposite reaction. For example, good often emerges from bad and we triumph over struggle. For me, Newton’s third law of motion meant that while I never got to pursue my academic dreams, I was able to enter a versatile program where I would share all my classes with a boy who would become my husband. Had I been able to pursue my dream to work for NASA, I would have missed the love of my life.

As the forces of my life were pushing me away from science, there was a powerful counter-force pushing me to try more things, do more things and, therefore, find more opportunities. This led me to my career in surgical devices, which I love. It allowed me to spend every day in an operating room engrossed in science, but in a way that was never sabotaged by my dyslexia. Most importantly, the opposing forces of Newton’s third law of motion meant that all my pain and struggle to find meaning in a life that robbed me of my passion led me to my most exciting, most meaningful and most rewarding ambition of all…being a mom. My struggles were great, but they were not the only forces in play. The counter forces were there, too, and they gave me my life, my career, my love and my boys. In this way, dyslexia may just be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. My disability set in motion all the greatest things in my life, and I’m grateful for it.

So my sweet boys, please absorb Newton’s third law of motion and think about it as you go through your journey with dystonia and things get hard. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. All that pain you feel in your legs sucks. But from this will come tremendous strength and perseverance. This will be a huge asset as you mature into men. When you feel solitude and isolation from the world around you, at home you have a whole bunch of people just like you. When you feel misunderstood, you are gaining empathy and compassion for those around you. When you feel singled out, you are gaining a strong sense of self. Where you find pain, you will learn to find humor. When you feel fear, you will learn the power of bravery. When you feel overwhelmed, your mom and dad will be here for you and you will feel love, too.

For all the challenges you will face, remember good is happening, too. I need you to remember to open your eyes and see the blessings happening during these challenging times. See the compassion, the love and the support. It’s all around you and it’s everywhere. It’s easy to lose track of it when we are feeling our worst. The good can hide lurking in the dark waiting for you to find it. So please, get up and look for it. Find a way to see the powerful positive forces blessing your life, pushing back against all that seems impossible to face. Know that the stronger your adversity, the stronger the reaction is on the other side. Good comes from the even the most unfortunate of circumstances. So when it seems no good is in sight, think of this third law and get up and find the equal and opposite reaction.

September is Dystonia Awareness Month. To learn more about this neurological movement disorder, contact the Dystonia Medical Research FoundationTo sign the White House petition to have September formally recognized as Dystonia Awareness month, click here

Follow this journey on Raising Dystonia.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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This Kid’s Wheelchair Costumes Bring Dress Up to a Whole New Level

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This is a kid who knows how to do costumes right.

Harrison, 7, from Adelaide, Australia, has spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a genetic condition which affects the nerves that control muscle movement, according to Muscular Dystrophy Australia.

Harrison was diagnosed when he was 16 months old, and he was able to walk with a walking frame until he was about 5, his mother Colleen ONeill told Novita Children’s Services, a South Australian community-based children’s service organization Harrison is involved with. Because of the degenerative nature of his condition, Harrison has been using a powered wheelchair for the past two years.

Last year Harrison became interested in “Star Wars.” His father made him an R2D2 costume for the Book Week Parade, which is an event at Harrison’s school where kids dress up as their favorite characters from books or movies.

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This year, Harrison’s father decided to make a costume from the movie “How To Train Your Dragon.” He made Harrison’s wheelchair into the character of Toothless the dragon and Harrison dressed up as Hiccup, Toothless’s friend.

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Harrison’s dad found the instructions to make these costumes online and enlarged the design. Then he pasted it on cardboard, cut it out and joined it all together on Harrison’s wheelchair.

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Harrison is now known for his creative costumes at his school, Mitcham Primary.

He was the toast of the school the last 2 years,” ONeill told Novita Children’s Services. “The kids and teachers love his costumes and he is very proud to show them off. The smile on his face is priceless.”

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