How 2 Words From a Stranger Took Away My Fears About Our Son’s Future

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It wasn’t much to say, but there he went and said it. “First steps.”

He looked about in his late 60s  — one tanned guy full of vitality, pausing from his bicycle jaunt around the beautiful South Devon seafront. We were in the middle of our end of the summer vacation, strolling along, soaking up the last rays of sunshine before the rainy season closed in. Our son, Rukai, had one hand in mine, one in my husband’s and two feet chasing each other’s shadows down the pavement in that gangly, stompy, slightly stiff-legged way all new walkers do.

Toddle, toddle. Pause. Look at shoes. Look up at me, grinning. At Dad, grinning. Toddle, toddle.

We’d been observing the boats moored in the harbor and turned to find him there — an apparition of hope perched on two wheels, uttering those two magic words:

“First steps.”

A huge smile. We all smiled back. But Rukai had more important things to do than to engage in conversation. No time, Mama. I’m practicing. He tugged us back towards the path.

Toddle, toddle.

Sweet Rukai had been missing during the past few days and was substituted by his secret ornery persona we lovingly call Captain Crabbo. He wouldn’t eat what we gave him. He didn’t want to be in the house or leave it. He didn’t want to be in the car or the swimming pool. I wasn’t allowed to dress him or help him get dressed. I couldn’t brush his teeth, peel a banana the right way, sing along with anything on TV or even breathe to his satisfaction. Yet we persevered.

With Down syndrome and its delay, the terrible twos can become an entirely new adventure. He’s going on 4. This is a long road.

All kids go through terrible twos, but for us, the longevity of this developmental stage brings with it a slew of questions: What if he has a sensory disorder? Why doesn’t he talk yet? How can I get him to control that spoon better?

For days, the sense of being overwhelmed quietly threatened like black boiling clouds that precede a hurricane. It’s the big fear. The great unknown. Ye olde “what if.”

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But not today. No what if. Just what is. One older man on a bike grinning at a toddler toddling. Two male creatures on either end of the life cycle grooving in the sunshine. The timing of this encounter was impeccable.

We bid farewell to the bicycle guy, looked back at each other and smiled. Yes, these days are new. But aren’t they all?

He is 3. These are indeed first steps. There will be seconds. Twentieths. They will all come one after the other, toppling like dominos. That happy click-clacking reminds us that in order to get there we always have to start from somewhere. Tip the first block and every one thereafter will fall into its place. Still, we can’t predict precisely what that place will be. Life’s mystery.

“First steps.”

Easy does it. Every new experience we take as it comes, one foot in front of the other. Our first steps as a family. Our first steps on this unknown journey.

We walk together along the sunny seafront that keeps those crashing waves at bay.

Follow this journey on Down in Front, Please.

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Halloween Isn’t About the Candy for My Son With Autism

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We’re counting down the days until Halloween at our house. My 14-year-old son, Tate, has autism, and he’s been texting me reminders about Halloween for months. Tate tells me often that Halloween is his favorite holiday. If someone told me nine or 10 years ago that would someday be true, I’d have been sure they were wrong.

Although Tate did enjoy our annual trip to the pumpkin patch, that was one of the only things he liked about Halloween. When he was small, he was terrified of the costumes hanging on racks at the stores. On Halloween, Tate’s dad took his siblings trick-or-treating while we stayed home. His older siblings had to be careful to leave their masks off until they were out of the house. He didn’t seem to understand the masks didn’t change the true identity of the person behind them. Mask off and the kids standing in the room with us were his beloved brothers and sisters. Mask on and they took on the identities of strange princesses, superheroes and ghosts.

When Tate was in an early intervention program and attended a preschool with typically developing peers, he needed to wear a costume for the school’s Halloween party. I realized it would be an invaluable learning experience for him, but I knew convincing him to wear a costume would be challenging. I had to come up with costumes for Tate that were similar to his everyday attire. For example, he was a cowboy that first year of preschool. That only required boots, a hat and a western shirt. In kindergarten, he was The Cat in The Hat. I feared he wouldn’t cooperate when I suggested we use a marker on his face, but he surprised me. It helped that Dr. Seuss was Tate’s hero at the time.

By the time he was in second or third grade, he thought Halloween was a pretty fun holiday. He loves to dress up in costume now. Two years ago, he told me he wanted to be a remote control for Halloween. I panicked because I knew I was never going to find a remote control costume, and Tate, once his mind is made up, is hard to sway. I bought some black and white felt and spent a Saturday morning with my sewing machine, and Tate had a remote control costume.

This year, my 6’3” son wants to be a skeleton. As we walk from house to house to gather the candy he will not eat, I will celebrate the progress he has made. I know eventually he will be “too old” chronologically to trick or treat, no matter his developmental age. But for at least one more year, we’re trick-or-treating with all the other kids who love Halloween. For a lot of kids it’s all about the candy, but the only candy Tate will put in his mouth are M&Ms and Hershey’s chocolate bars.

So for Tate, it’s not about the candy. It’s about the adventure. And that is huge when you live with autism.

Follow this journey on Quirks and Chaos.

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Without Saying a Word, Military Wife Spreads Heartbreaking Message

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Without uttering a single word, Stephanie Lembo made a heartbreaking video to send a message about military suicide.

Her husband and father of her two sons, Anthony Lembo, died by suicide five years ago.

Using a mixture of handwritten and printed cards, she explains in the video (below) that when she met her husband in 2005 it was love at first sight, and they were married six months later. Anthony was in the Navy, but when he got back from a training in November 2010, he was, according to Lembo, “a completely different person.”

“The symptoms were there,” her card reads. “I didn’t know what to do.”

After his death she looked up his symptoms and realized her husband was probably experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep deprivation. Now, her mission is to spread awareness about PTSD.

In a call to action at the end of the video, she suggests educating military wives and their families about the warning signs of suicide, and making it easier for veterans/active service members to seek help outside the VA.

Watch the moving video below: 

 

On November 7th, Active Heros is hosting a walk in honor of Lembo’s husband. You can donate to the cause here.

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You’ll Love How This Tot With Down Syndrome Became a Model

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Ellie Stafford is a model to her family — and now to the world.

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Brent Drinkut / Statesman Journal

The 2-year-old from Aurora, Oregon, who has Down syndrome, is clearly photogenic, although her mother, Tiffany Stafford, never really thought to pursue a modeling career for her daughter, Statesman Journal reported.

It wasn’t until her two older boys, 6 and 8, spotted a girl with Down syndrome in a toy ad for Target that Stafford realized how beneficial it would be for them to see more people like their sister in the media.

“I like the idea of her face being seen and other kids with disabilities to see that and say, ‘Hey, that’s like me,'” Stafford told Statesman Journal. “It’s like she’s just any other kid.”

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Brent Drinkut / Statesman Journal
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Brent Drinkut / Statesman Journal

Ellie got involved with modeling through Changing The Face Of Beauty, an organization co-founded by Katie Driscoll, a photographer and mother of six, including a daughter with Down syndrome. Driscoll decided to take action after failing to find advertisements showing kids with disabilities and has since launched a global campaign to make advertisements more inclusive.

“I believe globally we’re changing the way people look at models as well as people with differences,” Driscoll previously told The Mighty in an email, “and that makes me so very happy.”

To see more photos of Ellie, view the Statesman Journal photo gallery here

Related: Target Shows Halloween Is for Children of All Abilities

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Bully Attacks Boy With Autism Because of His Shoes, ‘Sneakerheads’ Respond

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Jonathan Moran has more than a few supporters on his side (and his feet).

The 12-year-old from Linden, New Jersey, has autism, and was only at his new school for about a week when a bully attacked him on the school bus, WIAT News reported.

[He] started making fun of my sneakers and calling me fat, plus he called me stupid,” Jonathan told the outlet. “[He] started punching me, he broke my glasses, split my lip and gave me bruises around my face.”

The story touched the EMT and firefighters who treated Jonathan and then drove him home. They decided to surprise him with sneakers, a t-shirt, socks and a wooden American flag.

But they weren’t the only ones who Jonathan’s story struck a chord with.

 

Devlin Braswell, a student at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco, read about Jonathan on a website about shoes called Sole Collector.

Braswell, who also runs his own custom sneaker business, FBCC, posted on Instagram about how Jonathan’s story moved him. He decided to put together a care package of shoes and clothing to send to Jonathan.

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Courtesy of Delvin Braswell

“When I read the story I was heartbroken because it was yet another story about a child getting bullied over his shoes,” Braswell told The Mighty in an email. “I didn’t know Jonathan was autistic until the end of the story but I had already made up in my mind I was going to send him some new shoes.”

Braswell contacted Jonathan’s mother, Hope Moran, to find out Jonathan’s shoe size and address. The package, which is en route, includes seven pairs of shoes as well as some shirts and jackets.

“I wanted to send him seven pairs of new shoes so every day of the week he could wear a new pair, if he wanted to,” Braswell told The Mighty. “I don’t know why but in my head I was like, ‘I bet no bully has seven pair of new shoes at once…’ I genuinely hate to see anyone getting picked on because of what they don’t have, especially materialistic items. We have to treat each other better at the end of the day. Instead of putting each other down we should be picking each other up.”

Moran expressed her gratitude to Braswell for his kindness.

It’s been amazing,” she told Sole Collector. “I think Jonathan’s going to have shoes for the rest of his life… I can’t imagine his face when he sees this box of sneakers.”

RELATED: To the Person Who Called Me ‘the World’s Ugliest Woman’ in a Viral Video

 

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Target Shows Halloween Is for Children of All Abilities

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Target is once again being commended for its inclusion of people with disabilities in advertisements.

The retailer’s Halloween ad this year features a little girl dressed as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” and using a mobility aid, CBS Los Angeles reported. The little girl has spina bifida.

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Via CBS

Lucy Castillo, 8, also has spina bifida, and she’s planning on being Elsa for Halloween this year as well. Her mother, Elizabeth Castillo, appreciated Target’s effort to show her daughter kids she can relate to.

I think it kind of just shows her it’s possible for her, too,” Castillo told CBS News. “You don’t see it often, and when she’s out, everybody kind of stares at her… They’re kids, just like everybody else. My daughter can do anything that any other little girl can do.”

This isn’t the first time Target has included differently-abled people in its advertisements, and the retailer says it will continue to showcase the diversity of its community.

Watch the video below for more on the story: 

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