Thank You to Dave Ramsey for Meeting My Son With Autism

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Dear Dave Ramsey,

We stopped by Ramsey Solutions recently while we were in Nashville for the Teach Them Diligently Conference. You see, my child with autism is a big fan. Logan listens to your radio show on a daily basis via YouTube on his Xbox One. I don’t know how familiar you are with autism. When my son gets interested in something, he gets hyper-focused on it. It started a few years ago when I required him to take Financial Peace for Teens as his economic course in high school.

My son with autism love rules. You give him rules to live a financially sound life. For him, it’s cut and dry. Stay out of debt, be generous while being a good steward of what God has entrusted you and pay for everything with cash. It’s simple and wise counsel that he’ll be able to live by with great success.

We decided to stop by to see the radio show as soon as I discovered it was an option. I wasn’t sure how crowded it would be or if he would be able to handle not being able to meet you if that wasn’t an option. I decided to take a chance knowing full well we may have to leave if it was too much for him. Since it was only 30 minutes from the Gaylord Opryland where we were staying, I was willing to take said chance.

We arrived 45 minutes early. I wanted Logan to be able to see everything he wanted in case we would have to leave early due to his sensory issues. It’s my job to set him up to experience things as best he can with the limitations he has.

First, your building has the nicest bathrooms we have ever had the fortune to visit. Seriously, even my typical girl checked it out more than once. I also appreciated the low lighting and ambiance that helped keep the sensory input to a minimum for my son. Yes, things like that really make a difference. We also look for places like that in the unlikely event that we need to make a quick exit to calm him.

What I didn’t expect was how incredibly caring and nice your staff would be to make our visit a success. The receptionist answered our questions promptly. We were able to look through the bookstore at our leisure. There were cookies available (we didn’t partake because we’re on a gluten-free diet) as well as a sweet lady who made us coffee and tea. 

Then the lobby filled up quickly with people who I presumed had been there for a class. They all had name tags and bought books for you to sign. Logan wanted to sit on the couch to watch you up close, but it was simply too much. The couch as well as the tables had filled up. The lobby was abuzz with chatter.

We retreated to the bookstore where there was safety, calm and a place to sit away from the crowd. Thank you for the two big screens broadcasting your show so my boy could still see it. Thank you for the comfortable seats by the window. Thank you for the sweet lady who checked in on us to make sure everything was OK. Thank you for having an area to retreat away from the crowd. You might not have planned it that way, but I believe God most certainly did.

When you came out on the first break, I thought we were goners. See, Logan really wanted to meet you. He really wanted an autograph. He had questions to ask you. But it was all too much. I about cried when a very nice lady from the aforementioned class let us in line in front of her. I managed to keep him calm in line by rubbing his back. I silently prayed that our turn would come before you had to go back to your show.

Our turn did come before you had to return to your show. At that moment, I saw my boy swallow his fears, step forward, shake your hand then pose for a picture. As he hastily retreated to the bookstore to compose himself, you asked him a question that I had to answer for him. I’m sure I looked like an overprotective mother who speaks for her child. But at that moment, my child couldn’t speak because he was over the moon to meet his hero. It was all too much for him to process at once. So much so that he never got an autograph. He wasn’t able to hang on until the second break so we left accordingly.

Thank you, Dave Ramsey, for meeting my son. Thank you for shaking his hand. Thank you for attempting to engage him in a conversation. Thank you for posing for a picture with him then not making a big deal out of it when he jumped ship immediately.  

It might have seemed odd to you, but you handled it with grace. My son may not be able to do everything he dreams of in his life. He’s limited by his autism in some ways. Our family will treasure that memory for the rest of our lives. Thank you from the bottom of this mama’s heart.

Follow this journey here.

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10 Ways I Calm Myself Down as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

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As a person on the autism spectrum, my emotions work a bit like a light switch. I feel things intensely and quickly. It is important that I am able to calm myself down and take a break as soon as I notice I am getting too stimulated (which is another topic).

To calm myself down, I use my metaphorical toolbox. Inside my toolbox are strategies,
tips and tricks I can use when I need to settle down. I have a difficult time knowing which strategy to use, especially in the heat of the moment. As a result, I decided to make a graphic that fits on my phone, iPad and computer so I always have my list with me and it is easily accessible.

Here is what is on my list:

The author's "When I Need a Break, I Can" list
Graphic source: Erin McKinney

1. Listen to my music.

I have a playlist I made several years ago that has instrumental music on it. It helps me calm down. I especially use this playlist at night when I am trying to go to sleep. This is also one I can use in combination with other things on my list.

2. Go for a walk.

This is a good one because you can take a short walk, a long walk or however long you need to calm down. Often I do this while I listen to my music or use imagery.

3. Play a game or do a puzzle.

This makes my brain work and concentrate on something constructive instead of what got me upset or what is stuck in my head.

4. Use imagery.

This is something I worked on making several years ago, and I still use it. I chose my favorite place on earth and recreated it in my head. I used each of my five senses to remember every detail about this place. Now, when I get overwhelmed, I can go to this place in my head. It is pictured on my graphic so I have a visual reminder.

5. Eat a crunchy snack.

Honestly, I don’t remember why the crunchy part is important. But I try to do that. Things I often choose to eat include grapes, graham crackers, pretzels or apple slices.

6. Take a nap.

I love taking naps and have for many years now. Even if I don’t end up falling asleep, lying down for 15 to 20 minutes and trying to fall asleep is better than doing something destructive. Most of the time, I do fall asleep and wake up feeling much better. This allows me to have a fresh start on the rest of my day.

7. Go to a quiet place.

This is obvious, but if you are out and about at a restaurant or somewhere social, it is a good reminder to go find a quiet place. Examples of quiet places could be the restroom, your car or outside. I included a picture of Mt. Rainier to remind me of this one because it is the view from one of my favorite quiet places.

8. Use belly breathing.

I learned this one recently at a conference. “Sesame Street” (hence the appearance of Frazzelmo on my graphic) has a great video on it. This is a good one because you can do it anywhere and in any position, sitting or standing.

9. Spin, rock or flap safely.

These are all stims I find enjoyable and typically do when I am happy. Sometimes, I can rock too hard, especially when I am upset, and that is why I had to include the word “safely.”

10. Talk to a safe person.

Don’t talk to just any person. A lot of people wouldn’t care or wouldn’t know how to help if I told them I was having a hard time and needed a break. I am fortunate to have several people I trust and can talk to. All of my safe people know at least part of the things in my toolbox or know that I have a toolbox with things in it I can try.

Of course, there are many other things, even things on my list I didn’t include. The reason I did not include them is because some of them can’t be done everywhere. I tried to pick things I can do in more than one place. (I pride myself on being able to find a place to nap just about anywhere.)

If you are autistic or if you have a loved one who is, I hope this list gives you an idea of some different techniques and that the graphic gives you an idea of something you could create to always have with you. My toolbox helps me function in a world that is not designed for or run by individuals with autism. I hope you find things that work for you and that you find a way to remember and apply them in daily life.

Follow this journey on Erinmmckinney.com.

Illustration via Thinkstock Images

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To the Rock Star Mom of a Child on the Autism Spectrum

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Dear mom of a child with autism,

I know you might be tired — tired from lack of sleep, worry and frequent meltdowns. You drink so much coffee, your blood is 80 percent caffeine. No one seems to understand your child or what you go through every day together. Almost daily it seems someone looks expectantly at you to gauge your reaction, as if to say “Surely you can do a better job,” because they think your child is throwing a tantrum over a toy.

You question yourself and your mothering abilities. If you work outside the home still, you may question working. Daycare systems sometimes lack the training to properly care for a child with autism. You deal with a lack of consistency in your child’s services at school. Some of your coworkers totally understand your situation, and others judge it, so you never know where you stand. You think that if you talk about all these feelings, people will think poorly of you, so tuck away the feelings and try to hide them from the outside world.

I know how you feel, because I feel it too.

Here’s the thing, though. You may feel exhausted, rattled and even useless sometimes, but you are a rock star. No one else knows how to calm your child down like you do. You are the master of the paperwork, the queen of IEPs and the expert negotiator. When it comes to advocating for your child, you work tirelessly to campaign for fair treatment and understanding. You take care of all the big stuff, but you also kiss the boo-boos, play with dinosaurs and dolls, and learn about your child’s favorite television shows and books.

You make a mean macaroni and cheese. You can get pre-tied shoes on your kids’ feet in record time. You find treasures in the dollar bin and can turn almost anything into a reward. You can spout out “first, then” statements like no one’s business and know the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. If anyone asks, you can tell them where to find what exists in the community for children with autism.

Your children love you, and they know you love them. They know because, in all the ways that count, you show them.

Finally, remember your successes. Today you may not have found victory, but don’t feel defeated yet. Rejoice in all the victories, big and small, you have achieved with your child already. Remember that somewhere in the future, you will find more triumphs.

You’re a beautiful mother with a gorgeous, magnificent, dazzling child who simply sees the world differently than anyone else. From one mom of a child with autism to another, I encourage you to keep at it. You’ve got this.

Follow this journey on EmbracingTheSpectrum.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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When People Say I’ve ‘Outgrown’ My Autism

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College taught me many things: How to self-advocate, how to spread awareness and maybe, most importantly, that if you have a passion for something, you need to go for it no matter the costs.

At the same time, college also unfortunately taught me there are still a great deal of ignorant people out there who simply think of the black and white and avoid the grey completely.

One problem I see as a huge indicator of this is the whole concept of “outgrowing” your autism. When I was first diagnosed, my psychiatrist told my parents that autism was a lifelong diagnosis, while at the same time, other doctors told them there was a possibility that certain individuals would outgrow the symptoms that led to the diagnosis.

I think the whole belief of this puts negative annotations towards our community. Saying someone has “outgrown their autism” means someone can be inclined to say someone was “cured” of something naturally and diminishes the need for legislation reform and funding.

In either case, I think we need to avoid those debates as they just cause clutter overall. I feel more and more that I fall in the ever-growing “grey” section of people. Sure, I graduated from college and am in graduate school, but I’ve had two decades of multiple therapies and learned over time to take care and progress within myself. I’m also clearly not the typical “normal” that some people look for. I have eccentric tendencies that make me unique.

There is a spectrum. If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met just that — one person with autism. Some people will be able to become stronger in areas, but I’ve never believed in the concept that someone can ever outgrow an autism diagnosis.

Today, people see me and say, “You have autism? I would have ever known.” Growing up, my disability was evident due to my lack of speech. I’m one of the many unique stories of people on the autism spectrum as an adult today because even though I didn’t have speech, I now give talks around the country as a motivational speaker.

Each story of someone with autism is going to be unique, and you can honestly say that for anyone out there — disability or not.

This post first appeared on KerryMagro.com.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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What a High School Rite of Passage Taught Me About My Son With Autism

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My son TJ is 16. He has autism.

He is starting his junior year and so excited to be halfway done with high school – a thought that, as his mother, makes me a little panicky. But I digress.

On Monday we got his schedule for the new school year in the mail.  He was so excited to open it!  And the first class on his first day was Driver’s Ed.

Driver’s Ed. Did I mention I get a little panicky?

No matter, because I studied theater in college, so whenever I have that parent panic, I go instantly into actress mode, and do my best “I am so easy breezy it’s not even funny” type of mother acting.

It usually works quite well.

It worked well this time, too, which is good, because when big things come up for TJ that we need to work through, I don’t want him to be influenced by me in any way.

So when I saw “Driver’s Ed” on his schedule, I smiled and said “TJ, you got Driver’s Ed!  That’s great!  So many kids want that class and don’t get it!”

It’s a hot commodity, this class. You can register for it after you’re 15 years old and you can’t get your license without it, unless you wait until you’re over 18. And if memory serves, not many kids want to wait until they are 18 to start driving.

TJ’s first reaction was to smile and say, “Great!” And then I said to him, “TJ, in order to take this class, you have to have your learner’s permit. We can sign you up to take the test in about a week or two, but you’ll have to study for it. How does that make you feel?”

TJ scrunched his nose a little and said, “I don’t know.”

I know that “I don’t know.” It’s usually a sign of nerves. So I told him to just look through the rest of his schedule, and we can talk about it later.

The next day, I asked TJ how he was feeling about the whole Driver’s Ed thing.  Again, I got an “I don’t know.” So I suggested we go to the DMV web page and check out their informational videos about driving.

He sat through about half of the video when he said, “Can I stop now?”

Inside, I’m thinking that our planning time is running out. If he is going to take the class in 3 weeks, he needs to take his permit exam in 2 weeks, which means he has to start studying.

But not today. I gave him one more day to think things through.

Finally, the next day, I sat down with TJ. Time to get serious.

“TJ, I know you’re feeling a little nervous about driving. Are you feeling rushed to get your permit?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like to drop the class this semester, and take your time getting your permit? We can try to get the class another time. Even next year, if you’re not ready yet. It’s OK. And it’s up to you.”

With that, he seemed instantly lighter. He thought for a second, then said to me, “I think I’d like to wait.”

And as soon as I said OK, he breathed out deeply and said, “Boy do I feel better!” And then, that smile.

My TJ is on his own schedule. He always has been. He learned to ride his bike long after his little brother did. He didn’t feel comfortable walking home from school alone until late in his freshman year. And the first time he saw the dentist without me was yesterday.

So even though he is already 16, and many of his peers have their driver’s license, my TJ will wait. He will take his sweet time until it feels right for him.

And that’s a-OK by me.

And now, he can’t wait for school to start.

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We Don’t Need an Autism 'Cure,' but Compassion and Tolerance Would Be Great

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This week I got a text message from someone I know alerting me to watch the news because apparently, they’ve found a cure for autism.

This made me angry. And here’s why:

Firstly, it’s insulting to tell someone who is living with autistic family members they love and adore and who are made who they are in their essence by being autistic, that they need curing. Secondly, there is no proven cure for autism; it is a permanent neurological condition.

I’m not saying autism doesn’t have its challenges. It can be hard on everyone. And it is, regularly. Every single day. But being autistic also gives each individual a unique ability to see the world in a way no one else does.

And that makes it incredibly beautiful.

If my husband wasn’t autistic, he wouldn’t be the man I fell in love with. If my 4-year-old wasn’t autistic, she might not ask me, full of awe and wonder, to “look at the magical way the leaves float off the tree” on windy days. If my eldest daughter wasn’t autistic she wouldn’t be the incredibly intuitive person I know and love her to be and she wouldn’t be twice exceptional.

So no, my family doesn’t need “curing.” Thanks. 

Perhaps it’s others who need a cure, but is there even a cure for ignorance? I’m not sure there is.

Autistic people don’t need to be “managed.” Autistic people need the society they live in to be compassionate, understanding and willing to work at things from a different angle. Society needs to be more embracing of neurodiversity and learn to see autistic people as strengths, not flaws.

They aren’t broken. But your perception totally is.

Image via Thinkstock.

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