Courtnie Rederick

@courtnie-rederick | contributor
Courtnie Rederick is a special education teacher in addition to being an autism mom. She chronicles her journey as an autism mom at www.diaryofanautismmom.com.

My Son on the Autism Spectrum Needs a Good Teacher

My son was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. He had delays in social communication, speech, a math learning disability, and he also had a delay in the areas of fine and gross motor. With all of this being said, my child may have had delays, but he was also gifted in many other areas. Unfortunately, due to his diagnosis, it felt like I needed to fight for my child at every turn to give him access to the services he required. I can’t tell you how many tears I have cried over my son. I shed tears before IEP meetings and I cried when he would come home with low marks on his report cards in areas such as physical education. I know he tried his hardest, but at times, it felt like for others it just wasn’t good enough. With how autism presents in my son, children like him can often get labeled in school as just not trying hard enough or lazy. I can’t tell you what this did to my son’s self esteem. He would come  home and  say things like, “I’m stupid and I wish that things were easier and that I was just like all of the other kids.” I can’t even explain what this does to a mother’s heart. At the end of last school year, I ultimately made the decision to try and find a school that would see him for a child beyond his autism. My son has an amazing heart and he loves with all that he has in him. He would give his last dollar to someone on the street and he prays for homeless animals. This child is so much more than a diagnosis. One teacher or one administrator can impact a child in more ways than they will ever know. Thankfully for my son, this story has a happy ending. I met with the principal of a local private school this summer. He is a school psychologist by trade, so he has had some experience with those diagnosed with autism. I can’t even explain in words how I just knew that I had found the right school when I met with this principal. He was filled with grace and compassion and I believed him to be an amazing human being. My son was ultimately placed in a second grade class with one of the most amazing second grade teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. This is saying quite a lot, because I’m a special education teacher by trade. This teacher blessed my son in ways that I will never be able to repay her. My son hated school up until this year and now he’s finishing second grade with an absolute love for learning. He’s no longer calling himself the “stupid” kid. A teacher did this for my son. She gave him his self-confidence back and made him feel loved and valued. She was with me at every turn and if she ever had an issue arise, we’d collaborate together and work together as a cohesive team. This is what education is supposed to be about. Working together for the good of the child! It makes me cry happy tears when I think of just how far my son has come and he’s come this far in large part because of his amazing teacher. She has blessed my son in so many ways and I am just so thankful for her. If your child has ever been blessed with an amazing teacher, please take the time to thank them. As the school year is concluding, many teachers don’t hear often enough just how much they have made an impact.

Flo Rida and Team's Acts of Kindness for Boy With Autism

My son is a huge Flo Rida fan. He loves him so much he created a video dedicated to Flo Rida. In his video he told Flo, “I love your song ‘My House,’ but I want you to come to my house, Flo Rida.” He then proceeded to dance to a song featuring Flo Rida. His video ended up getting over 200,000 views and made it onto Ellen DeGeneres’ blog. Every day, my little guy would ask if Flo had seen his video. This is just a small depiction of how much my son loves Flo Rida. My son stated early on it was his dream to give Flo Rida a fist bump. He really hoped Flo Rida would see his video and he would end up getting the opportunity to give him a fist bump in person. Last week, Flo Rida had a concert at the Washington State Fair. My mom surprised my little guy with tickets to the concert. I reposted my son’s video in hopes it would get to Flo Rida. The day of the concert, I heard from Flo Rida’s bodyguard’s girlfriend. She had seen the video and she loved it so much she told me she would do everything in her power to connect my son with Flo Rida. It was extremely last minute and Flo Rida was on an airplane, so she couldn’t make any promises, but she told me she would do her best. My son was overcome with joy when he arrived at the concert. He is on the autism spectrum, and he often listens to Flo Rida’s music to help himself mellow out. As soon as the music began to play at the concert, you could see the amazement and pure joy in his eyes. We were seated on the floor in row 17. These were great seats, but not close enough where we could get close-ups of Flo Rida. In the middle of the concert, Flo Rida came off the stage. I immediately took my little guy and ran towards Flo in the hope he could get a fist bump from his hero. Unfortunately, the crowd got out of hand and we just missed him, but this is where things changed in our favor. In the hustle, we ended up getting ushered into the third row. My little guy and I got to finish the concert extremely close to the stage. If you could have seen my child’s face, you would have been in awe. His face could have lit up a room! At the end of the concert, Flo announced he would take selfies with the audience. I knew this would be my son’s chance to get his fist bump, but the problem was security was only letting the front row get selfies with Flo. I pleaded my case with a wonderful security lady, who happened to also be a grandma. I think she could tell just how much this meant to both me and my son. She told me to go through and she hoped my son would get his wish. I ended up having to try and get through another security guard, who was not as generous and absolutely refused to let us through. The original security guard could see what was happening, and she went out of her way to come towards us to tell the security guard she had given us clearance to get through. This lady was my son’s angel. She made his wish come true! My son ended up getting his fist bump from Flo Rida, and he also got a selfie. I just cannot express how grateful I am to the security guard at the Washington State Fair. She helped make a little boy’s wish come true! My son’s night of excitement did not end there. Flo Rida’s bodyguard called us just as we were leaving the fair. He told me his girlfriend had just got a hold of him and told him about my son. He ended up sending a picture from Flo Rida to my little guy and he promised Flo would personally watch my son’s video. In addition, he told me he would send a package from Flo Rida to my little guy. Flo Rida’s bodyguard and his girlfriend did not have to do this, but they did. They are busy people, but they took time out of their schedules to try and make a little boy’s dream come true. I love my son more than words can say. He has come so far in his short life. My son is resilient, and he hasn’t let a diagnosis define who he is. This is why I wanted his dream to come true. From a special needs mom, thank you to the security guard at the Washington State Fair from the bottom of my heart! To Flo Rida’s bodyguard and his girlfriend, I am beyond grateful to you both for making my son’s wish come true! In the words of my son, “Flo Rida now knows who I am and I got my fist bump!” Lead image via Eva Rinaldi / Wikimedia Commons Follow this journey on Diary of an Autism Mom. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

A Letter to My Autistic Son's New Teacher

Dear teacher, You are going to be my son’s teacher for this upcoming school year. He is an amazing little boy who has grown by leaps and bounds. He is funny, he loves to dance and he has a passion for music. My son wants to be accepted by his peers. This can be a challenge at times, because my son does has difficulty with personal space. Children may think he is being mean when really he is just trying to get their attention. You see, my son is on the autism spectrum and also has ADHD. My son has difficulties with transition, self-regulation and impulsiveness. With all of this being said, you would be absolutely amazed if you saw where my son was a couple of years ago and where he is today. Two years ago my son barely spoke. This caused him to have meltdowns because he had difficulty expressing himself. He also could not stay on task for longer than two minutes at a time. Today, my son’s speech is in the average range, and he can often stay engaged for the entirety of a school lesson. As his mother, it makes me want to cry to think about how far my son has come. Please be aware that when my son enters your classroom on the first day of school, he works so hard on a daily basis to do his best. Do not let it shock you if he experiences a day where he struggles with transition, or if he invades one of his peer’s personal space. He will need you to be his champion during these times. He will need you to tell him everything is going to be OK. He needs to be aware that you will support him when he experiences a difficult moment. He does so much better when he feels supported rather than feeling as if he is being ridiculed. My son’s personal best may look different than his peer’s personal best. It will be important for you to realize that my son may need some additional supports to be successful, but that it’s still important for him to be held to a high standard. That high standard may look a bit differently than one of his counterparts. This is dependent upon the type of tasks that are asked of him. If you seem him trying to avoid a task, this is most likely occurring because the activity you are asking him to complete is difficult. This doesn’t mean he can’t complete the activity, but it may mean that he didn’t quite understand your instructions, or he may need a visual, or he may just need some additional waiting time so he can process the assignment. I am completely confident that you will do everything in your power to support my son. I know how hard it is to be a teacher. You see, I am also a teacher. I know you may have limited support and resources. I know you work long days and are often uncompensated for your time. My purpose in writing this letter is really for you to have a better glimpse of who my son is. I am hoping you will be his advocate and champion during this school year. I will do everything in my power to support you. I am looking forward to building a strong partnership with you this school year. Best Regards,A Loving Mom

Helping Our Son on the Autism Spectrum to Sleep at Night

Sleep has always been difficult for my son, Bam Bam. Before his autism diagnosis, I remember going to the pediatrician’s office on what seemed like a monthly basis trying to seek answers in regards to why my baby wouldn’t sleep at night. My oldest son, May May, has always been a sleeper and still is. He loves sleep, and it’s not uncommon for him to sleep 12 hours per night. My pediatrician assured me all kids are different, and that some babies are more difficult than others. Bam Bam didn’t have an autism diagnosis at the time, but sleep was my first clue that something wasn’t quite right. I tried everything. I tried breast milk, gas drops, reflux meds, specialized formula, specialized bottles — the list could go on and on. The truth of the matter is that sleep was an issue for my child when he was a baby, and it’s still an issue for my kiddo as a kindergartner. As a baby, the only thing that really worked for Bam Bam was the sensory input he received from the bottle. I remember all of the advice people shelled out at me. I heard comments such as, “Let your baby cry it out,” “Your baby shouldn’t be so bottle dependent” and “You shouldn’t willingly give into your baby’s screams.” This is what I really wanted to tell people who criticized me at the time: “I’m so tired from being up almost all night long. So yeah, I’m avoiding a meltdown by giving my kiddo a bottle.” Bam Bam’s sleeping habits got better as the years progressed. He has gone from being up all hours of the night to now sleeping pretty consistently throughout the night. The challenges we experience now are way different than what we experienced in the early years. We always start the evening by laying Bam Bam down in his bed. Music is extremely calming for him, so he almost always falls asleep to music playing. The biggest challenge now is getting my kiddo to stay in his own bed throughout the night. He’s an extremely light sleeper, so the tiniest sound will wake him up. His reactions vary from high-pitched screams, running down the hall or sometimes he tries to jump into bed with Mommy and Daddy. My husband and I typically try to bring him back to his bed and try to get him into a calm enough state so he falls back to sleep. If he’s extremely worked up or if this has happened multiple times throughout the night, we often just let him stay in our room. When we get to this point, he’s exhausted and we’re exhausted. He has school and we both have work. We really just do whatever we can to get him to go back to sleep. We don’t want his day at school to be impacted due to a lack of sleep. With all of this being said, I do think that Bam Bam is ready for additional methods to encourage him to stay in his bed for the entire night. He does do this occasionally, but not consistently like my 8-year-old and my 2-year-old. We’ve decided to really begin to push the sleep training this summer. I don’t think he’ll ever be a 12-hour per night sleeper like my other children, but here’s hoping he will continue to make progress. He has already come along way, and I’m hoping he will continue to improve in this area as the years progress. Follow this journey on Diary of an Autism Mom. The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.