Target May Be My Newest Hero For Supporting Autism

Lisa emailed me this blog post from Huffington that I just had to share.

All of us parents have thoughts about what the future will hold in employment opportunities for our kids on the autism spectrum. Will they ever be able to hold a job? Who will hire them? What could my son even do for work? These are all questions that concern us as our children ever so quickly head to adulthood.

Kudos to Target for their hiring practices (at least, in this particular stores case in Pennsylvania). Please take a minute to read this story >!

In Advocacy,

Mike

Military Moves & Autism – Moving To a New School District

Well, you just came down on orders. In six months from now you’ll be reassigned to a new duty location across the country. You have done this before, but this time you know things will be different. The last time you PCS’d you didn’t have little Johnny. Because Johnny was diagnosed with Autism a year ago, you know that the change is going to be difficult for all. But now that you know that EFMP approved your new assignment and you know the post or base you are heading to, then now is the time to start preparing for one of the most stressful parts of a military move with an autistic dependent – the educational transition to the new school district.

My wife and I have relocated to new school districts five times in the past four years. These moves have been both in-state and out-of-state moves and three of them have been with the military. For anyone who has relocated with an autistic child it can get pretty stressful. There are many things to consider in the move, and the bigger the jump you have in preparation the easier the transition will be (if you can even use the word “easy” and “PCS” in the same sentence, lol). From the usual concerns that all military families have during PCS time such as whether to live on or off post, rent or buy a home, what is the local area like, are the schools good, is the crime low and are there recreational things to do for the family within close proximity to base, a family with an autistic child has many more things to consider. Here are the top considerations we have when it is time to move:

How many local providers are available and how close are they to where we intend to live? In our case, we want to know how many providers of ABA there are and how far are we going to have to travel round trip from provider to home.

This can be done with an easy Google search or by looking at the recommendations from many mainstream websites of national Autism organizations such as Autism Speaks, Autism Society and many others. Also, a call to the local EFMP office of your new duty assignment can be helpful in directing you toward resources or providing information on providers of the specific treatments or therapies your kid needs. As a parent of an auttie, you can expect to do some driving. Most private providers don’t provide busing like your school district does. In fact, one of the biggest contributing factors for Moms staying at home when they have an autistic child is because of the transportation needs of their child. You’ll want to spend the least amount of time as possible in the car, so try to live as close to the center as possible. Plus, mileage deductions for the medical reasons only go so far on your tax return and gas costs a lot of money. It’s not a fair offset. Of course you’ll have to weigh the proximity of living near your provider with the point below – the school district that you feel will be the most conducive to their educations.

Do your due diligence on those private providers that appear to be the best fit. We want to know things like the credentials of staff, how long they have been in business, services they provide, do they do in-home care as well, do they take Tricare as an insurance provider, how long have they been in business in the area and do we get a “gut feeling” from them?

The biggest things to consider are above, but most importantly you want qualified professionals providing service to your child. In our case, we want certified behaviorists providing the interventions of our kids’ ABA. BCBA is required of course, and it is a bonus if they have a PhD, teaching certificate, ASD certification and other pedigrees to add value to their offering. Since we will have a relationship with our provider we want to make sure that the director or owner is someone we naturally like. Do we like how they express themselves over the phone and in person, the information they have provided to us? We aren’t as fixed on the accommodations on-site at their place of business (such as expensive facades, hi-tech computers, etc), but more importantly is my son going to get great programming here from professionals who really care about progress.

What is the “scoop” on the school districts in the area you intend to live? We want to learn as much as we can about the service offering typically provided by those school districts and how “friendly” they are to autism.

You are only going to learn so much with online research. For every blog post, discussion thread or article on a website that you find about the available school districts that sheds a negative light on them, with enough digging you will find positive as well. The thing with autism is that it is a ‘spectrum’ disorder. Because of this the treatments vary from one autistic child to another. As the saying goes, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met…ONE autistic person!” They are not all alike and they all don’t respond to the same treatments. What provides the greatest result from my kids may not provide the greatest result for yours. Your child may require something entirely different to achieve measurable progress. So, don’t base your whole opinion on what you read on a blog post! Be careful who’s anonymous advice you take from someone your don’t know or you’ve never met – they just may be a lunatic (kind of like me and this blog, lol).

Calling the school itself is not going to yield much good information either. Here’s why: if there were particular schools out there that provided the utopia program offering for autism then every family affect would instantly move to that school district and quickly exhaust the limited resources available. When you call to a school’s special education (SPED) department and speak to anyone with credentials there they will usually tell you that you would first have to enroll your child, examine your IEP (or create one) and then they could discuss program offerings. That is the kind way of telling you, the discerning, investigating parent, that we’re not telling you one way or another (for the reason I stated above). Be careful to heed what I shared above. Don’t get duped just because 50 people said they were treated horribly by a district. If 50 people stand up in a crowded room and say something stupid, it doesn’t give it credibility just because 50 people said so. Those 50 people may not understand your child’s rate to a FAPE through IDEA or have a clue how to advocate for proper services with that particular district. EFMP at the new post may be helpful to give you some insight if you are able to articulate what your current IEP stipulates or you know the service needs of your child.

Your best bet as you are calling around to the different private providers as suggested earlier to determine which one fits your child’s needs best is to ask them which districts in the area are friendly in providing the type of services that they provide and your child needs. You see, with your insurance benefits through Tricare, (ECHO and Autism DEMO) up to $3000 per month of services will be provided by the private provider you choose. These private providers are usually your ally in giving you the straight scoop on local school because if they are a good one, they will want your child to attend in a district that will openly work with and file share with them to give your child the best continuity in care that is possible. The left hand (private provider) wants to know what the right hand (public school) is providing. Good providers will be able to provide guidance and some even contract with local schools and can indirectly help the transition when it is time to enroll because of the working relationships they have with the SPED at a certain school district. The insurance benefits your child receives will be provided in addition to the services he qualifies for with his ISFP or IEP. When schools are more likely to collaborate with your private service provider to provide the necessary and appropriate programming he needs, the better shape you are going to be in.

School districts are funny entities when it comes to special education and autism. I think the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses over the past 5 years has caused some shock to school systems that have and still continue to have ill-equipped untrained teachers and staff. Most schools still don’t readily have access to BCBAs nor have them on staff. Especially the more rural the setting the higher the likelihood that you may have unqualified teachers to provide the necessary services your child needs. Because EFMP has to approve your assignment, chances are you are going to be within a few hours of proper services based on your kid’s needs and there is going to be a sizable population with larger school districts. The rule of thumb is to guide your assignment to a location that is near a major metropolitan area. With an autistic EFMP dependent the chances are slim that you will be assigned to the middle of nowhere (as we have all seen or heard tales of the posts and bases that literally are in the middle of nowhere.) If you are fortunate to be near a population center, which I hope the assignment branch and EFMP has done for you, you will have more opportunities for proper care.

In addition to ours advice to above is what the Department of Defense offers on their new website for families with autistic dependent. They have some pretty comprehensive advice. You can click here to access the link.

Hopefully, these are a few things you will think about as you prepare for your next relocation!

In Advocacy,

Mike

Happy Mother’s Day Mommies! The Top 10 Reasons Why My Boy’s Mom is the Best!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, especially all of those entrusted with the special charge of caring for an autistic child. I am very thankful for my loving wife, partner in advocacy and dedicated mom to our three boys on the autism spectrum. Without her love and leadership in the household, especially in my absence our boy’s lives would not be the same. I wanted to share the following with you on the reasons I value the mother of my boys.

God bless all of you Mommies out there!

Mike

On this Mother’s Day I find myself seven times zone away from my beautiful wife who is back in Florida providing caring, loving and motherly care for our three boys. I wanted to share on this special day for Moms why my boy’s Mom is the best in the world. As I am blessed by God as a husband to have a dedicated, respectful, caring and loving and faith-driven wife, my boys are just as fortunate to have a mother who everyday goes above and beyond the normal call of duty as a mother. The role she provides for and the person she is in that role for our family is priceless and irreplaceable. We all need her and appreciate it more than we will ever be able to share with her on this side of eternity. With that being said I wanted to list the top 10 reasons why my boys have the best Mom in the world:

10) She fights for what she believes in without apology.
My boys will always have a mom that is firm, but fair in all things in life. She isn’t a push over and a friend to my boys. She is a mother, a leader, and a disciplinarian. And what she says…goes. And do not mess with her boys. My wife is a nurturer and protector as well. She fights the righteous fight for my boy’s sake whenever necessary and she always wins. Always. Over the years I have seen her hone a skill set of calibrated and well-calculated tactical moves to employ on any person, agency or other that attempts to deny my boys anything they need for their development. She also has the never give up attitude that is oft talked about, but rarely displayed. My wife will fight until victory or all out defeat if necessary. She also has no qualms about letting me know when I get off track as well. Two strong personalities in a household can lead to some very heated discussions and outright arguments – especially when both care so deeply about the family mission. I am still learning and growing to appreciate though when I need to correct my thinking or actions and she firmly, yet lovingly helps me do that as well. As the saying goes, when two leaders agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. I appreciate greatly her willingness to openly speak her mind.

9) She is the smartest woman I have ever met.

Intelligence goes well beyond formal education, book smarts or the professional how-to. The intelligence I speak about is the one more akin to wisdom and includes the emotional intelligence one gets from the development of that sixth sense that we all posses in different levels. Wisdom normally take decades of successful experience coupled with determined self-development to that end. My wife has more wisdom than any other woman I have ever met. My wife has certainly been well educated professionally. On more than one occasion she has demonstrated her ability to reason and think critically though some of the biggest challenges as a family we have ever gone through in the advocacy for our boys. Daily she demonstrates a high level of emotional intelligence as well. This required in some degree by all mothers, but especially a mother like my boys’ that has to handle the typical parenting opportunities provided when you have boys with special needs. She has to handle these added challenges in the home while at the same time work toward her board certification in Behavior Analysis, advocate for our boys as well as other families who are in the fight for their kids and do all of this in my absence. Her wisdom allows her to see the big picture and the long-term journey of the temporary here in the now our family has to often endure.

8) She is the most patient woman in the world.
She married me! That should some it up for anyone reading this and knows our family well. Beyond putting up with the roller-coaster, unpredictable and adventurous life I tend to lend to her and the patience that alone requires, how she parents our boys is a case study in the making on exceptional parenthood. I feel myself fortunate to have 10% of the patience level she demonstrates daily. But I know that she understands full that she has to though. Large callings in life by God are cause for great patience. All mothers are required to demonstrate patience, but it is the execution of that patience that may miss the mark in some homes. Not ours. My wife has a special ability to take the parenting tasks that drive me absolutely nuts, and not only handle them, but do so with such unbelievable care. It is something I pray for that someday I will have even 25% of the strength that she exhibits in this area for our family.

7) She is the most creative mother in the world.
Her creativity never ends! Our boys require constant attention and activity with their special needs and my wife is always there to meet the challenge. I have tried often (in my competitive nature) to duplicate some of the creative, art activities that she does with the boys. I think my oldest humors me by saying that he likes what I made for him as to not hurt my feelings, but he’s knows that Mom is the queen of “Craft Day” in our household! Nothing that Dad ever made was attached to the fridge, the walls or his bedroom dresser for weeks on end like the projects that Mom does with him. From parties, to surprises to family activities, my wife never disappoints. The creative energy she expends to nurture that same creativity in our boys is priceless. She has such an eye for seeing things as they could be and not as they are. Having a forward-thinking woman in the household is indispensable.

6) She is the strongest woman I know.

My wife was well accomplished in life professionally, personally and financially before I stumbled along into it. As a strong, independent, competitive and driven achiever there were so many things she could have achieved on her own, all by herself. I was attracted right away to that on our first date. She embodies self-discipline as part of her nature. She has taken those God-given gifts and expertly employed them into her family as well as her continuing professional ambitions. The burden she is able to bear, especially in times such as these when I am away to help my life mate, cannot be explained in words. And she does so with no complaint. My boys will always be able to count on their mother to assist in anything they need in life as she always makes room for more. Just when you think that she can’t possibly take anything else on, there she goes again providing advocacy advice to another parent, staying up way after the boys go to bed to study in order to help not only them but others affected by autism, putting up shelving in the new house because I’m not there and planning for the next ‘Craft Day’. Often we joke how boring it would be to have what many consider a ‘normal’ family. Blah. We ask what it would be like to have mainstream children in regular classes with regular needs. Blah. Boring. Too easy. It’s through the fire of adversity that one’s character is forged. The strength my wife provides our family and how she stands in the gap in my absence is nothing short of amazing and I am a thankful man.

5) She is a woman of faith.

She is a prayerful wife and loves the Lord. She knows where her gifts, blessings and challenges in life come from, and knows that there is a perfect plan behind all that happens and an eternal view of all things that occur in life. She is a mom that prays for her children, her husband and the world at large. Our boys have the added blessing of having a home life to grow up in that is influenced by Christian parents. I pray that the influence of her faith and mine will have an impact on theirs so they have the proper understanding of how to live in this live and to whom to look up toward for guidance, help and praise.

4) She constantly displays respect for her family.
Family is first in her mind. Everything she does first goes through the scrutiny of asking herself how this will affect the family. A wise friend once asked me at a great time of indecision in my life if I truly understood that I was no longer living my life for myself – that I was living it purely for the benefit of my wife and children? From that moment I have always tried to live by that in all the actions I take in life. I know that my wife instinctively does that for our family. She is wife that trusts. She displays trust and respect for me so I can improve and grow in my role as a husband and father. She displays this to our boys who will always have a respectful role model.

3) She is the most beautiful woman in the world.

I am fortunate to have the physical beauty that goes along with the rest of the package as well. A quote that I read just this morning said that Mom is the word for God on the lips of small children. I will surely have to instruct my boys when they each go through the funny phase where they believe they are going to marry their mom someday, that she’s taken already and they need to find their own! I count myself among the favored when he created my wife just for me.

2) She has a servant’s hearts heart.
Caring for a family with the unique needs that our family has requires a servant’s heart. If not, that person would never attend to every need with the love that my wife exhibits to our boys when she does just that. She serves our boy’s needs, she serves my needs and she serves the Lord and serve’s her fellow woman in need. It is easy to tell what a person values in their life by the amount of time they spend doing it. If you didn’t value it, you wouldn’t spend time doing it. Some choose to immerse themselves in their job, others in sports, others in church, etc. I never have to doubt where my wife’s priorities are in her life with the service she provides all of us. No appreciation of her efforts could ever be enough by any of us for this role that she fills in the home.

1) She is one of a kind and completely irreplaceable.
God certainly destroyed the mold when he created my wife. There is no one else on the planet just like her. There is no one else that could even come close to taking the place of their mom or my wife.

We love you honey. Happy Mother’s Day!