Career Created by the True Gems in Life

So what do want to be when you grow up?

No doubt, as children, all of us have not only been asked this question but have had to live it once we “grew up”.

Are you a fireman, attorney or doctor?

How about a social worker, psychologist or nurse?

My career history includes the Air Force and after that a gemologist which led to my own jewelry store.

After moving to Canada we began our family and had many children: Kim, Matt, Christina, Jonathan, Stephen and Alex. Some are gifted and two have certain special needs, autism and ADHD (though this diagnosis has shifted a lot since birth).

While delivering my last child in 1994, I nearly died, was given my last rites and a one percent chance to live. I recovered against all odds at which time my career path shifted out of necessity from gemology to special needs after learning of my own children’s greater needs.

For most women, their wedding day is a magical event that we’ve waited for our entire lives. Some are just smitten by the sparkling new ring.

I’m grateful that the true “gems” in my life are my children. I’ve been fortunate to have been guided to my new career as special needs provided and entrepreneur. Without Jonathan and Alex, Little Rainman: Autism–Through the Eyes of a Child, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Children with Special Needs or any other collaboration within the developmentally disabled genre.

Clearly, the gem on my finger was foreshadowing what was yet to come in my life.

My children, my real “gems”, are the main focus of my life’s work.

Having been asked “What do you want to be when you grow up” as a child I never thought my answer would be a fulfilling career that directly helps my children as well as those of countless other families in need.

How has your career path been altered in response to special needs individuals?

What are the “gems” in your life?

Share your story with me by leaving a comment below.

I look forward to hearing your career story.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Check out these tips, strategies, and tools relating to your career path related to special needs individuals.

To download a video presentation that will help you cope with careers related to special needs, click this link:


Stories From the Heart: I Really Do Understand, Let Me Show You My Way

I am an early childhood teacher in a class of 9 Autistic children from the ages of 3-5 in an inclusive program with typical children. I have one student this school year that has been a great challenge for me (she is 4) but she shows me everyday how much she really understands, and how she communicates with us. This is her story!

We were reading a book during an apple unit. The book was about apple orchards. One student of mine was screaming, singing at the top of her lungs as we sat at circle and read this story. We tried everything to get her to quiet down by showing her pictures of being quiet to verbally telling her it is not time to sing.

We had not even gotten through the story and she had to be removed from the activity. She independently went to an area in the classroom, got out a marker and some paper and began to draw. She had never done this before.

She drew the most amazing story of her own. It was a story of apple orchards three pages long with the most amazing detail from a full drawn bicycle with a person on it, a tree with the green and red apples, a person climbing the tree, picking apples and then climbing back down. She proved to me that she did understand the whole concept of our story she just could not demonstrate her knowledge in a large group with many other students around.

After that the other students transitioned to the next activity. She finished her story and handed it to me. She said, ” Schrubbe, I know”. I got goose bumps all over and began to cry! I couldn’t believe that I had finally broken through to her! I was so excited!

From this point on this child has shown me her strengths through her drawing. She even writes stories of how she may handle stressful situations and through her stories I have been able to help her better! I hope you find this as exciting and enlightening as I did!

By Betsy Schrubbe

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Seeking Safety at Highway Speeds During Back Seat Breakdown

It was literally a meltdown.

The screaming from the back seat drowned out the radio, and then it happened…

Alex flung open the door while we were speeding down the highway.

We thought this behavior might eventually go away since it had subsided over the years.

We were wrong!

Although more common when Alex was younger, he still can get very angry and open the door in a moving car without thinking through the safety consequences.

Luckily we have not had any moving violations or accidents due to this behavior.

The issue is that children with special needs are not really in touch with reality much of the time. Over the years we learned to close tabs on both our special needs sons Jonathan and Alex. It can be extremely scary and difficult to deal with this type of challenge while driving on the street with no place to pull over when a behavioral meltdown occurs.

Trying to ignoring Alex by continuing down the road didn’t work and was obviously not a viable solution in this situation.

I found that the most effective option was to pull over on the side of the road. Then, without causing a big scene, just sit there and wait until he was ready to calm down.  Many times, we’d had to pull over to the side of the road several times during one outing before we got home for this tactic to work.

Eventually this worked.  The incidences of Alex swinging open the door were less frequent.

The only way to guarantee no trouble, at least in the car, was to not take Alex anywhere.  Of course, no one won in that situation as he got older.  The fallout at home upon our return was not worth excluding him from the outing.  Besides, sequestering him at home would not be fair anyway.

How have you handled safety issues with a special needs child?

What dilemmas have you encountered traveling in a vehicle with disabled people?

Your story is important, please share it with me. Tell me what you did and how it worked.

To share your story please leave comment below.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Get help now and cope with safety concerns relating to special needs children via tips, strategies, and tools from Autism Today.

To download a video presentation that will help you understand the nature of and simple solutions for safety around special need children, click this link:


Family’s Love Remains Resilient While Conquering Contention

Mother’s are very attentive to family members. This skill becomes second nature for Mother’s with many children.

Throughout the years, I became increasingly aware of our family’s total focus on my fourth child, Jonathan, who has autism. I attribute this to the egocentric nature of autism and our continuous worry about him socially and behaviorally as well as the overwhelming concern for his safety.

This could be perceived as being unfair for the rest of the family but with empathy, and communication we realized that for Jonathan’s guidance and protection it must be done.

Still, others in the family may feel slighted.

It’s easy to lose sight of why we do things the way we do. Things happen in the midst of our unfolding lives which give rise to setting priorities. We do this to establish a method to the “madness.”

My family’s added attention and protection towards Jonny may have initially appeared as favoritism when in reality it was far from it. Learning to cope and work through these struggles made all of us stronger, compassionate and more resilient adults.

Resilience is a key factor.  A major change in careers was in order for me so that I could provide the best for our special needs children. Had I been selfish and stubborn I hate to think what would have befallen our family.

Another twist in our family dynamics was that we had two additional children after Jonathan. Alex, one of the two youngest was also special needs.  The new challenge became dividing attention between Jonathan and Alex while not alienating the other four children.

That was tough, as we had focused much attention on Jonathan for so long.

Demonstrating our love for the entire family was unique since each member had individual needs.  Love can be shown many different ways.

Cooperation from the family in caring for one of their own while recognizing the delicate balance we had to maintain as a family unit prevailed despite our tough road.

What have you done to ensure peace in your family relations?

How have you dealt with the workload of a special needs individual?

I want to hear your story, please leave a comment below.

Sharing your best lets others know you care. Let me know how you did it.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Plenty of tips, strategies, and tools to assist you in spreading out your attention in a family with special needs are a wonderful resource.

To download a video presentation that will help keep your family unit healthy and loving click this link:

No Fuss Potty Training For Special Needs Children

We all went through it but don’t remember it quite clearly.

And, as a parent, you now have the distinct privilege of finding a way to help your child through it too.

So what is “it”?

Here’s a clue. The popular song “Splish Splash” relates to the subject at hand.

It’s a messy ordeal at times but with a little patience and dedication all will turn out well.

It’s potty training!

Trying to find the right solution while effectively communicating how to accomplish this task to a younger child can be very challenging. When children have special needs, it becomes even more problematic.

Sometimes playing games can be especially helpful for boys.

There are many books written about different strategies for helping younger children and older children transition through the trials of potty training.

As a Mom, one of the books I highly recommend is Toilet Training by Maria Wheeler which has proven to be a valuable resource.

You can just imagine the stories I could tell.  So, without embarrassing my kids, make a mental note to be prepared for this milestone in the life of a special needs child.

Before you know it you’ll be congratulating your child for a job well done.

What made potty training with your special needs child difficult?

How did you make it easier for your child?

Share your story with me now by leaving a comment below.

I look forward to hearing your challenges and success.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Here are recommend tips, strategies, and tools you need to help understand and cope with potty training.

To download a video presentation that will help you understand the nature of and simple solutions to conquer potty training, click this link:


Stories From the Heart: Conquering Challenges

In the center of our kitchen my son screams. He turns his hands over repeatedly and looks closely at each one, holding them out as if they were poison. I quickly pull a paper towel from the roll and dry his hands. The screams subside and he bounces contently from the room. The screams experienced here are evidence of sensory deficits. This account is one of many episodes that occur with my son as he struggles to deal with his medical condition.

My three-year-old son was diagnosed nearly two years ago with PDD, otherwise known as pervasive developmental disorder, borderline Autism. Michael wasn’t always like this. Until the age of eighteen months, there had been no indication of any abnormal condition, and certainly not PDD.

Having raised another child before him, I was well aware of the milestones to look for as proof of how well he was doing. All the normal achievements were present; some were ahead of their time frame. Michael rolled over at the proper time, he crawled by ten months, and he walked prior to age one. There was no evidence to support anything other than normal growth.

At eighteen months, I realized something had gone wrong. There was a lack of words in Michael’s vocabulary. His attempts at conversation were not with normal child-like gibberish or jargon. Basic childhood words like, juice, cookie, bye-bye, and even Mommy, were not a part of Michael’s daily interaction. In addition, Michael was more at ease playing alone rather than with other children.

Concerned, I took my son to his pediatrician. His doctor was not disturbed, and informed me that some children do not acquire words as quickly as others. He encouraged me to wait for words to appear. I did wait-no words came. This warranted a second trip to Michael’s physician. This time my concerns were addressed and he referred us to the Sparks Center.

The specialists and therapists at the Sparks Center ran numerous tests, the results of which gave weight to my suspicions. Michael was diagnosed with PDD. PDD can manifest itself in numerous ways. The symptoms are as varied as the individual.

In Michael’s case, this disorder alters his perception and causes him to have aversions and intolerance to certain stimuli. Many of the things you and I take for granted, are not so commonplace to my son. This condition complicates Michael’s verbal and sensory skills, but also inhibits his ability to interact socially.

On the social scale, Michael is well below the average toddler. Social situations are challenging for us, so we avoid the social scene as often as possible. The smallest amount of interaction: a smile, a hello, or a pat on the head from a stranger, can send Michael into a screaming episode. Those watching assume this reaction to be one that requires a disciplinary co-action, so it is not unusual to receive a negative comment or sharp looks from observers. Those who know the symptoms are sympathetic.

I recall one incident in particular at the supermarket. A cashier attempted to start a conversation with Michael. Although this interaction triggered an episode, the cashier did not abandon his conversation, which sent Michael into an even deeper anti-social spin. When Michael would not calm, the cashier proceeded to pick him up. Michael’s limits had been reached.

He tried to escape and hid himself behind my knees. When I did get Michael calmed down, I asked the cashier to give him some space and Michael soon regained his composure. This caused an enormous amount of frustration for all involved.

Although the cashier had done what he thought was best, his efforts had made things worse. Situations like this one remind me of how much work is yet to be done to help my son. Michael is presently undergoing Speech Therapy. To increase his social skills he engages in one-on-one and group occupational therapy on a regular basis. He has made huge strides since the onset of these therapies and now speaks many words and phrases too. His screaming has decreased somewhat as he adapts to the social scene more readily.

This may seem trivial to some, but to us these accomplishments are tremendous achievements. Sometimes I feel so alone, as if no one understands or even cares to. At times it is difficult to explain Michael’s condition. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence and prayer, and will require even more energy from our family before my son is beyond this.

I hope in what I cannot see right now. After all that is what faith is all about. I will continue to strive to get beyond the barriers this dysfunction causes. The rewards well outweigh the obstacles: watching my son play with other children at the park, or observing him as he shakes another person’s hand at church. Each achievement affords me the strength to conquer the next hurdle. However, each day brings with it a new set of roadblocks. We have learned to set attainable goals.

There are yet occasions when I’m overwhelmed with the extra effort required to insure that my son processes and comprehends all the necessary information. There are many concerns and questions. I choose my battles. It brings me great joy to see Michael smile and exchange eye contact now, something he was unable to do initially. This is proof our efforts are paying off. Because of the my diligence and of others, we can now relish in one of Michael’s greatest successes: calling me Mommy!

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.


Independent Mother Turns Void into Results for Gifted Children

When you hear “special needs” child, what do you think first?

Most likely you think of the developmentally disabled like my son Jonathan.  He is autistic.

However, Jonathan wasn’t my first step into the special needs arena. It began when I realized the older three children were ahead of their class in 1991.

I had them tested on my own, and found out, some were considered gifted, which is a SPECIAL NEED all on its own.

You would think that a gifted child or two would have made things easier in our household, right?

Not so.

I quickly learned that school systems across the country earmark little if any funding for enrichment of gifted children.

I was alone, left to my own devices in a new quest to provide the best for my children. It was clear that in order to get the most out of the abilities of gifted children a parent had to push forward.

Since I was no stranger to challenges and hard work I began shopping around and found a different school that had programs for gifted students. By moving the kids to a much more fulfilling program, while adding more activities at home, we were well on our way getting past another obstacle.

Gifted children really need to be addressed properly within the school systems today. Of course, many schools could use much revamping in my opinion. Some of their “advanced” classes do not fit the bill and many times the knee jerk reaction of advancing a student to the next higher grade is not the answer.

To prevent your gifted child from getting lost in no-man’s-land you’re going to have to take the proverbial bull by the horns and forge a path that fits your child’s needs.

Although there are many competent professionals in education, don’t count on a prepackaged or relevant plan for your gifted child’s specific needs.

What have you encountered in the school systems that surprised you about guidance, or lack thereof, for gifted or disabled students?

What did you do to make a difference?

Share your story now by leaving your comment below.

I applaud your efforts in taking the initiative in this scholastic effort.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Having “been there – done that”, I recommend these tips, strategies, and tools when dealing with schooling options for special needs children.

To download a video presentation about special needs children and the organizations they are bound to interact with, click this link:



Getting to the Truth Means Trumping Political Correctness

“The truth will set you free!”

It is refreshing to know that the truth is what it is…whether we like it or not.

Have you seen the movie “Liar, Liar”?

Jim Carrey plays a fast track lawyer who continually breaks promises…especially to his wife and young son.  Knowing that Dad (Carrey) is going to miss a birthday party is the last straw.  Before blowing out the candles, the sad son, wishes that his Dad could never lie again.

Of course, due to movie magic, that wish comes true and the film continues with hilarious scenes of Carrey’s character being unable to lie, day or night, no matter what the situation.

He literally lost the mental filter through which we all have spoken little white lies.

Forget about being politically correct…that’s out the window.

Whatever the truth was, he spoke it.

In the real world, children with autism usually see things in the light of truth too.

They may say “Why are you so fat?” Or “Gee, I really don’t like that Christmas present.”

When Jonathan, my son with autism, was in the first grade he was just learning how to play.  He did not like to go outside to play, probably because of the social challenges on the playground.

One day he decided to tell his teacher, Mrs. Shincaryk, that he was too sick to go outside to play because he had a tummy ache.  Her aid, Caraly, went to Jonathan when she heard this news, and said “Johnny, a birdie told me that you don’t want to go outside to play because you have a tummy ache. Is this true?”

Jonathan replied “What? I didn’t know Mrs. Shincaryk had feathers. It’s really cool though. It must be really cool to be able to flap feathers.”

Telling the truth is admirable.  We even tell our children to “always” tell the truth.

As you can see, things get complicated when the truth does not mesh well with the social reality of interacting with others on a daily basis.

How has the truth effected your relations with an autistic person?

Like my son Jonathan, have you ever tried telling the whole truth as often as possible?  What happened?

What was the result when a special needs person, or yourself for that matter, told the whole truth and nothing but the truth with less than stellar timing?

Share your story with me now by leaving your comment below.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Here is something I would like to recommend that will give you the tips, strategies, and tools you need to handle etiquette with special needs individuals.

To download a video presentation that will help you understand the nature of special needs individuals speaking their mind in truth, click this link:


Stories From the Heart: Conquering Mountains

When they cry; I am unemotional.
When they are down; I stay positive and keep my chin up.
When they are at school; I am in hospital.

When they learn math and languages; I learn about life’s importance and overcoming struggles.
When they are on study leave; I am at school.
When they are sleeping in and doing a few hours study; I am alert, surrounded by teachers, learning and catching up ready for exams.

When they go bowling; I have physio.
When they are having fun with friends; I am slowly making progress, all the while learning patience and determination.
When they go shopping; I have appointments.

When they are spending money on clothes and prettiness; I am meeting different people, listening to their comments and learning the difference between opinion and fact.
When they go tramping; I walk on crutches.
When they are walking up steep slopes; I am learning to walk, truly appreciating each step I take.

When they are conquering mountains; I am doing exactly the same.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Near Death Experience Prior to News of Special Needs Child

When Alex was just 6 months old, I was finally able to hold him in my arms after a long stent in the hospital.

Up until that point l was recovering from a near death experience following Alex’s birth.

My parents stayed with me during my recovery period and Mom got to know Alex better than she normally would have.  She practically was his surrogate Mom for the first 3 months or so as I was unable to move much at all.

What a true joy it was to finally hold Alex knowing that family was beside me the entire time.

Being in an extended afterglow since Alex’s birth, I thought everything was fine even when Mom told me that Alex was unable to support his weight on her legs when she held him in an upward position.

Then Mom mentioned that Alex’s eyes would sometimes jiggle back and forth.

I figured she was likely over reacting.

Mom took careful notice of these issues. They caused her great concern so we took Alex to the pediatrician.

They immediately scheduled Alex for a CT scan.

After the scan the doctor said, “Mrs. Sicoli, are you sitting down?” to which I replied “Yes”.

“The good news is that Alex doesn’t have a brain tumor” the doctor said.  That comment in itself stunned me because I truly believed he was fine. Then the bad news…Alex had CP!

I couldn’t believe my ears.

It had been only 3 years since my older son had been given the diagnosis of autism and now I had another special needs child to content with.  Though it was quite a shocker, I am so thankful that I at least had a head start and knew what avenues to take next in order to get him into the right programs.

As with Jonathan’s autism, early intervention is critical and our family moved forward with a plan to deal with this CP diagnosis head on.

How did you deal with a surprise diagnosis of your special needs child?

What were the steps you took (initial and long term) that best prepared you to cope?

When did you realize any missteps and what did you do to correct or otherwise minimize them?

Make a difference and share your story by leaving your comment below.

Your dedication is empowering and I look forward to hearing from you.

Karen Simmons
Mother, Wife, Author, Founder & CEO of


P.S. Here is something I would like to recommend that will give you the tips, strategies, and tools you need to help understand and cope with initial diagnosis of a special need child.

To download a video presentation that will help you cope with the diagnosis of a special needs child, click this link:


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