Stories From the Heart: Potential to Succeed

As the parent of a young college student with high-functioning Autism, I’m thankful for the dedicated special education professionals who work with a most needy and difficulty student population. My son was driven to clinical depression (1st & 3rd grades – shame on them) in a “good” neighborhood charter school.

Teachers there refused to work with IEP required therapists, or provide the modifications and accommodations required so he could succeed (I don’t do that in MY class). I found a little non-public school outside our district as no other options nearby had openings, appropriate settings, or wanted our child. I drove a 75 mile round trip – twice a day for 7 1/2 years to this little non-public school “that could”.

I am forever grateful for the owner/administrator, the teachers and aides for giving my son the chance he deserved. When he was placed, he hit, kicked, screamed, bit people and threw things (all learned at the charter school – he never had such violent outbursts at home until treated so badly). It took one full year before he realized he was “safe” and could sit and attend in class.

Once he realized it was ok to be himself, he learned and has been an A/B student ever since. He is now in a community college, takes the bus by himself and is very proud (as are his parents) of his accomplishments. He worked hard, but could not have been able to do so without those wonderful people who gave him the confidence to believe in himself.

I continue to work with other families of students with disabilities in K-12, because I believe all students have the potential to succeed if we allow them the tools to do so. My son is a sign of hope for the success of their children.

I have no idea what he’ll end up doing as a profession, but I know he’ll be happy and feel proud in whatever he accomplishes. He could not have come so far without that little non-public school.

Thank you for giving my son his future.

By Sonja L

Submitted By Ken Brzezinski

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

Stories From the Heart: Finding the Common Ground

Like many people, I have an Autistic child.  He’s not the highest functioning but he’s come a very long way over the years.  One of my greatest fears as a mother is not that my son will not recover.  I know that our children will.  My fear is that he recovers but because we were so focused only on recovery that we forgot to let him be a person and experience life.

When I look at my child, I see all the things that we still need to accomplish.  I know that by working through therapies and extra schooling those things will come about.  But what happens when he recovers and had no experiences that were common to his peers?  He still won’t fit in because he won’t have any common grounds of experience.

For me, this has been a big issue.  To make sure that my son experiences some things like all the other boys.  That’s really tough when your child isn’t always able to sit still or really relate to other people.  So we initially chose swimming lessons that were just him with his teacher.  As he began to swim better and better, he also made a connection with his teacher.

Then there was Boy Scouts.  Our area had a special needs troop.  That was great.  Not all the children had special needs but most did and the other boys in the troop understood because we were in the special troop.  This also meant that we weren’t as boy lead as a traditional group and that we worked on patches during meetings and those lessons were tailored to short attention spans and taught in small increments.  We camped and fished; we even competed at Camporee’s with the non-special troops, and still took home ribbons for placing in the top 3 in some events.

We really didn’t have a sport for our son.  A large group of children running around was just too overwhelming for my son.  So sports like soccer, football and basketball were definitely not a possibility for him.   Other sports were just too solitary and he’d lose his focus.  But we did find our place in a very unlikely venue.

After the 2006 Winter Olympics I talked my family and a friend into trying curling. (Yes, the sport with rocks, ice and brooms.)  We took a few classes  and we played some beginner games.  My son loved it.  It has personal aspects, you’re still part of a team, but it’s not too quick. (That’s why there are no slow motion cameras in televising curling.)

We found a connection with the other curlers who are very supportive and kind.  Unfortunately, playing times changed and we couldn’t play at that venue any more, the 5 hours round trip was just too much on a week night.  So we waited to get closer ice.

After the 2010 Winter Olympics, our city opened a new ice arena.  This gave us 3 more rinks in town.  We found other curlers and want-to-be-curlers and started a club after 2 months of intensive work to get equipment, money and ice time.  Fort Wayne now has a curling club that welcomes anyone.  We have another special needs curler in our club and a wheelchair athlete.  We curl every week on our league night.  Everyone is integrated onto teams.

My son asks to curl almost every day.  He feels safe at the rink and interacts with the club members.  He has very good curling skills and uses a delivery stick because the slide delivery doesn’t work for him yet.  He has really been the inspiration to start the club.  We are working with Special Olympics and the USCA to bring curling to all the special needs people of the United States.

For me the best thing of all is the common ground that my family has experienced through curling.  My family can do something together as a family within our community.  It’s a sport that one can play their whole life.  Curling gives my son an experience that maybe everyone here hasn’t experienced but he knows how to rely on himself and be part of a team.  He may never be an Olympian, but he experiences the joy of a good shot.

By Jerri Mead

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

Stories From the Heart: Patience Really Is a Virtue

As parents of a special needs child, we hear the word, “patience” every day and sometimes even more. But, have you ever really stopped to focus on just what that word means when dealing with the day-to-day struggles of caring for your special needs child?  As a father of a child with Autism, it took me quite some time to really figure out the importance of exercising patience with my son.

Lately, I have noticed when my son goes into a tantrum or outburst, instead of becoming frustrated and going from 0-60 in mere seconds…exercising patience is really, as they say, a virtue. If I step back and count to ten and calmly ask him to show me what is wrong, or show me what he needs, he will calm down much quicker and proceed to communicate with me the best way he can. I have to remember, it is just as frustrating for him to not be able to communicate with me as it is for me to be able to understand his outbursts and communication struggles.

Exercising patience aids in opening up a communication doorway and, in my opinion, strengthens the bond between you and your special someone. I believe our children have a unique and intelligent understanding of the world around them, and we, as parents, just need to be more patient to further understand what they perceive as normal, every day.

So the next time you feel frustrated or hear someone say, “be patient,” really stop and give it a try; it just may be the key to unlocking some of the mysteries behind the communication barriers with special needs children…and maybe even relieve some of the stress you deal with every day.

By Matt McLain

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

Stories From the Heart: The Benefits of Using Sign Language with Special Needs Children

Traditionally, sign language is only thought of in the context of either the deaf community, or to use with children who are hearing impaired. However, today, there are multiple populations of hearing children with special needs in which sign language has proven extremely beneficial.

Some of these disabilities include Apraxia, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, speech and language delays, Down Syndrome, sensory issues, learning disabilities, medically fragile children, and varying degrees of cognitive disabilities.  Sign language is also used other developmental disabilities, as well as in children with severe behavioural challenges.

Recent research indicates multiple advantages in using sign language to help children with special needs. The overall development of speech, language, social, emotional, and academic skills can all be enhanced through the use of signing. Sign language appears to accelerate the acquisition of speech by stimulating certain areas of the brain that are associated with speech and language.

Also, signing provides overall language stimulation and conceptual information that enhances vocabulary development in children. Since many children with special needs exhibit difficulty with expressive language, sign language provides these children with access to communication while strengthening their ability to produce speech.

Sign language also increases social and emotional development in children with special needs. Signing helps to expand social opportunities, which in turn naturally enhances overall self-esteem. These children, as they develop better communication skills through signing, often become more independent. In addition, the brain makes connections through both auditory and visual input. Since children with special needs often have other impairments, that affect normal development in the brain, sign language helps these areas of the brain that are linked to the development of speech and language. Also, language is the primary building block for learning and academic development.

One of the most recent developments includes the use of sign language with children with Autism. Autism is a neurological developmental disorder which results in impairment of social skills, language development, and behaviour. Research today indicates that one of the most effective ways to teach speech to children with Autism is through the use of sign language. Signing increased the chances of children with Autism learning to hear spoken language. It provides these children with an alternative mode of communication.

It is relatively easy for parents to learn and to utilize it with their children. Since sign language is more iconic than speech, individual signs can be more easily grasped: Recent research has also discovered that sign language is most likely processed in the right hemisphere of the brain. Since children with Autism have left hemisphere brain impairment, signing may be easier for them to comprehend.

Since language is one of the primary building blocks for learning and academic development, sign language is useful for children with special needs because it stimulates intellectual development. Using signs also helps children to retain information longer because it supplements speech input. Utilizing many different modes of input strengthens the connections in the brain and therefore greatly benefits overall academic development in these children.

By Ellen Lunz

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

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