Stories From the Heart: Santa Claus’ Love & Compassion Is Not Just For the Kids

I have a mentally disabled son who for some unknown reason just had to go see Santa Claus one year. The day came when I could no longer put this man-child of 19 off; he just had to see Santa Claus.

At that time I did not have good clothes to wear, and my size was also something that would get embarrassing looks. When we got there it was obvious that because of his size, and his age, my son would not be permitted to go up the ramp, much less sit in Santa’s lap.

We stood back and watched other children go up to Santa. All of a sudden, this man-child started waving and yelling, “Hi, Santa,” with a great big smile.

The man in the red suit stood up immediately with children still waiting to sit on his lap. He hurried down the ramp to where this odd-looking couple (my son and I) were standing. He reached way out to shake my son’s hand. My son stretched very hard to reach Santa and he did manage to touch the tip of his glove and shake hands.

This man in the red suit grabbed my son’s hand and said, “Santa loves you.” My son’s face lit up and his smile was radiant when he heard what this special and compassionate man had said.

Santa reached in this pocket and gave my son a small plastic ring as a gift. My son put the ring in his pocket and reached out for another. I don’t know what the man in the red suit thought, but he did not hesitate to give him another ring.

I asked my son “What are you doing?” He replied, “This one’s for Donnie.” You see, he was reaching the second time for his twin brother, who is just a little more mentally disabled than he.

Yes, my friend, there is a Santa Claus and my son Davy is convinced of it.

By Richard G. Halcombe, Sr.

* 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: December Is For Crying

I couldn’t control my sobbing. Weeks before Christmas, I was on the floor of my bedroom closet crying harder than I had ever before. Although he was there, my husband was unable to console me. There was something wrong with our son. Or maybe there was something wrong with us. Either way, Jonathan was two and a half years old and out of control.

Earlier that day, we were at a birthday gathering for the one year old daughter of friends. Jonathan could not stay in one place. He wasn’t just active. He could not stop moving, and as he moved he dumped things and hurt people. When he shoved the birthday girl, Julia, to the floor and walked over her, we took him home.

I don’t know why I went into the closet to cry. Maybe I thought he wouldn’t hear me in there. Maybe I just wanted to hide.

About a week before Christmas, I attended a baby shower for a mom in my playgroup. As I walked back to my car with my friend Arlene, I just broke down. “How come everyone in playgroup is having a second baby and I can’t even handle one? Life is so hard! We can’t go anywhere, things are so stressful and miserable at home and I think I made a mistake by having a baby in the first place. Our pediatrician has already dismissed our concerns and everyone tells us ‘he is just being a boy’ or ‘he needs a good spanking.’ What am I doing wrong?” Arlene didn’t have any answers, but she did stand in the street with me for an hour just listening.

A few days later, Arlene called me. She had overheard two women talking about their children and thought their situations sounded like mine. She asked them for advice and although mutual friends told her it wasn’t her place to do so, she nervously passed along the name and phone number of a center that could evaluate Jonathan.

I didn’t even have to think about what to do. I immediately called my husband at work and told him that I was going to have Jonathan evaluated. Next I called the center and set up an initial meeting.

On December 27th, Becky, our new case manager, came to my home to meet me and Jonathan. She watched as he dumped toys from their containers onto the floor without stopping to play with anything. She took notice that he did not talk except for very few words and seemed not to hear me when I talked to him or called his name. She told me that she thought Jonathan would benefit from a full evaluation and we set the date for January 7.

Because of his young age, Jonathan’s evaluation consisted of him being lead through a number of activities by a play facilitator while he was observed by a psychologist, clinical social worker, educational specialist, speech-language pathologist my husband and me.

For over two hours I watched him, wondering if what he was doing was normal. I saw the specialists scribbling notes and I felt my stomach tightening into a knot. When the evaluation team had gathered the information they needed, we took Jonathan to lunch. At 2:00p.m., Vinny and I were back at the center listening to the evaluation team recount what they observed that morning.

Although everyone started with something positive about Jonathan, it didn’t take long to get to his deficiencies and the list was long. I wasn’t surprised. I was prepared to hear their recommendations and do whatever I needed to for my son. However, I was not prepared for what they said. I felt like a boulder had fallen from the sky, crushing me under its weight and affecting my ability to hear, think and breathe.

“Autism? Did you say that he has Autism?” “Not Autism. We said that he possibly has PDD, which is on the Autism spectrum and he should be evaluated by the TEACCH center to rule that out.

“So you think he has PDD? “We think he might?” “How do I get an evaluation?’ “Well, there is a two year waiting list.” I couldn’t comprehend the words in my ears or the thoughts in my head. My son maybe has something called PDD which is a kind of Autism, but not really Autism, and the people I need to see about this can’t help me for another two years. I started firing off questions. “What does this mean? Will he learn? Will he talk? Will he go to school? How do we fix this?” “We don’t know what his future holds. Some children make progress, but there is no way to know how much progress any child will make. There is no cure for Autism.”

“But he doesn’t have Autism. He only maybe has this thing like Autism.” There was silence. I sat there with a sickness in my stomach and tears sitting in the corners of my eyes. I waited to hear what I needed to do next. The next five years brought both tears and triumphs. Jonathan underwent 21 additional evaluations. He attended a special preschool and spent hundreds of hours in various therapies.

Vinny and I mourned the life we thought Jonathan would have, and began to shape the life he could have. We found ways to teach him skills that most children acquire naturally and we learned to appreciate all of his accomplishments. We discovered that he is funny and incredibly smart. At the age of eight, Jonathan was formally diagnosed with high functioning mild Autism.

By that time, the label didn’t matter. Jonathan was blossoming in a typical first grade class. He still had challenges, but what child doesn’t? This December, six years after my crying jag in the closet, I found myself crying over my son again. His school put on a production of “Bah Humbug”, their version of “A Christmas Carol”. The whole school was a part of it, and Jonathan’s grade played street urchins in the chorus.

I sat in the auditorium watching my beautiful child, with his hat askew on his head, shuffle across stage singing “Life Was Meant to Live” and realized that at one time I could not imagine Jonathan being able to do this. I felt my emotions rising into my throat. I knew my family could not control everything that happened in our lives, and we were certainly living differently than we planned, but in spite of the Autism, we were living a good and happy life.

Then the tears came. Not loud forceful sobs, but silent, joyful tears slowly sliding from my eyes.

By Lisa A. Simone

Stories From the Heart: Cousin Stanley

A long time ago, when I was a very small girl growing up in Yorkshire, England, I received a most unusual Christmas gift. I had asked Santa Claus for a pony and had generously excused him from bringing me anything else since I realized ponies were quite expensive, and probably pretty heavy to go dragging around on a sled with all his other presents.

However, I was not getting my hopes up too high since I had asked for a pony the year before and either Santa had run out of them, or he thought I’d been bad, which was probably true!

Happily, this year had looked promising. I was more grown up now; seven on my last birthday, and mother said my behavior was improving. Also there had been a number of very mysterious things happening.

The postman had delivered letters which had been read and then very carefully locked away where I could not read them. Telephone calls were abruptly ended when I entered the room. And mother was forever tidying out drawers and moving small pieces of furniture around upstairs. Granted, this last activity did not coincide at all with pony ownership, not that I could see. But then, I had never owned a pony, nor had anyone else I knew, so I was not at all sure what was involved.

Then, on Christmas Eve morning, mother left to go off on an unexplained errand and my imagination ran riot. Obviously it had something to do with Christmas, probably with me, too. Later in the day she arrived home holding a little boy by the hand. Leading him over to me, she said, “This is your cousin Stanley. He’s going to live with us. He’ll be a nice playmate for you.”

I was thunderstruck. I ask for a pony and I get – a cousin. I said the first thing that came into my mind. “Where did he come from?” Mother sighed. “He’s been living in a sort of hospital. You see he’s not quite like other boys. He’s very quiet and gentle but I think once you get used to him you’ll really enjoy having him around. It will be as good as having a brother.”

Who’d ever asked for a brother? If I wasn’t to be allowed to have a pony I might have settled on a sister. But I wasn’t sure. I could see that he was quiet and I would take mother’s word for it that he was gentle, but I wondered why he smiled all the time if he’d been living in a hospital. When I had my tonsils out I’d cried every day in hospital until they brought me home.

“Where’s his mom and dad?” I demanded. “They’re in Heaven,” said mother quietly. I must have accepted her explanation because that was the best Christmas I ever remember. True, I didn’t get a pony, but I didn’t give it another thought after Stanley arrived.

He was the ‘perfect’ playmate. My naturally bossy nature suited Stanley to the ground. So long as he was getting attention he felt secure and cared for. And because he was incapable of theoretical thinking, he left all the planning and organizing up to me. It was a match made in Heaven.

Although he couldn’t go to school, he was content to stay home with Mom and wait anxiously until I got home. Then he’d show me pictures he had drawn for me and jumbled up buildings he’d made with my blocks. If he was ever troublesome for Mother to deal with, she never mentioned it.

We usually spend the time before supper playing school. I would tell him what I had learned that day and try to teach him the same things. He tried very hard to understand but so much of it was beyond him. Even so, he eventually managed to learn the alphabet and could count up to ten and he got better and better at colouring between the lines and drawing pictures freehand.

I’ve no doubt that repeating my lessons to Stanley was good for me; and in some small way it was good for Stanley, too. I don’t ever remember asking Mother what she and Stanley did when I wasn’t around. I just took it for granted that he would be there waiting for me with a big welcoming smile, eager to embark on whatever games I suggested and always lovingly grateful for my attention.

Slowly, the years passed. I was only a few months away from graduation when I suddenly realized that if I left home to go to university as had been planned, there would be a big hole in Stanley’s life and in mine, too. My cousin towered above me now but he was still the sweet, lovable boy he had been on that long ago Christmas Eve.

I began to worry about his future. That winter the big flu pandemic struck our town. Always susceptible to respiratory infections, Stanley was one of the first to become ill.

In four short days, he died. To say that we all missed him would be the grossest understatement. His constant good nature, his smile, his cheerful obedience and eagerness to learn had been a shining example to me for over a decade.

How would I have turned out without this sterling cousin-come-brother to lead me? How would I manage without his unconditional love and cheerful spirit? I could not imagine.  Stanley’s wholesome nature became the model I strived to achieve. His willingness to concentrate on pleasing others became, for me, the epitome of “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

Many years have passed and this gentle giant is still an important lodestar to me. And, one thing I do know – no pony in the world could have been as loving, and as loved, as was my cousin Stanley.

Author Unknown

Stories From the Heart: A Mother’s Prayer

God, I don’t know why my questions go unanswered. I love this child you’ve given me, but I don’t know how to cope with the pain frustration exhaustion. Reactions from well-meaning friends are sometimes hurtful. Through their eyes they see, handicapped slow disabled. If only they could see through your eyes of divine love and mercy- beautiful special beloved.

Lord, I need your grace to raise this child in your ways. I’m desperate for your touch of compassion mercy gentleness. Help me to look beyond all the medical jargon, specialists and consultants, fancy words, terms, and labels. Turn my eyes toward you, Jesus, to gaze upon your face and to feel hope, strength, and peace.

In the early hours of morn and the dark despair of night, shine your light upon my path- bright clear unwavering. Lord, you see every tear.
You bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted with healing soothing grace. God, I accept that I don’t have all the answers.

One fact remains solid concrete. You have promised in your word that you will never leave abandon forsake us. I trust in that promise and I pray for wisdom. Help me to follow you today, tomorrow, and forever.

By Cynthia A. Lovely

Stories From the Heart: Tiffany Never Stopped Talking

When I was a teenager and still living home with my parents, I dated this guy Bruce that owned a pet store. One day when I visited Bruce in the shop I noticed a little Siamese kitten that was in a cage without all the other Siamese kittens. The other Siamese kittens were all much larger than this one little kitten that couldn’t stand up and just kept crying and crying, trying to stand, and falling over and over.

I asked Bruce about this little Siamese kitten, and he told me he was sending the kitten back because there was something wrong with it, so it couldn’t be sold. After a big fuss (Bruce strongly did not want to give me this kitten), he finally agreed to let me adopt this little teeny tiny Siamese kitten that I named “Tiffany”.

I brought Tiffany right away to a vet that our family used for our other pets.  They were shocked to see such a kitten with such severe defects. Tiffany’s diagnosis was a long name I don’t remember. She had severe neurological problems which affected her balance, sight, and movement and there was suspicion that the mother may have had distemper. The vet told me that a kitten like Tiffany is rare to begin with, and even more so since the mother cats typically will reject a baby that is found to have serious defects.

They even asked if they could study Tiffany to track her progress. Tiffany was not expected to live a long life. Tiffany could see but I was told she saw things in doubles and triples and wouldn’t know where things were in space.

At first she couldn’t eat because she couldn’t sense where the bowl was even if we held her body and put her face by the dish. When she tried to eat she looked like a woodpecker with her head and as she got close to the bowl she would be so excited to reach the food that she would squirm out of our hands and fall into the dish knocking her food or milk all over.

She couldn’t stand even at first so walking was out of the question. But she never stopped trying as we cared for her she kept getting stronger. Eventually Tiffany proved everyone wrong; she learned to eat on her own like a woodpecker, walk on her own like a drunken sailor, and even run like a snake because the back of her body which was weak would sway from side to side.

Of course, since Tiffany couldn’t see where walls were, she lost some of her front teeth when she was playing. Tiffany couldn’t jump so instead she learned how to climb up onto things with her front legs. As strong as Tiffany’s front legs were she never used them to scratch others.

Unlike most cats Tiffany would come to you when you called her. She would answer the door bell with her “friends”, our dogs. Actually Tiffany often acted more like a dog than a cat. When she was happy, which seemed like always, she would purr really loud and lick your face with her stinky rough tongue. People who hated cats actually changed their mind when they met Tiffany. She could win over anyone.

Tiffany wasn’t my child: she was my pet. I didn’t take her because I felt sorry for her, or because I wanted to punish myself, or because I thought I was so tolerant or special I could help her when nobody else could. I took Tiffany out of that pet store because I saw a kitten that wanted and deserved a chance just like the others. And that’s what I gave her.

Tiffany lived into her teens. Like most Siamese cats she never stopped talking.  Having Tiffany as a pet was one of the blessings of my life. She taught me and many others much more than what we taught her.

Ironically while Tiffany never stopped talking, years later I became a mom to two children who were late talkers. The lessons Tiffany taught me helped me to help my boys to overcome, and to help others like them through the CHERAB Foundation which I founded.

Who but God is to say what type of life is right and what type of life is wrong? -as if there is such an answer!

By Lisa Fernandez Geng

Stories From the Heart: My Life, My Love, My Son Aaron

My son was born as any child would come into this world. I would actually say he was ahead of the game, 9 pounds 11 ounces and 20 inches. He was our reason for existence, as any child should be. He grew to be adored by many. He was a good baby; he slept well, a good eater, and not very fussy.

He began to have many ear infections and the doctors didn’t really think much of it. He was on antibiotics at least once a month and I began to worry. Like any new parent you put your trust in doctors. At the age of three I began to worry that these ear infections were too severe. I went to a specialist and he recommended ear tubes, which we did, and it seemed to help.

At three in a half, Aaron was still using simple words and his vocabulary was very limited he pointed and used one word if any to get what he needed. The doctor didn’t think it was a big deal. I new better, and was worried.

I took him to get evaluated at Child Development Services. He was diagnosed speech delayed. I followed up with a Neurologist who sent a series of test. He was the diagnosed at age 4 with Pervasive Development Disorder. At that age he was placed in a classroom with students that had varying exceptionalities. The following year the school placed him in an Autistic classroom. He had been diagnosed mildly-autistic with speech delay by the school system.

He is a very loving boy, with loads of energy and smarts. He is very loved by all who come in contact with him. He has a giggle and a smile that can light up the darkest of my days. When I have had enough and I feel my prayers are not heard his hugs and smiles fill me with strength to keep fighting.

I don’t know why or how this happened to him, but it did. It continues to affect a lot of children and we don’t know why. I think we need explanations, reasons on how to better what is happening.

Today Aaron is in a General Education classroom and is only pulled out into an Autistic classroom for two subjects. Next year he will be fully included to the General Education Classroom. Every day I learn something new that I was unaware he could reach.

Sadly, my sons worse handicap in life has been me, and a lack of knowledge. I had to buy new books and learn new strategies.

I will have to say that this life isn’t what I planned.  The pain, loss and worry are always there because it is a big loss. But if I spend all my time wishing and hoping, I will miss all the beautiful things this life has in store for me and my beautiful son.

Author Unknown

Stories From the Heart: Let Go

Let Go. I want everything I don’t have. And sometimes I wish I was President, or the king of some far away land.

I want everything I don’t have, and sometimes I wish I could just get up and walk away.

Do you know what it’s like? To wake up in the middle of the night thirsty and dry, and you just want a drink, but you know that you can’t make it into the kitchen?

Let go. I want everything, I don’t have, And sometimes I wish I was President, or the king of some far away land.

I want everything I don’t have, and sometimes I wish I could just get up and walk away.

Do you know what its like? To drive down a street in your home town, there are so many places you want to explore, but you know that you can’t make it through the front door?

Let go. I want everything I don’t have. And sometimes I wish I was President, or the king of some far away land.

I want everything I don’t have, and sometimes I wish I could just get up and walk away. Sometime I want to run.

Do you know what it’s like to have only one dream your whole life? You want it so bad that it burns in your soul, but you know that this dream’s never going come true?

Let go. Just let go. When you let go of all your desire, when you let go of all of your dreams, you will open your eyes, and see all that surrounds you.

It is better than the treasure of ten thousand kings.

I want everything I don’t have.

Just like everyone else.


Author Unknown

Stories From the Heart: Destiny Joy

“She has Down Syndrome.” The words were spoken kindly and calmly by the midwife, but their impact simultaneously demolished the last shred of hope for my failing marriage. How would I support these three children by myself? How would I do full time care of this most precious institutionally needy infant and work to support the four of us? How would I know how to protect this little beauty from a world where I was never permitted to associate with “them” at school when I grew up?

At 40 years old I was a stay at home mom who was confused and terrified. A little child’s prophetic insight led me to embrace joy. Six year old, blonde, dimpled, wise beyond his years, hyperactive Reed tore through the house, blaring, “I’ll take care of her. I’m the big brother.”

Then miraculously he sat down contentedly and affixed on her eyes; while she connected to his for some 7 seconds. The last time I saw this kind of link was on Star Trek with mind melt. I tucked the memory in the pocket of my mother’s heart. I was amazed.

The moment was interrupted when Cherish’s lacey bloomers pressed against my thigh, while her knees gored my tummy, and she crawled in to the bed to snuggle. She was trying to get to her sister for her turn. “I’m the big sister! Let me hold her.” Cherish was ballerinas, dollies, and tea party three. Her dark, brown, long, hair curling around her exquisite, black-lashed eyes, brushed against the baby’s cheek. I reached in time to rescue our five pound pink and blue, tiny angel with the straight line across her palms, curled little finger, flattened nose, and slanting eyes.

Oh how the three of us adored this extraordinary, five pound, mini-babe. Tears, tears and more tears. Would they ever stop? The children were staring with painful wonder. I knew they must be told. “Darlings, you know how momma’s been crying a lot lately?” “Yes,” said Cherish wiping my face with a tissue as Reed nodded and rubbed his hand over the baby’s head so gingerly. “Well, uh, umm” I stammered while biting my lip and searching for the most succinct and tactful words.

“Well, you know I’ve been crying a lot and haven’t really stopped and this is not like me?” Their heads bobbed like two gorgeous springy, China dolls. How did I put all the complexities of the last three days into terms they could understand? I didn’t quite realize that I was crying for our new one’s medical survival and safety. I was crying for my own inadequacy to perform this great task with so few special need skills. How was I to become worthy of this gifted child?

“Well, first, I am so grateful our baby made it to us safely and I love her so very, very much. I don’t cry because of anything you or she has done. Do you understand? You and the baby are terrific. I am so happy to have all of you.” They squeezed in closer.  ” I am crying because, uh, because…well…you know our baby is, ah….different. It’s a good difference but she is different and our life will be different too.”

Reed burst out, “I know how she’s different! I know how she’s different!” You do? You know how she’s different? I was thinking of how I would tell them about the twenty-first chromosome, their dad’s leaving, and how we’d have to move with no money or house. Fortunately, I bit my tongue instead and responded, “Well, honey, what do you know? Please share.”

“Momma, I know that she has a lot more love in her than anyone else!”

Somehow, all the loftier scientific and sociological aspects did not matter. “Reed, you are absolutely right. She has lots more love for all of us and we’ll be just fine.” The four of us hugged together. We were so proud of our Destiny Joy.

By Kathilyn Baker Wilcox

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

Stories From the Heart: A Mother Knows Best

A mother knows when something isn’t right. Even at 19 years old I knew that there was something different about my baby.  I knew that his life was going to be a challenge and that mine would forever be changed from not just that of a carefree teenager to a young parent, but to a parent of a child with a condition that would force me to recognize that I had passed on a trait so complicated it would take most of my adult life to help him find his way.

I named him Justin Daniel, he was beautiful.  He arrived five weeks early but the doctors said he was a picture of health!  From the moment I held him I was sure there was something different about my baby, but I quickly dismissed it for new parent jitters. But within months it was obvious I was right.  He wasn’t hitting his milestones.  Everything was delayed.

Justin had some other odd behaviors as well, he didn’t sleep through the night, loud noises bothered him, he didn’t like to make eye contact with people, he preferred not to be held unless he was nursing, and he only liked to play with toys the had a predominance of red in them.  The only exception was his teddy bear, George, who was brown.

When Justin got to the age of two and a half he still wasn’t talking, I decided it was time for an evaluation, the results were shocking.   He had what appeared to be autistic tendencies or features.  But because of his age autism was not a diagnosis they would give him.  Instead he diagnosed with an expressive and receptive language disorder.  By the age of three he was using words but only in form of echolalia, repeating words back to you.  He still rocked and had severe gross motor and fine motor control issues.

Finally after he was potty trained they entered him into an early childhood program where he began to flourish.  The second diagnosis they gave him was autistic tendencies with expressive and receptive language based disorder and mental retardation.  I was shocked.  I refused to believe that my son was MR.  How could they decide that a three and a half year old child was MR when he could not sit still long enough to be adequately evaluated?  Fortunately not all the team agreed with the diagnosis and it was expunged.  The services continued and he stayed in the early childhood program until he was five.

Once he was five it was time to decide what to do, by now he was communicating at one year behind age level.  He had made great strides.  He was diagnosed with expressive and receptive language disorder but we made the decision to put him in a private non-service school.

When you are a parent of a child with these disabilities, sometimes you want to believe your child is normal.  They are better, it has gone away and he will be fine now.  What a mistake that was.  We got through kindergarten okay, but first grade saw a teacher who was very unsympathetic and was described by my son as ”a big fat frog face.”  Needless to say we did not make it through first grade.  Private special education school here we come.

Another thing about having a child with special education needs is there tends to be a lack of friendships, especially when there is a communication disorder at the helm.  Justin didn’t know how to start conversations with other kids; he just didn’t know what to say to them.  He had too many things to say in the form of questions.

I knew as a parent I had to find a way to help my son develop friendships, it wasn’t just about academics and the kids even in his school for special education found him different at his young age.  I was heartbroken for him.  He was isolated.  There were kids on our block and he would play with them a little, but there was a missing link with them as well.

Justin didn’t appear to care that much about not having friends to hang around with, he was content to play by himself. But as he got older the more curious he got in other people.  I pushed him to socialize because I felt it was important.

His first introduction to having to do this on his own was with the group that worked with kids with all kinds of disabilities, they took them on trips to places they would never be able to go otherwise and give them experiences they would never forget.

That is where he met his first best friend Bobby. Bobby also had disabilities; he had Cerebral Palsy and used a wheelchair to get around.  Justin and Bobby became best friends while at space camp.  Justin helped Bobby get around and do things, and Bobby helped Justin communicate and come out of his shell.  It was a match made in heaven.  Upon their return they were inseparable; they spent the night at each others houses, went to more events together, and became the best of friends.  For several years until Justin moved out of state he and Bobby remained great friends.

After the move Justin had to start all over again, new school, new friends, a new life.  Before he moved to his new school, he spent the summer in Nantucket, at a caddy camp.  He did a lot of growing up that summer.  He was teased and ridiculed, not given any breaks by any of the other boys, no one wanted to be his friend, but he stuck it out.  He wanted to make money to buy his first car, and he did make good money.

He also learned to get himself out of a couple jams, like finding transportation to Martha’s Vineyard to meet a friend of ours when the plane was cancelled.  He was able to problem solve his way through, and found our friend without even knowing where to look.

His disabilities in school were not as prevalent as his problems with receptive and expressive language, which did cause some problems in classes where discussions where part of the curriculum, and a lot of note taking was required.  He still had his autistic tendencies this showed up in flicking light switches, playing with any switches actually, his obsessive compulsiveness: everything in his room had to be in perfect order.  He actually labeled all the cabinets in the house for me.  And when the groceries arrived he would make sure they all got put away in the proper place.

It was always my hope that Justin would be able to not only get a job but hold one down successfully.  I was sure he would do a good job as OCD as he was, he had gotten his drivers license and was very careful so I was pleased with that, still he had a long way to go.  He got a job at a theatre as an usher, and then was moved to concession.  He did so well he was quickly promoted to cashier and within six months made supervisor.

Justin was surpassing expectations of the diagnosticians many years ago telling us he was MR and the most I could hope for was his working at a fast food restaurant wiping down tables. He was only seventeen and already supervising, plus going to school full time.  He was working thirty hours a week sometimes, with a disability, managing school and his job.  Within another six months he was promoted to manager.  Justin was doing well in school and at work.  His social life was lagging but he was excelling in all other areas.  I was worried about the hours he was working and warned him about it, but he thought he could handle it.  So as long as his grades did not suffer I let him continue.

Then it hit, one day I went into his room and he was gone.  Bags packed bed made and no Justin.  I was terrified.  He had left.  No note, he had just disappeared.  I was frantic.  I tried calling him and no response.  This is how Justin dealt with stress.  It had gotten to be too much for him.  He had no outlet.  I contacted the police and explained his situation to them and they were nice enough to put out a missing persons report on him because of his having disabilities.

About twelve hours later I got a call from him.  He was several hours out of town and in tears; he wanted help but didn’t know where to turn.  We talked and it was decided he would come home and we would strategize on what to do about work and school.  Things changed after that, he resigned from his job and got one that was not as stressful, he learned a lot about himself but realized he could not balance work and school to the degree he was doing.  The key to his success in learning this was that I did not interfere and save him from his learning this he got to learn it on his own.

Justin graduated from high school having learned a lot. He has a positive outlook on his life, he knows he has disabilities but he has a handle on them.  Since high school he has entered college and begun studying for a degree in business management.  He is also working as an accounting coordinator where he does accounts payables and receivables, works with students who have disabilities and teaches them to do financial planning, writes contracts for clients, and plans social recreational activities for students.

He has many friends at the age of 24; he has surpassed his difficulties with expressive and receptive language based skills.  His autistic behaviors are hardly noticeable and he is one of the most social people I know when it comes to being at a party.  He has surpassed expectations and actually owns his own home now.   Justin is also a national public speaker.   I owe it to all the programs he was in and his tenacity that he is the success he is today.

The one thing I know about working with young people who have disabilities is you have to let them have both successes and failures.  We can not rescue them each time they fail or they will give up trying.  We must push them to have experiences that will allow them to experience life the way anyone else would.  If we don’t we are condemning them to a meaningless existence, one that we create for them.

By Veronica Crawford

Veronica Crawford is the author of “Embracing the Monster:  Overcoming the Challenges of Hidden Disabilities”,  Brookes Publishing 2002.

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

Stories From the Heart: Does Anybody Care?

Often times the easiest reaction to human tragedy is to ignore it.  Yet when one is surrounded by a hundred Profoundly Mentally Handicapped children who also live with a multitude of other challenges, there is no way one can walk away.  The expressions in their eyes can communicate volumes if one just stops long enough to listen.

A soft touch, a cheerful “Good morning”, or singing a simple song can bring a smile that warms my heart and is worth more than anything money can buy.  To be able to see these very special children enjoy a safe and loving school environment where they are valued, cherished, and empowered to be all they can be despite their limitations, gives me that energy to face my work day’s challenges.  Working with families who have the responsibility of caring for one of these completely dependent and fragile children is a special calling, and a privilege.

At my job as School Social Worker at Neva King Cooper Educational Center in Homestead, Florida, I began to understand from a professional perspective the tremendous challenges that our students’ families must face on an ongoing basis.

Many are blessed by having the support of family and friends. Sadly, I encounter many cases in which the stresses of having a special child was reason enough for a father to bail out, leaving a mother as the sole provider and caregiver for that child, and often for other siblings.  As if these challenges were not enough, some of these mothers lack family support and have no time to socialize. Many have no transportation, and because they are not eligible, have no access to the services that they so desperately need from government agencies.

I often hear the desperate cries, “Does anybody care?” I’m here to tell them, “Yes, God cares, I care…and many people care, and our community cares”.  My greatest joy is to be able to bring the hope that they need to carry them through those moments which may paralyze them with fear. And to help them take a deep breath and notice that there is joy even in the little things, like that child’s smile or the twinkle in their eyes.

To be able to introduce our community to these children and their needs has been one of the most encouraging things in my profession.  It is my mission to find and connect these families to the many resources that come from people who have chosen to step outside of their comfort zone and reach out to our neediest citizens.

It wasn’t until I was able to step into that “Special Needs Community Zone” myself, when our only daughter gave birth to our precious grandbaby Alyssa, that I was able to have a taste of what it is like to embrace one of these very special little ones in our own home.  You see, to everyone’s surprise, Alyssa was born with Down Syndrome and spent the first month of her life in the NICU due to complications from Bacterial Meningitis which left her with hearing loss in one ear.

I am now able to see Special Needs families from a new perspective.  I now have a new passion to bring hope and encouragement to the many families and tell them “Yes, people care!  I care, but most of all God cares, and is always there to meet needs and bring hope, often through people like you and I.“

By Sarah Laucirica, M.S.W.

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

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