5-Star Autism Author
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I am sitting here holding my book... thumbing through the pages. I am quite aware of it's heft in my hands, and I am in awe that it is real.
The cover design was all me - a bit artsy as it is just a bit blurry - a visual representation of how we tend to have trouble really seeing our children under the autism behaviors. Not sure if anyone would even understand that just glancing at the photo.
The inside is completely organized the way I wanted it to look - breaking sections into small digestible pieces that can be read and set aside easily when life interrupts, because life always interrupts . . .
The foreword brings me to tears every time I read it - my oldest son wrote it about his brother. It grabs my heart every time.
I look at the reviews and I am in awe of each one - 5 stars - their
kindness and their candor means so very much to me. I feel blessed.
Even the reference pages make me proud - so many scientific studies
that highlight each point. The scientist in me would have it no other
Then there's the real-life stories... so many stories. Stories that reveal how I found the clues I did - the clues left for me by my youngest son as he attempted to train me to communicate with him his way. A journey toward understanding. Discoveries and subtle details. A winding path. A road less traveled. Hope.
I hold the book and I can barely believe it. No one else has ever written about the non-verbal communications provided by the autistic child in their attempt to "speak" to those they love. It's the first book of it's kind - and I feel honored to have written it (does that make sense?)
This is a memory I will always hold onto... the fulfilling of a dream . . .
So many of my dreams were never realized - life happened, you see. But
this one, this dream I had for myself, this one came to fruition - and I
am allowing myself the time to just "feel" it all.....
Waxing poetic... it's what I do... I write and I know things... :)
Interview with Shannon Penrod of Autism-Live
He spoke with his heart, I listened with mine – And amazingly, we heard each other.
The 12 ways in which we communicate -
- Facial Expressions
- Eye contact and Eye Gaze
- Body Language
- Personal Appearance
Communication and social interaction
requires information to go in both directions and when learning to communicate
with an autistic child – an individual with a communication disorder – it is
imperative to use all forms of communication and not focus on simply one or
two. Keep in mind that attempting to communicate by primarily focusing on
speech may actually work against overall communication efforts. Autism is a
communication disorder and the hardest part for many is language – including
speech. Someone who has difficulty
understanding speech can become so frustrated trying to understand what is
being requested of them that they may choose to withdraw from the interaction
completely, preventing any new learning from taking place.
In contrast, using all the other forms of
communication in the toolbox in addition to speech, can ensure that even in
times of high frustration, stress, or overwhelming fear, that there will still
be plenty of ways to effectively communicate compassion, safety, patience, and
understanding, allowing the overall goal - the exchange of ideas - to still be
AWARENESS is EVERYTHING
There may be a day when Matt will not get a photo with the Hokie Bird …. But it will not be this day.
That was my train of thought as we prepared to go to the 2018 Spring Game at Virginia Tech. Last year we didn’t get that desired photo – the Bird never got close enough and we could not get through the crowd when he was. Matt had several photos, some taken at a distance and a few close-ups, but it wasn’t a “win” if he didn’t get a hug. Now, a year later, Matt was overdue for that Hokie Bird hug. His resolve was as great as my own when we arrived on the campus. Both Matt and I knew today was most certainly going to be the day.
It was a beautiful day – warm and breezy. Matt was in high spirits. It was looking like the perfect day – and in all respects so far, it was. As with every “big day”, Matt had not slept the night before. Too much excitement, too many hopes and dreams on the line to rest. He was running on nervous energy – focused liked a laser on hunting that Bird.
We entered the South gate and walked around and did the tunnel lap. As we walked I had Matt practice, “Hi Hokie Bird! Can I get a picture?” Matt practiced the sentence several times until he felt sure he could do it. If he found the Hokie Bird and I wasn’t with him, he needed to be able to speak the words – or be ignored like he was at the Duke game. At that game, Matt simply could not say the words and I was much too far back to help him… he never got his hug.
We had time to kill and so we went window shopping at the
Hokie Store, checked out the views from various openings and took pictures –
lots and lots of pictures. No matter where
we were or what activity we were doing, I knew Matt was on the lookout for that
elusive rare creature. We all looked,
but none of us spotted him. It was time
to find our seats.
We found some great seats on the South end in the end-zone –
Matt is very fond of the end zones more than the general home team stands. In his mind, the Hokie Bird loves the south
end zone. That’s because there were several
fall games over the years where we witnessed the bird hanging out and crowd
surfing at exactly that location – and now, this is where we go in hopes of not
just watching, but participating in the fun.
Unfortunately, the last few years the Hokie Bird had avoided the southern end-zone at the Spring Game. Would he again this year? Tom had come with us to help us in our quest – and that meant there were 3 sets of eyes straining in search of that maroon mascot.
It was getting close to game time when Matt yelled out, “I see him!” pointing toward the opposite end zone. There, just outside the tunnel, was the Hokie Bird, doing his happy strut in front of the general seating. We watched as he waved and strutted and did a cartwheel for the kids in the far end of the stands… but he wasn’t coming our way – nope - He seemed to just be focused on that one area – where loads of children had gathered to wave and watch.
Oh Hokie Bird, please come this way…. But no. The bird was pretty much going to stay right
where he was.
Will he get a chance to hug the bird? Will the bird come this way? Will he disappear like last year before the end of the game, giving us no way to catch him? I had promised Matt we would get that bird this year . . . I had PROMISED!
I jumped to my feet and shouted, “Come-on Matt!” before I even realized what I was doing. I headed down the steps and called behind me, “Hurry!” Matt popped up and hurried to catch up. This momma was on a mission, and Matt knew exactly what that mission was and where I was headed. But the way was blocked… only those with special passes were allowed on the field before the game. Matt was hesitant – because he knew his momma did not belong there.
We both made it down the steps, but as I went onto the field, Matt stayed behind the gate – hesitant and unsure. The closest official gave me “the look” – that stone face, immoveable, professional guard type look that makes even the biggest fans quake. He stared me down and said, “Do you have credentials to be on the field?”
“No sir, I do not.” I admitted, “but we need to get a picture of the Hokie Bird with this young man” and then I leaned in and begged. “This man is autistic and that Hokie Bird means everything to him. I just need a picture and we will come right back”. I’m a mom… a mom of an autistic adult who loves that bird… I am not above begging.
As I spoke to the official, Matt stayed behind the gate
watching. There he waited apprehensively
– He looked absolutely terrified, about to jump out of his skin. The look on the official’s face was doing its
The official looked at Matt and then at me, “You do not have
the credentials to be on this field” then paused a second and said, “so come right
back”. OMG!!! That’s a yes!
I turned and looked at Matt, “Come on Matt, hurry!!” Matt flew through the gate and rushed onto the field. I told him we could go after the bird, but we had to hurry. Matt stayed right with me as we sprinted down the sideline toward our target. The Hokie Bird had no idea of course, that he was being stalked, and he turned to head back toward the tunnel. No Hokie Bird, no!
Instead of the tunnel, the bird headed under the North stands and when we were within about 15 feet from him I yelled, “HOKIE BIRD!!”
The Hokie Bird abruptly turned and stopped. I was about 5 feet in front of Matt and had just a split second to explain to the mascot that we needed this – that Matt needed this photo. As I finished my sentence, Matt arrived - and the bird leaned into Matt and hugged him.
A hug. A Hokie Bird hug. I took their picture, then I used Matt’s camera and took a few more for Matt. Matt was smiling greatly – he had no words… They hugged again and we had to leave.
“Matt, I promised the guard that we would come right back – I promised…” Matt understood, and a way we flew back down the sidelines and back to the south end. As we approached the guard he asked, “Did you get a picture?” “Oh yes!!” I exclaimed as I whipped out my phone and found the few I had taken. I showed them to him. “You did a good thing today“, I said to the official, “you did a really great thing today….” The official smiled just for a second then immediately returned to the stone face professional – trying to hide his joy.
Matt and I returned to the stands, out of breath but elated. My knees screamed at me as I reclimbed the steps to my seat. When I finally got back to my seat Tom showed me the video of us sprinting down the sidelines . . . wow – we were really flying.
Matt spent the rest of the game relaxed and enjoying the
plays on the field and the antics of the bird on the sidelines. He wasn’t anxious. He was simply relaxed and happy. All stress had been removed.
Oh wait, but there’s more….
Toward the end of the 4th quarter guess who came down to the south end zone? Yes! “Matt! Go!” I shouted and Matt jumped up and headed down the stairs. Tom jumped up and headed down with him. My knees said – ‘no… sit woman’.
I watched as Matt inched closer and closer through the crowd that had quickly gathered to see the bird. I stood up, barely able to see the top of Matt’s head – but enough to know the Hokie Bird was right there with him. He was there quite a while, not wanting to leave I bet, and I wondered, did Matt say the words? Was he able to get them out? “Hi Hokie Bird! Can I get a picture?” You can do this Matt, I cheered silently.
Shortly afterward Matt and Tom arrived back to their seats, both were smiling ear to ear. Their body language said it all. But what I wanted to know - and I was about ready to jump out of my skin – was Matt able to say the words? I asked Tom.
“Yes!! He stuttered just for a second and then said, ‘Hi Hokie Bird! Can I get a picture?’ He did it! The Hokie Bird stopped and gave Matt another hug and a high-five”. Matt proudly showed me his pictures – he was smiling greatly - and giggled - but he couldn’t speak . . . not yet. A little while later he told me all about it.
I can’t stress enough how massive this all was. As a child Matt was fixated on Thomas the Tank. As an adult it’s the Hokie Bird who has his heart. It is not just a hug, not just a high-five, and not just one sentence spoken under stress. Each has an underlying emotion. Each was huge!!
It didn’t matter that he was 32 years old or that the Hokie Bird is just a mascot. To Matt, that Bird is EVERYTHING. Not only was he overjoyed by the pictures and the touch (hugs and high-fives), but Matt was proud of himself for being able to SPEAK to his most treasured “friend”.
And just so we are clear, that official on the field that allowed us to go after that bird, did so because AWARENESS works… I saw it on his face. That official understood the second I said “autism” that this was not just some fan wanting a photo-op. He got it… he bent the rules to accommodate my son’s needs.
Just as the Hokie Bird is everything to Matt – awareness is
everything to me. It allows me to do my
job the best way I can.
I am Matt’s ‘Bringer of Dreams’… and today, because of awareness, it was mission accomplished.
Honored on August 11, 2011".
Liz Becker meets Temple Grandin!
Autism Act of Love Challenge
Matt and I took the challenge. I went first so he knew what to do. He didn't like the idea of eyes-closed to draw, so I leaned in as he was drawing and told him it was okay to open his eyes if he wanted to.... but he didn't.