August 26, 2018

Kindness Matters: Support Brandon’s School by Buying an Autism T-Shirt!


These t-shirts are for sale! Show your support for those affected by autism, while contributing to Brandon's school. His school has a reputation for its inclusive and compassionate culture and education of children with special needs. I wouldn’t want Brandon to go to school anywhere else!

I am fortunate enough to teacher at the school Brandon attends.  I take so much pride in working at a school that fosters a community that is inclusive to all students.

Click here to order your own shirt!  Kids sizes are available under Unisex.  Women's sizes are also available.




June 9, 2018

A Little Bingo Update: Search and Rescue with Our Autism Service Dog

Praise Jesus! Brandon is still doing “the thing” as we have started to call it, but he has not been hysterical and distraught today in the house.  He did eventually get upset both times we left the house, and went straight to doing "the thing" when we got home.  This is progress though, ya'll, and I will take it!  I wanted to update you all on that, and share a picture of him smiling. :)

*Unfortunately, I have to add an edit to this. Shortly after I posted this, Brandon had a major meltdown. He obsessively did his routine from my previous post, while screaming and crying, for about 45 minutes straight. We finally got him in his room, and he is clam for now.

In other news, we did a track (search and rescue) in our neighborhood, and Bingo NAILED it.  He’s been a little slow to start the last couple tracks.  It had me a little worried to be honest, but luckily 4 Paws For Ability trained us well.   We started working on the “Where’s your boy!?” command in the house throughout the day to reinforce the command.  Worked like a charm!  He got down to business right away during our track this evening.

I think about it often - what a professional organization 4 Paws is.  I don't mean that they just act professional in the way they dress or present themselves, but they are professionals in this field. There is a lot more to being an autism service dog handler than one might think, and although those two weeks training in Ohio were long, it was so important for us to make sure WE know what were doing.  Bingo is the professional, but if we don't keep up with his training, he could easily slip into the role of a full time pet - not service dog.  Tracking, particularly, is an art.  You can't just grab his leash, say, "Where's your boy!?" and go.  When we're in public with Bingo, he knows exactly what to expect from us, and we know exactly what to expect from him.  He does not veer from us, pull on his leash, go for food on the floor, or stand up unless we tell him to.  He doesn't bark, sniff at people, or really be a disturbance in any way.  The only way you would know he is there is if she shakes (which come on...he can't help that!) or if you see him with your own eyes.  We've encountered people who were a little startled when they saw him, simply because they had no idea there was a dog in the room!

I feel like I need to share more of our experiences with Bingo, and what it's like to have a service dog.  I will be better about that.  One thing I want you all to know is that while he is a service dog and has a job to do, he is also a part of our family.  He's gets so much love and attention.  He gets pet and loved on every day, and it such a snuggler!  

*I should note here...if you see a service dog in public, please do not pet him/her.  It's not fair to a service dog to distract him, because it sends him mixed messages on what the humans want him to do!  It doesn't hurt to ask, but do not be offended if the handler says no, and please keep in mind how many people are probably asking as well.  We have had outings where so many people asked to pet him, that it was hard to just enjoy our outing as a family because we were constantly being stopped!






June 8, 2018

Strange Things Are Happening: Compulsive Repetitive Behavior

One thing I’ve learned with autism is to expect the unexpected. Brandon has a strange new… I don’t even know what to call it…because “quirk” doesn’t cut it. He has this compulsive repetitive behavior that can almost be described as an intense routine. 

He starts at the fireplace and takes something imaginary off of the wall, places it on the cabinet, then pick it back up and put it on the wall. He then heads to the kitchen where he reaches for something imaginary over the counter by the stove. After that, he goes upstairs and on the back wall of the bonus room, he reaches again. Then, he comes downstairs and touches a decorative bird house in the same spot each time, and reaches once more to the wall. He then heads to his sensory room where he jumps on the trampoline once, touches the chair that is in there. While he is doing all of these things he licks his hand at certain times. 

At first when he started doing this, I thought it was weird, but I figured it was just one of the odd things he would do for a little while and it would pass. It’s becoming such a compulsive need he will be screaming and crying when he is away from the house for too long. When we get home, he bee-lines to the fireplace to begin. Sometimes he is even crying while he is doing it. It almost seems as if he doesn’t actually want to be stuck in this routine, but he has some physical and psychological need to do it. This has been going on for about three days, and I just pray that it ends soon. I can’t stand to see him so distraught.

I have run through so many different scenarios in my head about why this might be happening, or what might be triggering it. I have many theories, none of which I can definitively say is the culprit. I’ve changed several things in his environment, to no avail. We sometimes leave the house when it gets to be too much, whether it’s riding our golf cart around the neighborhood, or just going for a drive. This seems to help but again, if we’re gone for too long, this need takes over.

This is a difficult time for him, and for us as parents. I know some of these pictures of him upset are difficult for some of you to see, but it’s part of our story. There are so many things about Brandon’s life that I don’t share out of respect for him, but this is one that’s important to share to give a glimpse of the struggles that autism brings.











April 15, 2018

How Our Autism Service Dog Helps Mom, Too

I often talk about how Bingo impacts Brandon’s life because that is the whole reason we have our Autism Service Dog. He helps to keep Brandon calm, allows for tethering so Brandon does have to be in a special needs stroller or hold my hand every second we are outside our home, and can track Brandon, should he ever elope and get lost. Bingo is Brandon‘s dog, not mine.

But...

Bingo has impacted my own life so significantly in these four months we’ve had him. He has opened up a whole new world for my son, which in it of itself is life changing, but he’s made my life easier, too. It still blows my mind how well-trained he is. Whenever we are out and about, I never have to worry about his manners. We are in total sync as service dog and handler. His demeanor and loving and snuggly personality is just a perfect match for our family.

Let me give you two examples from yesterday to help me explain how Bingo impacts our daily lives. First, when we sign our tax forms, we typically take one car and take turns – one of us goes in the office to sign the paperwork while the other one stays in the car with Brandon. Then we switch. Take Brandon into the tax office? Oh, heck no! Well, yesterday James was at work and I had to go in by myself and sign. This time it was so easy. I just walked right in with Brandon and Bingo. I had both hands free, and I was not wrestling with Brandon to keep him near me. I wasn’t worried about him running around the office, breaking things, or getting lost. While tethered to Bingo, he hopped around making his crazy movements and noises, while I had two hands free to sign the paperwork.

Second, went to pick up Brandon‘s baseball jersey and meet his new baseball coach. Typically this kind of event, as small as it is, is very difficult for me. The level of stress I have in even thinking about taking Brandon into a room where there are so many people, often causes me not to even go. I can’t even count the number of times where Brandon has melted down to where I have had to drag or carry him out of a room kicking and screaming. He is getting so much bigger that I can’t simply carry him out like a sack of potatoes (as I call it) like I could when he was younger. This has deterred me from doing so many things with him. Knowing I had Bingo to help me gave me so much confidence in taking Brandon to this meet and greet. Bingo’s presence alone calms Brandon, which I did not expect when we started this journey. At this event, he was tethered to Bingo the entire time, and Brandon‘s attitude was...the best word I can think of to describe it is “free.” He has a lot more freedom with Bingo. Particularly when we are standing and waiting for something, he is able to walk a few feet here and there so he can look around, or even just move like his body like needs to. Holding my hand is so restrictive for him, and I didn’t realize how much until we got Bingo.

Bingo has allowed us to do things we have never done with Brandon before, and made the things we dread doing less of a burden.










March 31, 2018

Meltdowns

This is a tough one, but I would be remiss if I only showed you all the amazing, and none of the bad. Some things I don’t share just out of respect for Brandon’s privacy. When Brandon was younger...way younger...I really pondered whether or not I would take an autism cure if it was handed to us. I can tell you all now, I would not hesitate for one second to rid my child of all of the pain, suffering, and heartache autism brings him. I no longer wonder, because the negative effects of autism can be so dehabilatating and so obviously painful for him. I can see why many parents would not want to give their child a cure. I do. But that is simply not our reality. It is not the reality for many families affected by autism.

To be honest, it is painful for us too, both physically and emotionally. Brandon’s meltdowns can be so aggressive and explosive, that it’s obvious to me that’s he is not really even there. He’s not functionally verbal, so he has no way to even come close to being able to tell us what he’s feeling. He is somewhere else, and all he can do is thrash and lash out to try and relieve his pain. His ABA therapist mentioned how we feel if we get a cramp - how your body reacts, and how your mind is panicked and not thinking clearly. It’s obviously on a more major scale than that, but it is the best way I can explain it. A meltdown for him is something totally different from a tantrum. He has tantrums, too, but a meltdown is a different ballgame, and directing related to his autism.

When he is upset he will not seek me out to hurt me. He hurts himself. However, if I try to intervene, he lashes out, with the full intent of hurting me. I cannot stand by while he hits his head against the wall, or bite his hands so hard to where I fear he will break a bone. It’s to the point that my husband won’t even let me restrain him if he’s home, because he is worried about me getting hurt. As the dad and husband, it’s a struggle for him to keep us both safe, and to help his son. Brandon is only six right now, and will only get bigger and stronger. I would take all Brandon’s pain for myself if I could. He is a good boy, with a good heart. He’s fun, laughs, plays in his own way, snuggles with me, kisses me, and pets his doggie.

Brandon feels bad after a meltdown, which breaks my heart. Right now we’re in a weird spot because we are somewhat limited due to the clinical trial we are in. We are constantly worried about the decisions we make for him. If we are making the right ones, and if we could be doing more...better. All any of us can do is the best we can though, you know?








February 19, 2018

How We Help Our Son Live with Autism

A lot of people ask me what all goes into having a son with autism. What do we do to help him navigate this world? This is different from family to family. The needs of people with autism can vary greatly, so our steps for support, treatment, or intervention can vary as well. For us, the main goal is to try and get Brandon to a point where he can either live independently one day, or be able to communicate how people are treating him should he need care after we are gone. It can be unsettling to think about, but my greatest fear is that after my husband and I are gone, who is going to make sure he is living a safe and happy life? 

I could talk for days about how autism affects not only Brandon's life, but everyone in my family as well.  I could go on and on about all of the little things we do on a daily basis.  However, this post is to share some of the steps we are currently taking to try and help our six-year-old son, Brandon, grow as a person:

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy
Brandon has ABA therapy in our home three days per week. This is a private therapy, which is partially covered by insurance. We are very fortunate to have therapists who truly love Brandon, are professionals, and are very good at what they do.


Autism Service Dog
Brandon’s Autism Service Dog, Bingo, is a godsend. Bingo does three main things for Brandon. He can track him, should Brandon ever elope and leave our home, school, etc. Brandon can be tethered to Bingo, allowing him to be free of the death grip of my hand, or his special needs stroller. Bingo can also disrupt Brandon’s behavior and is a comfort to him. We spent a lot of time, money, and effort to have a legitimate (amazing) Service Dog for Brandon. Bingo is everything we thought he would be, and more! My last 10 blog posts have had something to do with Bingo, so if you would like to learn more about his and Brandon’s relationship, just check out my recent posts.




Speech Therapy
Brandon’s speech therapy sessions are 100% covered by the public school system. His speech therapist is a friend of mine, and she is one of the most amazing people I know. She is yet another therapist who would walk to the ends of the earth for him.


Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy is also covered by the school. She along with his speech therapist, provide and services within his classroom. I don’t know his OT as well as our ST, but she comes recommended, and is very sweet!

Clinical Trial
Brandon is in a clinical trial for a medication that treats autism directly. More specifically, it replaces essential amino acids that many people with autism are missing. We were initially in a double blind study, but now we know he is receiving the medication. 

Comprehensive Development Classroom (CDC)
Brandon is in a Comprehensive Development Classroom in the public school system. He goes to a general education classroom to spend time with and learn from his typically developing peers. He often seems like he is unaware of what is going on around him, but he is much more observant than he appears to be. I know that a lot of special needs families have not had a great experience in a public school system. I have a unique scenario. I am a teacher, and Brandon attends the school where I teach, so I have the luxury of being able to check in and communicate with his teachers more regularly than I could if I did not work there. I decided to become a teacher before I knew my son had special  needs, so God’s plan for us is unfolding beautifully there.

Home Sensory Room
We have turned one of the rooms in our house into a home sensory room. My husband gave up his office, and hasn’t regretted it for a second. In this room Brandon has a swing anchored into the ceiling, a bubble tube, and several other things to meet sensory and calming needs. You can read more about his sensory room here.

Special Needs Dance Class
Brandon has been a part of a special needs dance class for a few years now. His dance teacher is certified in Autism Movement Therapy. No matter how many meltdowns he has had at dance, including one where he bit one of the teachers leaving a mark for weeks, they have always welcomed him with open arms. Starting dance class when he was younger was one of the ways we were able to teach him to wait his turn. Like many six-year-olds, he is not perfect at the skill, but having to sit and wait his turn for the dance floor every week helped us get to a point where he has the stamina to wait for longer periods of time. This seems like a minor thing, but imagine waiting in line for a ride for for food and having an extremely strong child melting down on the floor and screaming and crying because he doesn’t understand why you are preventing him from doing something he wants to do. Waiting is an important skill, and one that many children with autism severely struggle with. 



Special Needs Baseball League
Brandon is in a Miracle League. Our town has a Miracle Field, which is a beautiful and adaptive field and playground where special needs children can play baseball. As hard as it can be for us, we want to expose Brandon to new things. He does not have the same childhood of a typically developing little boy, so it literally brings me to tears when people put forth time, money, and effort to make sure that children like mine can have experiences they deserve.





January 13, 2018

As Seen in the News: Meet Brandon and Bingo!

Brandon and his Autism Service Dog, Bingo, made the news!  Below are two sweet videos showing parts of Brandon and Bingo's journey. The first video is a preview to the news story, and the second video is the full story.










December 30, 2017

Love.

I have truly been in awe of the connection that Brandon and his autism service dog, Bingo, have made so far. 

However...

Their relationship was not love at first sight. First of all, when they met it was while we were out of town for the training, and Brandon was just off a six hour car ride and a night in a strange hotel. Brandon had little interest in Bingo, and Bingo was nervous due to Brandon’s severe meltdowns. In fact, at one point in the car while we were parked waiting for our turn to track, Brandon flipped out, screaming and flailing his arms and legs everywhere. Bingo was so scared he leaped into the front seat of the car in my lap. I don’t blame him one bit! Brandon was out of control. Bingo didn’t even know him, and feared being hurt. Those two weeks we were in Ohio training were two of the worst weeks we’ve had with Brandon’s temperament and behavior. He was off. the. chain.

Now that we are all home together it is different. Better. There are a lot of things we can do to help strengthen their bond and by golly, we do it! Brandon is still not a perfect angel, but he comfortable at home. Now that Bingo seems to be used to his new environment and our craziness, he seems more confident. He has approached Brandon several times when he was upset, chased him around the upstairs while Brandon squealed with joy, and has snuggled up with Brandon, trusting him not to flail around on him. (Uhhh...hopefully Brandon doesn’t break that trust!) Oh my...Bingo’s patenice! Brandon feeds Bingo, and two nights ago Brandon spilled his scoop of kibble EVERYWHERE.  Bingo just sat there. Literally. He sat there and patiently waited for us to clean up all that food and get it in his bowl.

Brandon has more confidence with Bingo, too. If Bingo is too “up in his face,” Brandon gently moves him away. What blows me away more than anything is seeing Brandon interact with him on his own. I have seen Brandon rub Bingo’s ear, pet him, and even hold his paw. Those of you who know Brandon well...who have been rejected and ignored by him (I sure have!), understand how truly astonishing this is.

It may not have been love at first sight, but it sure is love!











December 23, 2017

Bad Juju in the Absence of Bingo

After we left 4 Paws, training with Bingo, we were heartbroken. We had to leave him there to finish the rest of his training. As hard as it was to be without him, I had to trust God‘s timing this. Had we brought him home with us after training, we all would’ve had to go back to work and school, and Bingo would have had to stay at the house by himself, likely kenneled up. He came home on our last half day of school before Winter Break, allowing us two weeks to be at the house with him and get him used to being at the house without us. If he does go to school with Brandon, it won’t be for a few months. He is home now, and we are thrilled! On the eve of Christmas Eve, I am reflecting on the goings on in our family in Bingo’s five week absence. 

On the drive home, we hit so many road closings in Nashville, that we had no idea where we were going. We were so close to being home, yet so far! The kennel we purchased for Bingo never showed up. It was supposed to arrive while we were gone, but the tracking information never moved. When we finally received it, it was the wrong size, so we had to return it and buy a new one. A few days later my step-daughter nearly totaled her car after continuing to drive the rest of the way to work on a blown tire. Her phone broke and needed to be replaced. Then James’ Jeep had something wrong with it, and we were down to one car with three people who needed to get to work. The diamond in my ring broke off, prongs and all, and we could not find it - we still haven’t, although my diamond has since been replaced. The outdoor furniture we ordered was delayed for three months, so we returned it and had to get the ones that were already delivered, picked up. In the midst of that return, our credit card was stolen, leaving the furniture store without a card to return our money to. My step-daughter got the flu, missing all her mid-terms. Brandon got the flu, and we both missed the last two days of school before winter break (I’m a teacher). James got the flu. I’m just am sitting here praying that I make it through this flu-mania unscathed.

Will our luck change now?

Bingo is now home, and it’s the best Christmas present we could ever receive! He already seems to feel at home. On the first night, Bingo was laying next to me on the couch and heard Brandon crying in his sensory room. All on his own, Bing hopped up to check on him.  I taught Brandon how to feed Bingo. It turns out I have to hide the food because Brandon decided he could feed Bingo any time he wants, and randomly gave him a second helping! I imagine Bingo thinking, “Yep...I’m going to get along with this kid just fine!” 

We need to continue to work on their bond because Brandon’s social skills, even with a dog, can make it very difficult to interact positively with him. He doesn’t understand how a dog likes to be pet, or even that Bingo probably doesn’t like it when Brandon pets him with his feet! Brandon melts down, and we have to teach Bing that it’s okay, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. This was all done while we trained at 4 Paws, and while skiddish around Brandon’s sometimes explosive behavior at first, Bing is now totally comfortable around Brandon. Yay! Yesterday morning we made getting Brandon out of bed a fun experience. They ran around the upstairs and Brandon was belly laughing! This morning, Bing parked himself outside Brandon’s door, ready for the fun to begin again. The bonding is in full effect, and we will continue to build that bond!














November 15, 2017

Autism Service Dog Tracks His Boy

We’ve worked on tracking nearly every day we’ve been training at 4 Paws. I hope we never have to do a real track, but our reality is that Brandon has a high risk of elopement. Heaven forbid we lose Brandon or he exits our home or his school and takes off, Bing will help us find him. As you can see in the first video, Brandon is fast. In the second video you will see see Bing tracking Brandon!









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