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.










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