So You’re Thinking Your Kid Might Have Autism?

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So you’re thinking your kid might have autism?

Okay, mama.

Deep breath.

It can be overwhelming, I know. Seven years ago, I was right where you are now.

At first, I thought it was an adjustment to his new baby sister. Then, I thought maybe it was a lack of experience, so we enrolled him in a part-time preschool class. It only took two days for his teacher to see what I couldn’t.

I will never forget that conversation. His sweet teacher was loving and gracious and could not have handled it better. But still. My stomach sank to my toes. For the entire ride home, every time I glanced in the rearview mirror at his sweet three-year-old face, the tears came hot and fast.

We wrestled with the idea of an official evaluation. We resisted the idea of a “label.” We didn’t want this to change our kid.

But here’s the thing, mama, an autism diagnosis is not the end of the road. It’s just the beginning of a new path.

Actually, it’s not even a new path at all. It’s just a signpost for the path you are already on.

Because a diagnosis cannot and will not change your child. Your kiddo is still the same awesome kid, fearfully and wonderfully made. The only thing that changes is your filter…

I’d love for you to continue reading this post and join the conversation at Atlanta Area Moms Blog. Click here: So You’re Wondering if Your Kid Might Have Autism? Share it with a mom (or dad) you know who might be going through the evaluation and/or diagnosis process. Let them know they are not alone! 

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Join Me at The Huffington Post Today!

I am so thrilled to be able to share some of our stories at The Huffington Post. Today, I’m sharing How We Told Our Son About His Autism. I would absolutely love for you to click through and join me. You can leave a comment or share with someone who might be encouraged by our story. Thanks, all!

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Dear New Autism Mama

Dear New Autism Mama,

You’ve never met me, but I think we might know each other a little. If you come sit next to me for a bit, you’ll find we have something in common.

You see, I’ve been there.

It probably started with a funny feeling. I know that feeling. It almost feels like a little flip of your tummy. That odd feeling leads to questions that you’re not quite ready to ask out loud just yet. And you worry if you give a voice to your fears, they might become real.

When you finally found the courage to release those fears you once guarded and protected, you might have found they were disregarded, belittled even. You might have been told you’re overreacting. You might have heard you’re paranoid. Attention-seeking. He’ll outgrow it. He just needs discipline. We’ve heard it all, haven’t we?

Then you probably entered No Man’s Land. That frustratingly long time between the first tug on your mommy’s instinct until you have an answer. For me, this was the worst part. You now know you’re a part of something different, but you’re not completely sure just what it might be. You do a lot of soul-searching. You do a lot of research. You consume every book and article you can get your hands on. You begin to see your sweet baby in a new light. No, he hasn’t changed. But his whole life will flash before your eyes. You’ll begin to get acquainted with the idea. You’ll want to reach out to people who get it. You’ll want to hear their stories and tell yours. But you won’t have an exact answer yet. You might feel like you need a membership card that you haven’t been given yet…

To read more of this open letter or to share it with a friend who might need to hear she’s not alone, please click through to visit Chronically Whole! I am honored to be sharing some words over there today. http://chronicallywhole.com/606-2/

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The Talk: Telling Our Son about His Autism

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It started like every other night. It could have been any other ordinary day. Any at all. The same instructions had been given. The same teeth-brushing arguments, both pro and con, had been repeated. The blessed melatonin had been given. We sat down and pulled open the devotion book but we never read past the date–April 2nd.

Before I even realized what I was saying, I asked the kids if they knew that it was World Autism Awareness Day. They looked interested and were being exceptionally angelic at the moment. So I took it a little bit further. “You’ve heard the word, ‘autism,’ many times. But do you know what it means?” They shook their heads and wanted to know more.

It was happening. We had anticipated this moment for four years. When would we tell Caleb about his autism? How would we tell him? We decided on the gradual method of slowly, bit by bit and inch by inch, laying down the groundwork. We wanted them to have a firm foundation in knowing that everyone is different and that is a beautiful thing. We wanted them to be solid on the fact that God has created each and every one of us so beautifully and wondrously and intricately and intentionally. We wanted them to have the practice of loving others and seeing past differences to the heart and soul.

Years of anticipating this moment, sometimes eagerly and sometimes anxiously, and it was here. Even in those first few moments, I was unsure if I should shut it down. Jake was still at work. He was missing this milestone. But the ball was rolling and it was rolling down a steep hill. It felt right to allow it to continue on its path. Wherever it led.

We talked about what ASD is and how it can make some things easier and others more challenging. I told them about some common experiences among those who live life on the spectrum. And I simply asked if it sounded like anyone we might know. I could see his wheels turning. I showed them the episode of Arthur (“When Carl Met George”) and within 35 seconds, it happened.

And right there, right smack in the middle of our messy living room with the laundry piled high and the dinner dishes still on the table and the trash waiting to be taken out, with us and the dog all squished together on the couch, it happened. It started with his eyes. They looked brighter. After five or so minutes, his face had changed. He looked older somehow. By the time the video was over, he was eagerly asking, “Mom?  Do I have ASD?”

I took a shaky breath and said confidently–no wait–I said proudly, “Yes, buddy. You do. What do you think about that?”

And he knew.

And just. like. it happened to us when we received his diagnosis, his life began flashing before his eyes. He was seeing it all with a fresh understanding. His filter had changed.

And he understood.

And he told me about how the things, the hard things, he now knows were the challenging parts of his ASD. And we talked about how far he’s come. And how much he’s overcome. And how he has done the hard things and how he can continue to do the hard things.

And he was proud.

Jake came home from work to find his boy had grown. Caleb seemed to stand taller as he told his dad about ASD and how God had made his brain special.

He went to bed that night having diagnosed our dog with autism as well. “She loves her toy like I love trains.” And any loneliness he might have felt dissolved away in the solidarity of puppy kisses.

He woke the next morning, ready to share himself with the world.

So, world? Get ready. You’re about to get a whole lot of awesome.


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Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 11 – Graduation!!

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Because packing up everything, loading up the car, and taking our public access test wasn’t stressful enough, it took us 35 minutes to get to the mall because of a crazy traffic jam.  We left Homewood at 11:30 to make the five-minute drive to the mall.  Despite leaving a half hour early, we were five minutes late.  I was seriously about to have a panic attack.  I screeched to a stop right in front of the entrance that said Dick’s Sporting Goods and threw Jake and April out of the car.  The kids and I parked and ran in.  We did not end up in Dick’s like the sign said but just in front of the kiddie rides.  That was fun.  I half-dragged, half-carried the kids past the rides and up the stairs to the food court.  We made it.

Jake did the public access test which was fantastic for me because my nerves were shot.  April passed with flying colors.  We headed back to 4 Paws where I sat down with Jennifer and went over all of our final paperwork.  We got her official badge to go in her harness, her collar with all of her tags, and her medical history.  We signed our contract and she was ours!543530_10151537891649697_332825084_n

The graduation started and we each went around the room and tried to share our thoughts.  Most of us ended up crying too hard to even get it all out.  Each family was called to the front where we took a family photo in front of the graduation banner.  Then we were handed our certificate.  At the end, the kids got to “sign” the banner with their names and the names of their dogs.

It was a moment we’ve dreamed of for a very long time.  It almost didn’t even feel real.

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We then bid teary farewells to our new friends and got in the car and headed south.  We made it to Corbin, Kentucky where we stopped for the night at the same hotel as my sister from another mister (college roomie) who was travelling north with her sweet family.  It was wonderful to hug their necks and have breakfast with them the next morning before starting out on the rest of the drive home.

We drove 500 miles yesterday.  It took us 12 hours.  It was an especially trying day for Caleb who had quite a few meltdowns.  I had a couple of my own.  I literally cried a tear of joy when we crossed the Florida line (about 10 miles from our house).  If I hadn’t been so crazed and desperate to get home, I would have stopped and taken a picture of us kissing the ground.  Okay, maybe we wouldn’t go that far.  But it was just so wonderful to be back home with the warm temperatures and the green.  Oh everything is so beautiful and green!  I absolutely loved our time in Ohio and it was beautiful there, too.  But there’s no place like home!  April seems to love her new home and has really enjoyed exploring it.  She’s still getting used to our laminate floors, though, and has been sliding a bit.  We took her over for a family Easter dinner and she enjoyed meeting my sister’s little dog, Jack.  When we returned the rental car, we decided to leave her at home.  We filled her “bong” (as Gracie calls the Kong…I’m sure that won’t raise any eyebrows) with peanut butter and turned on the TV music channel.  When we got home, she was just chillin’ and listenin’ to some P.M. Dawn.  Gotta love the 90s station!

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It has been amazing to have April here.  She has made such a huge difference already and I can’t imagine it without her now.  A few of you future 4 Paws class members have asked me some great questions.  Once I’ve had some time to reflect, I’ll compile a list of tips and tricks that we were given from previous members and also what we discovered to be helpful.

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Thank you so much to all of you who followed our journey to bring April home.  Some of you very loyal and wonderful people have been following this story since the whole Pepsi Pup fiasco.  I so appreciate your support, your prayers, your encouragement, your shoulders to cry on and your cheers along the way.  It has made all the difference and I am forever grateful!

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Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 10 – Packing It Up!

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Today was a little bittersweet.  It was our last full class day.  We reviewed our obedience commands, discussed any issues or concerns, talked a lot about going home and what to expect.  The trainers told us that it’s a guarantee that we’ll be questioned about public access with April.  We heard several stories that just make your jaw drop at the rudeness and lack of tact that clients have experienced.  We learned a little bit about what ADA law covers.  April is protected under the law just the same as someone’s wheelchair.  A hotel or apartment complex wouldn’t charge someone extra because the wheels might wear on the carpet.  If there are damages, then we are absolutely responsible.  An example would be our rental car.  We purchased the insurance on the rental car that basically releases us of all liability.  But they made sure to inform us that we will be charged a $250 cleaning fee if there is any pet hair in the car.  So we’d come out cheaper to just push it off a cliff.  We’re responsible people and we plan to clean it out anyway, but we’re also not planning to pay $250.

We had a chance to voice any fears about public access and the most common one seemed to be the poop issue.  We’re all scared that our dog will be in a store or mall or somewhere and poop on the floor.  So the first thing they reassured us about is that it will happen.  We heard some hilarious stories from the 4 Paws founder, Karen Shirk, that put us all at ease.  As she put it…When, not if, but when it happens and you’re embarrassed and cleaning it up, just remember the stories I told you and know that at least it’s not as bad as what happened to me.

We came back to the hotel tonight and have been rushing around trying to pack it all up.  April definitely is a little more clingy than usual.  She’s definitely picking up that something is going on.  Some extra snuggles and cuddles and she seemed to feel better.  So Jake will get up in the morning and take the borrowed kennel and food dishes back to 4 Paws and maybe run April a bit.  Then he’ll come back here and we’ll load up the car.  We will check out of our Home Sweet Homewood Suites and head to the mall at 11:30.  At noon, we will take our public access test.  EEEEEK!  Assuming we pass, we’ll head back to 4 Paws to do all of our final paperwork, get April’s medical records, etc.  Our classmates and some of the foster families will join us at 2:30 for our graduation ceremony.  I’m just accepting that I’m going to be a crying mess tomorrow for pretty much the whole day.  After all of our celebrating and tearful goodbyes, we’ll hop in the car and head south.  We’ll see how far we get!

Prayers are definitely appreciated for our test and our travels tomorrow.  I’ll try to update from the road tomorrow because it will be a huge day, but it might be a bit difficult.  I’ll at least add some updates and pics to the Stinker Babies Facebook page (http://facebook.com/stinkerbabies *That address is now facebook.com/ashleydpooser*).  If a blog post doesn’t happen tomorrow, you’ll be sure to get an earful (eyeful?) on Saturday after we make it home.  Thank you so much to everyone who has been following this journey and for your prayers and your support and your encouragement.  We are looking forward to getting April all settled in at her new home and getting back to our routines.  It should definitely be an interesting transition and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories!

Our 4 Paws Adventure – Day 9 – First Walk of Shame

*This post is part of a series originally posted on my former blog, Stinker Babies. I’m reposting here for families who are interested in learning more about the process of being matched with a service dog for their children. This series was written during March of 2013.*

Yes.  They said it would happen.  But, seriously, after eight days of perfection, I just thought we were golden.

After practicing the commands off leash in class and an outdoor track in which I very, very nearly ate mud (the infield of a softball field after 8 inches of snow melts is turned into ankle-deep mud…you know…fyi), we headed to the mall for an obedience practice and indoor track.  We followed Jessa, the trainer, to Macy’s for a couple of indoor tracks so that I could get some practice in.  April did beautifully.  I learned some important stuff.  Probably the most important thing I learned is that when the trainer says, “She’ll probably need to go potty after a track,” it means head to the nearest exit.  Don’t try to find a convenient one that’s on your way to the next thing.  Nearest. Exit. Now.

Poor April.  She tried so hard to hold it.  We made it to JCPenney’s  before she couldn’t do it anymore.  The puddle just happened to be right in front of the customer service desk.  Awesome.  But because we were prepared, it really wasn’t a big deal.  Before anyone really noticed what was going on, I grabbed the handy dandy “clean-up pack” that we received in class earlier this week.  We had paper towels to absorb the mess and a ziplock bag to put it in until we could find a trashcan.  I was really grateful for very sweet and understanding employees at Penney’s.  They were very quick to tell us to please not worry about it and that it was no big deal at all.  If it had to happen ever (and I’m sure it does), we couldn’t have asked for a better first experience.  Of course, I was totally mortified.  Not at April but more at ourselves for not making it outside quicker.  I felt so bad for our poor pup.  This is the first accident she’s had indoors and I know she probably felt ashamed.

So that’s a lesson to remember, future class members.  Tracking gets the dogs’ adrenaline up and when it comes back down?  Potty break.  Immediately.

After we were done with all of those great lessons, we took the kids to ride the train again and during the ride, Jake sniffed out a great treat.  So, we had another big first today.  We were adventurous in our food tasting.  Chocolate-Covered Bacon.  I don’t even know how you come up with chocolate-covered bacon.  I guess someone was sitting around, probably after a big night of drinking, and thought, “Chocolate?  Good.  Bacon?  Good.  Chocolate-Covered Bacon?  Awesome.”

The verdict?  I’ll let the pics tell you…

*I’m so so sad that all my pics disappeared when my other site went down. So the spoiler is that Jake and Caleb liked it. They’re all, “Chocolate? Bacon? Both are favorites.” Grace screwed up her little face in the most adorably disgusted way and she thought they were crazy.

Some people have asked if training is tiring.  Just an example: We got back from the mall today and I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes.  2 1/2 hours later, I woke up and realized that Jake had let me sleep and the kids were fed, had dessert, and were getting ready for a bath.  That is the awesomeness of my incredible husband.  And almost feeling human again?  Bonus.

Tomorrow is our last full class day.  I’m really getting ready to be home again.  I’m definitely really ready to have my own bedroom and my own bed again.  But just as much as I’m ready to get home, I’m also that sad to be leaving.  It’s such a strange feeling.  I just wish I could bring everyone home to Florida with us.  This is definitely one of those times when I’m so happy to have social media to keep up with our new friends.  These are bonds like no other and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to get to know these great families and awesome kids.