8 Ways to Prepare Now for Your Autistic Child’s Future

A few months ago my autistic, but otherwise extremely healthy child was denied life insurance. In preparation for college, J and I started plans for the boys that could be converted into dollars for college tuition. Recently, we were notified that Cooper was denied coverage. I was irate. Autism is not a death sentence. My son is healthy. He has no medical conditions.

After following up I was informed that Autism is considered a vulnerable and at-risk life. He is more susceptible than most to dangers.

Well, I couldn’t deny that. I even had the anxiety to prove it.

I was crushed though. I felt like my baby had been given a death sentence. Never in all my Autism processing did I ever picture my son not living a long, healthy life. This was the prompt that forced Cooper’s dad and I to talk about the future.

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Our son was autistic and would be for the rest of his life. It took 6 long years for that to sink in and reach my brain AND my heart.

And, even though he is autistic his future is still very unclear. There is no crystal ball that tells us what the future will hold for my little fighter.

I still pray daily that my son will ‘snap out of it.’ I pray that he starts talking.  I pray that he improves socially, cognitively, behaviorally and emotionally. I pray that he grows up and attends dances, birthday parties and makes friends. I pray that he graduates and attends college. I pray that he gets a job and gets married and gives me a dozen beautiful grand babies.

This is not reality though. That is the land of hope and wishful thinking. It is time for our family to plan for our son’s future.

The reality of the situation is that Cooper will live with us for the rest of his life.

I avoided these conversations for years because I felt that if we talked about long-term care then we were giving up.

And whenever I did bring it up someone would always say….’don’t give up hope. You don’t know what the future holds.’ And then I’d feel guilty. I’d feel like a bad mom. But here is the deal. I know my son. I love him more than I can put into words. But it’s time. It’s time to talk about caring for this little boy for the rest of my life.

It’s time our family switched from ‘hoping for the future’ mode to ‘planning for the future’ mode.

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Kacie K Photography

The start of these conversations were brutal. It appeared that like many other special needs families, Cooper’s dad and I weren’t always on the same rate of acceptance. Rarely are both parents to a child on the same page when it comes to a disability. It takes time. We all adjust at our own pace. But I felt like I was carrying the weight of his future on my shoulders. It was crushing me.

After the life insurance debacle I broke through to him. Our son had a life long disability. To us he is Super Cooper. A cute, funny, silly, train loving little boy. We try not to think of him as being any different than his brother. But that is not the reality.

It took us longer as a family to accept that our son might live with us forever than to actually plan for it.

I personally feel the key is to start talking. Just start the conversation. Look at your spouse and say…’are we prepared for our daughter/son to live with us for the rest of their life.’ It’s a conversation starter my friends. It may end in tears or a fight. Keep bringing it up.

Here are the 8 tips I can offer you to prepare for your autistic child’s future:

  1. Initiate the Tough Conversation

    You cannot do this alone. Talk to your spouse. Ask the icky questions. Talk about the future. Talk about how raising an adult child factors into retirement. Where you are going to live. Finances. Remember though to go easy on your spouse. We all accept at our own pace.

  2. Start Talking

    Start talking about Autism. Talk to your neighbors about you child. Tell them your child is vulnerable and to take action immediately if they see them alone. Invite your local police officers over to meet your child. Talk about erratic behavior and how they handle it.  Have conversations with your family, friends and their kids. Talk to them about autism. Just do it. Talk about the future and what that looks like. They will be more supportive if they know.

  3. Start Researching

    No matter your child’s age raising a disabled little person is expensive. Start searching for information (state and county specific) around Disability Waivers and CADI Waivers, Consumer Support Grants, Medical Assistance and Medical Assistance-TEFRA, and social security. I encourage you to get a social worker. Social workers can really help ease the transition from High School to adulthood. Look into savings plans.

  4. Take Safety Precautions at Home

    Look into getting door alarms, fences, overhead lighting, etc. Make your home a safe space for your child. It will put your mind at ease.

  5. Keep your Child Safe

    Look into getting a tracking device for your child like Angel Sense. Get a medical ID bracelet. Also, if you have an older child who may be left home alone think about getting a bracelet for yourself. It can say something like, ‘vulnerable child at home.’ If you are in an accident people need to look for your child. Look into ‘nonverbal/autism/disabled’ signs for your car, car seat or even your home. Autistic people can act erratically in crisis situations. This will notify law enforcement of their disability.

  6. Talk about a Living-At-Home Situation

    Our child is most likely going to live with us for the rest of his life. This is not negative. This is reality. Talk to your spouse about that. It can make some people very uncomfortable. And that’s OK. We all feel and accept differently. One option is to have a house with a complete living space in the basement or a separate part of the house. Your child can have their own space and live ‘independently’. Think about having a PCA in your home.

  7. Talk About Group Home Settings

    The thought of this makes me completely melt down. I can’t think about it. Cooper is so vulnerable and susceptible to abuse and exploitation. So, if Cooper shows ANY desire to move out and live in an adult, semi-independent setting we will start a small care facility and use the home I currently own. We’ve already started researching this.

  8. Think About a Future Without You

    Finding a guardian for a special needs kid is different than carrying for a typical one. It can be for life. Think about who you would ask to care for your child or adult child if something were to happen to you.

This is the icky side friends and I talk about it often. I talk about it because if I don’t it paralyzes me.  I am scared of carrying for a disabled adult. And that’s OK. I’m going to figure it out…but I can’t do it alone. As I look to the future I need my son’s village more than I ever thought possible.

I want you to know that you can do this. You are so much stronger than you ever thought possible. And you are not alone.

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Kacie K Photography

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My Worry as an Autism Mom and Why It Never Rests

Parenting a child with special needs is so much more than helicopter parenting. It is never taking your shoes off, being ready to run, casing every room, knowing every exit and danger, being drenched in sweat, never sitting, searching your child’s body for marks or bruises, up all night worrying, parenting. It consumes me at times. And deep down I worry that it is destroying me.

It’s not like it happened overnight. It was an evolution. I am a pretty chill person. My kids fall and I wait for the severity of the scream and their reaction before I dive into mom mode. I believe in walking it off. Letting kids fall of bikes. Leaving a little skin on the field.

That’s the person I am…or was…or trying to be with my 4 year old. But as much as I wish I could just relax and sit back and watch Cooper play I know in my heart it isn’t possible.  He is constantly in danger.

I am an autism mom. I am caring for the most vulnerable of children. I am his eyes, ears, brains. I am one step ahead of him at all times.

And because of it I am slowly driving myself bonkers.

My worry never stops. At any given time I can tell you all the given dangers in a room. I know when Cooper has something in his mouth. I know when he is going to run. I know where he is going to dart to. I count the exits. I know every item that can be thrown. My shoes are laced up. I am in comfortable clothing. And I am ready to chase my kid if needed.

Trying to describe the emotional weight of caring for an extremely vulnerable child is impossible…but here is my attempt.

Ramblings of an Autism Mom Around Acceptance

My favorite topic to blog about! I’ve been noticing a trend. Every morning for the past few weeks I wake up to dozens of emails from parents looking for hope, help and guidance.

I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND.

I did the exact same thing when Cooper was younger. I would stay up late…usually after some sort of meltdown or a particularity hard day. And I would search for a blog where the child reminded me of Cooper. And  I would reach out. And in a really weird way I would feel guilty for reaching out to a stranger. But it was so much easier to say all of my worries to a stranger. If I said them in real life it felt too real. I felt like a traitor. I felt weak and embarrassed.

First, keep emailing me. Keep reaching out. It’s good for you and and it’s good for me. I enjoy hearing from you.

Second, I spent the day thinking about how I got to the well rounded peaceful place I am today. BAHAHAHAAAA! That was a joke. I am a mess. But I am a mess who smiles and laughs and is mostly at peace with her place in life.

How did I get here?

I gave into Autism.

Let me say that again. I gave into Autism.

I gave up the perception of what I wanted life to be. It was really hard at first.

I wanted to go out to dinner and join friends at events and go on family vacations…but, unfortunately, we couldn’t do those things. And the second that I accepted that I was able to relax and find peace.

Check out my video. I give more details. Hugs to all of you!

Dear Mom, I Read Your Letter Today

A few days ago I shared a letter I wrote for my son Sawyer. You can read it HERE.  It was a toughie to share. It was brutally honest. It was real. And I really put myself out there. I purged every ounce of worry and self-doubt that I have about raising an autistic child alongside a typical child.

Let’s get something straight.

Cooper is an amazing little boy. He is funny and sweet and brings more joy than I can put into words. But…it’s different for me. I am his mother. He came from me. I am here on this earth to care for him. And I am 33 years old. I got some age and wisdom behind me.  I can accept the challenges that our life offers more than a four year old. Or a 10 year old. Or a teenager.

As I sat and read the comments on my letter I started to spiral…’you love Sawyer more.’ ‘I feel bad for both of your sons.’ ‘You don’t love Cooper.’

I had failed.

I thought long and hard about it. Was I wrong to worry about Sawyer resenting his brother?

 

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Quite possibly I guess. I’m not expert in child development.

And then it hit me.

I am not a sibling to a child with special needs (nor were the commenters). I am simply the mother. And what the hell do I know about growing up with an autistic sibling.

I had meant to help others by writing that letter. That was my only objective. Despite the thousands of amazing comments I worried that I had failed.

Then this letter showed up in my inbox. It was written to me as if it was from Sawyer. The author’s name is Kara Dymond. And it changed my life and outlook on everything. Just like that. I was saved again by a stranger.

Grab your tissues friends.


Dear Mom,

I read your letter today.

You should know that the person I am today is because of you, and because of my brother.

Know that I never resented the focus on him. Not really. I watched, and learned, what it means to love someone. To nurture them. To not only care for him, but to allow him to care for us. Not in the traditional sense, but in his way. Love is not a spoken language. He makes me laugh, deep belly laughs, and smile till the creases in my face hurt. He is pure, and the euphoria we feel when he is happy and with each small step forward is unlike any other joy. Being with him simplifies life to what really matters. Cynicism and self-absorption fade away. We experience life in full color. Those are the times that make the grief, the stress, the anger at the world’s injustice seem unimportant, if only for a while.

And those times you spoiled me? These helped me to learn to appreciate the sweet moments, and to take nothing for granted. That the chaos of life is tempered by levity.

You wondered how I would feel about my brother, now, as an adult. You never had to tell me what my role would be; I knew. There was no doubt. As I grow older, and you grow older, I worry too about outliving my brother, just as you do. He factors into my every decision. But it is not a sacrifice.

My best qualities are inextricably linked to my brother. I have an empathy and interest in others I would not have, without him. I understand the difference between treating someone equitably and treating someone equally. You taught me this.

In a way you could say my brother keeps me out of trouble. I don’t waste time on the wrong people. I have a list of qualities I look for in a partner because I am looking out for someone who will love us both. This may also seem like a sacrifice but it is not. I want a partner who sees the innate value in others, and who can move beyond fear to meeting him where he is.

He is a gift. He is the reason I now teach children with autism. When I was offered the job, I wondered if it was a good idea. Would it be too hard to work all day, sharing in the pain and joys of other families, to come home to ours? But then I realized: would anyone else love these students the way I do? Six years on, I have no regrets. And I want to change the world for my students. Which is why I am now getting my doctorate in autism education. Because the world is changing and everything he has taught me can be passed along to others. Because he really is the greater teacher.

I know there is a grief so deep in you that it is hard to get out of bed sometimes. But we are so much more whole than we would be without him. There is lightness that permeates the darkness.

He may not say it, and I definitely don’t say it enough, but thank you. I love you, for all that you have done. I am happy to help. I am grateful to help. I have been preparing for this for as long as I can remember.

Don’t worry, Mom, I got this. I got you.

Love, Kara


As I sit here and read this letter over and over again the tears are streaming down my face. Like the broken record I am I can say that I had a long night. I am exhausted.

Today I am feeling the strains of  motherhood…not just autism.

And then I read this letter from Kara and a feeling of calm washed over me.

This is going to be OK. We are all going to be OK. We are raising amazing kids. Some with disabilities and some without. We are teaching them love and kindness and we are ALL doing an amazing job.

I reached out to Kara and thanked her immensely for her words. I also asked her to tell me more about her brother and their relationship. It’s pretty great stuff. She is an absolutely amazing woman. She is making a difference at home and in the world. I can’t even imagine how proud her mother is of her!

Danny

My brother Danny is soon to be 29, and I am a few years older. We have two other older siblings. My sister now writes Autism policy for the province of Ontario, and like I mentioned, I teach students with autism and am getting my PhD focusing on supporting teacher development in the area, so D’s impact on all of us has been very apparent.

We are the closest, in age and in friendship.

Danny has autism, developmental delays, and acute social anxiety disorder. He was very late to speak, hid under chairs at preschool and I don’t know if he ever spoke at school. He speaks with immediate family, and is actually hilarious (mimes as if he was different characters sometimes, is the pun master) but withdraws around others.

He is incredible at video games, and now writes his own ideas for story lines, character descriptions etc. He has extreme intelligence in some domains and he struggles to function with many elements of daily living. Great with routines, once he has learned them, and predictability and all the rest. He lives with my parents, and stays with me at certain parts of the year so they can get a break/vacation, and because he needs one too!

He goes to a day program that teaches life skills and gets him volunteering stocking shelves a few days a week, and he has a job shredding office documents at my dad’s office. He is usually pretty happy though like all of us has his days where he is overwhelmed by his feelings and can’t understand why everything is so much more difficult for him. A lot of trouble identifying and expressing feelings and their cause.

A few years ago he patted me on the arm and said I was a very nice sister. It was the best compliment I have ever received.

Danny also adores my boyfriend, who once said, without knowing it has always been my plan, that Danny should live with us one day. My heart burst.

 

A Letter to My Other Son…The Sibling to A Special Needs Child

My little peanut,

Today is your fourth birthday bud. How can that be? I look at you running and jumping with your friends and it’s hard for me not to cry. You are amazing. I am so proud to be your mom. I need you to know that.

I want to tell you a few things. I know you won’t understand them now. And that’s OK. But someday, when mom is old and grey, I want you to read this letter.

I want you to know I am so unbelievably thankful that you are my son and Cooper’s brother. You need to know that. Together, the two of you have given me more joy than I ever thought was possible.

I have a secret. No one knows this. I cried the day I found out I was pregnant with you. Actual ugly tears bud. I have never been more afraid in my whole entire life.

Your brother was two and I was failing as his mother. I couldn’t fix him. I was chasing doctors and therapies and coming up short. I felt like I was failing as a wife, a friend, an employee and a mother. My world was crashing down around me.

Autism was right around the corner. Severe, nonverbal autism. The scary kind. The kind no one talked about.

I lived every single day with a dreadful feeling in my stomach. I knew the bottom was going to fall out of the perfect life I fantasized about. I could feel it happening. It was only a matter of time until we had a diagnosis.

But I was faking it and making it pal. I kept the perception up. And then I found out you were coming. It was a Saturday morning. I’d been awake all night with Coops. Your dad was at work. And I had a hunch. I peed on a stick and the thing practically screamed YOU ARE PREGNANT.

I was so scared buddy. I hadn’t slept in 2 years. My world revolved completely around your brother. Much as it does now. Not a lot has changed in that department. Hell, I think the first year of your life I nursed you in every waiting room in Duluth.

For the next 9 months I would lay awake at night when I should have been catching precious sleep googling ‘odds of having two children with autism’.

I was so scared Sawyer.

Then it was January and you were here. And, oh my God baby boy, you were perfect. You slept. You ate. You laughed. You were content.

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Photo Credit: Melanie Houle Gunderson

I want to tell you a secret.

You saved me buddy. I want you to know that. Not a lot of kids can say they saved their mom.

By the time you were born my world was 100% autism and my fierce need to help your brother. I was running myself absolutely ragged chasing therapies and help. And while that is what a mother should be doing, it was slowly taking over my entire world. I was missing all the joy of motherhood. I was simply surviving.

You reminded me that I needed to live life with my babies. You brought our family back to reality.

On the days when autism had me down. On the days when my heartbreak over your brother’s disability was more than I could handle. You were there. Laughing and smiling. Learning to crawl, walk, jump and speak. Inserting yourself into Cooper’s world too. You could always do it in a way that I never could.

You gave me all the milestones and memories that a mother should have.

And on the other hand watching you pass your older brother cognitively, socially, emotionally and physically has been crushing. You are my little reminder of what Cooper isn’t. There are days where I miss your brother so much I can’t stand it.

I think of the all times we almost downplayed your development because your brother learned to use a straw or point to his nose. Such simple things. We never meant to do that buddy. We just knew you were fine. You were thriving. Your brother wasn’t.

I want to say I am so sorry. You were born into this.  Having a brother with severe special needs has to be frustrating. There are days when the only interaction you have with Cooper is a kick in the face.

Autism is such a mystery to you. I can see it in your face. There are days where you will look at Cooper and ask him a question and he will squeal in delight. Those are the good moments. And I know they are few and far between.

I want to say I am sorry that this is happening. You are the most social kid that I know. You come to me to meet those needs because your brother ignores you. You demand me to play with you.

Part of me wishes you didn’t know the word ‘Autism.’ And then a part of me is thankful that you know hard times. That you know sadness and disabilities and differences. I feel like it’s almost a gift Cooper has given to us. You know struggles kiddo.

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Photo Credit: Kacie K Photography

I feel like I’ve missed so much of your life.

Last month I forgot the year you were born. We were at the doctor having your well-child visit and the receptionist asked me your birth date. I said January 20.  And she said ‘year?’ I just stared at her. I looked at you. I looked at her. And I burst into tears. I truly didn’t know the year you were born.

Your daddy giggled about my forgetful brain and attributed it to lack of sleep.

I think of the times I shushed your beautiful chatter and nonstop questions because I had been listening to your brother scream for hours.

What kind of mother does that? But I know that you will understand. You will be quiet. Your brother won’t.

The other day you grabbed my face during a social worker visit and looked right into my eyes and said, ‘Can we talk about Sawyer for a little bit mama?’ I will never forget the way you held my face with both of your chubby hands and asked so sweetly Sawyer. And I told you we would after the social worker left. We would talk about Sawyer. Only we didn’t because your brother needed me.

I want you to know I am so sorry for that moment that you will never remember.

I want to thank you sweet boy. Our life is hard. It is even scary sometimes. It’s exhausting. And you get the leftover shreds of a mother after autism is done. And I am sorry.

Some days I think I am creating a monster because I spoil you so terribly. You see your brother doing so many things that you can’t. So, I give into you all the time. I hold you and coddle you. I let you stay up later at night so we can have a few minutes without autism.

I am so sorry that 5 times a day I say to you…’because he’s autistic.’ There are days when I swear I’ve failed you.

Or the times I told you that you had to walk because I had to carry your brother. It started when you were 2. Your brother was 4. You would scream at my feet with those little arms in the air and your brother would kick at you from my arms. We would be in the midst of autism meltdown so fierce that I would have to walk and hope that you would follow.

Those moments are burned in my brain buddy. Oh the guilt.

There are moments when I will look at you and wonder if you will take care of your brother after I am gone. Will you love him like I do? Will you shave his face? Will you dress him? Will you change his diaper if needed? Will he live with you?

How can I ask you that? I want you to go to college. Get married. Have babies. But part of me has this favor to ask of you. I need you to love your brother after I am gone. I need you to protect him and while I don’t know what that looks like yet I just need to say it out loud.

My worry about Cooper’s future is unbelievable.

Someday, mommy and daddy need to talk to you about the future. But not today.

Today you are 4 sweet boy and we are celebrating everything that is you. Today Autism is not the priority.

I am watching you play and thinking about all the things I want to teach you.

I want to teach you kindness, love and patience. I want to teach you that disabilities are not scary. I want you to fight for what is right. I want you to fight for your brother.

But most of all I want you to be happy doing whatever it is you want to do and to have no animosity against your brother. I want you to accept Cooper and love him and truly see all the joy he brings to our lives. I want you to be brothers in every essence of the word honey.

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Photo Credit: Kacie K Photography

I Can’t Fix My Son

I shared a video last night on Facebook and I can’t believe the overwhelming support I’ve received.Thank you to every single person that messaged me or left me a comment. Just reading the words, ‘I understand,’ is more therapy than I can describe. Knowing that people out there understand is amazing. It makes me feel less alone.

So, what was the event that caused my crash?

Well, we had an evaluation for Cooper yesterday at an autism center. I am looking for options that will replace public education. I am pro public education in most cases but I feel in my heart that Cooper needs more than the school district can offer. And in Minnesota the options are limited.

The evaluation went well. It was fine. It is what it is.There were even some positives that came out of it. For the first time in Cooper’s life he did the evaluation with the therapist alone. The observation part. Jamie and I actually sat down for 15 minutes and had a coffee. IT WAS AMAZING. On a tough note he threw chairs and puzzles for the first part of the evaluation. I’m used to it. But seeing it in public is hard.

So, now we wait to see what options and support they can provide to us. That’s the black and white side of it.

The emotional side….the mother side…that part is way different.

Yesterday it hit me like a ton of bricks that I can do every possible thing to fix my son and he will still be autistic. I can’t change the outcome of this. And the heaviness of that feels like I am on a roller coaster of emotions at times. And it causes me to question what I am doing. And how much I should be doing. It’s terrible. I feel out of control.

I am going to come out of this funk and sadness friends. It happens every couple of months for me as an autism mom. It usually springs up after an evaluation or the start of something new like kindergarten. Or a super hard event. I always get through it through . And I will this time too. I will wake up one morning and dust myself off and pull up my MAMA BEAR AUTISM ADVOCATE BIG GIRL PANTS and kick some serious ass. Because that’s what parents do. That’s what I do. That is me.

Anyhow. Thank you for sharing my journey with me!

Diaper Options for a 6 Year Old

Hey all,

One question I am continuously asked is what kind of diapers we use for Cooper. He is a big boy weighing in at 60 lbs. He currently wears a size 7 diaper.

Cooper’s diapers are covered by his Medical Assistance. As far as I understand, and this may vary by state, a child with an autism diagnosis who is covered under medical assistance gets free diapers after the age of four. That’s what I was told. We had to figure this out for ourselves. Meaning a fellow parent told us.

Cooper started on Medical Assistance (as back up to my primary health insurance) at age 3 1/2. We didn’t find out that we could get his diapers paid for until he was almost 5.

The system is broken my friends.

I order his diapers from a Medical Supply company and they are delivered right to my house. This is awesome. And life changing. The company calls me once a month and I place the order.

Note: Diaper wipes are NOT covered under Medical Assistance. This is a huge bummer. We go through hundreds of wipes a day.

The first time I had to order size 7 diaper I cried. It was tough for me and I felt really sad about it.Now he is almost into a size 8. Sigh.

The first brand they sent me was called Prevail. And they fit like I imagine an adult diaper would. They are basically a square. I HATED THEM. They didn’t stay on. They went all the way up Cooper’s back and front to his chest. They were bulky and made a lot of noise when he moved. I sent them back immediately.

The second brand we received are called Cuties. I LOVE THESE. They work great for us and fit like an actual diaper.

Here are a few pics of the cuties as well as the Prevail brand. I also did quick Amazon search and they do sell them.

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The Cuties Brand is on the left.

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