LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

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This isn't actually a move from the Young Athlete's program. This is just something he was doing to entertain himself between events.

On Friday, Billy participated in a demonstration, with his classmates, of what he's been working on in the Young Athletes program at school.

Because qualifying kids can't join the Special Olympics until the age of seven, Young Athletes was started by the organization to teach sports skills to younger kids. Billy's school is the only one in our county where the program exists (it requires quite a commitment from the already-time-strapped staff), and we were delighted when it was announced earlier this year.

The best thing about the Young Athletes program is that it's inclusive of all kids. Neurotypical kids are Young Athletes too; in many ways, such as turn-taking, they might act as role models and mentors. In many skills, though, they're learning right alongside their pals with special needs. This wonderful program proves that an inclusion sports program, particularly for younger kids, is not only possible but a huge asset to the school and the kids involved.

Together, these hard-working athletes practice the basics of any sport: turn-taking, following multi-part instructions, working together on a team. They also develop specific skills like hitting and kicking balls, running and jumping on command, completing an obstacle course, etc.

Ms. Laurie, Billy's Young Athletes coach, told us that “At the start of the program, none of the kids could hit a ball off the tee,” but as they demonstrated on Friday, now they all can!

By the time they're seven, some of the kids in the program will have outgrown their developmentally disabled label; some will choose to move on to the Special Olympics. But all the kids will carry with them the important lessons they've learned about teamwork and the joy of sharing the athletic field with friends of all different developmental abilities.

It was inspiring to watch these kids. I felt a surge of pride as each one of them completed the obstacle course and such gratitude to the wonderful teachers and aides who made it possible. I strongly encourage you to ask about the Young Athletes program if you have a child under 7, and to volunteer with the Special Olympics, if possible, in your area.

To find out more about the Special Olympics and the Young Athletes program, CLICK HERE.

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The Young Athletes and mentors march in, carrying their toilet-paper-roll torches with solemn ceremony.

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Billy learns to catch a ball dropped from above, thanks to Coach Laurie!

Reader Comments

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What a great experience for all involved! Sounds like a lot of fun!! Maybe it will encourage some of the other schools to participate. That would be great! =)

What a Wonderful Program!

That's something that should be at every school!

Well, Audrey just turned 7 so I guess it would have to be on to the big leagues for her! If she had any athleticism at all that is. Sounds like a wonderful program...I'd never heard of it before.

I was also SO impressed with the older kids who volunteered to help during the presentation. They enthusiastically cheered on the Young Athletes and high 5'ed each kid once he/she completed a task. The whole experience inspired me, and of course, I was SOOOO proud of my precious nephew, Billy.

I was also SO impressed with the older kids who volunteered to help during the presentation. They enthusiastically cheered on the Young Athletes and high 5'ed each kid once he/she completed a task. The whole experience inspired me, and of course, I was SOOOO proud of my precious nephew, Billy.

Total 5 comments

In the studio with the BLES Bobcat news team and art contest winners!

After our Disney bullying experience at the beginning of this year, I thought, “What kind of message are our kids receiving about autism?”

I wanted to make sure that we started the conversation locally as early as possible. I wanted to get ahead of the message, because while Billy's current four- and five-year-old classmates at Buck Lake Elementary School are the best and most beautiful people on the face of the planet (I really believe this), even great kids can turn into Mean Girls. And one day, he's going to that scary place known as middle school.

So, with the sponsorship support of my amazing sister, Samantha Strickland of Pea Green Solutions, I sponsored a poster contest at Billy's elementary school. The rules were very simple: Just do an Autism Awareness Month poster. Talk about how being different is ok and good. Use my blog title in it for extra credit.

About 40 fourth- and fifth-graders participated, and I got the posters back a couple of days ago.

I just boo-hooed as I went through them in my kitchen. I actually felt ashamed for adults and our utter inability to get it. Adults have to try to love the whole world and kids just do it so naturally. What happens to us?

While I already knew that Billy's teacher, his classroom aides, his school therapists and his wonderful principal have the most beautiful hearts, I was floored by the thoughtful and understanding way these young artists approached the idea of autism awareness. With the principal and art teacher's help, we narrowed down the big pile to 11 of our favorites (I couldn't eliminate one and make it and even top 10). You can see all 11 finalists at the LifeIsASpectrum.com Facebook page.

Then our panel of celebrity judges weighed in. And what a great panel we had: co-sponsor of the contest Samantha Strickland, CEO of Pea Green Solutions; Mark Marsiglio, CEO of ThinkCreative Advertising; Rosanne Dunkelberger, editor of Tallahassee Magazine; pop artist Jules Burt; and Jeanette Dummer, assistant director of the Florida State University Honors Program.

Today, we awarded the prizes for the top 5 posters during the Buck Lake Bobcat Morning News (side note: I was totally blown away by how professionally these elementary school students can produce, shoot and anchor a morning talk show -- they could teach the pros a few things).

We had three third place prize winners who each received a $10 cash prize:

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3rd place: Joseph R.

Joseph R's incredible pencil drawing illustrates individual uniqueness through a cityscape of intricately drawn buildings.
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I like the way Odessa D. created faces out of puzzle pieces and mixed media including pencils, pastels and puffy paint.
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Striking, simple and effective, Claire H's colorful butterfly is a beautiful metaphor for autism.

Next, came our second prize winners, because Chloe B. and Natalie B. chose to work together on this beautiful design, while incorporates colored pencil and 3-D fabric elements. The artists share the $25 second prize for this beautiful poster:

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And finally our first prize winner! The talented Lauren S. clearly "gets it," because in the words of one judge, "I like the suggestion of not just what to do but HOW to do it!" I also love the way a couple of the kids are wearing Life is a Spectrum T-shirts. GREAT idea, Lauren :-) Lauren received a $50 cash prize and FOUR TICKETS TO DISNEY WORLD!!

FIRSTPLACE_ART

Thank you to all the young artists, esteemed judges, phenomenal teachers, the wonderful principal Sands and my tireless, creative and supportive sister Sam (did I mention that you should hire Pea Green Solutions for all your marketing needs???) without whom I truly would not have made it through this month.

You have all made this April a very special time for me and my family.

Reader Comments

WOW!

Wow! What amazing talent! I love how everyone has such a unique and different take on it. Great job everyone & congrats!!

1 Wasabi mommy

I really love the title of your blog.. it makes total sense.. just following you back.. from sits

Congratulations on the successful contest, Amanda! I hope other schools will follow Buck Lake's example!

Hugs,
Wendy

What a creative way of spreading awareness to these kids Amanda. I read your bullying incident at WDW and that is really sad. In retrospect, I hope Disney will learn from it. Great work on the contest!

Snippets 'N Stuff

I posted a link on my blog. This was such an amazing idea.

Snippets 'N Stuff

What an amazing idea! I love this! The kids artwork is precious. I could see how you would get choked up. Thanks for sharing.

This is a great idea, wonderfully executed. Now I know what you've been doing all April...what are you gonna do with yourself when it's over?? I know I know...awareness isn't going to end on April 30, right? Great job!

What a Cool Idea!

I can't not get over how great the kids did with their art! They posters were all so amazing!

Total 11 comments

S_Train_Bash

Sadly, the train broke down halfway around the baseball field.

This past Saturday was the Bash and Dash at Billy's school, the annual fundraiser for the school. (Let's save for another day discussion of the topic of WHY a public school finds itself in a position of having to hold multiple fundraisers.)

Bash and Dash was great: well-organized, fun, and amazingly well-attended. There were pony rides and train rides and bounce houses and carnival games. That's the "Bash" part of the day.

But we started with the "Dash." There was a race for each age group, including pre-Kindergarten, Billy's group.

We had been practicing "racing" for weeks. I'd shout, "Ready, set, GO!" in the back yard and we'd run from one fence to the other. During his ABA therapy, Billy would race Ms. Elyse, I would race Billy; sometimes Ms. Elyse and I would race each other. We talked non-stop about the race.

I still wasn't sure how it was going to work out. Despite all our rehearsal, whenever he hears "Go!" Billy is just as likely to run towards the closest available toy as he is to run towards the finish line. As usual, I debated with myself: about whether introducing him to the idea of competition at this stage was even healthy; about whether the crowds would upset him; about whether he might actually fall and get hurt.

I was ready to pull out of the whole thing. Then I got a package in the mail.

When I opened it, I pulled out a trophy. It was about 18 inches tall and engraved like this:

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My mom and dad.

I called them, and sure enough, my mom owned up. "I wanted Billy to know," she said, "that no matter what, he's a winner."

And she was right. Plus, I couldn't back out now that they had invested in what Billy lovingly referred to as "The Statue of Liberty."

Race day dawned bright and beautiful, and we arrived at the starting line with several minutes to spare. Several of Billy's friends turned up, including one beautiful girl who marched right up to him and grabbed his hand in hers, as though she sensed he needed a little reassurance.

As we had practiced, Dave stood with Billy at the starting line, and Willow and I went to the finish. When a volunteer tried to move me out of the way, I explained that my autistic son was planning to run toward me, and if I wasn't standing there, he was very likely to head for that little circle of unattended ponies (the pony rides hadn't started yet). I was allowed to stay.

The boys lined up (girls raced separately). When their little legs started pumping, I couldn't believe how excited I was. I was screaming and crying and shouting for Billy.

Even from a distance, I could see he was beaming with happiness. He was looking from side to side at the crowds lining the race path. Crowds. That was something we hadn't worked into rehearsal.

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Billy's in the red shirt!

Rather than run flat-out, he kind of loped along, half-galloping, watching the other kids run in front of him. He likes to chase.

They all crossed the finish line in front of him and I could see Billy laughing with joy. He was happy for them. And he was inches from the finish line.

And then he turned around and headed the other direction.

He was out there on his own, the race was over for everyone else, and he was running the wrong way. I started shouting for him: "Billy, this way! Come this way, baby!"

At that moment, I just wanted him to finish. The other racers in his group were already getting their trophies and medals, and the older kids were already lining up for the next race, but I so wanted Billy to cross that finish line.

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No one raised an eyebrow when Billy got the biggest trophy.

Then something beautiful happened. Everyone started joining in. On both sides of the race path, kids and adults were shouting, "Come on, Billy! This way!" And waving him toward the finish line.

Laughing, he turned around. He saw me and Willow. And he started running toward us. As he crossed the finish line and leaped into my arms, there were cheers all around us.

Of course, everyone was proud of the kids who ran the fastest. I would never want to take away from their winning moments.

But at the moment Billy crossed that finish line, we all felt like winners.

Reader Comments

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What a gift Billy's parents gave the community that race day. Your boy ran the race but you put your heart on the line.
Billy I suspect with go far.

?

Amanda, I wanted to tell you all a whole buncha lovely compliments, delightful insights, and inspiring poems ... But after I got through reading the 512 comments, my brain has been erased. Love your blog.

Go Billy!

I loved this! Definitely tearing at the end, and so happy he crossed that finish line with the support of a whole community behind him. And what awesome grandparents he has to think of that trophy.

I reposted this on Facebook, and this was my Aunt Connie's comment:
"Wendy, I read this and cried. I, too, cheered this little guy to the finish line. Your friend writes beautifully. You do, too. I love you. Thank you for sharing."

Wendy

Snippets 'N Stuff

I LOVE this! He has awesome grandparents, doesn't he!? :)

Awesom

Awesome from so many perspectives. Hooray for Billy's grandparents. And the other kids in his class. Most of all, hooray for him.

Mandy, I love all your articles, but this one especially touched me today! You are such a special mommy and Billty is such an exceptional little boy. *I'm so glad he "won" - I n our eyes he is a winner every day. God gives special children to special people - I truly believe this.

Total 15 comments

Ok, I'm taking care of pukey kids today, so I leave you with the photo below. Give me your best caption ideas, and the winner (chosen by Willow) will win a brand-new (I promise, it hasn't been watched even once by my kids) special edition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon, not the one with Jim Carey) still in its shrink wrap.

This is a shot of me and Willow from Billy's Thanksgiving lunch at school. And yes, that is a giant trash can right next to our table.

WillowMamaThanks

Just post your caption ideas below, and Willow will choose the winner by Monday. (Disclaimer: Baby cannot read and may be assisted by mother.)

Reader Comments

ESP?

Think she spotted the trashcan and had a vision of the days ahead? Your poor family. I hope you are all back to healthy and felt great for Thanksgiving!

"We already did the smiling shot - now's the silly face one. Right?"

The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.



The second rule of Fight Club is, you DO NOT talk about Fight Club.

@jencyll

Willow the vampire, as she moves in on your neck.................

I need to driiiiiiiink!

Don't enter me in the comp, I couldn't view the DVD anyway as different regions so am just joining in for fun:) Jen

Remove this silly hat and nobody gets hurt.

Or -
"So .... hungry.... Must ... eat .... mommy's ... hand."
Or-
"You won't be smiling after I swallow your pinkie."
Or-
"Vertigo. All those colors in your blouse are giving me vertigo. Gonna hurl. Where's the trash can?"

(Sorry about that last one. It really is a pretty blouse. I swear.)

This One Has a Snowball's Chance in ......

Really, mommy! I DO NOT need the Heimlich maneuver!

Turkey? Where's the Beef?!

caption

(prepare for a lion-from-Wizard-of-Oz reference:) "If I...were king...of the forrrrrrrrrrrrrrrest!"

Sorry your kids are illin'. It's tough to watch little ones fight the yuckies--especially when you're not feeling so great yourself. I hope you're all on the mend so you can enjoy a happy and turkey-filled Thanksgiving!

Total 10 comments

Today the SITS Girls are writing about being haunted by the ghosts of Halloween past. I'll admit it, I approached this Halloween haunted. By low expectations. By the memory of everything we did wrong last year with our overwhelmed and exhausted autistic child. And the year before that. Haunted by the disappointment I felt when my handsome astronaut collapsed in the living room floor, screaming for us to remove his costume, claiming to be "Itchy! Hot! Hurchy!" and any number of other negative adjectives that might or might not be recognized words in the English language.

Instead of trick-or-treating, we did this for 45 minutes on October 31, 2009:

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October 2009: Epic Halloween Fail

But my, oh my, what a difference a year can make:

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October 2010: Look who's wearing a HAT!

Last year, we didn't even attempt the cute NASA hat, because Billy couldn't bear to have his head touched. This year, he takes great pleasure in "Vogue-ing" in front of the mirror in his costume and hat.

He wore his costume for HOURS at the pre-K school Halloween party on Friday, while I stood back, practically agog at the unexpected success. He painted pumpkins, climbed inside the scary glow-in-the-dark cave for a Halloween story, completed two different fall crafts and even put his fingers (ever so briefly) into the unknown jar of yucky "guts" (pumpkin entrails).

Granted, he spent a good deal of time on the pre-K play porch dancing with a washcloth, but he was having a great time, and it was actually kind of an interesting dance.

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Billy invents Washcloth Dancing.

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Painting pumpkins

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The meditating astronaut

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Boo! Gotcha!

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My happy astronaut

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And he's off!

     

This Halloween, his new favorite thing is to say "Boo!" and surprise me, as you can see in the photo sequence above.

He has no idea how surprised I am.

Reader Comments

Happiness

Your kiddos just shine with happiness! Love your blog and your family! Happy SITS day!

Happy Hurchy-ween!

@Lori: You're right -- his happiness on Friday and throughout the weekend was all the treat I needed. Well, that and about 400 mini-Snickers.

@Cheryl & @outoutout: Thanks for the thumbs up on the blog design. I have my creative sister to thank for the header and my hubby to thank for the general implementation and overhaul.

@Ginny Marie: THANK YOU. I take any sign of likeness between me and my kids to be a huge compliment. A lot of people say that Willow looks like Dave all the time. It's nice to think there are some of my genes in their SOMEWHERE.

@Ashley: Agree with you about the smile. It certainly is catching in THIS household :-)

@Lynn: What a very good point. It's easy to remember how well (or not well) things went at a particular holiday in previous years. Not so easy to remember we had a good or bad January 18th. I've got my fingers crossed that Audrey has the best winter carnival experience EVER this year. Hurray for progress indeed!

@Wendy: Having participated in washcloth dancing myself, I can GUARANTEE you that there is no coordination requirement :-)

Billy Embraces Halloween...Yay!

I'm glad Billy had fun on Halloween this year!

Hmmm...washcloth dancing...I should try that. Can someone with almost no coordination do it?

Wendy

Success!

That is awesome! Sometimes the holidays are the best checkpoint to see where your child is one year later. I take Audrey to the same sensory-overloading winter carnival every year to see how she does, and she does better and better every year. Hurray for progress!

Adorable

He has one of those absolutely contagious smiles. I'm so happy to see he had a great time!

In that second photo...

I don't know who Billy favors when you see him in person, but I can totally see you in Billy's face when he's wearing his hat!

I'm so glad he had so much fun at the party!

First of all, huge thumbs-up to your new rainbow-coloured banner! :)

And yes, what a difference a year (or two, or ten, or twenty) can make in the life of an autistic person! I'm so glad your son has gotten to the point where he can enjoy Halloween. His costume looks great!

That's Great!

How wonderful that Billy can enjoy Halloween now! What a difference! BTW, your new blog design looks great!

Total 9 comments

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