Cub Scout Triathlon…

It’s Saturday, and I am sitting in my family room, and there is a peaceful quiet hum of children playing…and my eyes are welling up with tears.  With two kids under 3 1/2, and a son with Autism who loves vocal stimming and loud squeals—there aren’t too many moments in our house that everyone is content.  But this morning, everyone has been happy!!
Actually, we had the greatest morning ever!!  Justin’s Cub Scout Pack planned a triathlon in a neighborhood for the boys to participate in.  We have missed a lot of scouting this year, but Justin has been doing so well lately and so we took the whole family and went to cheer on Justin.
They started with swimming, which I knew Justin would like because he loves being in the water.
The second leg was three laps on a bike.  Justin doesn’t ride a bike often—it has been a year since he has been on it because the training wheels broke!!  But he got on without any whining and took off for his laps.
I knew Justin would only attempt one lap, and I was just praying he would make it without having a melt down.  Especially since we hadn’t been practicing riding the bike at all!!  So the kids and I stayed back and waited for him….and I nervously prayed that he could be happy and enjoy the ride with his dad!!  My best friend texted me right as I was worrying:  “Just saw Justin!!!  Way to go Justin!!  They are doing awesome!!!”  That meant he made it have way around the loop!!
And then we saw him.  I am that crazy lady who cries at the Olympics, and The Biggest Loser, and Little League….yep, that’s me!!  I purposefully wore my sunglasses today so I could cry to my little heart’s content without anyone noticing—ha ha!!
And the cheers began…
He had the cutest little sheepish smile on his face when he rode past all the parents and kids cheering for him!!  Several parents came up and commented on how happy he looked!!
The last leg was running, but Justin was done and wanted to swim.  So he finished up in the pool!  We left without any of our kids having a tantrum—I can’t remember ever having such a perfect Saturday morning!! In the voice of Rapunzel from Tangled, “Best. Day. Ever!!

Happy Father’s Day…from the Webelos

I know I am a little late in posting this, but it had to be shared!!  Justin hasn’t been able to go to Scouts in the last 4 months.  Half that time he was having meltdowns, and the other times my husband was out of town.  So Justin missed making the Father’s Day gift.
My husband didn’t even get to go to church on Father’s Day—he had to take care of Justin.  Imagine my surprise when the Webelos leader came up to me and handed me this…
The card says, “The Webelos made the pencil holder for Justin.  It was a gesture to help him make it for you.  We all love Justin and we also think you are a wonderful Dad. Happy Father’s Day.”
I cried. Big surprise, I know—but seriously, how thoughtful is that!!  Not only did the Webelos leaders think of Justin and his dad, but the Webelos were taught compassion that night–and how to show empathy.  Something they are VERY good at already, but it was still a remarkable life lesson.  They not only thought about Justin not being there, but the impact of Justin not being able to tell his dad how wonderful he is.  Those are words that as Justin’s parents we don’t get to hear.  It was a small thought that had a huge impact on me, and I’m sure the boys as well.  Another great Autism and scouting experience!!

How to talk to kids about Autism…the triumphant Cub Scout story

I was so excited when Justin turned eight years old last year because it meant he could be a cub scout!!  I went out and bought him a full uniform—all the time hearing a voice in the back of my mind saying, “yeah, you can give it a try, but it’s probably not going to work.”  I hoped that voice wasn’t true, but past experiences at church had proven disastrous.
Within a week I got an email from the cub master asking my husband and me if we would speak at the next Pack Meeting which was going to focus on Special Needs and if we could introduce Autism and Justin to the pack.  What a great idea!!  I really hadn’t thought of doing something like that since Justin “went” to church with these same boys—but he really didn’t stay at church when he was there so a lot of these boys might not really understand why that is hard for Justin.  I told him we would, to which my husband said, “you know that means it is just you, right?  You’ll do a great job, and I won’t say it like you.  I’ll watch Justin while you talk.”
I started searching on the Internet to see if there were some good explanations of Autism for kids and after a very long search and not knowing where to even begin with my introduction, I found this website.  This mom did a great job of explaining autism in a way that kids could understand.  I used her example of “pins and needles” to explain sensory issues for Justin and then came up with some other things on my own that related specifically to Justin.
The pack meeting went really well and I was really surprised how many adults told me later that there kids brought up other kids they knew who must have had Autism like Justin too!!
Before we drove out to our family reunion, I sent my cub scout autism introduction talk to my husband’s family (who some of them had never met Justin, and others it had been over 3 years) so they could share it with their kids and talk Autism before we got there.  I think it helped prepare them and it never ceases to amaze me how team oriented kids can be for a good cause!!  They were so accepting of Justin!!
I have decided to post my introduction in case it benefits anyone else in understanding Autism.  I am in no way proclaiming to be an expert in Autism, or explaining it…I’ve just had many wonderful conversations about Autism from sharing this introduction:)
We are so excited to be here tonight for Justin’s first Pack Meeting. As Justin’s parents, we were given the opportunity to spotlight him so that everyone can get to know him a little better.

How many of you have ever broken your arm or leg and had to wear a cast? And for those who haven’t personally broken an arm or leg, you probably know someone who has, right? And you know just by looking at someone with a cast that there are certain limitations or things that they can’t do. You can’t go swimming when you have a cast, right? And can someone with a cast on their leg run a race?? Well, they might not be able to run a race, but they could walk the race, couldn’t they?? They’d just have to go a little bit slower to finish. I’m going to talk to you about some of Justin’s limitations that you can’t see like a cast, because it affects how his brain reacts to situations.

Justin has something called Autism. How many of you have heard the word Autism before??Autism is a condition that makes Justin’s brain react differently than other people his own age. When you look at Justin, he looks just like any other boy his age on the outside, and it would probably take you a few minutes to realize that he’s a little bit different because of his Autism. I’m going to tell you a little bit about how we found out Justin had Autism because it’s not something that he was born with, and it’s not something that you can “catch” from someone like a cold, or strep throat. It’s not contagious.

I bet a lot of you can’t remember some of the things you did when you were a baby, but I bet they were similar to the things that Justin did as a baby. He used to play peek-a-boo, and loved playing with all different kinds of toys, and loved making baby noises. Just before Justin turned two years old, he started to play differently and he didn’t want to look at us anymore or play peek-a-boo, and he started to cry more, and not try to talk any more, and he just seemed really frustrated. We took him to some doctors to try to find out what was wrong, and eventually we found out he had Autism.

There is a really important part of our brain that helps control our reactions to situations and this special part of Justin’s brain just doesn’t work quite right. I’m going to share with you some examples of how this makes Justin feel inside.

Here’s the first example: When you are sitting at school and you are in the middle of taking test, your brain does a wonderful thing in that it will help you not focus on the sounds of your breathing, or the ticking of the clock on the wall, or the sound of the air-conditioning blowing in the room—it helps tune all of that out and lets you concentrate on your test. You probably don’t even think about those other things going on around you because that’s how well your brain is helping you focus on your test!! For Justin, his brain doesn’t know what things are most important to focus on, and so he might hear the clock so loud that it sounds to him like he is in a football stadium with the loud speaker blaring!! Because of that sensitivity to noises, Justin will plug his ears a lot to tune noises out, or just in anticipating that there is more noise coming. That is also one of the reasons why if you walk up to Justin and try talking to him, he might walk right past you. It doesn’t mean you are bothering him, or that he doesn’t like you, but it just means that his brain isn’t letting him focus right then. He does this to me, and his dad and siblings all the time, and we just keep trying to talk to him because you might be surprised that the very next time you talk to him he will make eye contact and interact with you.

Here’s the second example: Have any of you ever sat for a long time or laid funny when you went to sleep and had your arms or legs fall asleep?? Have you ever had that “pins and needles” feeling?? Your brain sends you a message when that happens, to get up and walk around or shake your arms and get the blood flowing again. Justin’s brain is different, in that it sends him messages all day long that he has that “pins and needles” feeling all over his body. Sometimes, he even feels it in his head. So how does Justin handle that message?? When Justin feels that funny feeling, he has to get up and move around to try to get rid of it. That’s why sometimes at church I bet you’ve seen Justin’s dad walking him around the chapel, he does this to help Justin get rid of that feeling so he can come sit down again.

The other most frustrating challenge for Justin is that his brain forms sentences to talk, but it won’t tell his mouth how to form to say the words. So he physically can’t make his mouth say what his mind wants to say. I can imagine that Justin has a lot of things he would like to say to us!  Sometimes he gets so frustrated that he cries. You don’t have to worry when Justin cries because his dad will be with him and do whatever he can to quickly make him happy again so he’s not frustrated. Justin does have a new iPad program that helps him talk and I’m sure he and his dad would love to show it to you.  This helps Justin not be so frustrated.

Even though Justin’s brain doesn’t send him the right signals to react to different situations, we try to help train his brain so that it can learn to react better. Justin goes to a special clinic everyday where he has a therapist with him all the time teaching him different ways to cope with situations and react appropriately. He spends 6 hours a day doing this, just like you all spend 6 hours a day learning at school. Justin won’t ever grow out of his Autism, it is something he will have to cope with his whole life, but we as his parents and with the help of his therapists have great hope for him that he will be able to be happy and be able to go to his Primary class someday and not be frustrated, and go to school again someday. Justin starting cub scouts is a great opportunity for him to learn how to react to things in a really fun environment, because I know you all have a great time in cub scouts. He will have his dad with him to help teach him what to do, and we know that he will love making friends with all of you and interacting with you. How many of you like cars? Justin does too and he is going to love the pinewood derby! He loves making things with his hands.

We know that as you welcome Justin to your troop, you will get to know his infectious personality that we have been so blessed with in our family, and that you will love him like we do.

I have to admit that the day of the Pack Meeting I had a little cry-fest with my sister-in-law.  She has four typical boys, and she is a huge support to me!  I was so worried about saying the right things that night, and she let me read it to her over the phone and helped me with editing—Thanks Elaina!!

Scouting has been a success for us and I will never forget the kindness of the boys in Justin’s troop.

Justin’s Bobcat, and the Pinewood Derby…

Growing up with two brothers, I was well versed if not a full fledged “tag-a-long sister scout” in all the goings-on of cub scouting.  Naturally, I dreamed of one day having a boy who could cheer with the best of them at a Pinewood Derby!!  Don’t get me started about how much I loved the Rain-gutter Regattas…
Last year was our first Pinewood Derby and I think I was the most excited in our family to be there.  I thought the Pinewood Derby would be the perfect event for Justin—he loves cars and has a similar racing track (albeit on a smaller scale) at home where he loves to watch cars race.
It only took about 10 minutes for me to realize that the Pinewood Derby was not going to work for Justin.  It was held in the church gym, which is spacious and the perfect chamber for echoing noises.  Church gyms and I don’t get along to begin with, since they always send the message to kids to “RUN AROUND LIKE A MONKEY AS CARELESS AS YOU CAN BE!!”  Add to that a room full of 100 people, and a loud microphone—and poor Justin is overstimulated in about 5 minutes, and at 10 minutes starts looking for the door to escape.  He endured and got through it, with quite a bit of whining, but we still declared it a victory—because enduring is half the battle sometimes  😉
This year we decided to go ahead and give the Derby a whirl!!  So my hubby and Justin set out to make his car.  Justin loves woodworking with hubby and has done a few projects with him in the past.  He even tolerates the noises of woodworking fairly well—like the sound of the saw and and the sander.  He plugs his ears with one hand and helps with the other.  After they got the car sanded down, I got all the paints out so Justin could get started.  I drew a basic angry bird picture and told Justin to “do this” step by step and he was able to replicate the shapes by himself on his car!! He did such a great job!!
Here’s his sweet angry birds Pinewood Derby car…
He endured the event at the church better this year, but at about 45 minutes he was “done.”  He lasted long enough to get his award and then we made a quick exit.  I’m so proud of him!!
Last night was the Blue and Gold banquet and we were excited to go because he had earned his Bobcat.  When I say he earned his Bobcat, I mean he really earned it.  A few months ago a friend of mine pinned a website to Pinterest that allows free printable handwriting worksheets that can be customized for kids.  You can check out the website here. My hubby and I took each of the requirements for Bobcat and printed them out so Justin could write the words.  He ended up loving these worksheets and breezed right through them!!  He’s always enjoyed writing his letters and words.  This printing program was a perfect adaptation we could use that was meaningful.
It amazes me that just a small change in the way we approached the goal with Justin opened a whole new door of growth with him.  That has been the case with Justin in so many things–he has taught us the value of being flexible and thinking outside the box to get things done.  It’s one of those powerful lessons for which I always need a reminder.
The awards part of the Blue and Gold Banquet—where my hubby had to carry our shoeless cub scout up to the front of the room to receive his award—was just another example of how the Lord has taught us to celebrate every moment and not focus on the less-than-perfect aspects of life.  Basically, count your many blessings…
I am so grateful for a patient Father in Heaven who so gently, and sweetly teaches me the lessons I need to learn through my trials.  Even on bad days where everything seems to spiral out of control, if I pull myself away for a quiet moment I can feel the peace and know that somehow, it will all work out.
Here’s my Bobcat momma’s pin—I’ve been waiting a long time for one of these…