Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Made It!!!!!

I’m so excited you’re here!

April is Autism Awareness month and to celebrate the Graham family sent out Autism Speaks lapel pins to our friends and family all across the country. We want to do our part to raise awareness on behalf of our son JD. We really appreciate you taking the time to stop by! If this is your first time here then you’ll quickly see that this isn’t the normal, “my son has autism and I’m so sad about it” blog – this is a place where we celebrate our son’s accomplishments and share what it’s like to have a child on the autism spectrum.

Most of you know that JD was diagnosed with autism almost exactly a year ago. I won’t lie and say that the road has been easy – we’ve had our ups and downs – but we know that the best thing we can do is stay positive and focus on the future instead of worrying about the past.

Since his diagnosis, JD has spent more than 800 hours in therapy, and that doesn’t even include the time we’ve spent at home with him doing 1:1 work! He’s made AMAZING progress and we’re so proud of him. A year ago he was a frustrated little guy, unable to communicate his needs and overwhelmed by the world around him. Now he’s happy, engaged and eager to learn.

You may ask what YOU can do to support families with autism – that’s an easy! Sport your pin during the month of April… you’ll be surprised how many people will stop you to talk about their connection with autism. Nowadays it seems like everyone has been touched in some way by this disorder.

On my blog this month I’ll be covering topics that always seem to come up in conversation. Here’s a few on my list…How did you know your son had autism? Do you feel like it was caused by immunizations? What’s the difference between autism and aspergers or is it the same thing? If you have any questions that you’d like answered, I’d love to hear from you! Just email me at I hope you enjoy reading my blog, it’s been a wonderful way to share our journey with the people that support us each day!

Here's a picture of the cards and pins we sent out! And a picture of me in my blue shirt on April 1st - Light it up Blue Day!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

What a Difference a Year Can Make!

Today was an amazing day! We celebrated JD's 3rd birthday with family and friends at a bounce house center in South Orlando called Puzzles. I was really excited to host it there because Puzzles was founded by two members of the Autism Society of Greater Orlando and not only is it a great place to take your kids to play, but it's also a place where they teach employment and independent living skills to young adults with developmental disabilities. What a great place to host JD's party!

I was a little nervous going in. JD can get overwhelmed pretty easily and this place is packed with bounce houses and kids running all over the place. But HE DID GREAT! It's amazing to see how far he's come in a year! It's great to see him jump right in and play with his friends, and do all the normal birthday things that other kids his age do.

Last year when we celebrated his 2nd birthday it was right before he was diagnosed. I look back now at the pictures and I can see how hard that day was for him. He looks stressed and overwhelmed and spent most of the time playing by himself with his cars while the other kids ran around having fun. Today it was totally opposite - he had a great time and was interacting with his friends the entire time.

I'm SO proud of him and SO happy for him! It was the best Spongebob birthday a little boy could have...I guess Spongebob is growing on me :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Birthday JD!

Three years ago today JD came into this world. He has taught me more about unconditional love then I ever knew possible. Happy Birthday handsome! There's nothing more wonderful than being your mommy :)

“It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.”

Dinosaur World!!!

I never imagined that I would ever love dinosaurs - and up until about six months ago I probably could have only named two - but oh how things have changed! JD has two favorite things in life, Thomas the Tank Engine and Dinosaurs. After two solid years of Thomas the Tank Engine, I was quite happy when he turned his attention to dinos. So needless to say I embrace all things dinosaur and on JD's 3rd birthday Jason and I embarked on an hour long drive to possibly the world's largest dino headquarters - Dinosaur World!

Now, before we got there I was ready for the tackiest of tacky theme parks. It's right off the side of the road on I-4 and you can see a massive T-Rex from the highway. But from the minute we got there I was quite impressed!!! First off, JD LOVED it. He ran into the entrance like he was in heaven. I snapped pictures the whole way through - beaming at my little man and his dino love.

"T-Rex! Brachiosaurus! Triceratops!" he squealed. I just laughed and let out a big sigh of relief because I didn't know if he would love it or be terrified of it. Thank goodness he loved it. Who wouldn't though - when you walk in you immediately enter a shop of a million dinosaur toys... every boy's dream.

We spent the afternoon walking up and down the trail and "hunted" for dinosaurs. JD got to do a "fossil dig" and play in the "boneyard" - it was the most perfect birthday for him. It was quiet, and peaceful and he was in his element. Seeing him light up with joy just makes me smile and remember how far we've come!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gearing Up for Autism Awareness Month!

I was driving to work the other day and remembered that April is Autism Awareness Month! Since I always love a good project I went straight into creative mode thinking about what we could do in support of JD. I'm really excited about my idea...the Graham family is celebrating by mailing out Autism Speaks lapel pins to our friends and family! We're so lucky to have such amazing people in our lives and I hope everyone likes their gift! Now I just have to get them in the mail by the last week of March... anyone want to address a few hundred envelopes? :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Patience is a Virtue, but Not a Virgo!

"Be patient enough to live one day at a time, letting yesterday go and leaving tomorrow until it arrives."

If there's one thing I have a hard time doing it's letting go and just enjoying the moment. I'm a self-professed control freak, with an eye for perfection and no patience... also known as a Virgo. But having a child with special needs has taught me that life is more than just regretting the past or worrying about future, it's about appreciating the now. Taking each day for what it's worth, loving your family and friends and letting them know how much you care.

For me that's easier said than done... I have to remind myself each day that things happen for a reason and to have patience, patience, patience. It's impossible to know what the future holds so stop trying to control it. :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

We've Made it 1 Year!

I can't believe a year ago this month we were sitting in the pediatrician's office hearing Dr. Chabon tell us that JD was "showing signs of autism." It seems surreal now, almost like a dream. It's strange because looking back, knowing what we know now, I kind of wonder how I didn't see it earlier. But that's not important - what IS important is how far we've come in a year! This is such a great time to celebrate JD's accomplishments because sometimes we forget the little "wins" he's made each day, week and month. So as a proud mommy I'm happy to list the following accomplishments - if there's only one blog posting you read, then make this the one!...

Language - When JD was diagnosed at 2, he had five words - chugga, choo choo, go, five and whee!! When we started speech therapy I could not even imagine a day when he would make a "request" - like saying the word cup when he was thirsty, or down when he wanted out of his high chair. At that point in time it seemed like no matter what we did, he would not use his words. I'm SO happy to say that he has a huge vocabulary now (so many that I no longer count!) and that he's stringing short sentences together! Now most of them have to be prompted (we have to say, "JD say I want down please) - but there are a lot of times that he's saying things without being prompted! We're working on pronouns now and verbs with -ing endings! HUGE PROGRESS!!!!

Behavior - This is a tricky one because I think it directly correlates to language. The better he can communicate the less tantrums he has. However, we do have many moments when he goes berserk, but he's still a toddler! What I'm happy about is the length of time he's patient BEFORE throwing a tantrum. For instance, when JD was first diagnosed he would throw a fit on the drop of a dime if he wanted something. He didn't understand "hold on" or "just a minute" - everything was URGENT. Now if he asks for something he'll wait patiently, or at least a few minutes, before getting frustrated. This gives me time to diffuse a situation before a screaming fit occurs!

Attention - WOW have we made progress here! When we started therapy a year ago JD couldn't focus on doing a task for more than a minute, and that's if we were lucky. Now he can sit at a table and work on a project for up to 30 minutes!!!!!!!!! He loves puzzles and books and crafts. I think his table time actually keeps him calm - it's very structured time for him.

Motor skills - Here's one area that JD was not too far behind, his gross motor skills were pretty good, but he's been working so hard at the fine motor skills. Holding a crayon, using a fork and spoon, counting his fingers, pointing to objects with the correct finger - they're all things that he's really had to work on over the past year. He's also learned how to jump with two feet off the ground and go up and down stairs with little assistance!

Listening - Another big area of progress! A year ago JD hardly moved if you called his name, it was like he didn't hear you. And if you did get his attention and asked him to do a simple request he had no clue what you were talking about. He's come a long way since then! If you ask him to bring you something he'll do it, at least most of the time! He's following directions better at school and I'm always happy when he comes home with a smiley face on his report!

Playing - Ahhh - probably our hardest area. JD's favorite place to play is at his little coffee table in our family room. It's like his little world. We've spent a lot of time trying to move him away from the table, to play "appropriately" as they call it, and just recently he started doing that. I'm so happy to watch him play with his trains on the floor now! That was a big step for him. We're also working on helping him in social situations. It's not easy for him to play with other kids his age, or younger. He's usually too rough or he doesn't understand normal social "cues" for instance - when he gets in someone's face or they want to stop playing - these are all things that he doesn't pick up on. But he's making progress but I can see that this will be a lifelong struggle for him. It just means that the friends he plays with are just that special, because they understand that he needs a little extra help in that department!

There's so much more that I could go on and on, but these are just the top areas. I'm SO excited to see what he accomplishes in the year ahead of him! We're looking forward to potty training, transitioning him into a "big boy's bed" and spending time on more social activities. For his third birthday Jason and I are taking him to Disney World for the first time - something we would have never tried in the past because of all the potential meltdowns!

My heart goes out to all the people that have helped us get where we are today. His pediatrician who saw the early signs, his specialist who was there when we cried at the diagnosis. All Therapy Connection - our home away from home - and everyone there. His prek teacher, April, his Occupational therapist, Tonina, his Speech therapists, Holly and Yvonne... What an amazing group of people they have there. Not to mention the other therapists and assistants that work with him there each week in group activities. His behavior therapist, Rachel, and her little boy who help him learn to play, our family who has helped us financially and emotionally, our friends who have stood by us and helped us when we were down, our neighbors that go out of their way to interact with JD and involve him in the little things, our facebook friends that read our posts and give us supportive words - all of you have made this journey a little easier! But there are two more people who have made a HUGE contribution and mean so much to us - these two people spend almost everyday with our children and go above and beyond to provide them with the love and support they need while Jason and I are at work - Katie Voss and Kati Hanes - by far the two most wonderful people I've encountered in my life. They have stepped into our lives and taken on the responsibility of helping to raise a little boy with very special needs. I can't begin to express how much I love them, respect them and admire them because they are like family to us!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Autism

Autism is a funny thing – sometimes it consumes me and it's the only thing I can think about. Other times it’s a faint thought in the back of my mind. It’s always there, but the level of intensity changes from day to day or even month to month. When JD first got diagnosed it was all I could think about. Therapy options, schools, the future – my mind raced with uncertainty and fear for weeks. As we got settled in our “new” life those worries started drifting a bit. It wasn’t all consuming anymore, but still a very big part of my life. Maybe it was acceptance, or just the fact that your world does go one even if you never think it will, but a year later I find myself almost forgetting some days that JD is even different. The everyday stresses caused by his autism are just a normal part of our day. But recently I’ve found myself back in that panic stage. JD is turning three this month and it’s dawning on me that we’re just in the beginning of this long, long road. His therapeutic preschool program is closing (due to lack of enrollment) and now we’re trying to find a new place for him. That has caused me to think about other therapy options, looking through ALL the programs again and trying to find the right fit. Then our youngest, Kyle, is growing at light speed. He’s only 16 months old but is now able to do so many of the things that JD just learned to do. I spend so much time just watching him, wondering how he knows how to wave and point already – like HE’s the abnormal one. I feel like he’s so ahead of the game, when really he’s right on schedule. I just can’t believe that him and JD are so close developmentally, but so far apart in age and size. I feel this guilt for not being as “active” in his therapy and the autism community for the past six months. I think in some small way it’s been easier to put on auto pilot than to worry about it every day. However lately I’m back on – checking out the autism websites, reading autism blogs and looking for ways to get involved (like I have any spare time!). I guess that’s the way it will be all of his life. Learning how to juggle being a mom, a wife, an autism advocate, a career-woman and an individual.