Hi! My name is Chelsea. I am the mother to two darling, completely opposite little girls, Cali (4) and Ava (2) and a wife to my best friend, Casey. Almost seven years ago, Casey and I started an uncharted adventure we have come to love and treasure each and every day... even the hard, want-to-crawl-up-in-a-ball days! Our oldest daughter, Cali, was diagnosed with Autism in February of 2010. We are a family who loves to travel, spend time watching college football, having the girls play with their cousins as much as possible, LOVE LOVE LOVE eating at yummy restaurants, attending church once a week, and much much more! Having a family is the most treasured part of my life. Nothing better!!
Miggy: Can you take me back to the day Cali was diagnosed autism? Do you remember how you felt? Can you compare those first thoughts and feelings with how you feel now?
Chelsea: The day was Feburary 28, 2010. After a LONG four months of back-and-forth questioning of whether or not Cali was even a candidate for an evaluation, we finally scheduled the appointment. The back-and-forth was due, quite frankly, to this hope we (my husband and I) were holding on to. A hope that our child would not have autism. The evaluation was a three part process, ending with the psychologist who is the one authorized to give the official diagnosis. She took us through Cali's test scores, drew a line to imitate the spectrum, and placed Cali's score somewhere near the middle of the line. I could see the dot on the line, but still nothing seemed to pull at my heart, stop my breathe, and crush me, until I heard the words "This is where your daughter sits on the autism spectrum." Me: "So she has autism?" Psychologist, "Yes." My whole world changed in an instant, but what absolutely never changed and continues to be the same, is my total and complete love for Cali. I can remember back then feeling lost, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated, but also relieved to have an answer. Today, two years in, I feel confident, assured, positive, and hopeful Cali will become the beautiful girl we always dreamed her to be!!
Miggy: Explain how Cali's autism affects your day-to-day life?
Chelsea: Day-to-day life is ALL about therapy with Cali, while our cute little Ava (two years old) tags along and happens to be benefitting very much! We do therapy during breakfast, brushing teeth, movie watching, lunch, car rides, story time, bedtime, you name it. Therapy NEVER stops! Fortunately Cali has professional therapists through Autism Journeys come to the home seven to eight hours a week to help us learn techniques to use during our day-to-day. If you were a fly on the wall you would, along with the therapy see this...two sisters loving and hating each other, a mom loving her job while at times pulling her hair out, watching Doc McStuffins every morning at 7:30 with their dad, me neurotically sweeping up the kitchen about a million times a day (clean freak or just life with two toddlers!), the girls running to the door when they hear their dad walk in, and much more good and not so good depending on the day. Autism affects our family each and every day, but we take it and love it because without it, we would have no Cali.
Miggy: What are the biggest worries you face for Cali?
Chelsea: Current worries are wasting time and failing to give Cali the therapy she needs. I am fully convinced that early intervention is the KEY to teaching kids with autism how to compensate for their tendencies and function with a typical and full life. Future worries...probably the typical concerns parents have for any child whether on the autism spectrum, those living with any other special need, or just typical. I worry Cali will have moments of not being accepted, having teachers who don't give her the time and attention she needs, having friends or parents not understand some of her "quirks," people placing judgments on her, and many more that will arise as certain circumstances arise.
Miggy: Now for a lighter question, have you ever had any funny conversations/moments you never imagined due to your special needs situations?
Chelsea: Yes!! As of two weeks ago, Cali's therapist wrote a social story on hugging. The idea of a social story is to pick a specific topic or concept a child needs help understanding, and write a story all about that topic or concept. Cali has no filter when it comes to strangers. She also finds comfort in hugging any and ALL people, whether her own grandma or the cashier at a local grocery store. In her hugging story, one of the pages says: I don't hug people I do not know. Then the page goes on to list those of whom she may not know, which includes people at church (this is a HUGE issue for Cali. In her mind it's hugs for everyone at church!!). Well, after a week long of reading this story, we knew she had it down pretty good when she said this to the cute old man sitting next to us on our row: said in a very matter of fact, stern, somber tone, with her pointer finger leading the way, "We do not give hugs at church." She then turns and walks away. Good thing she is only four and so darn cute. The grandpa couldn't help but smile. :) I guess we can figure social stories are a pretty good technique to use with this girl!!
Miggy: How can people best approach or respond to Cali? Is there something you wish other people knew so as to avoid awkward or hurtful situations?
Chelsea: First, love her and if time presents itself, be open and ask me questions. Asks the questions that will help them to come to know Cali, and more importantly know how to help Cali. The more people we have on board the better!
Miggy: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since becoming Cali's mom?
Chelsea: Biggest lesson?? That becoming a mom is undoubtedly the most rewarding, full-time job on the planet. Cliche? Yes, but I say it because it's true. A mom never stops, a mom truly has the opportunity to live a life full of service each and every day. For me it is life serving two beautiful girls who have the greatest potential to become something great. Cali has autism, Ava does not, regardless I see it as my sole responsibility to help them find their way and live their lives striving to put their best foot forward. Helping them to see their life as something special, something worth living for. I sometimes fast forward to the future and think about what my girls may say of me as a mom. My hope is that they will say, if nothing else, I showed them unconditional love. Unfortunately I have many days of doing it the wrong way. Hopefully the love will compensate for my "monster mom" days!!
Miggy: If you could say something to the mom who just starting on the Autism journey (and there is a mom out there somewhere), what would you say? What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time?
Chelsea: I actually just recently wrote a blog post on this (read here), but in short this is what I would say. If nothing else, just an hour a day! An hour a day of interaction that promotes improvement with your child. When we first received the diagnoses I was sooooo overwhelmed, especially trying to research out any and all information. WAY too much to take in!!! If someone would have told me, just an hour a day, I think I would have been able to climb out of my hole because of the light creeping in. Children on the spectrum seem to be locked in their own world, almost trapped, but if their loved ones could try each and every day to search for those keys to unlock those doors, they can walk out and become a part of yours. Cali's doors sometimes close back up, but in those moments it's ok. It's ok because I have the keys. Once you have those keys, they will, with your help, always stay a part of your world.
I want to thank Chelsea for her great spotlight and her wonderful insights on life with Cali and autism. I loved her advice for families who are just starting on the Autism journey--If nothing else, just start with an hour a day! Great advice. Thanks again Chelsea. Please check out Chelsea's blog, Where Did The Bird Go?, that is written for the express purpose of helping those who have a child with Autism.
Thanks again and as always if you or someone you know would like to participate in the Special Needs Spotlight Series please email me at thislittlemiggy at gmail dot com. And for those of you who have already emailed you, I don't need to tell you that I'm slow at getting back to you! Hang in there!
Have a great weekend!