5 Mental Health Tips During COVID

                            sactownmag.com

Due to COVID-19, our world has been turned upside down. Restaurants once full of lively conversation now sit empty and desolate. Schools are vacant, our educational centers now in the hands of parents and the students themselves. Sporting arenas are dark and silent, a surreal scene for many as sports has historically been our main outlet as a society during times of uncertainty.

While we have all been hit hard during these times, the autism community has been especially affected. Routine is sacred to those on the spectrum, while the fear of the unknown can cause debilitating anxiety and depression. Suffice to say these trying times can be detrimental to the personal, professional and academic progress an individual on the spectrum has made.

Many people are struggling to maintain their mental well-being right now, however as those with autism are more likely to have a mental health diagnosis, it is imperative that we offer all the resources we can to them.

Below I highlight 5 strategies you can implement into your daily schedule to help maintain your mental health during these trying times.

  1. Become Your Own Best Friend

If it is one person we can completely and entirely rely on throughout the course of our lifetimes, it is ourselves. It is important that we remember to be kind to ourselves during these unusual times. Loneliness and isolation are rampant and can have detrimental effects on our well-being. However, if looked at from another perspective, can also bring great insight and strength.

I was pretty much a societal recluse from age 11 to 23, so isolation is not new to me. I learned, however, that with isolation comes solitude, and with solitude comes wisdom. Now is as good a time as ever to look inward and learn about who you are and what your heart truly desires in this life. Writing down your life’s purpose is a great reference point to look back on during normal times when you feel like you may be lost in life or on the wrong path.

Take some time during this period to nurture yourself. Every morning before I get out of bed, I tell myself “Good Morning” and whenever I’m struggling I give myself a hug and say “I love you Russell”. It may sound corny, but when our brains process self-affirmations said out loud, they literally develop the neural networks in order to become more efficient in self-care.

Self-love is the hardest love, but it is also the best love. The Buddha once said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection”.

  1. Exercise 

Exercise has always been great for the mind, however with all gyms being closed and outside activities cancelled, it can be difficult to find ways to stay active. Personally, the gym is my number one self-care tool, so having that tool taken away has made these past six weeks extremely challenging.

When we think of exercise, we tend to think of lifting weights, hiking, jogging, sports, etc. However, there are many activities you can do around your house that are beneficial to your mental and physical health. These can include dancing to music, yoga, walking your dog, yard work and even cleaning (fun, right?).

When the weather is nice and I am not too depressed, I have been going for long runs in the beautiful Sierra-Nevada foothills, however lifting heavy weights is vital for me as it fulfills my sensory-processing needs for the day. Unfortunately, I don’t have weights at home, so I must fall back on body weight exercises such as isometric (no muscle contraction, basically you stay frozen in place) squats, lunges, pushups and crunches.

All in all, anything you can do to clear your mind of worries and accelerate your heartrate will serve as a great coping mechanism during these times, and after.

  1. Explore the Arts

Perhaps the most difficult of tasks for parents during COVID is helping their kids adjust to the changes in schedule and routine given school closures and the cancellation of most extracurricular activities.

With social interaction all but gone for now, this is a great time to introduce the arts as a vehicle to promoting emotional integration and intelligence. Whether that be through poetry, painting, music, etc. the arts have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote neuroplasticity in the brain.

As a poet, I can tell you that there is no better catharsis for my daily struggles then to write them down and create a piece of art from them. Reading back my poems to myself out loud also helps me process my feelings more efficiently as I am using my visual and auditory senses to dissect my emotions instead of having them just float around in my head with no outlet.

  1. Meditate

Meditation and mindfulness play an instrumental role in promoting a healthy mental state, regardless of the state of our external circumstances. Jon Kabat-Zinn once said, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf”. This I have found to be so aptly true, for we can utilize the steadiness of our inner-being as an anchor to weather turbulent times such as these.

Similar to number 1 on this list, you can use your current isolation to sit alone with yourself in order to realize that your thoughts are not real. Anxiety and depression, specifically, all boil down to our thought processes and patterns. Take this time to be curious about how you think. Meditation does not need to be sitting down in the lotus position for hours on end. It can be practiced informally throughout that day by just simply being mindful of how and why you think the way you do.

As the romantic poet Novalis once said, “The path of mystery leads inward”.

  1. Hone the Most Underrated Skill: Perseverance

Humans are an incredibly adaptable species, and perhaps our most underrated collective skill is perseverance. As mentioned before, the gym is instrumental in maintaining my well-being. I usually workout two hours a day, six days a week, and couldn’t have ever fathomed I’d go this long without stepping foot inside a gym. Yet when you are forced outside of your comfort zone, magical things can happen. While it is by no means an easy feat, when we are in unfamiliar territory with regard to our routine, the flexibility of our thinking increases and adapts to the new environment, stimuli and circumstances around us. If we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones on a continual basis, our self-confidence also increases and we begin to feel a sense of empowerment and fulfillment. As I always say, in order to promote your personal growth and development, you need to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable!

Throughout my life I have continuously found success through my struggles, and COVID-19 will be no different. After all, how many times, in hindsight, have we come to kiss the feet of adversity? Using our hindsight from previous struggles to develop foresight for future challenges may be one of the most beautiful gifts in life.

This is a great opportunity for parents to educate the children that the only constant in life is change. Through a controlled environment such as their home, parents can ask their kids how unexpected change makes them feel and how best to deal with the emotions that change brings up. These practices can then be generalized into the real world in the post-COVID era.

In the end, COVID-19 will serve as a permanent reminder for us all to be mindful of the challenges faced by others. Collective struggle brings us closer, and it is my hope that after this pandemic passes, we will be a more kind and compassionate society.

Follow Russell's journey on Instagram and Facebook.

 

Helping Kids on the Autism Spectrum Cope During Coronavirus

Coping with Coronavirus - Autism

Q: How can parents help their kids adjust to the changes in their schedule and routine given school closures and the cancellation of most extracurricular activities?

This is a great opportunity for parents to educate the children that the only constant in life is change. Through a controlled environment such as their home, parents can ask their kids how unexpected change makes them feel and how best to deal with the emotions that change brings up. These practices can then be generalized into the real world.

With most physical activities being canceled, this is also a great time to introduce the arts as a vehicle to promoting emotional integration and intelligence. Whether that be through poetry, painting, music, etc. the arts have been scientifically proven to reduce stress and promote neuroplasticity in the brain.

Q: What should we expect to see in kids regarding increase in anxiety, including meltdowns? 

Individuals on the spectrum generally have increased sensory needs, and during a time such as this those needs may not be met.

Expect an increase in defiant behavior from younger children as well as increased anxiety, depression and perhaps OCD. Always remember, however, that a behavior is a by-product of a past experience and/or emotion. Instead of punishing your children full stop, initiate a dialogue to figure out the why and what behind their actions.

Q: How we can best support children who are experiencing increased anxiety and meltdowns?

The literal definition of the word "compassion" is to "suffer with". Simply be there for them. Listen more than you talk. Give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Just by simply being present with your children an increased comfort will be felt throughout the household.

Q: Any ideas for helping kids stay “busy” and engaged in activities they find rewarding and engaging. 

This is a great time to think outside of the box and get creative. Scavenger hunts, board games, dress up, old family videos. Think of what you parents did with you during a rainy day and implement that into your routine.

We keep our kids so busy these days that it is also important to give them time to simply relax and rejuvenate, especially due to the increase in stress this situation is causing.

 

A Letter to My Mom

Son and Mother Embracing

Preface: As a motivational speaker who travels the world spreading awareness surrounding autism and mental health, I encounter many autism parents struggling to find a way to help their children in a more efficient manner.

Parenting may seem like a Herculean effort, but the simplest acts can create the strongest bonds. Below, I write a letter to not just my mom, but all autism moms and dads. You are validated, you are recognized, and the only true failure as a parent is when you stop trying.

Always remember these words: "If you do something out of love, you can never go wrong, no matter the outcome".

Son and Mother Embracing
Russell Lehmann with his mother.

Dear Mom,

I will never have the words to tell you how much you mean to me. What is to follow doesn’t do you justice.

I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without you. You have always been my shelter during the toughest of storms, as well as the one steady constant in my life. Every single day you are there for me, whether that’s watching proudly from the sidelines or embracing me during my darkest moments. Whether I'm succeeding or failing, happy or sad, functioning or not, your love and support is limitless, which in turn makes my own potential limitless.

From your love and affection I learned to never be ashamed of who I am. From your words of wisdom I found out that there was a reason behind why I was here. From your ability to listen I found my voice, and from you just simply being there for me, you have helped me to see the beauty during the darkest of days, and to always, always remain positive.

You are my idol, my mentor, my role model, my hero. But most importantly, I am lucky enough to call you my mother.

You believed in me when no one else did. You fought for me when I was too weak to fight for myself. You sat next to me during times when I felt completely alone, and you loved me when I was too bitter and angry to love myself.

It’s hard to fathom how far I have come, and how much I’ve been through. It has been a hell of a long road thus far, and I am beyond thankful that you’ve been with me every step of the way.

As I begin to create my own life, I know that you will still be ready to catch me when I fall, whether I’m at your house or halfway around the world. You have instilled within me the strength to persevere, the ambition to overcome and the tenacity to push through.

Remember how many times I wanted to end my life? I chose not to because of you. I couldn’t let everything you’ve ever done for me be in vain. I choose to live because of you, and everyday you motivate me to make this world a little bit more compassionate, understanding and sincere.

Simply put, I love you mom. More than you will ever be able to comprehend. I know with all my heart and soul that when we meet again after this life, you will understand how much you mean to me.

In the meantime, I will live my life with the utmost virtue, integrity and nobility. I will strive to better myself in all aspects and will carry forth the torch of kindness and compassion you lit the day that I was born.

You have dedicated your life to me, and I find it to be the epitome of beauty that I dedicate my future to you.

Most Sincerely, with Love, Gratitude and Appreciation,

Your Son,

Russell

 

 

 

Autism Parents, Autism Speaker, Parenting, Motivational Speaker, Autism, Mom, Autistic, Speaker, Autism Moms,

Success Magazine – A Moment with Russell Lehmann

Success Magazine Russell Lehmann 2019 www.russell-lehmann.com

If it is one thing all of humankind has in common, it’s that we all struggle. Within this profound commonality of the human race lies the key to personal growth and development.

Diagnosed with autism at 12, I have been admitted to 3 different psychiatric wards at the ages of 11, 21 and 25. I dropped out of public school in the 5th grade and subsequently became somewhat of societal recluse for the next decade. I have battled incapacitating OCD, tumultuous panic attacks, severe depressive episodes and almost lost my life to anorexia.

Now? I am 28 and an award-winning and internationally recognized motivational speaker, author, poet and advocate. My story is archived in the Library of Congress.

Through my strife I have learned to run towards, and not away, from my obstacles. To not turn my back on my challenges, but rather to stare back at them. To kiss the feet of adversity, for it has given me the opportunity to learn my most cherished lessons and gain my greatest insights.

I am strong because I have been weak. I’m fearless because I’ve been afraid and I succeed because I have failed.

A large portion of life’s struggles are unfortunately exacerbated by societal conditions such as judgement, expectations, prejudices and biases, comparisons, peer pressure, so on and so forth. To protect ourselves from this, each of us has a mask we wear in certain situations to protect the fragility of our true selves.

It is behind our masks where we find the true essence of life and where we can experience the totality of what it means to be human. What Novalis stated centuries ago turns out to be true: “The path of mystery leads inward”.

I used to shun my trials and tribulations. Now, however, I embrace them with open arms. I have found my success through my struggle. You can, too.

 

Autism and Mental Health Advocate Releases New Book

Russell Lehmann releases second book chronicling a life with Autism

Rusell Lehmann_MediaPhoto
Reno author and autism activist, Rusell Lehmann, debuts his second book about life on the autism spectrum.

 

(RENO, Nev.) – Author and internationally recognized speaker Russell Lehmann debuted his newest book, “On the Outside Looking In: My Life on the Autism Spectrum,” (Lucky Bat Books, 2019) on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown, Texas, an Austin suburb.

The event began at 7 p.m. and featured Lehmann reading excerpts from the new book as well as a group conversation about Autism in our society. In addition to purchase availability for the book at Lark & Owl, copies may be purchased on Amazon or at local independent book sellers.

“On the Outside Looking In” is Lehmann’s story of overcoming the odds and achieving immense personal growth. Exposing his vulnerabilities, naiveties and painful personal experiences, Lehmann relays the many lessons learned and insights gained throughout the circumstances in his life. Emotionally powerful stories and intense poetry give a raw and transparent insight into Lehmann’s life on the autism spectrum.

This is Lehmann’s second book. His first book is entitled “Inside Out” and features his gripping and personal poetry.

About Mr. Lehmann:
Russell Lehmann was named a 2018 “Most Outstanding Young Professional” in Reno-Tahoe and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NPR, USA Today and numerous other national publications. He is a globally recognized motivational speaker, poet and advocate who happens to have Autism. He is a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and an ambassador for several national Autism programs. He speaks to organizations around the world.

My Name is Russell Lehmann

I have come a long, long way in life. When I was 12, at the height of my distress, I was pretty much non-verbal. I was too afraid of the outside world to speak to anyone other than my parents. I stayed inside my house as much as possible, clinging to my parents’ sides, terrified of any external stimuli, such as the doorbell ringing, the TV being on, or the microwave going off. I was a prisoner inside my own body. I would have multiple meltdowns every day, curling into a ball in the corner of a room, just crying for hours. I was extremely low-functioning, and could barely take care of myself.

Now, however, I’m a successful, confident man who travels the country spreading a message of hope, awareness, understanding and acceptance about autism and other disabilities.

I happen to not only have autism, but anxiety, depression, OCD and a previous battle with anorexia.

I am a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, I sit on the board for the Autism Coalition of Nevada, am the Youth Ambassador for the mayor of Reno, Nevada, am affiliated with the renowned Kulture City organization which spreads awareness and acceptance about autism, and have written a book that earned an honorable mention at the NY Book Festival. I also happen to be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).

As I mentioned before, the amount of personal growth I have experienced has been astronomical. The catalyst behind this growth is not due to some secret pill or “cure”, but rather due to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Every single day I take every chance I can to push my mental abilities to the test, whether it be pushing myself to the limit at the gym, initiating a conversation with a stranger, placing myself in the middle of a loud crowd in order to expand my sensory processing capabilities, or just simply making full eye contact with an individual I’m talking to.

I do this not only to further grow and develop into the best person I can be, but to also conquer the remaining demons that I do still deal with. It is this drive that keeps my symptoms in check. If I were to stay inside my comfort zone, and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would eventually regress back to where I was when I was 12: a low-functioning individual with autism who is pretty much non-verbal.

My progress in life may seem like a miracle on the surface, however everybody and anybody can attain this type of personal development. With regards to individuals on the spectrum, we can conquer our disability and turn it into an extraordinary ability. I like to say that autism is a gift, you just have to figure out how to open it first.

My advice? Run towards, and not away, from your fears. Fear, firstly and foremost, is nothing more than opportunity disguised as risk. Behind every single fear in your life is a wondrous reward that you will only attain if you push through what frightens you. It is a fact that when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, your chance for personal growth increases exponentially.
Failure is another factor of life that we all need to embrace. If we were to never fail, we would never know what we need to improve upon, and we would never be aware of what we are truly capable of. When there is a chance you may fail at something, you either succeed or you learn. There is no losing when it comes to failure. Think of failure as a trampoline: You are going to fall, but you will bounce back better because of it!

I chose to become a self-advocate and speaker in order to help others not have to go through the unnecessary pains and struggles I’ve been put through. I take pride in being a voice for the unheard, for I know how frustrating and challenging it is to go unnoticed. I’m honored and humbled to be able to give hope to families and parents who are concerned with their child’s future, just as my parents once were.

I have a raging fire within me to help others succeed no matter what obstacles or hardships they may be faced with. I sincerely hope this article aids in this all-important endeavor of mine.

Moving Beyond Fear to Support Your Child on the Autism Spectrum


I increasingly feel as though I’m backed into a corner (a spot that is usually a safe place for me), but in this corner there is a subtle yet deafening voice issuing a profound ultimatum:

“Be safe and stagnate, or take risks and flourish.”

Each time I hear this voice, a fire ignites within me as I stand up in the corner, back against the wall, and remember a quote that has been the continuous theme of my 27 year-long journey: “You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”

I have had the amazing opportunity to travel to all corners of the country sharing my story, insights gained and lessons learned, and I make sure every audience I speak in front of takes one message home with them: I believe the heaviest burdens in life are only put upon the shoulders of those strong enough to carry them. The lesson for me here is clear: If I were to stay inside my comfort zone and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would not be able to touch a single life with my message of hope, inspiration and acceptance.

Being a motivational speaker, I travel a lot, and I have recently developed PTSD when it comes to airports after I experienced a horrendous meltdown in June of last year at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Although this experience went viral after I wrote about it on Facebook, the mental and physical repercussions of this traumatic incident have been immense. Meltdowns are already exhausting. Public meltdowns? Downright agonizing.

Few people understand the torment and anguish that lies behind the word “meltdown.” Tears, hyperventilation, screams, adrenaline rush, intrusive thoughts, vulnerability, sometimes even vocal tics and convulsions. In five out of the last 11 trips to the airport, I have been met with intense anxiety, prolonged panic attacks, distressing meltdowns, severe depression and invasive bouts of OCD, resulting in me pacing back and forth in the airport, sobbing uncontrollably, twitching and rubbing my hands together, all the while feeling like my brain is in a vise grip that has been set on fire. On top of this, I am always met with two extremes from the people around me: stares of curiosity or purposeful avoidance. I am either on exhibit or completely invisible, and to be honest I don’t know which one is worse.

Throughout all of this, I have somehow managed to board my plane each and every time, sometimes assisted by my mother and/or airline employees and have subsequently given a heck of a speech to boot.

So the question remains: Should your concerns for your child limit their pursuit of a fulfilling life?

My answer? No.

Without a doubt each episode of panic or sensory overload I experience takes a toll on my mental and physical well-being, but I have found that through strife and struggle we can discover our individual purpose, and come to understand why we are here.

I’ll refer you to this famous African proverb: A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

The purpose of this article is to inform you. After all, knowledge is one of the few things that can be given to you but never taken away. Having said that, you are the parent. You know what’s best for your child. When you trust your parental instincts above all else, while also compassionately pushing your child to take risks, letting them know you will be there to catch them when they fall, I believe you will be amazed to discover your child’s continuous growth of self-confidence, ambition and insight.

Parents of those on the spectrum often second-guess themselves and may regret certain decisions they made for their child. I know my mother did, but let me tell you, she has been the absolute perfect mother for a son with my struggles and circumstances. I believe when you do something out of love, you can never go wrong.

Russell Lehmann Autism Research

March 3, 2019 via Instagram @BiteSizeAutism

Research with 70 Taiwanese autistic adults found that sensory avoiding was associated with greater loneliness and anxiety. The relationship between sensory avoiding and higher anxiety was moderated by loneliness - this means that loneliness is key to sensory avoiding and anxiety being related. How do the results fit with your experience? Comment below!

READ MORE:
Syu, Y. C., & Lin, L. Y. (2018). Sensory Overresponsivity, Loneliness, and Anxiety in Taiwanese Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Occupational therapy international, 2018.

My Interview with Jacqueline Laurita

Interview with Jacqueline Laurita about her experience in the autism community

Jacqueline Laurita has made a household name of herself after joining the cast of Bravo's own Real Housewives of New Jersey. Beyond the hearty exterior portrayed on the show (although she's known for her honesty and authenticity), Jacqueline has struggled in her own right while raising her autistic son Nicholas.

I had the pleasure of interviewing her, and I hope as you read you'll join me in welcoming her to our growing and compassionate community!

Jacqueline is a very strong-willed woman who has a magnificent outlook on life. A loving mother who is not afraid to back down from any challenge, she actually takes the time to learn about somebody before passing judgment, unlike many of us. Jacqueline is also very ambitious when it comes to her multiple careers, yet she somehow manages to always make time for her beautiful family.

Jacqueline’s son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism back in 2012 at the age of three, and in the years since Jacqueline has become a leading campaigner for increasing autism awareness. I asked her about views on autism, her goals for the future and how she grew into the amazing woman that she is today.

Russell Lehmann: You are revered for being a thoughtful, down-to-earth woman who loves to give back to the community and spread welfare. Where do these impressive principles and traits of yours stem from, and what have you learned from your experiences of helping those who are less fortunate than you?

Jacqueline Laurita: I think that my parents had something to do with that for sure. I was always encouraged to be honest, stay true to myself and to stay grounded. I think it also comes from my life experiences. I’ve been through a lot in my life and it has always been the support of others that has got me through the obstacles in my life. I want to be there to support others because I know how it feels. Others have been there for me. It’s a way for me to pay it forward.

You exited “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” after season five. What have you been doing with your time since?

I have been enjoying time with my family and focusing on Nicholas’s recovery, writing books on beauty and autism, which are both passions of mine. I help out my husband with his beverage company while also trying to get my beauty website launched.
I have also been a very active advocate in the autism community by answering emails from families affected, attending autism related conferences, benefits, doing public speaking engagements and writing featured articles for magazines. I will continue to do that.

You have said that early intervention is the key to recovery. For the first half of my life I confounded doctors with my symptoms, until I was finally diagnosed with autism when I was 12. Your son Nicholas was diagnosed when he was three. You are a woman who emits vibes of positivity and optimism. Nicholas is almost five now, and so I pose this question to you:

If Nicholas wasn’t diagnosed for another seven or eight years, and you and your family were left in the dark with no idea as to how to help your son, what actions might you have taken, and do you think this hypothetical situation would have changed your bright and confident outlook on life?

I think that I would have taken each challenge as it came with the best of my ability. Regardless, I would have focused on enhancing Nicholas’s strengths and do my best to give him the tools he needed to get around whatever obstacle or challenge was in his way and to bring out the best in him. I’m all about focusing on the solutions rather than the problems. Otherwise, life can get too overwhelming.

With or without an actual diagnosis, the challenges would have eventually presented themselves and we would have had to address it and find a way to make progress by giving him the right tools he needed in order to thrive.

There is no doubt that the diagnosis definitely gave us more clarity and understanding to what we were dealing with, while also providing us with a better road map of what active steps we could take to help Nicholas, including knowing our legal rights. Regardless, I would continue to try to defy expectations. It’s never too late for anyone to learn and improve. Always believe things can get better, because they can. In coping with anything, it’s all about perception and keeping a positive attitude. Focus on the amazing “abilities” our children have and not so much on their “disabilities”. Everyone has special skills, and everyone has challenges.

Have a clear vision of what you want your future to look like. Believe you can manifest it. Make short and long-term goals while focusing and following through on them with tunnel vision and perseverance. Block out all the negative talk and choose positive thoughts and actions. Have gratitude. Continually try to defy expectations while focusing on the solutions rather than the problems when hitting any obstacle. This will help you achieve anything in life… if you believe it’s possible!

What lessons of life have you learned from having a first-hand experience with autism?

I have definitely learned patience and understanding and what’s important in life. I learned to still remember to make time for myself so that I don’t get too overwhelmed. Those small breaks help me to go back in and fight harder for my child. It’s also important to make special time with your spouse and other siblings that are not diagnosed. The experience has also taught me to be more accepting and understanding of others’ idiosyncrasies. It taught me to have gratitude and celebrate each and every accomplishment my child makes, and not take anything for granted, because I see first-hand how hard he works for those accomplishments.

I myself do not think that autism should ever be fully cured. I believe it is a gift that one must learn to live with. I couldn’t agree with you more when you say Nicholas doesn’t need to be fixed, because he isn’t broken. When did this philosophy of yours come into being and what do you think made you come to this conclusion?

I don’t see autism as being something bad or something to be ashamed of, and I never want my son to be ashamed of it either. It’s just one piece of who he is as a whole individual. He just has a different way of processing things. I know my son is brilliant and I have heard of many well-known successful people at the top of their fields who have either been suspected to have or have been diagnosed with autism. I know it’s a gift, I know my son is happy and I know he loves me. People with autism just learn and view the world differently. Different does not mean bad. It’s just different. When I say “recover” my child, I want him to recover all the skills he lost when he regressed and for him to continue to learn things that will help make his life a little easier in the future. I’m not trying to “fix” him or even make him “typical” but I am trying to give him all the tools I can provide for him to help him to become more independent. If I can do that for him and he is going to benefit from it, then I am going to keep fighting to give him what he needs. His quirkiness makes him unique and adorable and I wouldn’t want to change that for anything. He makes me smile every day. I think everyone is a little quirky. I know I am.

Autism definitely has an ugly side to it, but with that ugliness comes the opportunity to learn and grow in a very unique and special way. When times get tough and Nicholas is having a bad day, do you sometimes wish that Nicholas never had autism? Or would you rather live with the emotional wounds dealt out by the disorder, knowing that you have an ability to be much more insightful about life than the average person?

Don’t we ALL have an ugly side as well as the opportunity to learn and grow? Someone with an autism diagnosis is no different. Autism is not something that I ever wished my child would have, and it’s a different journey than the one I had expected, but it is still just as wonderful. I think it’s difficult for any parent to watch their child, typical or not, struggle with anything, so when Nicholas is struggling with something and is having a bad day, it breaks my heart.

Nicholas has struggles that my other children don’t have, but they each have their own unique struggles in life and have challenged me and themselves in different ways. I’ve hurt watching all of them struggle at one point or another. That’s a parent’s love. We all have struggles, they are just different struggles. You learn to adjust and cope. We all learn, grow and evolve. We all get frustrated with life, we all hurt at times and we all feel joy. Support from others is really important during these times.

I honestly love the journey that my son’s autism diagnosis has taken me on. I have learned so much and I have met so many wonderful, supportive people along the way. My son has brought me so much joy each and every day. All my kids are unique and I love them all.

What is your biggest stress reliever?

Venting to someone who “gets it”, then meditating while listening to positive affirmations. I like going into the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber to relax and walking outdoors when the weather is nice. Sex works, too. (Laughs)

What do you like to do for fun, and what kind of activities does your family enjoy doing together?

I enjoy our crazy family gatherings every Sunday because they are very entertaining and always a lot of fun. I enjoy date nights with my husband as well as with other couples. We enjoy good food. My kids enjoy watching movies together. We also enjoy hiking. In the summer we rent a beach house with many of our family members. We also do a lot of fun activities in the fall at local farms. Road trips anywhere are always fun.

What do you have your sights set on for the future?

I want to continue to raise autism awareness any way I can in hopes that I can help educate people to be more understanding and compassionate toward others with autism or other idiosyncrasies. Different doesn’t mean bad, it’s just different. Acceptance is so important. Everyone can learn from each other if you allow yourself to be open to it.
I want to make a difference in this world. I have a few things in mind that I’d like to accomplish. I’ll share those at a later date.

I also have several books I’d like to write. Two of them are being written and published right now. I want my family to stay healthy, happy and very connected with each other. Oh…and world peace.