All in Need’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt celebrates Spring by offering an unique egg hunt for children with special needs and their families. This event welcomes 50 children to participate in finding 1,200 eggs and each child who attends will receive an Easter Basket to bring home!
I’m excited to share some changes at All in Need that will help us grow as we move forward. I’m pleased to announce that Kirstin McGrath is joining the AiN team as Program Director. She brings with her 500 hours of volunteer experience with pediatric therapy clinics, a hippotherapy clinic, and overnight camps for children with Autism. Kirstin’s long term goal is to open her own therapy clinic as an Occupational Therapist. You have likely already met Kirstin over the past few months, as she has been involved in our programs and special events, so she is probably already a familiar face.
Seeing someone in the Program Director role has been a goal of ours for a long time, as it will allow me to expand into the Executive Director. In fact, now that will be my full time role. Through this growth of labor, Kirstin can focus on the many details associated with Revive and special events, while I can focus on obtaining grants — something I haven’t had as much time for in the past. This will hopefully allow us to further expand our programs and outreach.
This news comes with one additional change; my family will be relocating to Oregon in order to get my son Yaakov, who is on the spectrum, the help that he so desperately needs. As many of you know, over the past few months our lives have been turned upside down as Yaakov has faced numerous behavioral issues at school. Jacob and I know it’s time we make a change. For the remainder of 2018, Kirstin and I will be working closely together as she transitions into her new role. I will be working from Oregon, but will be back in the Bay Area around Revive dates in order to make sure the program transition is seamless for our families.
I want to make it clear that although I’ll be working remotely, All in Need will have my full attention. In fact, it will have more of my attention than in the past. While living in California I juggled an additional full time job with the school district. Now I’ll have time to properly devote to both AiN and Yaakov.
Please know that AiN is my “baby” and the families we serve mean the world to me, and to Jacob and the board. As I step into the Executive Director role, our programs will continue to expand and better support your families. Who knows… at some point we may even get to organize a satellite team in Oregon!
Although it’s hard to step away from the day-to-day program interactions, Jacob and I feel this is a win-win situation. We get to support our son. Our son gets his service dog. And once again because of our son and our family’s needs AiN will continue to grow and get more support! Thank you for your understanding.
Parenting is hard. Parenting teenagers even harder. This is no secret. You know what makes parenting an even harder job? Navigating the parenting of a special needs child on the autism spectrum.
Many of the readers of this blog know this difficulty first-hand.
I want to share an incident in a California school involving a 15-year-old student that has my wheels turning about how we approach, educate, and discipline our kids in the dreaded arena of an awkward social topic: sex. And more specifically, sexual harassment. Recent media coverage of the ME TOO movement, multiple celebrities being accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and a crackdown of sorts on sexual harassment in the workplace have brought this important issue to the forefront of our minds.
Below is the account of what took place with the before-mentioned student:
The student, a 15-year-old boy diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder, received notes from a few female students in his class asking him to allow them to perform oral sex on him for money. The student refused their requests. There was a back and forth between the male student and the female students via notes, and each time the male student replied “No”. In one instance, the student replied with a “Yes” in hopes that maybe the notes would stop. The student then ran from his high school to the elementary school where his mother works, trying to get away from the girls. The notes finally came to an end when the male student showed one to another classmate, who then dared him to “smack their ass(es)”. The student, feeling more comfortable with a dare from a friend, went ahead and smacked the girls behinds.
The incident escalated when the police showed up at the door of the male student’s home.
One of the girls had alerted a teacher, and then she and her father got the police involved. The police followed up with the school before making the home visit.
The student, most likely scared about the consequences coming to him, wasn’t fully truthful with the officer who came to question him. He finally told the officer about the notes and the dare. The officer said to the student: “You don’t even look sorry for what you did.” The student’s mother wanted to make sure the officer was aware of her son’s disability. The officer’s response was that he was fully aware of the disability. The officer later told the boy’s mother he was trying to scare her son into thinking straight and that one of the girls was pressing charges, but the other hadn’t told her parents at all. Eventually, the charges were dropped.
After the police officer had left, the student asked his mom what oral sex was.
There is so much to unpack from the incident, I find it hard to know where to start. There’s the issue of understanding that individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have a different filter they see life through. It is difficult for these individuals to recognize social cues, and this makes them awkward around others. Imagine already feeling awkward as a hormonal teenager and trying to navigate your way through high school, then add the filter of your disability to the mix. When the student was approached by two classmates of the opposite sex asking to perform oral sex on him, he didn’t even know what the act was. Now, in my opinion, the initial passing of notes to the boy was harassment in itself. We all know kids can be cruel, and teenagers especially can be brutal to their peers. Its hard to know in the age of anti-bullying and harassment where to draw the line of “kids will be kids” and when to make an issue of these sorts of incidents.
Another thing that struck me when hearing the account of the incident was the police officer’s approach to the boy. When he said he was aware of the disability, but then made the comment about the boy “not looking sorry”, it made me a little angry. Of course he doesn’t “look sorry” his expressions are not shown like ours. His facial expression rarely changes. Even if he were feeling something so deeply, his face would stay the same.
So how do parents make sure that things like this don’t happen? How do you articulate to a teenager with autism the appropriate behaviors with the opposite sex at school and in other settings? Is this something that should be individually addressed with each special needs student when they reach high school age?
There is a delicate balance between making sure that individuals with harassment stories are heard, believed, and made to feel like they are not at fault, all the while recognizing that there are select individuals that may be telling stories for attention. Recognizing each individual’s needs, and being sure their needs are served appropriately, both at home and at school, is a major responsibility with parents and their educators alike.
In the case of the student, the school and their educators failed in not following procedures in place for the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program), and signs were missed with the student’s behavior that could have alerted all involved to the note-passing.
So what do YOU think about this particular incident and the sort of lessons learned about the approach to an autistic student in the subject of sex? Can you relate? Do you have your own story to tell?
In my opinion, the best thing we can do for our kids is to be open and available for them to come to with questions. Being truthful with them should be the practice. This will foster healthy habits and relationships between not only you and your child, but with your child and his/her peers.
The feelings of the writer doesn’t reflect AiN or the board members, but of the writers.
Working with families at All In Need, Family Support (AiN) has taught me that parents and caregivers are strong. Each child that comes into AiN worms their way into all the volunteers’ hearts, and as volunteers we hear the parents’ stories of their child’s success and struggles.
As the Executive Director of AiN, I often times cry after hanging up with a parent hearing how their child is taking a turn for the worse or their child’s behavior is out of control. I hear desperation in the parent’s voice as they are struggling to support their child’s needs. Having a child on the spectrum, often times, I can understand their feelings and can tell parents it will get better. But, sometimes I cannot relate to what the parents are saying. All I can do is listen and try to hold it together while parents give me the latest updates on their children. Then I hang up and cry. I cannot even imagine your child having additional medical issues on top of the daily fight of Autism. I cannot imagine the fight of a wheelchair, because your child is too tired to stay on her feet. I cannot imagine hearing the words “your child will not make it to adulthood”. So, this parent tries to relate to what parents must be feeling, but instead I crawl under the covers and cry for the families who are hurting. Yet, I see these parents go on and advocate for their children. Knowing they are exhausted, but amazingly strong. Yet, as a spectator in their lives, I get to learn what love is and what dedication and strength is. It is humbling that these families allow us at AiN to be part of such an intimate detail in their lives.
At AiN, we know we only can help carry their burdens, and we do that through offering respite care to the families. Their child has an opportunity to socialize with others and play games. We also offer three special events a year. This gives them the opportunity to participate in mainstream events and parents to network with one another.
Lastly, we offer the Angel Fund. We choose one family who has attend at least one Revive event in the last year. The goal of this fund is to help the family who is in need of additional support due to unforeseen circumstance. We are proud that we were able to provide $750 to the Hazlett Family to help cover a FM system which will hook into our winner’s cochlear implants which will allow her to hear what is being said. The child has the system in place and it has been reported by teachers and parents it has helped. However, this device isn’t covered by insurance. It is our joy and pleasure to be able to support the Hazlett family so that their family can enjoy all aspects of life!
38 children and their parents came and joined AiN for their 3rd Annual Trunk or Treat! This was made possible by more than 40 volunteers coming together volunteering their time! Children were able to Trick or Treat at 27 different trunks. One trunk the kids were able to try to be Robin Hood. While another trunk they could visit Alice and Wonderland. Other trunks setup a zoo or AiN (Animal in Need) This year, AiN had a contest for the best trunk where the children could pick their favorite trunk. Kimberly Gillem won a $100
gift card to Dead Fish donated by Bank of America Anti-Freud Department.
Many of the kids lined up and played JENGA with the College Park Interact Club while others played Connect Four and Corn Hole. This year AiN added Carnival games. One carnival game was made by Nate Klug from recycled materials from his home. Jacob Green made a pig race from an old table. They also could catch rubber ducks, ring toss. Several family stopped by the green screen for pictures.
Of course, we cannot forget that many of the kids and several of the adults took a moment and threw pies at the Executive Director, Autumn Green in one of their newest fundraisers!
AiN was able to offer this event because of our sponsors: AHA Movement and Land Home Financial Services, and from two grants: Pleasant Hill Community Center and SMPS Family! Thank you to those who donated for our drawings!
Our son’s original diagnoses was pediatric bipolar and because of the diagnoses and what seemed to be extreme self-hurting behaviors we had decided to put him on medication. Let me explain, when we put him on medication it was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I was always against medicating children. Yet, when your child is trying to jump out of moving cars, run into the street, and all he keeps saying is I want to die. Then you turn around and he is scrubbing a spot on the floor for an hour, I was at a loss what to do. We tried many different cocktails, but nothing seemed to work for him. During his Kindergarten year another diagnoses was added to his records along with Bipolar. He was also diagnosed with Aspergers.
March of his kindergarten year was a living hell. There was academic placement issues. We couldn’t get the cocktail figured out. The doctor had put him on Lithium and after a blood test had us increase the dose. The first night after raising the dosage he showed signs of lithium toxicity. We rushed him to the hospital. At that point, my husband and I made the decision to remove him from all medication. We were questioning the diagnoses of Bipolar by this point. After reading about Aspergers and hearing further information on Sensory Processing. We were pretty sure the behavior we were seeing: trying to jump out of moving cars, run in front of cars, and pushing me down stairs all had to do with overstimulation. With a new doctors help we tapered him off all medication understanding if he indeed did have bipolar we would have to be put him back on medication.
The first year, we spent time building trust with him. So, if he said he was done and ready to go. We left or removed him from the situation. It didn’t matter if we were visiting my friends and family, on a playdate, or even somewhere fun with his brother. If Jacob, my husband, was around one of us would take Yaakov and other would take Austin, his brother. This way Austin wasn’t always paying the price.
As time passed, we saw that he didn’t need medication for Bipolar but really was suffering from Anxiety. Yet, after the last experience with medication I didn’t want to go that route. We had a huge support system. Coaches, teachers, friends, and family would help us in dealing with his anxiety. So, we had been able to give him the tools to be successful!
As time passed, I was gratefully that we didn’t have to put him on medication. With that being said, it wasn’t that we didn’t have meltdowns we did! Medication just didn’t need to be a tool for the meltdowns. We talked through the anxiety and we pushed him to be successful even when he didn’t think he was going to be a success. Through this experience, I recognize there is a time for medication, but I also believe research is very important. The doctors hadn’t asked me the right questions. Before trying to jump out of the car, how long were you in the car? 6 hours. Before he bit you and didn’t let go what were you doing. We were driving for hours and hours. He was getting more upset and wanting to jump out of the car. If these questions were asked we would have saved ourselves and Yaakov a lot of heartache and fear.
May 19th brought the celebration of spring and an early Easter Egg Hunt for children with special needs and their families. AiN hosting their 3rd annual egg hunt was Saturday, where AiN volunteers and Pleasant Hill Chamber Members packed 1,200 plastic eggs for 31 kids to find. Each child received an AiN Easter Basket (this year an AiN bag) which included bubbles, slinkies, sensory toys, sunglasses and so much more.
Because we had the budget AiN reached out to two other organizations that serve children with special needs. One of the organizations used the egg hunt as an Applied Behavior Analysis social group outing. While the other organization used it as a family day out; offering networking between parents while children joined in the egg hunt.
As much as I love my volunteers. Giving parties aren’t my thing. So, it was a very quiet night. However, I tried to do a few things to show my volunteers how much I appreciate them.
The theme was The Giving Tree. Each one of my youth volunteers received the book. I quickly recapped the book, and told the volunteers that I know often times as volunteers we feel like give and give until we feel we don’t have anything left to give. But, often times families just need us to allow them to sit down and let them regroup. It seems like so little on our parts but it is huge for the families.
Jennifer Tipton catered the meal for us. We did a mash potato bar using martini glasses, and she did pudding in shot glass.
The best part of the evening for me is that our volunteers got together and did a dance for one of our kiddos who is no longer able to join us at AiN.
Thank you to all my volunteers. Thank you for supporting AiN families, and thank you for making my dreams come true.