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Redefining Possible: Liam's Son-Rise® Journey

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Liam's Recent Acheivements

Posted by Autumn Manzo on May 28, 2014 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

May 28, 2014

I'm definitely due to give some updates on our Liam so here they go!

 

*Liam is doing an excellent job of using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to request things he wants at home and at school!  He was using the "Outside" PEC at school a little too frequently so his teacher hid it. Liam was then looking in his classmates' PEC folders to find a card to hand to his teacher (since he LOVES going outside!). His teacher was quite impressed!  Here are the PECS we have begun with at home, located on our refrigerator and there is an outside PEC located near our backdoor.  I bought the PEC manual to study and also will be getting free training through Liam's school.

 

*We went to the zoo as a whole family last week and Liam was able to hold Nate's hand and walk around the zoo almost the entire time.  He actually looked at the animals this year, and really enjoying watching fish at the aquarium!

 

*Liam still loves to swing but most the time we are outside, he wants me or Nate to be near him while he swings to make it more of a two-person activity by us either helping to push or tickling him on the upswing. And he makes excellent eye contact with us throughout this activity!

 

*Liam was able to enjoy an indoor Bounce House party like never before! By the end of his twin cousin's b-day party, he was climbing the bounce houses and sliding down independently!

 

*Liam tried riding a two-wheel bike with training wheels for the first time this spring!  He hasn't quite get down the peddle motion down yet, but he was comfortable sitting on the bike and did like to steer while I pushed him, which is a fantastic start!

*Liam is doing excellent academically at school. He is gaining skills such as tracing letters, lacing, matching colors, completing independent work through a visual schedule and enjoying peer activities such as passing a ball or completing foam puzzles together!  We often get encouraging notes this from his teacher (and many have more specific achievements listed).  Liam LOVES school and his teachers and we are excited that he gets to attend there next year as well.

 

* We got Liam two boats and characters from the cartoon Jake and the Neverland Pirates. This is the FIRST time he has actually been interested in a pretend-play based toy and has enjoyed interacting over it with us.

 

* Liam is being super sweet with his baby sister, Ruby, more than 90% of the time. Even when she comes after the IPAD or his snack, he gives her gentle hugs!

 

* Liam enjoys the essential oil foot and leg rubs I give him every night after his bath. He gives me each foot to massage and is very patient through the process!

 

*Liam loves going for walks on the sidewalks around our neighborhood. He is excellent at either holding our hands or just walking next to an adult. His Papa Dave especially loves taking the boy for walks whenever he visits!

 

 

*Thanks to the Ohio Autism Scholarship, Liam gets to attend seven weeks of school during the summer. The directors are providing many outdoor gross motor activities for the kids during the afternoon hours, such as bounce houses and water play, so I know Liam will have a blast!

 

*Another positive note, my mother sold her house within 24 hours of listing it on the market! As long as the process moves ahead as planned, she will be moving in with us in July and Liam will have another loving adult in the household to help him grow and expand through autism! (Not to mention my husband and I will get to regularly date again!)

 

 

Life is definitely busy with two spunky daughters and a son with autism. We are looking forward to a fun-filled summer of potty-training, outdoor activities, Gramica joining the household and anything else God may bring our way!

 

 

 

 

 

Striving for Progress, Not Perfection

Posted by Autumn Manzo on February 2, 2014 at 1:35 AM Comments comments (0)

February 2, 2014

 

One thing I have realized lately as an individual is that I can be an idealist and be very demanding that my present experience match my ideal vision immediately and consistently. Therefore, I find myself frustrated or let down if life doesn't go according to my invisible plan.  Goal setting without attachment to outcome is different: I find myself able to do this with my exercise regimen and new diet as a vegan. I am not overly hard on myself if I slip up or don't follow to perfection because I realize it's progress toward a goal not perfection in meeting it that matters most. AH HA. So why haven't I been applying this principle across the board in my life?! When I start to see how circumstances are falling short of 'my ideal' I believe I am living with a future-focus. If I instead see how circumstances are progressing toward that ideal, I am focused in the present, the here and the now.

 

When it comes to autism treatment, I have decided upon many 'ideal outcomes' that often have not yet been achieved with Liam. HOWEVER, if I focus on progress toward goals, I find myself much more energized, accepting and creative in handling any challenge of autism. I had envisioned us running a full time Son-Rise program with Liam in our new town but the desire to be with baby Ruby and satisfy Liam's need for variety has resulted in a positive school environment + Son-Rise lifestyle approach.  Liam is doing things at school I would have never anticipated, such as engaging in circle time, easily following a schedule and even beginning to pretend play!  If I had held too tightly to my ideal plan, we would have missed this opportunity for his growth.

 

Liam is not yet using a lot of verbal language to communicate BUT he is able to follow a visual schedule and now we are using pictures to convey information to him as well as language. Ideally I had wanted the motivation, modeling and waiting Son-Rise technique of language development to be the key recipe for language development with Liam. Over the years no matter how we've tweaked our responses, we've learned that Liam is basically more motivated to stick with non-verbal gestures and wait patiently than to use verbal language. No matter how long we model words or keep happily 'guessing' at what he might want, be it an object, activity or a snack, he just stares happily at us with those big blue eyes until he either gets what he wants or walks away, having lost interest.  I now see progress in the language area would be Liam successfully communicating a want quickly, even with a picture which we of course label verbally. "Oh you want an apple!" for instance from a snack chart I am creating. This way, Liam is first very successful in making a request in a way that comes easy for him. The hope is then he will expand his ways to communicate to include more difficult ways (such as verbal request) knowing it's not required but may meet his needs faster.

 

Another challenge with Liam is that I can't seem to do any diet or biomedical protocol 100% with him. He has becomes more of a picky eater, which yesterday I was just thinking I have been enabling because I stopped offering him foods he used to enjoy after he rejected it several times in a row. Take broccoli for example. Two years ago, he used to consume an entire serving of broccoli almost daily. Why am I assuming he won't love it again? Rejecting certain foods could just be a stage. I need to keep offering! The key for me is a reminder to live in the present and just interpret 'no' as 'not now'.  We've noticed too that if you offer Liam a new food directly, he often rejects it but if you leave something out on the table he may come nibbing and try it!  Liam may be wanting more control in this area so I can give him what I know he will eat but also put a few new things on his plate (or on the table!) to entice him to try something different.  As I mentioned, I am creating a snack chart for him so perhaps choosing his snacks will empower him to let go of some control and try more options - always a health goal with any child!

 

When it comes to supplements or the CD protocol which I would like to succeed in doing, I have realized there may be smaller steps to a 'full' regimen and I can if I can be happy with progress, such as Liam taking supplements a few times a week verses every day, we have a better shot at succeeding overall. What I have found myself doing is giving up in frustration if something is not 100%.  However, getting to 100% may take time and smaller steps, 25%, 50% and so forth.  If I can have the patience to keep the goal in mind but see the progress, I will be less likely to give up.

 

These are really good life and parenting lessons to be learning! I am grateful that intentional self-care with healthy eating and exercise helped open my eyes to some of my 'perfectionist' tendencies that were sabotaging the joy in my life and goals for Liam on this autism journey.  So we will be striving for progress, not perfection...and it's okay if I am not even perfect at it.

Intense Moods and Confidence

Posted by Autumn Manzo on December 3, 2013 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

December 3, 2013

 

The past month has been a very positive transition month for the Manzos.  Liam has been adjusting very well to attending all day preschool, despite a recent ten day bout a stomach bug.  Most days he has arrived and left the school with a smile and peaceful attitude!  His teachers are very enthusiastic when communicating his progress to us. Liam enjoys circle time, table top activities, being around the other kids and even completes art projects with some assistance!  Now he independently completes many fine motor activities and follows a visual schedule for them which includes a puzzle, shape sorter and a ring stacker. At home recently he was lining up a few toys (which he has never done) and counting them with his hand with verbal approximations of the numbers.  It's great to see Liam more interested in objects. I know it's usually the opposite for many children with autism: they tend to be obsessed with objects and exclude people and social interaction. Liam was like this until about 3 yrs old. At that point Liam began to exclude us, but often for physical or vestibular input such as spinning, running or swinging or the visual input with electronics.

 

I believe Liam gaining an interest in different toys will help us connect with him socially in new ways. We can interact with each other while, for example, exploring all the ways that an object can be used for fun. He is not displaying the same sensory behaviors at school as he was at home, so maybe his body didn't 'need' the physical play as much as he enjoyed it. He still runs and wants to swing outdoors even when it's chilly, but overall has been less hyperactive since beginning school. I'm hopeful Liam will continue to expand his interests and enjoy a variety of activites and new objects. I am excited about a few of his Christmas gifts, including a small air hockey table!

 

One major challenge we have been presented with lately is an increase in Liam's tantrums surrounding limits in the home. Since four, Liam has had more sporadic tantrums if we limited a certain type of snack, time outdoors, the water level in the bath or television viewing time. (By the way, the television has been removed in our house due to recent inconsolable meltdowns. And because I'd rather all three kids do more active, not passive activities).  While this is normal for all children, children with autism can often have more intense and longer duration of tantrums.  We learned with Mycah that distraction and some verbal empathy and explanation can alleviate a tantrum but not always. Sometimes kids just need to express that intense emotion and really, it would be unhealthy for their bodies to not express it.  We've taught Mycah that no emotion is wrong or bad, but if her expressing starts to negatively infringe on others, we will ask her kindly to express it in her room. Usually she doesn't want to go to her room, so she'll 'be done' with the mood.

 

For a long time we handled Liam's tantrums differently. We followed the Son-Rise principle of interpreting them as communication, not 'lighting up like a Christmas tree,' moving slowly while remaining present and useful in the moment.  Another issue is we didn't place many limits on Liam, mainly due to the desire to be a 'yes' parent so he would want to interact with us more. However, as time passes, I realize there are times and places for being that kind of parent and also times and places for being a 'yes but only to this limit' parent. I know some of Liam's recent moods are likely due to a change in the 'predicable' responders we may have been as more 'yes' parents. A new sibling AND school added to the mix may also be contributing factors.

 

I find that I have been becoming very anxious and uncomfortable by Liam's loud screaming, jumping up and down and refusal to find interest in something else.  Tantrums that used to last a minute with just some crying or whining can last up to thirty minutes or more some days. I have been doing some self exploration and realize that the tantrums bother me most when I am home alone with the three kids because tending to Liam seems to interfere with my ability to interact with, or even properly supervise, Mycah and Ruby. Also, I think I am bothered by them in the evenings when, after a long day, I just want some peaceful interactions with my kids.  Liam's lengthy tantrums seem to rob me of something desirable and I worry that they are robbing Mycah and Ruby of desirable times too.

 

 

However, I am left in awe that Liam has the confidence to express such intense emotion. There is no fear of consequence in him such as being judged by others. He hasn't learned to 'stuff' his emotions like some adults have learned to do which only leads to emotional blocks, disease or chronic health issues. Nope, like many kids with autism, Liam simply does what feels right and good in the moment. Therefore if it's really a limit I see value in enforcng, I can stay strong knowing it's good and necessary that Liam feel the weight of that limit and 'get out' his emotion or theatrical display, no matter how long it may take.  I realized a few days ago, too, that at least when Nate is home I can walk Liam to his bedroom and say, "It's fine if you want to cry, but we need to do it here" and stay with him.  I believe he will catch on, as Mycah did, that screaming negatively impacts others. I want to teach my children that some physical limits are necessary in life and they are strong enough to handle them. Football would be no fun to watch if there weren't any rules, right?  I can also pick my battles wisely and add some tools to my belt such as a visual timer, fun charts...as well as better consistency.

 

What perfect timing considering I had just finished reading an awesome book entitled "Frequency: The Power of Personal Vibration" by Penney Peirce. The gist of the book is that we are energy, which behaves at times as a particle (individual) and as a wave (collective consciousness) and the goal is to maintain a home frequency of happiness, a 'state of being' that frees us to grow and evolve as people who can fulfill our destinies.The author talks about our human tendency to 'frequency match' as a form of empathy. For example, distress vibrates our cells at a lower frequency than comfort vibrates. Perhaps we are feeling good and then a friend starts to complain about her problems. We might frequency match and feel bad for or with her.  A healthier type of empathy is to listen to the friend, maintaining a higher vibration, and help raise her vibration by simply being present and offering wisdom, if necessary, from a place of comfort. This philosophy is totally in line with all we learned at Option and through Son-Rise.

 

It's easy to forget that when I feel bad about my kid having a tantrum, I really can't help him through it because wisdom does not vibrate at that lower frequency.  If I can maintain my comfort, Liam may be able to frequency match me and realize it feels better to calm down. For now, my plan is now to take Liam to his bedroom during intense tantrums (if I am not alone with the kids) and allow him to express himself while I remain present and comfortable, imagining myself sending him waves of comfort, self-control and love. If I cannot take him to his room, perhaps I will simply carry on with household or childcare duties with a smile after informing him that he can work out his emotions, but Mommy has other things to do.

 

Before becoming a parent I really only envisioned wonderful experiences where my children listened to me out of utmost respect and trust and we enjoyed many adventures exploring the world together.  While that's still a goal and journey (not a destination!), it's the times I didn't anticipate: intense tantrums, learning and social delays, and sibling dynamics, where I find myself both challenged and rewarded most as a parent.  We parents can have the same confidence we see in our tenacious children...afterall, they likely learned it from being with us! :)

 

Saying YES to School for Liam

Posted by Autumn Manzo on November 2, 2013 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

November 2, 2013

 

I did something two days ago I hadn't expected to do for at least quite a while. I said,  "See ya later, Liam!" as I dropped him off for his first day of all day preschool at a branch of Haughland Learning Center in Dublin, OH. I didn't foresee any major separation issues since Liam showed great pleasure and comfort when we had visited several times prior to this day. He did well his first two days! By doing 'well,' I mean he interacted positively with teachers and students and even followed some directions such as holding onto a ring as the kids transition between rooms and activities. This doesn't surprise me because the teachers are super user-friendly and use joining children in their chosen play activities as a way to build trust and relationships. So far, Liam has left us and come home very relaxed and with a big smile on his face!

 

 

I stumbled upon this school when I was researching Ohio Autism Scholarship providers in the area.  Liam had to undergo an evaluation in our local district on Sept. 16th to receive an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for us to then apply for the scholarship.  The original plan was to get the scholarship and employ our own providers to expand his Son-Rise Program.  I was pleasantly surprised with how well Liam did during a two-hour evaluation away from me at the public school. He went to the preschool classroom with two other children who were also to be evaluated that day. There I was sitting like a nervous wreck in the office thinking he was probably undressing, crying at the door, or climbing on the desks. After 30 minutes or so, the school psychologist came back to tell me he was doing very well. In fact, he was bringing tupperware containers of toys to the teacher and requesting non-verbally for them to be opened and he was bringing balls back after a teacher rolled them and requesting her to roll them again.  While he clearly showed signs of autism with limited verbal language and some running isms, he adjusted easily to a new setting and chose to interact with people he had never met. What amazing flexibility!

 

 

I didn't think much about this experience except being thankful it went so well (since it was one of the hoops we must jump through for the Autism Scholarship). But a few days later, the kids from the court behind our house came to play with Mycah and Liam in the backyard.  Liam loves two boys in particular, a nine year old named Levi who likes to spin him around and kept telling us Liam says his name, and an eight year old named Nathan who always tickles Liam and allows Liam to tickle him under his arms.  Mycah decided to join the kids for a bike ride and for the first time, Liam followed them all to the front door and looked forlorn as they all left together.  He looked back at me and took my hand to open the door. Liam really wanted more time with the kids. While I can arrange social activities for him sometimes, it becomes difficult since Liam is not independent enough to ride a bike or go off with the neighborhood kids. Another thing Liam has been doing is bringing Nate his hat and shoes and wanting to run errands with him outside the home whenever possible. He has done very well on several outings holding our hand at the mall or during walks around the neighborhood. He also is settling well in the church nursery even when it's quite full with kids.

 

 

Liam has begun to use more clear, verbal communication since turning four, but I swear I know what he wants immediately when he looks in my eyes.  This will often be confirmed as he leads me to exactly what I have perceived. Maybe this is in part from being with him pretty much the entire first five years of his life, or maybe because he also speaks to me telepathically which I more often than not feel is the case.  During our play sessions and other times the past few months, I felt like he was telling me he wanted to have new experiences in new places, even school. I admit I have been pretty against schooling Liam for a plethora of sensory reasons, but with the challenges of an active baby at home as well as an older sibling, I have become more receptive to the idea. When I came across Haughland Learning Center as a school provider for the Autism Scholarship, I clicked on the link and was very pleased with all I read.  Nate and I also attended a parent presentation on Oct. 1st and this confirmed our feelings that this school might be a great fit for Liam.  The school is ABA-based but many of its principles resonate with Son-Rise principles and our personal ideals. Tuition is basically $20,000/year but fully covered with the Autism Scholarship.

 

The founder of the school, Dr. Haughland, said during the parent presentation that he opened this private school for ASD kids ten years ago because he wanted kids to enjoy coming to school and learning and to be accepted despite their differences. There is an attitude of acceptance and camaraderie among the students because they all have some grade of ASD. From his previous experiences, he also felt many public schools have overall low expectations for children with ASD while he and the teachers he trains believe these kids can develop socially and academically WITHOUT LIMIT in an encouraging, positive environment. Haughland Learning Center is picky when hiring teachers and offers an intense training program for prospective teachers. They also offer summer camps to help kids catch up academically if they have fallen grade levels behind in public school. The average classes are six kids with one teacher. Dr. Haughland mentioned how one kid was getting repeatedly kicked out of class in public school for taking his shoes off and he said, "Here, I don't really care if you are wearing shoes in my school. I care if you are happy to be here and if you are learning."  That meant a lot to me since Liam struggles a lot to wear shoes, though he is currently doing well with this at school with a little redirection. Haughland Learning Center also allows kids to take many breaks and they only use positive reinforcement. Dr. Haughland said if a child isn't progressing, it is the teacher's responsibility to adjust their methods to the child and teach in a different way. All kids CAN learn and grow is the ultimate sentiment!  They offer different programs based on kids' different needs and challenges. The school has a good track record of preparing kids for college or vocational work. Dr. Haughland has plans to get a vocational center opened for children more impacted by autism as well as after school activities such as swim and karate classes. www.haughlandlearningcenter.com

 

 

Liam's autism has taught us to be open-minded, to consider all available options when it comes to helping our child develop, and to ultimately follow our intuition more than any one approach. We will continue to use the Son-Rise lifestyle principles in our interactions with Liam because we have seen such amazing social benefits meeting people from a place of comfort and hope. At the same time, we plan to explore different ways of playing as well as occupational therapy and nutritional protocols to help his body function optimally. This past year Liam has demonstrated improvements in sensory processing, gross motor and communication as well as increased interest in peers even while our program was mainly lifestyle due to pregnancy/Ruby's birth.  I am positive that our three years of Son-Rise have given Liam a sturdy foundation from which to grow. He definitely sees the world as a friendly, welcoming place.  We're excited to share his sweet smile and contagious laugh with others.

 

Allowing Liam in a setting outside the home for extended time challenges me to let go and trust others more. Of course I did write his teacher, Miss Christina, (who's dad is also a minister!) a three-page note describing what we have done with him at home and all his strengths. I am grateful the school has an open door policy as well as great parent-teacher communication. Plus, if we ever decide this isn't the right place for him, we can always use the remaining Autism Scholarship for other providers. The flexibility of the scholarship is quite a blessing. But for the time being, I wanted to say "YES" to Liam in his request for new experiences outside the home. This also means Ruby and I will get plenty of time together throughout the day, which is very meaningful to us both. :) We will continue to discern Liam's feedback from these experiences and post overall updates!

 

Next Steps

Posted by Autumn Manzo on September 10, 2013 at 7:45 AM Comments comments (0)

September 10, 2013

 

It's been six weeks since our move back to Ohio and we are pretty much settled in our new home, town and church. The kids have all adjusted so well!  Mycah is enjoying first grade, Ruby is happy and growing like a weed, and Liam is enjoying his new room, our backyard and the tender-hearted neighborhood kids who actually enjoy coming over to play with both Mycah AND Liam.  Meanwhile, we are in an IEP process with the local school which is the first step to apply for the Autism Scholarship, which will enable us to utilize providers for special therapies outside the home such as water therapy and music therapy, as well as paid helpers in Liam's playroom. 

 

Thanks to two wonderful ladies from the church and a babysitter we hired for Ruby, I am able to be with Liam every morning of the week for a good 2 1/2 hour session in the playroom.  Getting back to one-on-one time with Liam after some time off was quite an adjustment for me. I am so used to multi-tasking around the house, but in the playroom my intention is to be focused on Liam and our interactions. After the first week, I noticed that I feel so much more connected to Liam and at peace with the current challenges of his autism. I believe this is because I had some powerful interactions with him just by 'showing up' and being present.  Our activities last week consisted a lot of chases, tickles, squeezes, swinging, looking at books together and playing with various balloons, trains and musical instruments. We had one 45 minutes interaction where I squeezed different parts of his body, and he would give me a foot or hand or bring my hands to squeeze his head while I used various voices, songs and squeezes to keep him engaged.  Then later that session, Liam hugged me without just wanting to pinch my arms (a sensory need he often uses people's arms to satisfy!) and when I pulled away, he pulled me back to hug me for about two minutes.  That was such an amazing milestone for him and blessing for his mama! 

 

 

I became intrigued about some of my Son-Rise friends' experience with Natural Play Therapy, an approach very similar to Son-Rise taught out of California by a former Son-Rise teacher, Julie Sando. I felt the need for some renewed inspiration as Liam's only playroom playmate at this time and being at the beginning of developing a more intensive program for him, so I opted for a free phone consultation with Julie.  WOW, I learned so much about the stages of natural play and how being aware of Liam's stages can help me relax more when he isms and just take a break myself.  I love how NPT emphasizes that we take care of ourselves, such as bringing activities in the playroom that really help rejuvenate us.  Liam is not all that interested in art yet, but I find creating a work of art to be relaxing and fulfilling. Now I am bringing various art projects in the playroom to allow Liam to observe me at times and perhaps become interested by what he sees since he often declines overt requests to join me.  I am looking forward to incorporating more NPT ideas into our play sessions as well as training helpers with NPT in mind.  A few weeks ago Liam also learned how to swing himself on a regular big kid swing, something we have tried with him over the years but he was always hesitant and wanted the baby swing. Now he goes super high, which is good exercise as well as awesome parallel play when he swings next to the neighborhood kids smiling at them frequently.

 

We have also resumed the CD protocol and are trying to make Liam's diet as toxin and grain-free as possible. I am pleasantly surprised that he is eating waffles made with pureed carrots, almond flour and honey!  We are hearing a few more words and LOTS of babble that right now which can be difficult to interpret but we will keep trying so Liam knows we are listening and ready to respond.  We are staying the course and looking forward to Liam's continued growth!

Preparing to Move!

Posted by Autumn Manzo on July 8, 2013 at 9:05 AM Comments comments (0)

July 8, 2013

 

In just two weeks, we will be living back in Ohio, in a new home we are in the process of purchasing and Nate will begin his new job at Parkview Presbyterian Church.  So right now our house is full of boxes and we are in full throttle of preparing to move! 

 

We have enjoyed our time in Illinois and have made several strong friendships we hope to keep despite the distance. However, this move offers several positive changes for our family.  First of all, we will be living within three driving hours of most of our family, including Nate's brother and his family who live only thirty minutes from our new town of Reynoldsburg, which is a suburb east of Columbus.  We didn't realize how much we missed our family until we lived out of state!  It will be great for Ruby to get to know her grandparents and relatives, just as our other two children did as babies. 

 

Another positive aspect of this move is that the state of Ohio is the only state that offers a $20,000/yr autism scholarship to families who choose to run home programs for their children. We were blessed here with two fabulous volunteers who we ended up employing for more hours though at best we have run an 18 hour/week program and substantially less being pregnant and having Ruby. Our goal is to develop a 30 hour+/week Son-Rise program for Liam! We will be in a larger suburb with several colleges nearby, including Ohio State University. I am a little nervous but overall excited about advertising, recruiting and training playroom folks!  I imagine a unified team greeting Liam with smiles, encouragement and creative play each day, helping expand his world to better social and daily living skills.  As soon as we move, I will begin Mission Son-Rise for Liam! This includes applying for the scholarship and also hiring a babysitter for Ruby 10 hrs/week to ensure I can resume my time with Liam as soon as possible while I am developing his program. I am thankful that Mycah enjoys school and is looking forward to being a First Grader this fall.

 

In choosing a home, I made sure to scope out a feasible playroom for Liam.  The home we are purchasing has the PERFECT room to use as both a bedroom and playroom for Liam. The room is a large- sized upstairs room at the end of the hall with a walk in closet (great to store playroom items!), high windows (so Liam cannot easily climb on them), two long walls perfect for a mirror and shelves, as well as a bathroom that connects to our master bedroom.  The connected bathroom will be great for potty training as well as our nighttime needs. We can easily gate off the bathroom, and one of us can stay with Liam in his room if/when he has trouble sleeping.  We have some plans for a better sleep routine in a new house, also. Liam will go to his bedroom the same time the other kids go to sleep (let's say, 8:30pm) and have the option of looking at books or listening to music (no more television!). At this point in time, Nate will likely stay with him until he falls asleep.  If he awakes, one of us will stay in there with him (as needed, because hopefully some day he won't mind if we stay in bed!) but not encourage much movement or interaction to help his body cycle back down.  In the morning, his mattress can easily be stored in our room while he is having playroom sessions. And if he has a not-so-good night, he can always take a cat nap during the day but we won't let it be longer than 30 minutes.

 

The other major task before us in living in a new home is Liam-proofing the house, which also includes a bit of Ruby-proofing too. Of course we will be installing sturdy locks/latches on many doors (as well as the refrigerator!) and securing furniture to prevent any dangerous climbing.  Other things will likely be adjusted overtime as all the kids get used to their new surroundings.  Lately Liam has not been overly resistant to adhering to boundaries, but I have found with several kids now it is just easily to prevent battles rather than expend so much energy on redirection.  Overall, I am really looking forward to 'setting up house' in a few weeks and being homeowners again after a seven year break living in church manses. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we face these transitions!

A miraculous chain of events

Posted by Autumn Manzo on June 1, 2013 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

June 1, 2013


The last seven weeks have been fun yet very busy caring for our newborn daughter, Ruby.  The first three weeks were the easiest actually because Nate was off and our parents were around to help. However the last month, I have had to face the challenges of having three kids by myself for hours at a time. Three kids with drastically different needs, mind you, especially a baby that refuses to nurse so I must pump and feed her. My biggest obstacle: what do I do when all three kids need/want something at the same time?  Each one of them has learned to wait, even the baby. And although at first this was difficult for me to handle without anxiety, I see how it's been very good for everyone to learn patience. 


I had been so nervous about having a third kid when we first learned we were pregnant because I didn't know how it would impact our family life, especially with Liam's needs.  At first, it seemed like a third child would only decrease my one-on-one time with him. Logic and mathematics would suggest so. With three kids, my time with each would be divided into thirds rather than halves.   However I remember praying about this and God really encouraging me that Ruby was 'part of the family equation.'  Somehow it would be BETTER for Mycah and Liam because she was born, not worse.


Recently I saw the beginnings of this promise start to enfold. Liam has always loved his baths, and the last two years has really enjoyed extended bath time with lots of rolling and splashing and putting his face under the water.  We never minded cleaning up the occasional water spills because it seemed like good exercise for him. Since he always has so much energy, baths have been a great outlet during the winter months. I was so thankful I had a child who enjoyed bathing because I heard many stories of others' kids with autism who hated baths. Mycah and Liam used to bathe together until he was 2 and she was 4, because he started to splash so much and she didn't like that.  I also figured since they were brother and sister, maybe that was a good time to discontinue shared baths. When Nate and I were at the hospital with Ruby, my mom was watching Mycah and Liam at the house. She decided to give Liam a bath.  Not knowing our bathtub very well, she put him in first and then turned on the water.  The bathtub was set to shower, so Liam was startled by cold water coming down on top of his head.  My mom reported he cried hysterically and wanted away from the tub, which she honored. 



Returning home from the hospital, I decided to offer Liam a bath again. He would not even go near the bathroom. When I got him to go in one time, he stared at the shower head with intense fear on his face.  I started the water in the tub and showed him it would only come out from the spout. He wasn't convinced.  Thus the next two weeks we just did some sponge bathing because his response was the same every time he entered the bathroom and looked at the bathtub.  I talked with my family and friends about this issue, listening to suggestions.  After Liam got really dirty playing outside one day and I knew a sponge bath would not adequately clean him, I decided to force the issue of a bath.  I filled the tub with about 6 inches of water, put in bubbles and blue food dye to make it look appealing and thus, prepared it so no water would be running. I got Liam undressed, carried him into the bathroom and explained he needed a quick bath because he was so dirty. He whined as I placed him in the tub but didn't resist completely.  This lasted about a minute - enough time to get him clean, however, and then he wanted out.  I let him out and praised him for taking a bath!  The next weeks or so I requested he take a bath at least every other day or when he got really dirty.  He whined and cried some but would even willingly get in the tub. He would last only 1-3 minutes before wanting out. Except one day, he sat in the bathtub for ten minutes....and then it turned into twenty minutes. So I offered some bath toys, which he began to play with. He had not been interested in 'playing' with bath toys the past two years because splashing was his main interest. 


THEN, his sister Mycah noticed that Liam was sitting in the tub playing with dolphins and cups, but not splashing.  She asked if she could take a bath with him. My response was, "Sure!"  Mainly because six year old Mycah does not do much with Liam, and often gets annoyed when he doesn't play her way or moves her things.  I observed in delight as Mycah and Liam played well over an hour in the tub.  I requested that Mycah not splash water on his head, thinking he may get scared again.  Before I knew it, she splashed a cup of water in his face. Liam laughed!  Then he lifted the cup and poured it out onto his tongue and head himself. Then those silly gooses dumped water over each others' heads and Liam also put his face under the water again. I felt like I was watching a miracle. Just a few weeks ago, this child was terrified of water!  The biggest miracle was that this play session with her brother really changed Mycah's heart.  She saw him giggle and respond to the things she did.  She tickled him and kissed his nose, and after the bath she asked me if she could play with him more, hold his hand when they go places, and even sleep with him at night.  WOW.  I've taught Mycah a few simple ways to interact with Liam over the past few years which she has done on occasion, but since that day she actually seems to WANT to be around him.  He is looking at her more with delight verses coming to me for comfort after she tells him to 'go away.'  As a mother, this is wonderful to witness. I'm excited to brainstorm with Mycah more ways to interact with Liam.  I also feel that caring for Ruby will be a little easier if Mycah and Liam play nicely together!


So here is the chain of events....We have a baby....Water accidentally goes on top of Liam's head....Liam returns to bathing without major splashing....Sister Mycah observes less splashing and wants to join...Sibling relationship is enhanced....Voila!!  God is faithful.  Even if Liam gets less of me at times because of a third child, he may get more of Mycah and that may be just what he needs on his journey out of autism.

The Positive Side of Autism

Posted by Autumn Manzo on March 26, 2013 at 4:15 AM Comments comments (0)

March 26, 2013


I wanted to take some time to recount all the positive effects Liam's autism has had on our lives. Yes, there have been many challenges for our family but along with them some really profound blessings that leave me contemplative and thankful!


Our family is healthier than ever: In researching autism diets and any changes I could make to enhance Liam's body and immunity, I have learned SO much to apply to our entire family.  Over the past three years we've changed our eating habits substantially.  When Nate and I first got married I only bought frozen, pre-breaded or prepared meats because I was grossed out by raw meat. Now we only eat fresh, organic meat which I delight to prepare in bulk and freeze myself. I also remember buying vegetables because we knew they were 'good for us' but having to throw them out because they would get forgotten about in the fridge. Now, after grocery shopping our bottom rack of the refrigerator is  full of veggies along with a bottom drawer. Nate and I used to eat out a lot (and occasionally still do) but we often choose to dine in because we feel better knowing what's actually in our food.  We have also made great strides away from all sugars and most grains. Instead of fast food, I pack little sacks of healthy fruits and vegetables when we travel.  And with my third pregnancy, I am pleased to report I have gained only 27 lbs vs the 50 I put on with both Mycah and Liam. As a family, I notice that we experience better moods, more energy and less illness because of these changes.  Autism gave us a good reason to examine our lifestyle and eating habits. I'm thankful we've made these changes when our children are young so they can grow strong and healthy and hopefully keep up the healthy eating habits for life.


A stronger marriage: Autism has involved much financial commitment, food preparation time, as well as therapy and sleep schedules which I admit, has resulted in less 'date nights' and overall time together. Sometimes we are 'split' a lot where one parent is with Mycah and the other with Liam. However, there is a greater appreciation for the time Nate and I do share, so our time together is better spent. We are better listeners and encouragers. Even though we recognize that our conversations often center around work or family concerns, we give plenty of attention to each other's personal experiences of the joys and challenges each faces. Our Son-Rise Program has been instrumental in teaching us how to take ownership for our own beliefs and the emotions they generate, so we don't play the 'blame game' any more.  Instead, we often share our self-awareness and the beliefs that lead us in happier directions.  And with adding another child to our family in just a few weeks, we've brainstormed many ways to help one another adjust.  Autism has helped us become better team players and I know after ten years of marriage, we're only stronger because of it!


Better relationships with our kids: Our treatment program of choice, the Son-Rise Program, hinges on developing a supportive relationship with a child.  I think their approach can be applied in principle to any parent/child relationship!  First, we are show up and show our child unconditional love. Secondly, we sense that our child indeed feels loved and secure (otherwise, we might change our methods of expression). Finally, if we have established a relationship of trust and respect, we can inspire social growth and effectively share our values with our children . For us, showing a child love means unconditionally accepting all our children as they are even if we'd prefer they be different. Of course we prefer Liam be able to verbally communicate more and enjoy more varied activities. Of course we prefer Mycah to handle boundaries without emotional outbursts.  There will be things with child #3 I am sure we'll prefer to be different as well. However, we choose to love and accept our children as they are knowing that to ever get from A to B, a relationship is crucial. So we opt for less technology and more playtime. Less multitasking and more focused attention. Some parenting methods suggest to bypass relationships with children and simply use techniques like rewards, punishment, fear and anger to teach children. Even if these methods succeed in getting a child to behave exactly as desired when they are young, it's often not without damage to the relationship. And as children grow older and wiser, these methods work less and less. Now and into their adulthood, we want to be allys to our children, not adversaries. So the methods we choose, which center on respect, love and understanding, make for a happy home where everyone feels valued and important. I think the fact that Mycah and Liam always want to be with us, in some fashion or another, shows us we are on the right track!


Confidence to Be Who We Are: I remember taking Liam to the mall to play when he was two and really wondering what other parents were thinking as he ran and laughed to himself. Basically, I feared they were judging him as 'strange' compared to their neurotypical kids. I remember trying to get Mycah to sit still with me in church when she was three and she'd blatantly tell me "No!" and run around the sanctuary. I feared that others judged me as a 'bad' mom who couldn't control their toddler.  You know what autism has helped me do?!  Totally NOT care what others think. I don't mean never listen or consider others' perspectives, but not waste time wondering who's judging what. So what if they are?  That really doesn't have to influence my happiness or my decisions. Whew. What freedom to just be who we are!  Now if we take Liam out somewhere I don't even wonder what others think, I just enjoy how he's benefitting from the experience. Now I can even be comfortable at church when Mycah growls at people who say good morning to her (I must add that I do ask her not to do this, but alas, I recognize it is her choice). I trust she'll receive social feedback and decide for herself how long she wants to greet others this way!  Whether it comes to healthy lifestyle choices, autism treatment or parenting methods, I feel we make decisions and pursue what we want unapologetically.  And we get to teach our kids, by example, to be who they are and be proud of it!


And that, my friends, is why there IS a positive side to autism afterall, and I am thankful to have found it. :0)





New Baby Concerns

Posted by Autumn Manzo on March 13, 2013 at 4:00 AM Comments comments (0)

March 13, 2013

Reality is starting to sink in that in less than a month, I will be a mother of three kids!  There hasn't been a newborn in our home in over four years, which really makes it extra special for me.  I am so excited to snuggle with a child that's immobile...at least for a while!  While this is a major transition for any family, having a child with autism in the mix poses a few different challenges for us.

 

For the past 4 1/2 years, Liam has been the youngest child and has enjoyed access to Mommy throughout most of the day.  He has always been my 'snuggler' unlike his sister Mycah.  Mycah didn't seem to mind Liam's presence that much as a spunky two year-old as long as I talked with her while I was nursing or tending to Liam.  Because Liam is much more physical with me, I know I will face a few challenges when baby and I will need our space.  Liam has always been very sensory-seeking and likes to hug and squeeze us, particularly our arms.  Typically we respond by hugging him back or offering physical games. He is getting very strong, however, and his little fingers can become quite pinchy so we've been telling him, "Ouch. That's enough!" at times and moving away to redirect him. Even pregnant, I am been able to move away pretty quickly and redirect Liam to something else squishy to squeeze.  I do wonder how this works with nursing an infant, which typically requires sitting still, if I don't have extra help around.  I guess I will have some of those 'squeeze' items near me to offer him if needed.  I also want to accomodate Liam's wishes to snuggle with the baby's needs, so I will obviously utilize Nate's help whenever possible and also show Liam how he is always welcome to sit by me while I nurse the baby.  He's a smart kid, so I know he'll catch on even if it takes several attempts to teach him.

 

Another concern is the baby's overall safety.  Because Liam is so physical, we need to take extra precautions to make sure he doesn't accidently harm the baby.  He hasn't really been around babies so it will be interesting to see what he thinks in general. I definitely plan to show him how to nicely touch the baby and encourage this much in the same way I encouraged Mycah to touch Liam.  I do know, however, I cannot simply lay the baby on the bed (for example) to do something in the room because Liam often likes to come crash on the bed. He can unintentionally crash into Mycah or disturb her activities just because he's having fun running or bouncing.  I also have the challenge before me of baby equipment like bouncers/swings/play pen. Liam likes to use everything as a Jungle Jim and when we did bring an exersaucer in the house, he climbed in it assuming it was for him!  I know if I want to use this items, I will need to with a lot of supervision and explaining to Liam how these items are only for the baby.  And when the baby is not using them, they will most likely need to be put away to prevent Liam from being injured or the items from being damaged by his weight.

 

Some things to help me with these challenges includes an awesome Nuroopocket shirt that will allow me to wear the baby when the baby is less than 15 lbs, and then I plan to use a sling when the baby is over 15 lbs if the baby still prefers closeness.  The last year I have been reading up on attachment parenting and realizing that a lot of what I do with Mycah and Liam already alignes with this parenting philosophy.  Baby wearing is a great way to help enhance bonding between mother and child and for our family, will likely be the safest place for baby. Baby wearing also decreases fussiness, improves neural development and helps breastfeeding succeed... and that all sounds good to me!

 

Support from my mom and my in-laws, who have offered to come up for weeks at a time, will also be extremely helpful.  I am looking forward to the extra sets of hands to prepare meals and entertain both Mycah and Liam which will give me that rest time and chance to really get to know and bond with the new baby.  It's a blessing too to have spring and summer upon us, meaning the kids can get outside which they both love. Nate or family can supervise while they enjoy the backyard, local parks and swimming at the local area club.  I don't know how much I will be doing outdoors this spring and summer, but at least there will be plenty to keep the kids entertained and maybe I can even catch up on sleep.  Oh yeah....sleep, that's another issue...but looks like Daddy will basically be on Liam duty if he has sleeping issues and I will be on baby duty.  That will be quite an adjustment as well. If needed, I know Nate will take both baby and Liam and give me a few hours of rest or vice versa.  We work really well as a team to make sure the other gets at least functional sleep for the next day.  We'll also be trying to get to the root of Liam's sleeping issues and hopefully dietary changes will help. Let's also pray this next baby is a good sleeper! 

 

Overall we are really looking forward to the adventures and lessons another child will bring.  I'm sure there'll be challenges I couldn't even foresee, but as long as we remain flexible and optimistic, I believe we can handle anything!

 

 

 

 

Adjustments

Posted by Autumn Manzo on March 4, 2013 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

March 4, 2013

We are making some adjustments to Liam's treatment protocols for autism.  I am learning this is just part of the journey, as we parents assess what works and what doesn't work as effectively. One major motivation to make adjustments NOW is Liam's continued sleeping issues. He has difficulty going without an afternoon nap and getting continuous sleep throughout the night. With most toddlers, the reports are that once you remove the nap, they sleep more at night.  This seems to backfire with Liam!  And his nighttime wakings are not just stirring or a short period, but up to 4 hrs of intense physical energy.  Considering baby #3 is due in just 5 weeks, it would be wonderful to make progress toward Liam achieving a more predictable sleep pattern. Afterall, Mom and Dad do need their rest in order to engage in the various components of Liam's treatment, such as preparing his special diet and spending quality hours with him in his Son-Rise playroom, not to mention caring for two other children and other life pursuits.

 

We found Liam a new Nutritionist/Chiropractor, Dr. Sargent, and we will be undergoing some stool and blood tests just to get an overall picture of how his body is currently functioning.  We removed many supplements from Liam's system the last nine months on the MMS protocol and added several new ones. We also treated Liam for parasites, ascaris to be specific, and after much output the first six months we noticed a steady decrease in dead worms. He may not be 'parasite-free' yet, but I would like to know how his gut and body is functioning before I continue with parasite protocol.  I am also interested to see which, if any, nutritional deficiencies may currently exist as well as food sensitivities, for they could totally be responsible for sleep issues.  Liam's food sensitivities had decreased by 60% from age 2 to 3 with the addition of several supplements and the removal of gluten and casein proteins as well as avoiding many foods that tested positive on food sensitivity blood tests. Our whole family has also gone 99% natural/organic over the past two years. However, there are strictor autism diets that I have looked into, tested a few recipes with Liam here and there, but have never really 'committed to' in hopes that partial restrictions would be enough to heal his body.  One diet I feel we could follow is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  This diet restricts all complex carbohydrates, even gluten-free grains such as tapioca flour, rice, quinoa and buckwheat as well as corn,soy, and potatoes.  The idea is to starve the bad bacteria in the intestines, which is theorized to cause imbalanced yeast, poor healthy flora, and dysbiosis (leaky bowel syndrome resulting in immune responses to many foods).  As you starve the bad bacteria, you also replenish the body with probiotics such as those found in homemade goat milk yogurt and a probiotic supplement.  If the whole family does not follow this diet, Liam will have to be fed at least away from those items that are restricted, which can pose a challenge...one reason why I always hoped something less strict would work!  When he was younger, he didn't seem to care what others were eating but now he is much more aware when something else looks 'better'. I have been learning more how to bake cookies/muffins/breads using almond flour and coconut flour as bases and sweetened with stevia.  This is something I want the entire family to move towards anyways (for grains are actually quite destructive to our immune and digestive systems) so that is my goal for the remainder of the year!

 

Meanwhile, Liam was also scanned at the chiropractor's office and has a cervical disc (neck vertebrae) significantly out of alignment with his spine.  He has a few lower discs slightly out of alignment also, but the cervical is the worst. I actually assumed this already because I have always been able to literally feel a bulge on the side of his neck. Dr. Sargent adjusted him and recommended he be adjusted three times a week at a local chiropractor's office.  I had been considering adjustments for over a year but nervous because of his age and possible lack of comprehending. Like many things, we explained what Dr. Sargent would do to him in the office and besides being a little scared afterwards, he did really well.  Liam did have the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times at birth.  It is very possible that a malalignment predisposed him to develop neurological sensitivity, which became activated by many of the environmental factors such as exposure to antibiotics, vaccinations, environmental toxins in during my pregnancy as well as consumed foods, etc; resulting in autism.  Who knows, but at least we can perhaps make some additional progress if Liam's body is more on the mend and aligned!

 

A few awesome things to report of course...Liam continues to be affectionate, playful and such an amazing problem-solver when it comes to getting things he wants. His is emerging in stage 2 now on the Social Developmental Model! Liam played air hockey with me at a friend's house for at least five minutes!  He would stop the puck, like many kids, reposition it and then hit it toward me. The game only ended when I made a goal and Liam realized he liked the sound of the puck going in more than the game itself.  He would take several pucks and put them in his goal, retrieve them, and repeat.  But later we also played ski ball and Liam would request I roll the balls because he realized he didn't have the arm strength. He would hand me a ball and then I would say, "I, 2, 3...roll!" and then cheer no matter what score I got. Although I think Liam liked the rewarding sounds of the machine, he was very engaged with me when I would put my hand out and request a new ball, and would vocalize if I waited to roll with a lot of eye contact.  His major ism at home has been climbing and squeezing us, which we are brainstormed how to build upon and utilize toward interactions.  He often speaks to us in unclear sentences because he will repeat phrases that we just cannot understand.  We try to interpret the best we can! Some of his newest consistent words are "Nakie" when he wants his clothes off, "a baa" for 'a bath," "out" when he wants to go into a different room and 'eat bee' for 'eat bread' (see why a strictor diet is likely needed?). He's been getting consistent playroom time with our paid helper Tricia, but more lifestyle around the house with Dad and Mom.  This is basically due to Mom's pregnancy and Daddy always recovering from lack of sleep. BUT we are planning to really expand his Son-Rise program by fall to 30+ hrs/week and are working on a few ways to acheive this. :0)

 

Since I am getting more and more immobile as I reach the final stages of pregnancy, sometimes we snuggle on the bed and play Liam's LeapPad or IPad games together.  Son-Rise does not recommend the use of electronics and I can see why, for I don't believe Liam is growing socially by using these devices. However he is improving his fine motor skills and able to do puzzles, match shapes, create art and do mazes. These are things we have trouble doing with actual objects because he usually wants to throw puzzle pieces or eat art supplies!  So I try to at least be present with and helpful to Liam for the short periods we allow him to use these devices.  The good thing is he is not 'obsessed' with or dependent on them. Sometimes ten minutes is enough and then he just throws them aside.  It's more of a tool for me to get him to physically sit still in one spot so I can rest!  It is being still that can lead to his short afternoon nap (why car rides work so well), even though one might assume he's being visually stimulated.  He tends to be more stimulated by movement these days.  We are definitely looking forward to spring and summer, and the wonderful outlets of outdoor play. 

 

As our family undergoes many adjustments the next few months, we are very grateful for the Son-Rise Program and how we can approach changes with optimism and joy. Attitude really is everything.  We strive to not let the challenges of autism get the best of us, but to rise to the occasion and see the great opportunities to love autism provides.  We feel very blessed for each of our unique children and are truly enjoying them each and every day!


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