Tuesday

Wyatt's World

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, I have asked my friend Jennifer to share her story with us. Jenn's son, Wyatt, is a 6 year old boy living with Autism, and this is her story...


When I saw my son for the first time, I never thought he’d become a statistic; a faceless number with a label that’s both controversial and misunderstood…my son has Autism. As soon as you read that word, I’m sure your mind wanders to what the mainstream media has fed you: a mute, antisocial child who is aggressive, absent, and rocking in a corner somewhere. As with most things in the media, this is not reality. I want to share a little about how Autism looks in my household. I also want to share my experience to not only spread awareness and education about Autism, but change your perception on Autism and the stigma that follows that label. 

My son Wyatt is a rambunctious 6 year-old typical boy. He loves to roll around in the dirt, wear his cape and pretend to be Superman and crash trucks into each other while Ironman shoots lasers at Optimus Prime. He loves to cook, watch movies, sing, dance, play with animals, and laugh his little face off. He also happens to have Autism. His journey with Autism began when he was seven months old. My husband and I began to notice that our little miracle baby wasn’t developing like other babies his age. He wasn’t sitting up, rolling around, or attempting to crawl like other babies were. We took him to his pediatrician who assured us he was fine…boys develop slowly, nothing is wrong. A month later, my husband tragically passed away. At that moment, I was faced with the reality that I was now a single mother and had to ensure my son never felt like something was missing from his life. 

A month or so after my husband passed, I noticed that Wyatt still had made no progress in his development. Back to the pediatrician I went and again I heard her famous line “Boys are slow. Don’t worry about it”. But, a mother’s intuition runs deep and I KNEW something wasn’t right. What followed were months and months of various pediatrician visits and online searching. I was determined to find an answer so I could help Wyatt reach his developmental goals for his age. During this time, every little milestone Wyatt achieved was celebrated with pomp and circumstance. He walked at 18 months and uttered his first coherent word a little after he turned 2. By this time, I had pinpointed a few possible disorders or delays that fit Wyatt’s various symptoms. On the bottom of my list was Autism. Since doctors still didn’t want to help me out, I chose to go back to school and educate myself on mental disorders and delays that could afflict a child in their early years of development. This is where I learned just what Autism meant…and I realized it described a majority of Wyatt’s symptoms. Long story short, on the day of my graduation from the local community college, May 25, 2012, I got the call that my son was diagnosed with Autism and Cognitive & Adaptive Delays. After years of fighting and pushing for some answers, I was finally given a solid explanation and treatment options for my son. 

For those of you who may not know about Autism, I’ll try and share what I can so that you will have a clearer picture in your mind about this increasingly common mental disorder. To begin, there are three terms thrown around a lot that are actually similar: Autism, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified). Autism is considered a spectrum disorder. This means that it has varying degrees of severity and symptom presentation; a child diagnosed with ASD falls on the spectrum in some capacity. Those diagnosed with PDD-NOS may have some characteristics of ASD, but mostly present with atypical symptoms that don’t fit into the ASD category.


What’s most important to know is that each and every child diagnosed with ASD, Autism, and/or PDD-NOS are unique. Each child presents with different symptoms in a varying degree of severity. Because of this, there is no set list of symptoms that qualify an ASD diagnosis, but there is a large list of ‘typical’ symptoms that a child MAY have to a varied degree. Typically, a child with ASD has little or no eye contact, obsessive interests, trouble with change, delayed speech and language skills, unusual reactions related to the senses (the way things smell, sound, taste, etc.), repetitive behaviors, prefers to play alone, may avoid personal contact, and has odd behaviors, also called stimming (i.e. slapping hands, skipping, runs in circles). Again, these are just a few of the ‘typical’ symptoms that you may see, but each child varies in the degree in which they have the symptom. Typical age of diagnosis is around 18 months and EARLY INTERVENTION is key in ensuring a functional life for the child. Things like speech and occupational therapy and ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) are important staples in the child’s life. Once the child is of school age, you’ll collaborate with teachers and administrators in creating an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which is a contract of sorts that sets goals and guidelines for your child that the teachers must follow in the classroom. 

This may seem like a lot of information, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is why education is important for everyone. You may believe that you don’t have to know anything about Autism, ASD, and PDD-NOS because your child “doesn’t have it”. This may be so, but I can guarantee you or your child knows someone with one of these diagnoses. In 2010, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states the prevalence of Autism at 1 in 68. You read that right folks, 1 in every 68 children are diagnosed with Autism. Boys have a higher prevalence of diagnosis (1 in 42) than girls (1 in 189), but these current numbers aren’t promising. In fact, just two years prior, the prevalence was 1 in 88. Just take a minute to let that digest…1 in 68…1 in 42 boys…1 in 189 girls. Autism is more common than you may have previously thought. 


Yes, my son is one of those 42 boys diagnosed with Autism. There was no telltale sign at birth that this would happen. I didn’t do illegal drugs, drink, or smoke while pregnant. I went to all my prenatal appointments and exercised regularly. I did everything right yet my son is now 1 in 42. But, in our house, Autism doesn’t define my son. Wyatt is treated like any other 6 year-old boy: he’s expected to go to school, do his homework, do his chores, and have manners. Most of the time I’m told that Wyatt “doesn’t look autistic” and of course this is true because what does Autism look like? I ponder this question a lot and have yet to find an answer. 

So, here is how Autism looks in my household: Wyatt has a strict weekday schedule that ensures he is in bed by 8PM so he can wake up for school in the morning. On the weekends, he’s free to do as he pleases. He loves watching movies and most of the time will watch the same movie 5-6 times before he’s ready to move on to another. I can recite all the Transformers movies verbatim I now know more about dinosaurs than I would have liked to. With the help of an amazing speech therapist, Wyatt can now carry a coherent conversation. I remember when he was little I used to pray that he would one day talk and now I find myself constantly telling him to be quiet. Wyatt likes to hum and skip/run around from time to time (it’s clear he’s not fully present when he does this). It’s now an endearing part of his personality and he has since been named our little hummingbird. 

Wyatt is considered high functioning. This basically means he falls lower on the spectrum, so his symptoms aren’t as severe as they could be. Because of my earlier suspicions, my parents and I made a point to make Wyatt look us in the eyes and interact with others at the park. This is one reason why his diagnosis took so long: he has excellent eye contact and is very sociable. It’s still a little difficult at times: he’s currently in the process of being potty trained (thank you God!) and still has a meltdown very so often. He still gets stares when he has a meltdown in public and I’m told to either leave the establishment or control my child. I have to inform them that he is autistic and cannot be ‘controlled’ but rather be left to calm down and focus on something else. He is extremely picky with eating, so I have to find creative ways in sneaking fruits and vegetables into his meals. God forbid if you give him a piece of meat or take away his staple food: raisin toast. 

Yes, Wyatt’s schedule takes up a bit of time and it’s hard to plan a day out until I know his mood, but this is my son. This is just a small piece of what makes him Wyatt. He’s hilarious, loves science, and can decently carry a tune. He’s called the animal whisperer because animals follow and love on him (he’s currently adopted two random ducks that visit our house daily), and he loves to play, be goofy, and just be a 6 year-old boy. 

So, this is a small snapshot of my son’s life with Autism. His life isn’t over because of this label; it’s just a tad bit different. He may be autistic, he may be 1 in 42 boys, but to me, he’s Wyatt and I wouldn’t change him for the world. 

For more information about Autism, please visit the following sites and spread awareness! Remember, early diagnosis and intervention is vital in providing a functional adult life for the child!!



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Autism Speaks

National Autism Association







Wednesday

Allow me to reintroduce myself...



I've been out of the blogging game for a good while, and now that I am back I know that some of my long time blogging buddies are gone and I am hoping to make some new pals. I thought it only right to reintroduce myself, my name is Jessica, and I am a mommy of two beautiful mixed babies (almost 3 & 3 months). I am married to my best bud, going on 7 years. We live in a wacky little house on the central coast of California (Monterey/San Francisco Bay Area). I've been blogging since 2009, you can check out the archives at: heyjayka.blogspot.com & my pregnancy blog from my first son at: discoveringalonzo.blogspot.com. You can learn a little more with the help of a fun 10 question meme...


Hello!

1. What do you go by?
Most people call me Jayka, but work and church folks still call me Jessica.

2. What's ya sign girl?
Gemini-Cancer cusp. I really used to be into this kind of thing, but I don't really care anymore.

3. If money was no object, where would you move to?
San Francisco or Chicago. SF would be nice because it's close to home, but with all of the museums and yummy food. Chicago would be awesome because it is the city that my hubby and I fell in love in, but everyone needs to stop killing each other before I can move my boys out there.

4. Did you make any resolutions for this year? What were they?
Yes, I did! I am working on getting healthy for myself and my family. I also am going to try my best to stay positive and be more assertive with people so that I can stop internalizing so many things.

5. Is there a song which can bring you to tears instantly?
The Panties by Mos Def, especially when sung by Mara Hruby.


6. What perfume do you wear?
I don't really wear a perfume. I have this thing where I can't justify to spend money on things that I really don't need, and perfume is one of those things I never really got into. I do like j'adore by Dior.

7. What is your favorite drink?
I love Dr. Pepper and milk. Not at the same time.

8. What is your favorite meal?
The meal that I am usually craving is a cheese Chicago style pizza from Giordano's. It's one of the things I miss most about Chicago!

9. Favorite book of all time?
It's a tie! I love the Happiness Project & Happier at Home. Check them out for sure!

10. Have you ever been out of the country, if so how many times?
I've been to Mexico a few times, and I've traveled to the Netherlands & England. London was the best foreign visit.

Anything else you would like to know, feel free to ask! or you may learn it in time from the posts to come.

I have all of my social media links up top, please feel free to connect with me on any or all platforms, I would love to get to know who is out there.

Let's Connect!

Tuesday

Quesadilla Remix: Sweet Potato


Last week I tried a new recipe and completely fell in love with it, so I thought it'd be nice to share. Since I've been trying to eat healthier and include more veggies in our meals I picked up a couple sweet potatoes while we were out grocery shopping. I had seen many different preparations in my instagram feed and wanted to give it a shot. 
After flipping though a couple of recipes I was ready to give the Sweet Potato Quesadilla a chance. Growing up my grandmother used to make quesadillas for us as an after school snack. Her quesadillas were made with lots of queso fresco. They were fried and sprinkled with salt. They were my favorite, and as you are probably thinking after reading that description, they were not very healthy or nutritious. 

So here is the new twist --- The sweet potato quesadilla was made as a dinner plate, not an afternoon snack, so I really packed this guy full. My quesadilla included sweet potato, spinach, tomato, chorizo sausage, and a sprinkle of mozzarella . I used fajita size tortillas to cut some calories, and paired it with a quinoa salad. This dish was tasty and oh so very filling. 

The hubby enjoyed it and I made an open face style "pizza" for my toddler son.

After all of that yumminess I wasn't sure exactly how healthy it turned out to be, but it was veggie packed and only 9 weight watcher points for two of these, which to me, wasn't bad at all.

Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 6 tortillas of your choice
  • 4 cups spinach 
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil cooking spray

Preparation

  1. Microwave potatoes on high until tender (about 15 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, in a skillet saute spinach, tomatoes, and sausage in a few spritz of olive oil cooking spray.
  3. Split cooked potatoes open with a fork; remove flesh and transfer to a bowl (you should have about 1 cup). Use a fork to mash potato and salt/pepper to taste (add a little milk to smooth if desired); divide potato filling among tortillas. Top each with veggies, sausage, and a sprinkle of cheese.
  4. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Spritz with olive oil cooking spray and place a few folded quesadillas in skillet at a time. Toast & melt cheese (about 3 minutes per side). Transfer cooked quesadilla to serving plate.

You can totally customize these with your favorite veggies. What are some of your favorite sweet potato recipes? Have you never tried sweet potato? Check out this article on 9 Health Benefits of this yummy veggie!

Thursday

5 Tips - Surviving the Terrible Twos


Today was an especially trying day for me. My lovely two year old was being demanding, stubborn, and whiny most of the afternoon. He wasn't following directions, he didn't want to take his nap, and I needed him to take that nap because I needed a break! 

In the middle of his meltdown, Mommy started to have a meltdown as well. I was ready to put the kid on the porch and lock the door. I know that sounds terrible, but I think we've all been there a time or two. I had to step back, breath, and remember some of the things that I am always saying to Dad when I see him getting ready to blow.

A quote by one of my favorites, Henry David Thoreau, came to mind...
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."
What this means to me is that what I am looking at is a floppy body, tear sprouting toddler gone wild, but what my compassionate eye sees is a floppy body, tear sprouting toddler that is tired and lacking a way of pleasant expression.

Once I get my mind in the right state I am able to help him express his needs, and fulfill them within reason. I am no where near the perfect parent, but here I am offering 5 tips that help keep most interactions positive between the wild child and myself. Take what you like, scrap what you don't, and please share what's helped you survive the toddler years.

1. Be Assertive. Be fair. Be understanding.
If your spouse/b.f.f. can't read your mind, your tot definitely cannot either. If you are expecting action on their part you need to be direct with what you would like for them to do and how you expect for it to be completed. Make sure your expectations are within the limits of their ability and comprehension. 

2. Pick your battles.
Don't say no when you can say yes. If you child wants something and it is not going to throw the Earth off of it's axis, then why not say yes? You don't want to become a Yes man, but you don't want to be a No Monster either. If your child is too afraid that you will always say no, chances are high that you will end up with a sneaky little liar. 

3. Communicate.
"Because I said so." is as frustrating to hear from us, as it was for us to hear. Try to avoid sarcasm and bossy remarks when speaking with your kids. Giving them reasons for you actions and reactions will help them to understand the relationship between things, and get their mind connecting the dots.

4. Don't ask if you can't handle an honest answer.
So many times I have V8-style hit myself on the head after giving Alonzo a way out of what I just asked for. All it takes is a simple, "okay?" at the end of your statement. Now that statement is an option which you've given your tot a chance to reject. That or I'll say something like, "Do you want a time out?" and the smarty pants says "YES!" Okay, so now he's on a time out that he put himself on and has completely taken my power away. Well played little man. He gets up two minutes later claiming a victory over mom and guess who ends up cross armed and frustrated after that one.

5. Buy an iPad.
This one came straight from the lips of daddy, and after hearing it I totally agree. Sometimes you need an escape as much as they need an escape, and you should not feel guilty about that. You are not a bad parent if you allow your child a way to relax and entertain themselves. Keep limits and supervision on usage and you are good to go. A tablet can be an interactive learning tool. Download the right apps, load the right restrictions, and let you kid practice ABC's, play matching games, and occasionally watch a Netflix video all while you sit back and take a break for yourself or wash dishes, try to take a shower, or sneak an unhealthy snack.

Bonus 6. Be affectionate and vocalize your love and appreciation.
In good and bad times hold your child close. Help them feel secure and loved. Knowing that you are there for them in good times and bad goes a long way with a kid. As they grow up and begin to have more and more experiences out of the home, they will know that they can share with you things that are happening to them or that they have done. You want to build a strong bond based on trust, love, and understanding. That starts now. Don't shame your child. Love your child. Help them work through difficult emotions. Try to show compassion even when you are ready to lock them out of your house. Don't shout, speak with kindness as much as possible. Try to remember that once upon a time we have been where they are and it's now our turn to treat them the way that we wish we would have been treated and that they need us to treat them.

Enjoy your emotional little bundles of energy. I'm off to snuggle with my monster right now.