I’m Keeping It Moving!

Soooooo, I thought this is as good an excuse as any to put up another post … because, WHY NOT?! 
Short, sweet, and to the point.

Everyone’s favorite (I think?!) Caffeinated Advocate (ummmmm, MEEEE!) is going to be “Keeping it Moving” by chatting with Maryland autism supermom and podcaster April Green and her hubby Vondell tomorrow night on “Keeping It Moving with April and Vondell!” 

Their podcast was created to help people navigate life’s struggles with faith, joy and purpose, especially those impacted by autism and #mentalhealth conditions. They feature guests as well as some fun segments during the show. I’ll be sharing personal experiences, perspectives, and advice.
Anyone who wants to listen in can call 1-515-604-9292 or via livestream at the link below at 8PM EST tomorrow night, 1/31/19:
Want me to be a guest on YOUR podcast? 
Contact me via any of my social media platforms, or shoot me a DM!

Abundant love … and WARMTH … to you all on this polar vortex evening in the ‘Burgh!

Always Strong

This totally isn’t a way I would describe myself on the day to day, even though it’s how others often view me. I do refer to myself as a “gladiator” (thanks, chief) for surviving more than the average 40YO has had to endure in their lifetime to date. But I don’t at all look in the mirror and say “that girl in there, she is always strong.”

Maybe I should.  Maybe … I … should?

In my last blog, you could see that I needed a break from the hustle. Though 2018 was filled with more changes and much self-discovery with my family, my relationships, and my career calling, I couldn’t keep going at the rate that I was. Conversations filled by both laughter and tears with trusted friends reminded me that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself, that I am running my own race, and that is ok to take the time I need to recover. After a rocky end to 2018 and realizing I wasn’t going to meet all the goals I set for myself, I decided on the word “restore” to center me in 2019.

I follow, read and absorb the work of Shellie Hipsky, Donna Anne Pace, Kristie Knights, Kristine Irwin, Jordan Corcoran, Mary Lee Gannon, Lisa Nichols, Dr. Ali Griffith, Rachel Hollis, Jen Sincero, Valorie Burton, David Allen, Steve Harvey, Ashley Stahl, Jenni Schafer, Crystal Paine, and Brene Brown to name … ok more than a few. I share these names so perhaps you can draw inspiration from these folks as well as you move through your own self-discovery and restoration. Oxygen mask … self … first. Google them. Follow them on social media and check out what they’ve done. Discover some awesomeness.

At the end of 2018, after returning to a role I hold so dear, I threw myself into about a million and one things and set so many goals for myself, that I completely set myself up for failure. I wanted to drink more water, workout between the gym and walking at least 5 days a week, excel at my job, support my family, hold down a relationship, read 20 books before the end of the year, blog once a week, write half of my draft for Imprisoned No More, participate in podcasts, write guest blogs when approached, get my finances in better order, do more home repairs, and and and and and and … ARE YOU TIRED YET? I’m tired from typing it.

When you have too many goals, you cannot help but stumble a bit and you end up half-assing everything. And you are SO. DAMN. TIRED. We are human beings living a human experience, and I need to remember that.

And going back to that for a second, I hate half-assing things. I like to whole ass them, thanks.

Anyways, I can tell you this … I have learned, processed, and comprehended important life lessons and found so much strength in my ability to cope, to move forward, to let go of what doesn’t serve me, and to be more gentle with myself.

In a recent text exchange with my boss about another of my son’s public vents on social media (frustrating, but certainly his right), he said to me “you have the resolve of a super hero, thank goodness.”

Deep down … we ALL have the ability to be superheroes. And we need to believe it.

To my readers who love, care for, educate and support someone who impacted in some way by a diagnosis …

I SEE YOU. 

I see you, I watch you, I hear you, and I love you, no question. Being a caretaker, being an advocate, and this whole adulting thing to boot? It’s not a simple road.

But … we can keep our cars on this road. I swear to you … you can, you will, survive. If you are reading this, you’ve survived every single day up until now, and I certainly pray tomorrow is no different!

You may not have all of the answers, and you may grow tired seeking them. You grow tired of “what school?” “what therapist?” “what diet?” “what medication?” “what social group?” “what toys?” “what app?” “”what program?” “what job?” “what nurse?” or just … “WHAT NOW?”

I had a lot of “what now?”s this year with Christian. He had many ups and downs between medication and nutritional management, finding stable work, trying to find a place for himself  socially, keeping his moods in check (and some of those moments for us were quite dark and frightening, out of respect I will stop there), and in general, navigating the adult world. It is hard for ANY 20-something, but add autism and a dash of mental health afflictions to the mix, it’s much more complicated no matter where the person falls on the spectrum.

The end of 2018 brought him some new adventures however, in that he obtained his learner’s permit after a year and a half of study and he’s learned new skills while volunteering at Kane Regional Center in McKeesport. Digging deep meeting with his OVR counselor and job coach, he said “I like food service, but I really want to help people. Maybe that’s what I should try instead of working at stores.” He was fixated more on Kane because that was where my father spent his final days, and that is where a friend of mine is a resident at the age of 38. Both as a child and today as a young adult, Christian has thrived on connection and caretaking. He enjoys supporting the activities, running the coffee socials, attending field trips, transporting residents to and from therapy and church services. Staff and the clergymen and women at the center have approached me many times, hugged me and said “We just love our Christian!” He is still hoping to land a position there, but so far, no dice. He had an interview that was “so-so” as he described it, and he hasn’t heard back yet. He’s working with his coach once or twice a week putting in applications and hustling, so I’m hoping for the best. But look at what he’s done – he is volunteering his time – 8 hour days – so he can learn a new trade. Pretty doggone cool, isn’t it?

Yes, I am letting him drive Snowflake (if you aren’t aware, that’s what I named my beloved 2018 white Jeep Renegade which is the vehicle I’ve wanted for years). If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is! He isn’t doing half bad, in fact, if I’m honest I think he picked up road skills more quickly than I did. Of course, he has yet to parallel park and he says that judging the distances for parking is hard for him. The apple does NOT fall far from the tree here, folks!

As for me, my work keeps me busy, but is rewarding even on my longest days. I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflecting and am taking steps towards becoming my best self. I’ve been around for forty years, and I plan to stick around for twice as long … maybe I’ll outlive Betty White (she can NEVER DIE), who knows?! This year is including an abundant load of personal and professional development to truly help me map out what I want to do during my blessed time on God’s green Earth. I was just accepted into a course on advocacy and policymaking, I’m going to be coached by an international mastermind (a once tenured professor who also worked in special ed, so she understands my heart), I’m going to be … PUBLISHED! … in the spring as part of a collaborative book project, will be participating in more podcasts, will be featured in an international magazine (more info on that soon!) and I am determined to finish my book come hell or high water now that I have a better idea of the direction I need to take with it.

But all that being said … I know that I have to recognize when I’m approaching my line in the sand. I may need to take moments – days even – to restore myself. As long as I don’t unpack there for an extended stay, it’s all good.

Always strong … I need to keep reminding myself of this. Even when I … we … don’t feel like we can go on, we can, and we will. I don’t like the alternative, so, I’ll keep … “keeping it moving.” Right, April? I said, am I right?!

I think I have found the phrase for the second tattoo I have wanted for years (if I get over my needle fear). Thanks, Jennifer and Hilary – xoxo.

Until next time, readers … good night and sweet dreams, my well wishes sent with abundant love. I won’t be a stranger. Pinky swear.

The Struggle Bus Runs on Coffee

Why has Cathy been quiet?

I’m struggling. I’m done pretending I’m not. The Caffeinated Advocate is waving a white flag stained with salted caramel coffee spots (try it – Aldi’s K-Cups are actually pretty bomb-diggity).

I haven’t blogged in months, despite my spiffy new logo (thanks again a billion times over to Eric Buczynski of Digi-Detox Computer Services and my dear friend). I haven’t written a chapter in weeks … a month, maybe? I don’t know, it’s probably been longer than that. I thought that my latest reads and follows (David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, Jen Sincero’s “You Are A Badass,” and Rachel Hollis’s “Girl, Wash Your Face” to name a few recent faves) would have perked me up more and propelled me forward. Well, sure they helped me push towards my goal of reading 5 books over the next year, set for myself because all I have done the past two years is skim social media or flip through Mama’s Betty’s celeb mags.

Nope. I’m tired.

I’m. so. damn. tired.

My self care has SUCKED. I can’t sugarcoat that – sucked, sucked, and suuuuuuuuuuuuucked. I take small moments here and there, but those moments are few and far between and extremely inconsistent. And that means I’m in poor condition to serve others effectively.

I’ve been in this place before, and I’ll pull out again. That’s what I do. That’s what everyone is used to seeing from me – a gladiator that rises from the ashes and reignites the whole damn fire. And maybe that’s why people are inspired by my words and my example. I am one of those people that isn’t afraid to be real, has learned to be completely vulnerable, and doesn’t need to take 1578 photos of my grabbing my tousled hair and spend an hour creating a faux pretty caption with cursive font at a cheap attempt to depict my non-existent perfect life. Anyone see my before pic napping under my leopard throw yesterday? HOT. MESS. EXPRESS.

As another year slowly winds to a close, I know that it is up to me to make more change – lifestyle changes – before the year is out. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I don’t wait for 12/31 and I abhor resolutions. I am one of those “start here, start now” folks. It was truly my mantra for 2017, it spilled over into 2018, and I made a number of changes in my life. They were terrifying yet transforming. I quit many things, including jobs and toxic relationships.

Walking away without explanation, clarity or closure from what turned out to be another toxic relationship hit me harder than I thought it would, especially at a time when I’m in the midst of throwing myself into my work (but is this something new?), supporting my son through transition
and self-discovery, and as usual, trying to be everything to everyone and then some.

I am thankful … so, so thankful to the people who have shown the hell up and shown me immense love over the past few months. Whether you have gifted me with your words, your time, and/or treasured and thoughtful material objects, I couldn’t possibly be more thankful. My family (Mama Betty and Chris), my furballs, my honey, my team – which includes all of my ATS kindred spirits (in particular, my core team of Rick, Gina, Janice, Brittany and Kim and then an abundant crew of field staff), and a few friends very worthy of mention (Christina, Diane, Hilary, Meredith, Heidi, Tanya, along with comments and posts from “Prue,” Jenny, Deanna, Tim, Patti, Cheryl and Carrie to name just a very few popping in my head) have truly pulled me through thus far.

I have a lot of work to do, and a lot of catch up to make to meet my goals. But as Diane reminded me in our call a few weeks ago, I need to repair myself first. I cannot function at the warp speed I’ve been pushing myself to maintain and I can’t do that just because some book or website or blog or Instagram tells me I need to #hustle. My wellness has suffered and I know what happens when I allow that. And it’s not pretty and certainly not social media “worthy.”

My struggle bus is chugging along, fueled by caffeine. First on my to do list … has to be me. Your regularly scheduled #caffeinatedadvocate will be back in action in due time. Pinky swear.

Abundant love to all.

I Repeat … We. Are. NOT. AWARE. ENOUGH.

Maybe I need to speak up for those in back of the room or those who, with all due respect to my fellow badasses, truly believe autism awareness is a fruitless effort.

Someone hand me a megaphone. Please. 

A really big, obnoxious one that magnifies my voice for miles upon miles, from mountain top to mountain top, from sea to shining sea.

We are not … I repeat, for the 103,572,968th time since 2001, we are NOT. AWARE. ENOUGH. We are most certainly not aware enough and not demonstrating enough respect, empathy, or compassion to youth in transition and to adults. And we aren’t exercising a shred of common sense (and in some cases, common decency).

Why yes, I am bitter af today. Here’s the deal: you mess with my son, you’re messing with me, you’re messing with my global autism tribe of activists, advocates and their loved ones and I almost feel sorry for you. 

Actually, I don’t. 

It’s nearly the end of 2018, and in the past year and half, my family – specifically Christian – has experienced three (!) traumatizing incidents that quite frankly were:

  1. Mind-blowing
  2. Disturbing
  3. So easily preventable
Early last year, my son was judged by his label – not by the content of his character – by an alleged “leader” (I take this term seriously as a funeral, using it VERY loosely to describe this woman) within the largest grassroots autism organization in the world today. He refused to set foot in my office everyday thereafter because this woman commented about her fear of the possibility of an “outburst” in our office and *gasp* we can’t let that happen. Because you know, many of my field colleagues at the time who were personally affected by autism would not possibly understand if he actually did end up having a bad day, right? He could not help but internalize and perseverate on how she came to this conclusion without spending even ten minutes with him. What was he doing at the time she met him? Christian was searching dine out opportunities to raise money, shredding sensitive documents to clean up our file cabinet and assembling packets for fundraising teams. Hmph. Seems like a real troublemaker to me. 

As many already know, I lasted only weeks afterwards because I refused to raise a single dime for an organization who refused to acknowledge their grave error and their terrible hypocrisy. I had, and still have, zero regret walking away from the position I once so desperately fought for and was so proud to hold. I many a time defended my place there, because though I knew there were some troubles within, I was committed to, as I always say, “be(ing) the change.” And there was a lot (and still is a lot) of good being done, with some damn good people left. That being said, I could not change what people refused to address. Karma has already been hard at work, as numbers have dwindled, sponsors have dropped, many longtime supporters have walked (pun somewhat intended, I suppose) away, and turnover is at an all time high. I truly do pray for positive change and that the powers that be rip off the blindfolds and pull the clogging cotton out of their ears.

Late into 2017, round two (actually, two and two and a half to be specific months later) took place. After buckling to the pressure of two post-secondary programs (one academic, one vocational), Christian accepted a position with an employer known as “one of the most disability-friendly” employers in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He started working in the deli and hot foods area. It was Christian’s goal post-graduation to secure a position working in food service and give back to his community by serving people within his hometown. At first, shifts seemed to be going smoothly, the hours were stable and the work was certainly not overbearing. His job coach from Goodwill, who is super yet unbelievably overloaded like most job coaches today (which is a problem in and of itself), provided Christian with constructive criticism and solid guidance. His therapist continued to counsel him weekly. 

Enter workplace bullying.

A young man not much older than Christian started to rattle his cage during shift, something beyond what I’d call break room banter or male locker room banter if that makes more sense. This had nothing to do with Christian’s social-problem solving skills. Calling him a “thot” and criticizing his speed on the daily, Christian started reporting these incidents to both his deli manager and the store manager. Surprise, surprise – both managers would deflect back to the other one to address the matter. Christian’s job coach of course became involved. The person who bullied my son and ridiculed him kept his job in the deli, and it was Christian who was assigned to front end cashier. Yes, you are reading this correctly – the touted disability-friendly employer (I’m choking on my caffeine as I type, yinz, for real) by means of their actions promoted the behavior of the other young man rather than taking corrective action and a stand for the population they are known for embracing. 

This jackass bullied someone with autism on site, and he got away with it. Plain and simple.

Now to everyone’s surprise, Christian seemed to enjoy the front-end work, despite the hustle and bustle of the checkout area. He interacted more with people he knew (as not everyone is served at the deli counter) and he’d often come home and say “You’ll never guess who I saw today!” He was not without struggle however, as he often pressured himself to move faster which would result in miscounts of the drawer and thus write-ups. That being said, management seemed committed to pushing him through tough moments, offering extra training and coaching as needed. Customers and colleagues alike frequently complimented his kindness and positive interactions with others, which of course does this mama’s over-caffeinated heart good.

Fast forward spring of this year, Christian was struggling with cashiering because he would be assigned to shifts where he would run the express line, which only fueled his self-doubt and dramatically increased his anxiety which resulted in – you guessed it – more drawer counts that were incorrect and thus more write-ups and soon suspensions. He also was craving meaningful relationships, so he befriended a few colleagues on social media, and would send messages now and then to try to strike up a conversation outside of the workplace. Not being a student who received the lessons within the Healthy Relationships Curriculum (shameless plug, so sue me because old habits die hard), he didn’t realize that people not replying to him may be ignoring him rather than not receiving his messages altogether. A female cashier, younger than Christian (yep, under 18) went to the manager and complained about his pursuit (which was only things like “hello, how are you, I like your nails because they look really neat”). Rather than speak to Chris and take a moment to explain what is socially acceptable and what may not be, he was slapped with a sexual harassment charge and told he was indefinitely suspended. Bawling his eyes out while stretched across his bed for three hours while my heart shattered in pieces that I swear you could see on my dining room floor, I was in disbelief as to what was happening. How in the world did we reach this point? Why wasn’t his coach consulted? What now? My head swirled.

Christian, being the strong-willed self-advocate he is, was already on the phone with his coach asking him to be accompanied when turning a letter of resignation, for time together to update his resume, grab applications and find a new job. He also called his counselor, who as always moved heaven and earth to arrange to see him later that evening.

Christian turned in his resignation that following day, pounded the pavement for a week thereafter and met with his coach more than once for coffee and collaboration. Soon he had two job offers, one from Walmart and one from Dollar General. He ended up taking the position at Dollar General as the shifts were more stable and it was within reasonable walking distance from home.

Of course, my own anxiety creeped in as he prepared for his next role.

Would they be accepting?
Would they be compassionate?
Would they give him extra training when needed?

My fears decreased the first night that I picked him up from a closing shift. The manager locked the door, and he fist bumped his colleague. Christian was actually smiling when he jumped into the car and said “it’s not bad at all! I just don’t like mopping, though.” Well, who DOES like mopping, unless your a FlyLady fan.

Weeks ago, Christian was offered an opportunity to return to food service working at a deli and catering business. Weighing pros and cons heavily, though he enjoyed his crew and the work at Dollar General, he felt compelled to take on a new role in the hopes of following his dream.

Friends shared his Facebook status with me (as I have shared, Christian and I are not Facebook friends and I respect his desire for privacy), which said “I can’t believe it! I’m going to be a chef! Can it get any better than this?!”

My heart was full. So full, and so grateful.

Christian was enjoying his initial shifts and training. He bought himself a set of Cuisinart knives, bought extra vegetables to perfect techniques, and watch YouTube videos to try to emulate master chefs. He was anxiously awaiting his first official event as a caterer. 

A few times last week, I picked him up and he said, “Mom, I don’t know that I’m doing a good job. He always seems mad at me. He’s always telling me to hurry up. He’s always yelling at me.” Having worked as a hostess for a few months last year, I knew full well that kitchens are a pretty stressful place and that managers are often under the gun and react as such. I chalked it off to Christian’s lack of self-confidence and told him to continue to ask questions when needed, do his work, and continue to learn.

This afternoon, I’m typing with pain, strained muscles and tears in my eyes, all but physically kicking myself damn hard for not being an active listener.

Christian is in his bedroom with a sore thumb because he was given six stitches Thursday afternoon after an accident in the kitchen on-site. Anxiety-ridden and shaken after asking a question about “cutting gloves,” his boss angrily replied with a shriek across the room, “You don’t know what you are talking about! SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”Insult was physically and literally added to a bloody injury that looked like a Halloween decoration gone bad (that the site of nearly caused him to pass out at MedExpress, which I have never witnessed from Christian in 20 years of life).

Later that evening, throbbing, stinging and overly frustrated, Christian confronted his boss through a text message, telling him that he needed to get his act together, he needed to get his anger under control, and that he needed to stop yelling at him every day. The response?

“This is likely for the best. I wish you well in the pursuit of finding a better fit.”

Enter therapist. Enter job coach. Enter The Caffeinated Advocate who has Christian’s workers compensation papers in her briefcase, a whole lot of anger, loads of disappointment, mountains of frustration, and a number of confusing feelings somewhere in between. The business is owned by a man whose in-laws I have known since 1985 when I first bounced onto my hill off of a hill as a clueless 8 year old girl riding her pink Schwinn.

If I can’t trust a family business, a well-known disability-friendly employer, or a world-renowned autism organization … who can I trust? Who can WE trust?! Where is the love?!

AND … HOW CAN WE SAY AWARENESS IS NOT NEEDED?! 

I would say “I’ll wait,” but you know what? I can’t wait. I don’t have the damn time. The world doesn’t have the damn time. Rates of autistic existence are increasing, and by 2021, this will be our norm. 

At what point do we all become aware, act appropriately, show compassion, accept people as they are and demonstrate the respect that they should not have to earn from us?

This is why I need to write Imprisoned No More. 
This is why I advocate for families to obtain critical care through my work at Achieving True Self.
This is why I blog and spread my message through any means I can.
This is why I speak. 
THIS IS MY WHY.

Christian and this community … are my why. My former boss’s words are echoing inside my head, loudly pounding my eardrums. As a sibling to someone with autism and who has worked in the field for years fighting for their rights and respect, he often says “The world doesn’t care whether or not you have autism – but they should. Until then, we need to equip them, and everyone around them, with the right tools so somehow, we can meet in the middle.”

Mark my words, I will keep fighting with every bone in my body. We are not aware enough. It is my life’s mission to change that. We can … we will … we have to do better.






There Is No Destination

Dear 40,

Hey, how YOU doin’?! You know, I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to meet you. Most days I still feel like I’m still the young single mama flailing in my 20’s trying to figure out this whole life thing out. Then again, there’s other days that I feel and look like I’m approaching 50 (you know, like this morning … no pics needed, this not so fresh face wouldn’t be pretty). Eh, whatev. Here I am, and here you are, and here we are, and, here we go.

Being 40 in 2018 isn’t easy. I shared a picture on Facebook yesterday that ignited this post that has been brewing in my head for weeks now upon entering this new decade and entering into “Self-Care September.” Brene Brown, a favorite author and speaker of mine posted a picture that said, “it takes courage to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”

It sure does. Because in 2018, you’re not supposed to actually to rest and act upon self-care, right?! But boy oh boy, are you supposed to promote it! You talk about it on your Facebook page with hundreds of thousands of likes, on your 450K followed Instagram feed with a picture of you running in a field of flowers, grabbing your perfectly coiffed hair and laughing as you wear a wispy shirt that gently drapes your shoulders with your collarbone protruding (you know, because you run a 5K at least twice a month so, hashtag fitmom hashtag badassrunner hashtag girlpower). You’re supposed to show off pictures throughout the day of your hustle and 20 hour a day grind, because you’re a “CEO of My Life and 6 Businesses/President of 3 Organizations/Mompreneur/Owner of 10 Groups/Author of 27 Books” etc. etc. etc. But then you post a photo on the weekend of your feet in cozy socks, holding a cup of coffee in an antique blue and white china cup in front of an HGTV worthy fireplace and talk about your (short-lived) self-care (because tomorrow the grind starts once again). Right? I said am I right? Isn’t that how life is done in 2018?

I haven’t blogged recently. I haven’t blogged much at all this year. I haven’t written another damn word for the book that lives in my head. I haven’t picked a logo for my little “brand.” I don’t have a side business at the moment nor do I know that I’d ever care to. And I know now, that it is ok. I’m allowed to be tired and I don’t have to smile and pose with my DD all the time (of course, now and then is totally adorbs).

But 40, finding you was a gift in and of itself. Already, you have allowed me to reflect on what has taken place during the first four decades of my life. There have been countless blessings (way too many to name), and there has also been great devastation, fear and loss. Those, too, were blessings that I am comfortable drawing attention to – including the loss of those closest to me, surviving divorce, triumphing over being sexually attacked as a teen, finally overcoming disordered eating, coping with mental illness within myself and my family, navigating the often confusing world of autism (launched into it head first after being falsely accused and arrested), struggling financially, and even pulling myself out of a deep dark place and ultimately deciding that my presence on this Earth was worth fighting for. These are all blessings, They have built me. They have grounded me. They have taken me on a journey that … has no destination.

There is no destination.

That, dear 40, is what you are showing me. Life is but a journey where you sometimes follow a path, you sometimes walk it with others, and sometimes you blaze your own trail.

But you don’t stop. There is NO … STOP.  You pause, but you keep going. The destination doesn’t exist on this Earth. That comes much later, after our souls have departed.

I’ve seen the quote “life is a journey and not a destination” time and time again. I understand it now. I get it. I hear it. I see it. I feel it. I believe it.

I’m abundantly grateful for what is happening in my life right now – being asked back to the leadership team at Achieving True Self to take charge of support, engagement and development; Christian landing a new job with a caterer which places him in the field he wanted to be a part of; Mama Betty trying her best to make herself healthier; a boyfriend of almost 8 years who loves me for who I am at my core; home repairs and a new vehicle; being a part of community efforts including incredibly worthy fundraisers and speaking gigs (podcasts and presentations); and more. I’m truly grateful for who is still here in my most intimate circle which has dwindled over the years and thank those who are not for what they taught me (see Jay Shetty’s video about “who your true friends are” to learn the difference between your leaves, your branches and your roots … you can thank me later). I am just as grateful for my larger circle of overwhelming kind acquaintances who somehow still cheer me on and cheer me up along the way.

Please don’t get me wrong and misread what I’ve shared as jealousy or envy – because it by no means is. My point is that we need to do what is right for ourselves, not get caught up in the web of the comparison game, and never, ever compromise self-care and wellness. I’ll never do that again. It almost killed me in more ways than one. If you’re reading this and seeing me as a bitter aging Xennial … you don’t know me and you are welcome to exit stage left. I’m unapologetically, hands-down, just me and only me and, TDB (too damn bad … I’ll refrain from f-bombing) if you’re not ok with it. I am. That’s what matters.

There is no destination … only the journey. I hope that my readers hear this obnoxiously loud and clear.

There’s a bucket list in my head – maybe one day it’ll be a blog, a social media post, or even part of that book (a living, breathing story with excerpts currently share during personal interactions in my daily work which I am thriving on at the present time) – but for now, there it shall stay.

40, and Self-Care September, here I am. There is no destination, 40 – you are right. We shall just keep sprinting and jumping, with plenty of self-care pauses as we travel. Let’s go, baby. Xoxo.

Your once-reluctant, but now enthusiastic partner-in-crime,
Cathy

Just a Mailman’s Daughter

Overdue. Way overdue. Yes, I know.

I’ve seen a quite a few friends and acquaintances whose blogs I follow take somewhat of a hiatus for a few months. I fell into that category, too. However, I’m unapologetically me and I know that I have nothing to say I’m sorry for. I’m far from perfect. I’m not so perfectly imperfect, and I’m grateful for being so.

***

As many of you have seen from my social media posts over the last two weeks, I’m in the midst of another professional transition. I’ve shed tears, I’ve had many laughs, and my heart is bursting with gratitude for what lies ahead as I honestly and wholeheartedly “achieve my truest self.” More on that another day and another time. That’s not the purpose of this blog.

I’ve taken on a lot (a loooooooooooooot) this past month, maybe a little much, but these are callings I have chosen to answer just the same.

If you follow or have friended me on Facebook, you’ll see that I have made several posts about a family in Fayette County that has been enduring heartbreaking circumstances for quite some time. Over the course of a few months, I watched the posts increase for this mother’s 10+ MLM companies (sales have not been terribly successful in any of them), and for requests of $10-20 each day to cover costs for food for her children or for transportation to appointments.

(*The following information is being shared with permission and blessing.)

I have witnessed a hell of a lot of cyberbullying as people privately (which she has occasionally shared) and sadly publicly questioned the validity of her family’s situation, ranging from terrible accusations of drug use to childish name calling to even suggesting that maybe she go stand on the corner and strip if she’s so desperate.

This woman has a name, and I’m proud to call her a friend – a fellow warrior in the autism community. She’s not a user, a stripper, or a liar. Her name is Lisa Armstrong.

She has a husband, Keith, and three children, James (19 today), Kevin (13) and Jayla (12). All of them … I repeat, all of them … have a disabling condition.

Keith was injured on the job a while back and cannot work. The family has been fighting for disability payments for him … and for SSI payments their three children. Lisa has her own health issues and because she is so busy trying to care for everyone else, she struggles to take care of her own troubles. You see, all of the Armstrong children … I repeat … all of them, fall along the autism spectrum. Two of them are non-verbal and not toilet-trained.

They don’t have transportation aside from what the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) will take care of – and that only goes so far. That doesn’t take them to food banks, grocery stores, government offices, etc. They have no money for a vehicle or even bus passes. Bills are months behind, including an outstanding water bill.

How did it get this way, many have wondered? And how did they survive for so long? Their savior and rock, Lisa’s father-in-law was who took care of them all – provided money and advocacy until his sudden passing last September. No longer helping them along a difficult road, Lisa and Keith have had to try to fend for themselves, and have clearly struggled to do so. One thing that have not lost along the way however is the love and devotion to somehow surviving and finding footing to thrive for their children. They make it by the skin of their teeth – but this is not a way to live.

The items they have asked for are simply to give their children food, clean clothes, safe places to sleep and a clean home. The washer and rug scrubber are needed because the children have daily toileting accidents. What does Lisa do now, you might be asking yourself? She stands on swollen purple legs and feet and washes their sheets and blankets and clothes by hand in her kitchen sink. Furniture, toys and devices are needed because couches, chairs, iPads, tablets, toys and beds have been broken due to meltdowns and tantrumming behaviors. Originally asking me to list out just a few things to get by, I insisted that Lisa give me the whole story and list of what her family truly needs to find some sense of normalcy and stability.

I have created a public Google Document to track and edit donations for everything they are in need of, which you will find here. To make a monetary donation, Lisa has a PayPal account (which is her account linked to the MLM companies she is joined with).

The family also needs a lot of help when it comes to advocating for services and supports. Any resources, places and people are appreciated. So much work needs done, but I believe, I have hope, that they will find their way.

I have received an overwhelming number of messages regarding the Armstrong family – some genuinely wanting to know the back story, some asking how they can help, some who have asked “why you?” and why all of this effort, and others who sadly have called me a f*cking sucker because they believe I am being taken advantage of.

Let me stop “yinz” right there in your tracks.

Why me?

Because I know what it’s like to struggle. 

I did not grow up in a rich home, and neither did my parents. My father and his siblings grew up extremely poor in a tiny house in Clairton, often wore torn used clothing and often went hungry. My mother, though better off than he was, was the only child to a secretary for the Office of the Blind and a painter for a manufacturing company. They didn’t take lavish vacations, drive flashy vehicles or live in a fancy house.

Growing up, my parents blessed me in every possible way with what they had, which was not much. Mama Betty (that’s what everyone calls her) gave up her teaching career to raise me while Dad took a job at the post office to make more money than he would teaching. They often had to beg my grandparents for help with bills, grocery money, or my back to school clothes (because I had Guess taste on a Walmart budget). We never took a vacation – EVER – as a family. We went to Kennywood, Conneaut Lake or Sandcastle with either money gifted from my grandparents or from Dad’s “found money” savings. If you saw my Facebook post a few weeks about coins on the ground, you have already seen me talk about “found money” a bit.

Dad was the king of “found money.” He would spend time after work – yes, after carrying mail all day long in all elements and then after stopping at the store – pacing sidewalks and parking lots looking for change on the ground. What he found, he would save. Oh how excited I would get when he found dollar bills or a handful of change in a payphone! Some of his change would be given to me on a piece of paper in the mornings after he left for work next to a piggy bank gifted to me from my Godfather and his wife. “Piggy Poems” – the antics of Miss Piggy and Merry Mouse, her imaginary woodsy friend – were the start to my day. They made me happy. I recently found some of those old poems cleaning out the garage. I cried happy tears, because they took me back to a humbling time that have shaped who I am today.

Because I know how important it is to give endlessly and without question.

My parents and my grandparents instilled gratitude in me, and they also instilled the importance of giving. I have been taught to give to others before giving to myself, perhaps to a fault (ok, definitely to a fault as self-care has been a physical and emotional struggle throughout my life). Heaven knows we’ve given to people who don’t appreciate what we’ve done, or maybe some who others would say didn’t deserve our help. We have also given to many deserving people who need us because no one else stepped up. We’ve given things as simple as crackers and a can of “pop” to furniture and money. We’ve given the shirts off of our backs (figuratively and literally).

Why us? Why NOT us?! 

I’m the Caffeinated Advocate, that’s why.

I don’t need to explain myself. I am who I am, and I am proud of the gladiator I have chosen to become, and continue to be. I have fought for my recovery from many demons, I have fought for my son, I have fought for my family, and I have fought for communities I love. I fight for people. People matter, after all. Even if I found out tomorrow I was being taken advantage of, I would know that I my actions were made out of love and kindness.

If you have items you are tossing aside, or want to give to the Armstrong family in some way, please view the Google Document I linked to above, or make a donation.

Feeling inspired and generous? Continue to pay it forward. Give a water bottle to the mailman on a hot day. Give your sandwich to the homeless man who hasn’t showered in weeks you pass at lunch walking back to your air conditioned office. Buy coffee for the person behind you at Dunkin’ Donuts. Pay for the pencils and paper that a teacher is buying for children in her classroom because she doesn’t have a supply budget. Cut the grass for the elderly man up the street who is paying someone probably way too much out of his retirement check to do it.

Go. Just … go. Go do something. Anything. Do it now. Don’t question it – do it. We were put on this planet to bless others. At least, that’s how I was raised and I am so grateful that I was.

Give. Give. Give some more.

I’ll say this again (and if you’re sick of hearing me say it on social media, well that’s just too damn bad): I am nothing and no one special in the words of Bill Stillman, an autistic adult who is an author, advocate, medium and true giver. I am simply a crazy overly caffeinated woman who advocates to make this world a better place before she leaves it than when she came into it.

I’m just me.

I’m just a mailman’s daughter.

From Behind Bars to Behind Communities – Our Beginning

Tomorrow is “the anniversary.” Seventeen years have passed.

To this day, I still remember each every moment that occurred on April 19, 2001 (and the entire weekend that followed). I remember wearing an orange polo shirt, khakis, brown suede boots and a matching jacket from Wilsons Leather where at the time, I worked as an assistant manager. I was due to report to my Century III store at 5pm that evening after Christian’s appointment with his endocrinologist and grabbing a quick bite to eat before dropping everyone off and heading to my shift.

This day by no means played out as it was “supposed to.” At the appointment, I was told that my son “wasn’t normal” and that something was “wrong … very wrong.”

The day didn’t go as it was “supposed to.”

Or … did it?

As promised, for the first time on The Caffeinated Advocate, I am sharing the excerpts from my 2008 speech delivered at a walk kickoff luncheon at Heinz Field in front of over 700 people.

***

Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us, “The definition of success — to laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded.”

Winning the affections of children, redeeming a social condition, finding the best in others, knowing one life breathed easier because we have lived. These are just some of the many successes of parents to children on the autism spectrum. We are warriors, drafted into an army for a fight for which we were not prepared. I was, and still am, one of those warriors – an “autism mom” as we in the autism community call ourselves. We have achieved great success in our personal journey amidst the autism spectrum, but it certainly did not come without a price.

In 2001, I, like many of you sitting in front of me, knew something wasn’t right with my child. He screamed for 14-16 hours a day, banged his head uncontrollably, did not play with other children (in fact, he ran in fear of them), inappropriately played with toys, wouldn’t eat more than five different foods, wore only certain clothes, and tantrummed worse than any child I had ever encountered.

“Call the CDU, no matter what your pediatrician says,” our endocrinologist told us at a checkup on April 19, 2001. “You have no time to waste. This isn’t ADHD. Something is wrong with this boy – very wrong.”

I never made it home that afternoon to place the phone call.

“Something is wrong.” Oh, how that dreaded phrase that so many of us have heard echoed in my head as we traveled to a local establishment to attempt to eat a meal. Christian was throwing himself onto the floor, screaming, crying, throwing utensils and kicking the high chair. Dinner was no use, I thought, so I attempted to pick Christian up to take him to the car. I didn’t want to disturb the other patrons, plus I was obviously frustrated and embarrassed by my son’s wild display. As I tried to carry him, he fell through my arms while shrieking and biting me.

As I placed him in the car, the manager of the restaurant ran outside after me.

“CHILD ABUSER!” she screamed.

“Excuse me? I’m trying to calm my son and not disturb your guests. She continued to scream at me – “You don’t deserve that child! You are a terrible mother!” I was in tears at this point and begged her to leave me alone.

Exhausted and saddened, I sat in the car while I played Christian’s Mickey Mouse tape for the umpteenth time. All of a sudden, the sounds of “This Old Man” were interrupted by a loud noise.

They were sirens.

The sirens came from three police cars who suddenly surrounded my vehicle. “Step out of the car and put your hands behind your back. Let’s GO!”

Before I could blink an eye, I was in handcuffs and my child was taken from my arms.

I was shoved into a jail cell and I wasn’t even given my rights. My parents pleaded my case, showing the officers that there was not a physical mark on Christian. Their pleas fell on deaf ears, as I was charged with terroristic threats (for raising my voice), endangering the welfare of a minor, and simple assault on my own son. I screamed for my son, hoping he could hear my voice and find comfort. They slammed the heavy steel door of the cell, and that was the last I heard my little boy’s cries.

A caseworker from Children, Youth and Families came in to inform me that I no longer had custody of my son. I begged them to send Christian home with my parents. They said no, since if I was released, I could return home to “hurt him.”

I was told I was a “threat to my son and a threat to society.”

Later than evening, I was transported to the county prison, where I was placed in a holding cell with drug abusers, prostitutes, and other like offenders. I curled up in a fetal position on the floor for hours, laying on a dirty, cold floor in a heap of tears. I was denied bail, and transferred to another cell.

Fast forward four days, I was released. Thanks to my family and friends, we discovered an incredible lawyer who, though expensive, got results quickly. She was extremely compassionate and worked wonders for our case.

At the very first child and family court hearing, I was told what I had prayed to hear:

“You are not the problem, Catherine. Your doctor has clearly not supported you. Something is wrong, very wrong, with your son. He has some sort of delay, I am sure. I hereby order a psychological evaluation two weeks from today.”

Thankfully, I discovered a psychologist who took us in for an appointment within one week. He and his colleague listened to our story, and were dumbfounded.

Within one hour of observation, Dr. Newman led me back to the room, and he and his caseworker both took me by each hand and said, “You are NOT the cause of your child’s problems. I am so sorry to tell you this, but your child has Pervasive Developmental Disorder.” “What?” I asked. “He’s going to be ok though, right? He’ll come out of this?”

Dr. Newman said gently, “Cathy, your son has a form of autism.”

***

This is where it all began.

Both Christian and I have accomplished feats that, seventeen years ago, I would have never imagined. At that time, I had little hope for either of us and I feared the future.

Since that day, we have continued to move mountains, we have defied odds, and though there have been many dips in our story there have also been moments of blinding bright light.

My son, who at one time could not speak beyond a babble of unintelligible speech, left a legacy at his school prior to graduation in 2016 when he said: “I want to be remembered as the kid who had autism, because no one knows how hard I fought to get here. Don’t ever let a disability hold you back. I want to give back to my community and continue to help others.” Though currently moving through more hurdles, he hasn’t given up. He never has. He is a self-advocate, and for that, my pride is simply immeasurable.

I have spent 15 years both personally and professionally supporting communities. I am humbled by each and every story shared with me by individuals and their families, as well as their educators, clinicians and supporters and my colleagues. I, in turn, will always be grounded knowing that because I share pieces of our story, others may pull strength and feel less alone. I don’t EVER want ANYONE to feel ALONE.

I am proud to give back what has so graciously been given to us. We are abundantly grateful. We can never, ever thank our beloved “village” nearly enough for the parts they have played along the way and for contributions we couldn’t possibly ever repay. We love you all more than words are able to adequately express.

Someday, Imprisoned No More will be released and a full history shall be told. Until then, we are a living, breathing book in progress.

As KDKA’s Larry Richert said following my speech a decade ago, “World, you had better watch out for this jailbird mom. She’s clearly not done yet.”

Not by a long shot, Larry. Not a chance.

I’m Exhaustipated

Have any of you seen that meme on social media yet? Apparently, it’s the term that was created to indicate that you’re “too tired to give a shit.”  It gave me a good laugh, and it kind of speaks to how I’ve felt these past several weeks.

Ok, so maybe I don’t completely not give a shit, but I would say I’m giving less of a shit out of sheer exhaustion. I haven’t done much with my book outline, I never picked a logo for a future web home for this blog (and whatever else may come down the pipeline), and I just haven’t felt like blogging.

Blogging for likes and loves and follows and numbers after ending your post with 70 hashtags isn’t healthy, isn’t productive, and honestly … I would challenge that many people DON’T give a shit about posts like that. You blog when you have something to say that is of value to an audience or provides you with some sort of release. Tonight’s post I’m pretty sure will serve both purposes, because I know I’m not at all alone with my exhaustipatedness (ok, that’s not a word … and I’m too tired to give a shit about that, either).

My work and my personal life, though there have certainly been bright spots, have taken a lot out of me for a few months. And as usual, I enter my superhero / warrior / gladiator /caffeinated badass advocate mode complete with my DD beverage of choice, because #cathyrunsondunkin. Suck it up buttercup, just keep swimming and smile while you’re doing it because eventually, you make it after you fake it. My friends, it’s pushing through tough moments that will propel you, and you can then look back and say “hmph, I/we made it through this/that, I’ve/we’ve made it through MUCH worse, and I’ll/we’ll do it all again tomorrow.” I’m speaking from an overloaded nutshell of VAST experience.

So, where do I go from here? Welp, I need to do a few things – and maybe some (many) of you floating in cyberspace will relate and find a teaspoonful of comfort in my musings …

1) As Gary John Bishop says, I simply need to unf*ck myself. Say what?! …

In other words, I need to stay out of my own way and not let self-doubt, anxiety, or negative thoughts hold me back. The only person who can pull me out of any doldrums is the woman looking back at me in the bathroom mirror. And sometimes, you need to tell your inner voice to pipe down. The haunting “am I good enough?” question pops into my head more frequently that I truly care to admit, and I allowed that to destroy me for decades in so many ways.

2) I need to continue to let go of things I cannot (and should not) control. To give a strong recent example …

As I shared on social media and in my previous blog, my son with autism is no longer employed. That was a hard pill to swallow even though I can understand the “how” and the “why.” A silver lining was that he actually was not fired, and thus had the opportunity to put in a resignation instead alongside his job coach. Christian has been so unbelievably proactive that it’s mind blowing. He’s met with his job coach three times and has a fourth appointment next week to take his updated resume to a few employers from a massive list he researched and created. He saw his OVR counselor on Friday. He’s eating better, staying hydrated, and working out with the neighbors almost 5 days a week. He sees his therapist regularly. He saw his psychiatrist and made an informed decision about his current regime. He’s … he’s adulting. And diagnosis or not, that’s tough for me sometimes, just like it is for ANY parent. We want to swoop in and fix things that are hard for our children. Mama Betty wants to swoop in and take away my pain too sometimes, and I’m about to enter … (gulp) my forties this summer. There’s a significant difference between being there to provide love and support and trying to control things that are just not controllable, easily fixable, or that just aren’t mine to control.

3) Self-care, self-care, self-care.

Anyone (even warrior parents) enduring their worst struggles who says to me “self-care is impossible” is instantly met with a “nope! It doesn’t work that way. The mask goes on YOU first or you are no good to one other person.” Now … do I practice what I preach? Sometimes. I’ve certainly made progress, but when stressors creep in, I’m at risk for falling off the wagon. A multitude of struggles since childhood have put me into a 24/7/365 caretaker mode and that is not an easy persona to set aside. It’s all I know. It’s also been my career since 2003.

I help my family. I help my friends. I help other parents. I help my team. I help individuals like my son. I help I help I help … oh … wait a sec while I grab a mirror. Oh, hi there self. You look like shit today, by the way.

Sound familiar? I know that when I take poor care of myself, those around me can tell not too long thereafter.

Self-care is not just “the sexy thing to do in 2018,” folks. It is essential to functioning. Don’t tell me you can’t do it, and you know what? I’ll do the same. Though I had some errand running and cleaning to catch up on, I took an hour to myself this afternoon to walk on a local trail listening to a relaxing Pandora station to catch some rays and self-reflect. This morning, I put my curtains into the washer after vacuuming and then went to have my nails refilled. Some days it’s hard to find two hours. Some days it feels like I can’t find two minutes. I know for many of you reading this, you’ll tell me that you don’t have any options. Maybe your options are limited. But I urge you – truly I beg you – find the time. Do SOMETHING for yourself each day. You need it, and you deserve it.

So all that being said, we’re hanging in there and surviving, folks. It’s what we Tomko’s do, as my relatives would say. We’ve been through so much worse, and we’ve survived all of those bad days and are here to tell about them.

Speaking of worse, I’ve been asked (as I am every year many times) if and when I’ll be sharing the excerpt of “our story” during the month of April. That annual request humbles me to no end. I am forever comforted knowing that by sharing our story, some will find it grounding, others will pull strength, and other people will feel less alone. The answer is a resounding yes. I will be sharing the excerpt of my speech delivered in 2008 (ten years ago … wow) on or around April 19th, which is the anniversary of the horrifying incident that changed our lives forever.

For now, I’m going to bring this post to a close (as I think you get the gist of what I’m saying) so I can … yup, you guessed it, practice some self-care and actually get some much needed rest. There may or may not be a game of Candy Crush or Wordscapes in my future. Don’t judge.

Wishing you all much love, peace, and relaxation 💓

No, We Are Not Aware Enough, and I’m Not Sorry to Say It

I have many friends, acquaintances, colleagues who will agree with people whom I’ve never met or will ever meet, that say “we don’t need autism awareness for April, we need action! We need acceptance! Stop the awareness!”

Hmph. Mmm-kay.

Stop what you’re doing. Stop talking. Pull up a chair, grab some coffee (and if you would be so kind, share some with me because I need plenty more after the next dip in our roller coaster), and just … LISTEN. Oh, and bring me some cream and sugar, because I don’t take mine black.

Awareness, by definition, is “the state or condition of being aware; having knowledge; consciousness.” For hundreds of thousands of people, their awareness of conditions and causes ends with being in a state of consciousness.

STOP TELLING ME WE DON’T NEED AWARENESS.

Just stop. I will confidently, completely and unapologetically call bullshit.

Our world and its communities are NOT fully aware. They do not understand the full spectrum and the ups and downs of individuals, of their families, and of those who educate, support or care for them. One cannot just read articles, blogs, a few memes, watch a couple of episodes of The Good Doctor or even know one or two stories to “get it.” Even parents and caregivers, educators, and professionals across the field (even me) cannot fully grasp the whole picture. That picture is always changing and evolving every minute of every day. Opportunities forever exist to learn and grow, and we need to hear more stories and more journeys. More importantly, we need to listen to them. Not just hear them, but to listen to them, to process them, and then take action.

It starts with ongoing awareness that can never stop. We cannot accept and act upon what we don’t understand and cannot expect others to do the same. People don’t know what they don’t know.

Here’s what I know in this moment:

This week, my son with autism lost his job. Specifics and nitty-gritty details are not of importance and honestly, it is simply not my story to tell. That is my son’s and I will only share an overview with his permission out of respect for him. He worked there for almost ten months, and had many struggles along the way. He had a conflict with another employee in another area of his store that went unresolved to his satisfaction. However, he accepted a different position and chose to move forward with the support of a great job coach and management. He continued to work in a checkout line, occasionally placed in the express lane which increased anxiety as he felt pressured to move faster. There were also a few “bad apples” in the bunch who were consistently rude and short with him during his shifts. Though sadly commonplace and something he’s going to have to learn to cope with as we all do, it’s harder for him to brush the dirt off his shoulder and just keep going. Mistakes were made and feelings were triggered, which manifested behaviors and verbalizations that were hard to control. A few simple accommodations and a little extra kindness from others would have went a long way. Had that been the case, he’d be at work right now while I’m typing and he wouldn’t be home making his lunch and still struggling through the feelings of “what now? Will anyone ever want to hire me again? Am I a bad person? What is wrong with me?” As he worked for a popular disability employer in Pittsburgh, I’m so disappointed. My son is not blameless, but I could not be prouder of his accountability and his resilience. He may write a letter to the union so that next time (if and when there is a next time) that this location hires someone with autism or some sort of disability or difference that they will be … a little more AWARE … of what perhaps can be done even ever so slightly different to promote success.

So yes, we’re facing yet another hurdle which we need to – and will – find strength in and we will move through in our own way with our village. What blows my mind is the amount of hope he has finally found! He has HOPE! He posted on Facebook a few hours after he was let go, and he talked about of course being depressed, but how he can take this situation and make himself a better person. He talked about what he CAN do – find new work that makes him happy, focus on his health and use some extra time for exercise, and to better control himself in order to become the best version of himself that he can be. He is looking forward to what and who he can become rather than dwell on what he can’t change. He called his job coach within two hours. He called his therapist right after to make an appointment that evening.

That was the immediate action that my son with autism took after getting fired. For the love of all that is holy, how many of us without autism would have done the same thing?

I know what I did one year ago when I felt compelled to pack my shit and walk away from what at one point I referred to as my “dream job.” I drove to the closest coffee shop in the pouring rain after hysterically crying “see you later” to my now former colleague (but thankfully still dear friend) so I could wait for my son to finish his program that afternoon. I walked upstairs to a private room and cried for about three and a half hours into a peanut butter flavored latte (don’t knock it until you try it, yo). I called and texted a few people, sure, but I otherwise just sat and cried and grieved what at the time was a huge loss for me. Despite those horrible wrong doings that I faced as an employee and as personally as a mother and advocate activist, I couldn’t help but feel like I let my community and myself down. When I accepted that position, I lost friends and the respect of some who couldn’t believe I went to work for the organization. But for those who believed in me and knew what I wished to accomplish from the local chapter and upwards, a part of me was still mad at myself. I wondered if I should have fought even harder to be a change agent and make waves. So, I cried some more. A loooooot more.

But as I left that day to pick up Christian and then head home to finally start to piece together my “what next,” as cliche and corny as this sounds I saw the sun come out. I heard birds chirping. I felt a peace come over me and I was even more at ease with my decision. I knew I had many feelings to sort through but that I’d also have to hustle hard and quickly being the breadwinner for my household.

Don’t get me wrong, Christian cried too – oh believe me, he has cried. We both have. But, the show must go on. And he acted more swiftly than I.

This is just another excerpt of our story. How many is that now, 792?!

Sometimes, I wonder if this is where my writer’s block comes from in finally pulling that best-seller out of my head and putting it on paper. Imprisoned No More is an ever moving target and new chapters will emerge. But some chapters from our past are locked in my head and I just can’t seem to get them out.

But our story is important. Every story is important. And that’s why I need to find a way to finally tell it, and in its entirety. And I need to read and hear the stories of others to make ME more aware of what others experience. Don’t ever think your story doesn’t matter. Your story and experience with autism (with anything, really!) isn’t just “another autism parent story.” Christian’s story isn’t just “another autism story.” Only you can tell your story, just like only I can tell mine. Our stories can bless others. Our stories create ripples and waves. Our stories can change the world.

Our stories make people AWARE. When they are aware, they can understand. When they understand, they can take action.

This month, I pledge to continue to do my part – as I am committed to doing the other 11 months of the year – to raise awareness, to educate others, to increase empathy, and to create positive change. I won’t have it any other way.

For those who have messaged me as they do every year asking “will you be posting your speech again from 2008? Will you tell your story again?” Without a doubt, you better believe it. This year is the 17th anniversary of the incident that forever altered our lives, and the 10th anniversary of delivering that speech to over 700 people at Heinz Field. I just commented on a parent post today where yet another mother was judged, the authorities called, and a child traumatized. Why the $%*& is this still happening in 2018?!

Because … we still need to raise awareness.

No, we are not aware enough. I’m not sorry to say it. Please join me in the mission to raise awareness, to educate others, to increase empathy, and to create positive change.

Take my hand. 

Are you with me?

Preparing for When the Bus Stops Coming

I am so grateful to the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania for including “Preparing for When the Bus Stops Coming” in their Spring 2018 Newsletter! A full and unedited version of this article, including some personal content that shares a touch more of more of my “why” (along with a powerful photo) and a bit more about the curriculum I promote in my role at Wesley Family Services is being shared this evening on my blog. I am truly blessed to serve in a role that allows me to continue to contribute to creating and encouraging positive change in our community to transform lives. 

There is incredible content throughout the newsletter, including the importance of donating locally and not jumping to national charities (and if you know me well, you know exactly who I am referring to and why) without doing your homework. Don’t miss your chance to read about their exciting happenings. The women at Autism Connection of PA never cease to motivate and inspire me. Read their news, drop them a line … and hey, a few well-deserved dollars if you are so inclined. Their work needs to continue. 

Without further adieu, I give to you …

Preparing for When the Bus Stops Coming:
A Need for Curriculum for Teaching Hygiene, Sexuality and Healthy Social Relationships to Individuals with Autism














As a mother to a 20 year old on the autism spectrum and a professional blessed to support this community for over 15 years, I am anxious to share knowledge, advice and a valuable curriculum that can empower caregivers, educators, clinicians and self-advocates. The picture shared above is a photo snapped the day my son graduated from high school. Ecstatic that he achieved high honors and was preparing for a post-secondary program, I was also petrified that he wasn’t ready in every way for what was to come.

After all, though in the evening ahead he would walk in his cap and gown, this was also the day that the bus stopped coming.

After attending both a community college campus for a shortened semester and vocational program last spring that didn’t meet his needs nor his preferences, my son now works part time as a cashier. He still struggles with valuing self-care, understanding the changes his body has moved through during adolescence, and effective social interaction. These are struggles commonly faced by people with autism. We can overcome them, together.

Wesley K-8 and High Schools (part of Wesley Family Services) in collaboration with Dr. Lawrence Sutton, a Pittsburgh psychologist who has focused decades of practice developing social, vocational, and relationship supports for individuals with autism, intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbance developed a curriculum in 2015 to address these critical issues.

The Healthy Relationships Curriculum engages students and young adults through 37 lessons accompanied by over 35 videos (soon to be over 50 thanks to recent grant funding awarded to our team) across three units. Progress is measured by pre and post testing, and visual aids along with home supplements for families accompany the lesson binder for facilitators and its video portal.

By preparing adolescents and young adults with disabilities to practice effective hygiene and self-care, understand the human body’s physical and emotional changes during their transition years and initiate and maintain healthy social relationships across multiple domains to promote generalization, we can set them up for success in post-secondary learning institutions, vocational environments, and ultimately independent living settings.

There is deep value in introducing such lessons at an early age to build upon skills each year. It is essential for truly any young adult to be armed with information to pursue and sustain healthy – and safe – relationships to thrive in adulthood, but individuals with autism especially so in order to grow into strong self-advocates. Individuals like my son need – and deserve – to absorb and use this information to promote autonomy but also to prevent victimization and/or crime.

Each member of our team has first-hand experience or knowledge that has led to the creation, implementation, and expansion of the Healthy Relationships Curriculum. To request a packet with sample lessons, ask a general question or schedule a meeting with our team, visit www.healthyrelationshipscurriculum.org and click “Contact” in the upper right corner.