Laurie Hellmann https://www.lauriehellmann.com Welcome to My Life: A Personal Parenting Journey Through Autism Wed, 14 Oct 2020 22:24:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 180911970 The Special Love and Purposeful Parenting of an Autism Mom https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/10/the-special-love-and-purposeful-parenting-of-an-autism-mom/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/10/the-special-love-and-purposeful-parenting-of-an-autism-mom/#respond Wed, 14 Oct 2020 22:22:35 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=265 In the Fall of 2002, I found out I was pregnant with my first child.  I was elated and spent the entire pregnancy planning and preparing for the next 18 years of my new son's life – unaware that none of those plans would come to fruition.  After three long years of medical issues, unmet [...]

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In the Fall of 2002, I found out I was pregnant with my first child.  I was elated and spent the entire pregnancy planning and preparing for the next 18 years of my new son’s life – unaware that none of those plans would come to fruition.  After three long years of medical issues, unmet milestones and a lengthy waiting list for a qualified medical opinion, my son Skyler was diagnosed with severe autism.  My heart shattered into a million pieces the day I heard the word autism for the first time and it has altered the way my entire family has navigated through the world ever since.

When I received Skyler’s diagnosis, I was initially furious at myself, thinking this was somehow my fault, because I had carried him in my body.  However, my overwhelming frustration and anger then shifted to blaming God.  How could he punish me in this way?  I’ve always been a thoughtful and generous person who put others before myself and withstood my own painful childhood growing up the child of an absentee, alcoholic father.  Why then would He bless other parents with perfectly healthy children and provide me with this incredibly cruel challenge of raising an imperfect child?  I carried on with these beliefs for several years, but despite losing my faith in God and becoming a divorced mother of two a few years post diagnosis, I remained steadfast in believing “everything happens for a reason.”  As time passed by and I navigated my way through Skyler’s seizures, therapies, medications and behavior plans, little did I expect that divine intervention would bring my future husband, Josh into our lives at a time my family needed him most.

The new relationship with my husband Josh progressed easily.  Aside from the many amazing qualities Josh possesses, I fell completely in love with him while watching him interact with my kids. About a year into our relationship, Josh proposed and our wedding occurred a little over a year after that.  Both of my children acted as an integral part of the festivities – walking me down the aisle and participating in the unity sand ceremony.  Skyler even entertained the crowd with his partner dancing with Josh and me at the reception.  Josh has expressed so much love for both kids and has been their biggest cheerleader and supporter – wanting to be involved in everything, like an amazing bonus dad should. He has been a very hands on dad, particularly with Skyler who’s severe, non-verbal autism requires the 24/7 attention of both parents to meet his every need.

Over his lifetime, Skyler has struggled to achieve most tasks (i.e. walking, eating independently, dressing himself) without significant intervention.  He has been exposed to practically every treatment idea, therapy and medical intervention available with little benefit identified from each one.  Now 17-years-old, Skyler receives Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy 40 hours a week and we’ve recently begun a Spelling to Communicate program at home with the hopes of identifying a method of communication that will resonate with him.  I recognize that I may never actually hear his voice, but encouraging him to make requests by pointing to specific objects or letters on a board could relieve a bit of his frustration and perhaps some of the devastation we feel as parents when we are forced to constantly guess his wants and needs.

From the moment our lives connected, Josh’s deeply thoughtful perspective and highly spiritual outlook really forced me to do some serious soul searching about my misdirected anger for Skyler’s diagnosis.  I recognize that fully accepting and understanding the significance of why my child was diagnosed with this confusing and incurable disorder is something that could take a lifetime.  Or it’s quite possible that I never will truly gain the meaning behind the bigger picture.  Over the past ten years, I’ve grown considerably in my faith.  I now firmly believe that God is using Skyler as a vessel to teach me, and possibly everyone he comes in contact with, some valuable life lessons – patience, gratitude and perhaps an antidote to our societal obsession with perfection.  The amount of trust He bestowed on me to raise Skyler with an open mind and unconditional love no longer goes unappreciated.  Skyler’s determination is unsurpassed and consistently teaches us how to find enjoyment and love in the simplest things.

There is absolutely no doubt that loving and caring for Skyler is the hardest job I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. I could easily dwell on the hardships we face, but that only brings a negative energy around all of us and defeats my purpose of living a fulfilling life with a grateful heart. My love for Skyler knows no bounds and while autism presents various challenges for how he lives day to day, it does not define who Skyler is.

A diagnosis is not a personality or a heart, nor is it a box in which my son is trapped. Being autistic does not devalue or diminish his contributions to this world. I love Skyler because he made me a mother for the first time. Although he can’t verbalize the words “Mom” or “I love you,” I know just by the way he looks at me and kisses me on the cheek each night before bed that he is aware of who I am and loves me, too.

Skyler teaches me to be brave, strong and courageous. He’s taught me that when I’m tired and feel like giving up, I can keep going. He’s also taught me that there are other means of communication beyond speaking. He has taught me to look and listen and to trust my gut.

I love Skyler for always being patient with me as I learn what he needs and work to understand his forms of communication.

I love Skyler for his view of the world and for seeing and hearing things most people probably do not.

I love Skyler for never holding back his emotions and for having the most amazing, deep belly laugh I’ve ever heard. Although it can be extremely frustrating for all of us to correctly identify his feelings of love, anger, happiness, pain and sadness, he never gives up trying to communicate with us.

I love Skyler and his love for Sesame Street, for nearly every kind of music, for Qdoba burrito bowls, bun-less cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, wrestling with Josh, and his ability to negotiate with only his eyes.

I love Skyler because he is true to himself and because every single day is the best day of his life.

I love Skyler because he works extremely hard to be part of a world that makes no sense to him and often misunderstands and judges him unfairly.

I love Skyler exactly how God made him and I hope that I love him exactly how he needs me to.

Having a child with severe autism hasn’t made me a different parent, but perhaps it’s made me a more purposeful one. Autism doesn’t alter the way I love my son, nor does it force me to love him differently from how I love my daughter, Kendall. Autism is a part of my family’s journey, and it forever will be.

A long time ago, I accepted that my family does not fit into that “ordinary” mold. We do what we can to get through every challenge and find the beauty in autism, and the beauty in our special family. It is our daily mission to ensure that autism does not stifle any of our dreams. We keep dreaming and striving and laughing and showing up every single day.

Our attempt at normalcy and happiness, as we define it, is not diminished. I’m proud of the family we have become — our tenacity and our silliness, our devotion to one another, and our “no excuses” approach to life. I’m proud of Kendall for her big heart, her maturity and her intuitive nature. I am proud of Skyler for being brave and dancing to the music, come what may.

As for me, I’m learning to be a willing and enthusiastic tour guide on this life’s journey. As time has passed and autism families and experts have found one another, the road has become less lonely. But it’s not always easy. I realize there will forever be countless battles to fight and ignorance about the disorder to overcome, but I’m up for the challenge. And, in the end, it’s not about me. I’m not just a warrior mom; we are a warrior family.

As I look back, I knew my life had purpose before Skyler was born. But now I truly know what I’ve been put on this earth to do. I am the mother of two amazing children, one of whom happens to have autism. And I love them. I will never stop pushing both of my children to be their very best — cheering for them, advocating for them, supporting them and giving every ounce of my effort to ensure their safety, health and happiness. Skyler and Kendall are my purpose.

This is my life. And it’s beautiful beyond anything I could have ever dreamed.

*As published on 10/6/2020 for LoveWhatMatters.com

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Remaining resilient as a special-needs parent during these uncertain times https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/09/remaining-resilient-during-uncertain-times/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/09/remaining-resilient-during-uncertain-times/#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2020 16:42:47 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=193 We all to one extent or another face difficult times.  We have had to learn how to navigate through challenging situations and go on with our lives… some people seemingly have the ability to manage this better than others. Lessons Being A Mom to An Autistic Child Has Taught Me As a caregiver and parent [...]

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We all to one extent or another face difficult times.  We have had to learn how to navigate through challenging situations and go on with our lives… some people seemingly have the ability to manage this better than others.

Lessons Being A Mom to An Autistic Child Has Taught Me

As a caregiver and parent of a special-needs child, we are tasked with managing the demanding, overwhelming and repetitive daily schedules and behaviors of our children which can greatly affect our own mental health.   Somewhere along the way, with our focus often centered around checking off the milestones and achievements shown by our very resilient children, we might fail to recognize that as special-needs parents, we too represent the true definition of resilience – mentally tough parents who recover quickly from the biggest of setbacks or challenges.

Role modeling for the family.

Resilience isn’t something we’re born with. It is developed over time through experience and learning. How we react to life’s challenges, like now with a worldwide pandemic causing unmeasurable amounts of stress on parents and kids alike, is what determines resilience. Becoming aware of our daily thoughts, feelings, actions and words allows us to gain perspective and reframe situations to be less stressful and problematic for those around us – particularly our special-needs children who often look to us for understanding social cues and responses.  If you remain unaware of your behaviors and attitude, you’re likely to find yourself demonstrating anger, frustration and dread as if you’re stuck on a negative hamster wheel.

Over the past four to five months, our resilience and the resilience of our children has been heavily tested – with mask wearing, ‘virtual learning’ and unprecedented schedule changes. However, we have a duty to continue modeling flexibility for our children.  Teaching them to manage the various curve balls life continuously throws at us with optimism will alter their perspective and mood regarding disruption and change.

5 Tips for Gaining Perspective and Inspiration during times of chaos.

Focus on the here and now. It is likely that your special-needs child has achieved many milestones that you have forgotten or dismissed because you are focusing on skills they may have ‘lost’ over the last few months.  Parents have always played a critical role in the growth their children experience by continuing to reinforce therapy practices at home – so, give yourself some credit.  I encourage you to dig out old notes or photos of your child learning to crawl, walk, point, eat more than 2 foods, hold your hand, sit in a chair unassisted, etc…  then strap on your ‘therapist hat’ to assist them with where they are today just as you did all those years before.  Remembering how much resilience and determination your child mustered to achieve all that they have to this point should give you the confidence that they will continue to learn even in a ‘remodeled’ teaching environment.

Learn to ask for help. Your child is not the first to: get a diagnosis, start and stop various treatments, change a medication, exhibit challenging behaviors or move to supported living. Remember, many others have gone before you and can provide support through their personal experiences.  The parenting special-needs community is quite large so do yourself a favor and join some social media groups, take advantage of the many resources available and share your frustrations & personal stories with the thousands who can truly relate!  Please don’t try to tackle everything alone… it will mentally break you.

Patience, patience, patience. There’s a reason that “patience is a virtue.”  We are not born patient.  Like resilience, patience is actually a learned behavior through life experiences.  In today’s society, we have come to expect the instantaneous, the rapid, the get-it-done now.  We are simply impatient people.  While patience does not give you the power over your circumstances, it does help you accept both how you feel about a given situation and what you can realistically do about it.  When you feel that impatience building like hot steam about to billow out of your ears, walk away.  Allow yourself a few moments to be ALONE!  Take that time to breathe, gather yourself and evaluate your expectations.

Make yourself a priority. This is an area most parents, especially moms struggle most.  If you want to be the best parent you can be, you must allow yourself time to recharge your batteries.  Give yourself permission to take 5-10 minutes each day strictly for yourself!  You may say “there’s no way I can find even 5 minutes for myself,” to which I’d say look harder because where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Either do something that relaxes you (reading a few pages of a book you’re interested in while listening to soothing music) or find something that rejuvenates you like exercise (a quick walk around the block or some simple stretching).  If you are a single parent or someone who struggles to find a second of alone time in your day, invite your kids to join along in an activity that’s fun for everyone – like a family dance party!

Take care of your relationship. Parents who are exhausted, which is likely ALL of us, forget to work on their relationship which can lead to irritation with one another and poor communication. Remaining flexible and working together to divide up tasks and alternate who will attend the various medical appointments or assist with therapy programs can keep parents from feeling overwhelmed and resentful.  If one of you is more patient at the beginning of the day (definitely NOT me!) and the other more patient at night (definitely me!), use that knowledge to your advantage.  As important as it is to find a few minutes for yourself, it’s equally important to find time to be together to chat about anything other than your children.  Schedule that into the calendar if you have to, but make the time to support and listen to one another.

*As published on 9/18/2020 for TODAY Parenting

 

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Creating a Life in Balance https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/08/creating-a-life-in-balance/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/08/creating-a-life-in-balance/#respond Tue, 04 Aug 2020 13:15:04 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=186 I’m often confronted with the conundrum of whether it’s okay to carve out a little bit of “me” time each day instead of focusing on only meeting the needs and wishes of others, particularly my special needs son. Living a life of complete selflessness can take a significant toll on your mental health and [...]

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I’m often confronted with the conundrum of whether it’s okay to carve out a little bit of “me” time each day instead of focusing on only meeting the needs and wishes of others, particularly my special needs son. Living a life of complete selflessness can take a significant toll on your mental health and well-being and perhaps leave you feeling taken advantage of. I believe it’s critical for your own sanity and happiness to identify a generous balance of both selfish and selfless in your daily life. I know I need it!

Give and take — distinguishing the difference.

Webster defines the word “selfish” as lacking consideration for others; being concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure and “selfless” as being concerned more with the needs of others than with one’s own; giving things up for another’s benefit.

Selfish people are often viewed as takers and selfless individuals are identified as givers and therefore perceived as being better, more thoughtful people. However, I’ve come to realize that selfishness nor selflessness is neither good or bad. In fact, the two concepts are intricately linked.

Think back on the times you may have felt the need to be alone — maybe you needed to take a quiet walk or read a book to escape the multitude of demands being asked of you and give yourself a necessary break from feeling overwhelmed. Do you believe the request for alone time illustrates selfishness? Perhaps you’re a parent or caregiver and that was the only hour you had in the day that wasn’t consumed with attending to the needs of someone other than yourself. It is all about perspective and understanding that observing time alone to rejuvenate or gather your thoughts can often provide the peace you need to continue caring for others and being your best self.

Instinctively, parents usually put the needs of their children first, but in my experience, it’s just not sustainable over the long term. Regardless if your child relies upon you to assist with every task because he/she has a disability or developmental challenges, it is critical that you set aside even a small fraction of time to pause and ask for help. Without the ability to take care of yourself and your own needs before worrying about everyone else’s, you jeopardize the most important person of them all: you. In my opinion, that’s not selfish, that’s smart!

Avoid the ugly side of selfishness.

Investing time and energy into yourself and tending to your emotional fulfillment is vastly different than being inconsiderate and deliberately hurting others with selfish words or actions. We can be so self-absorbed with our own life and our own plans that we forget to look around and realize how many people are suffering and could use a little help. Sometimes without thinking, we comment hateful things to strangers on social media accounts, scream at people for driving too slow for our own liking or express anger at a restaurant employee because our food order is incorrect or took too long to arrive. We are all guilty of doing something that we aren’t necessarily proud of. We completely forget that we are human and can be selfish in those ways too. Being mindful of your words and actions at all times allows the extraordinarily selfless person that is within each of us to shine through and demonstrates a good lesson in kindness to those we interact with.

Always remember that a healthy balance of selfish and selfless is needed in our daily lives. However, one must ensure their cup is full before pouring into others – what help can you be to someone else if you aren’t helping yourself.

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Pausing and Living for Today https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/pausing-and-living-for-today/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/pausing-and-living-for-today/#respond Fri, 10 Jul 2020 01:03:27 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=119 This unprecedented time of sheltering at home amid fear of contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) — or, God forbid, infecting someone we love — has brought out the best and the worst in us all. Stress levels are at an all-time high and learning to work, study, communicate and perform routine daily tasks virtually has [...]

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This unprecedented time of sheltering at home amid fear of contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) — or, God forbid, infecting someone we love — has brought out the best and the worst in us all. Stress levels are at an all-time high and learning to work, study, communicate and perform routine daily tasks virtually has definitely been an adjustment. Finding the silver linings throughout all of the chaos, even if it’s a stretch some days to find any positive benefits from this new way of living, is my daily goal. Here are a few things I’ve come to learn during this unique situation we all are faced with.

Embrace the quality time.

The sadness of missed graduations, birthday celebrations, sports seasons and special events like prom is one that will take a significant amount of time for many to recover from. It’s easy to count on both hands and feet the number of disappointments we’ve each endured from the worldwide pandemic. Parents have been overwhelmed (and sometimes downright infuriated) by the need to become instant teachers and educators required to quickly turn months of in-person learning experiences into online curriculum without guidance.

The closures have been equally as challenging for special-needs families. Our children often lack the understanding of why the daily schedule they’ve come to know has to change. It was definitely no picnic having Skyler locked out of his school for two months, requiring me to provide fulfilling activities and makeshift therapy each day … which I have no training or knowledge of how to properly do. This time has been tough on us all — parents, kids, business owners, teachers, everyone.

However, no matter who you are, each day you wake up you have the opportunity to determine your mood and behavior. You can make the choice to dwell on the heartaches and let the months of quarantine stress overtake you, or you can seek out the positive and embrace the fact that you are spending another day safe and healthy. I prefer to focus my spirit and attitude on the benefits each day brings, and for me, that has been the extra quality time I get to spend with my husband and children.

After catching up on every season of every show Netflix has to offer, we definitely had to dig deep and get creative on ways to occupy our family time. Doing puzzles, exercising, cooking, baking and lots of family walks has given us back the deep discussions and laughter we didn’t realize was missing.

Make permanent changes and slow down our lives beyond COVID-19.

We’ve created a new normal these past few months in quarantine, but with businesses slowly beginning to open in some areas, you may be wondering how you can move forward. While I’m excited to return to “normal” again — which for me might mean the ability to dine in at restaurants, enter a business without wearing a face mask and meet with my co-workers in-person and not through a computer screen — I hope the forced emphasis on slowing down to enjoy the little blessings each day brings doesn’t evaporate as quickly as the hand sanitizer.

I have enjoyed the many birthday parades we’ve been part of — honking our car horn and flashing our handmade sign for friends who would normally have only received quick birthday wishes via Facebook. Knowing that my daughter will be leaving for college in three short years and my son may any day gain the independence I keep pushing him to develop, I’m soaking up every minute I get to spend caring for and bonding with them both.

Perhaps society as a whole might stick with the current disruptions to their lives: more patience instead of rushing and spending time with relatives NOW instead of pushing it off to when you have more time and giving an adequate amount of personal space to those around you. Our world seems to come together best during a crisis … we are, after all, in this together.

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Life Lessons Being a Mom to An Autistic Child Has Taught Me https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/life-lessons-being-a-mom-to-an-autistic-child-has-taught-me/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/life-lessons-being-a-mom-to-an-autistic-child-has-taught-me/#respond Wed, 08 Jul 2020 01:00:49 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=116 The old adage “stop and smell the roses” has never been a more fitting description of my life than it has been here recently. In fact, it’s become my motto ... my continuous reminder during this unique time in our lives where, like many of you, I find myself wrapped up in overwhelming feelings of [...]

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The old adage “stop and smell the roses” has never been a more fitting description of my life than it has been here recently. In fact, it’s become my motto … my continuous reminder during this unique time in our lives where, like many of you, I find myself wrapped up in overwhelming feelings of trying to get everything done — work full-time, help my daughter with school and provide the support my nonverbal autistic son needs — when there is little time to accomplish it all.

Life, in general, can be filled with craziness, and right now — because of the pandemic — all of us are faced with endless unknowns. When will we be able to see our friends again? When will we be able to visit a store without wearing a mask? When will we be able to hug again? When will life get back to normal? It’s easy to get consumed by the “what ifs,” but what if you paused to soak up the blessings and life lessons that you are getting the opportunity to learn along the way?

When my son was diagnosed with autism years ago, I had an entirely different set of unknowns that I was faced with. And over time, I’ve been able to uncover answers to some of our previous unknowns. But each time I do, I get faced with many more new ones. Often, I feel overwhelmed and helpless, but it’s usually at these times that I am reminded that the adventure of raising a special-needs child has been a blessing in disguise all along. In fact, I’ve come to learn a lot more about life and about myself through my son, Skyler.

Patience is a virtue.

“They who can have patience can have what they will.” — Benjamin Franklin

We are not born patient. Patience is actually learned behavior that we finesse through our life’s experiences. In today’s society, we have come to expect the instantaneous, the rapid, the quick, the get-it-done-right-now. We are simply impatient people living in an impatient society during an impatient time. We want it and we want it now. It’s as simple as that.

But when life feels out of control, I’ve come to learn that having and exercising patience allows me to take back an element of control within myself and of my surroundings. I can’t always control everything … I can’t make Amazon deliver my package more quickly or pressure the store to have all the cleaning supplies and toilet paper that I need right here and now. Without patience, all I’m left with is anxiety, frustration and anger. Patience does not give you the power over your circumstances, but rather it does help you accept both how you feel about a given situation and what you can realistically do about it.

I learned the need for having patience a long time ago, but I continue to learn the need to strengthen it every day. Skyler requires my patience. He’s a regimented kid, so if I want him to try a new food or be open to a change in his schedule, I have learned the power of patience. Each time we try new medical treatment options, in hopes that it will help him progress to live his life to its fullest, yet again, I’m reminded of how important it is to have patience.

Progress doesn’t happen overnight for most of us. In fact, I have to remind myself that progress doesn’t mean reaching the end goal within my set expectations. Instead, it means taking one more step toward that direction. And the speed with which we achieve it, well … that is not within your span of control. Skyler reminds me that each person is born with a unique set of potential and as parents, friends, peers and loved ones, we should focus our energy on helping each person reach their potential — in their time, not ours — while we exercise a healthy dose of patience.

Live life with a grateful heart.

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” — Lionel Hampton

There is a sense of joy and happiness that fills your heart and soul when you decide to live a life of gratitude. Much like patience, having a grateful heart is a choice that you get the opportunity to make. Sure, there are many things that you could easily complain about in life. You may have difficulties in your career, face financial struggles or have issues with your relationships. However, gratitude is not just an emotion to embrace, it’s a way of life that asks us to notice all that is already present and abundant — from the tiniest specks of beauty to the grandest of our blessings — and, in so doing, take nothing for granted. Even the most challenging times present opportunities to learn and grow if you approach them from a place of gratitude.

Over the years, I’ve learned that self-love, self-care and tending to my spiritual garden is neither selfish nor optional. The more whole I am, the more whole my children will be. The more present I am as a parent, a spouse, a co-worker and a friend, the more joyful the miraculous journey through life tends to be.

Being grateful doesn’t mean you always embrace the deck of cards life deals you with open arms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t wonder what life would be like if you faced different challenges than the ones you are currently facing. Instead, it’s about not looking for greener grass, but rather finding joy in the grass you are currently standing in. It’s about celebrating the small moments — for us, it’s celebrating a night where Skyler slept soundly throughout so that all of us woke up refreshed in the morning. When you have an attitude shaped by gratitude, you find that your life is filled with more blessings than you previously saw possible.

Release the goal of finding perfectionism.

“We can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved.” — Glennon Doyle Melton

Too many of us have been conditioned to hold ourselves to impossible standards, which is an unhealthy and stressful state of mine to live in. Our belief may have been instilled in us by our parents or other influential people in our lives — even by the media. Comparison is often perceived as the highest form of flattery, however, spending time comparing and rating ourselves against others will frequently leave us coming up short in our estimation.

For decades, I thought perfectionism was a noble endeavor. I thought I should be everything to everyone … that I should strive for being a super mom without failing. I incessantly focused on achieving more — rather than appreciating the present. I would think, “If I can just maintain perfection, then I will be happy and so will everyone around me.” Trying to reach that unattainable goal drained my positive energy, strained my relationships and attempted to rob me of a life of fulfillment.

Let me say to you what you may find hard to say to yourself. Perfectionism isn’t achievable. Plain and simple. And you can do everything in your power to try to reach it, only to find out your attempts were unsuccessful. Stop. Don’t stop trying to be a better you but stop trying to be a better you in comparison to another. You were born with a unique set of talents, skills, traits and quirks. Have you ever considered that it is those elements — the things you may see as imperfect — that make you perfectly you?

Who knew that the little boy I welcomed into this world over 17 years ago could teach me so much about life and about myself? Maybe he has the power to teach you some life lessons too!

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Embracing Your Path with an Open Mind https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/embracing-your-path-with-an-open-mind/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/embracing-your-path-with-an-open-mind/#respond Mon, 06 Jul 2020 00:57:54 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=113 As with many things in life, if you knew how challenging your journey would be to take you to your final destination, you may never opt to take the first step. This has truth in your career — would you ever jump into your dream profession if you knew the struggles you would go through [...]

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As with many things in life, if you knew how challenging your journey would be to take you to your final destination, you may never opt to take the first step. This has truth in your career — would you ever jump into your dream profession if you knew the struggles you would go through to reach your goal? This has truth in your relationships — would your friendships, working relationships and even marriage look different if you knew early on the ways they would be tested? And it definitely rings true in the parenting arena … especially when you are parenting a child with special needs.

Our family’s journey through autism is often frustrating, disappointing and expensive, quite frankly, especially in regards to “treatments.” While there is no cure for autism, managing the confusing behaviors and side effects that accompany an autism diagnosis leaves a parent wading through uncharted territory and an overabundance of opinions.

All autistics aren’t created equal.

With each new treatment or potential “cure” that comes to light, parents are forced to weigh the risks versus rewards when trying it. Often times, new programs and treatments lump all of our children’s symptoms and behaviors together into a one-size-fits-all approach. For some, these new opportunities may provide new hope and improvement in areas that may leave families ecstatic! For others, however, they may not adjust behavior or symptoms in any positive way.

For my family, we have had our fair share of unrealistic promises for successful results and dramatic changes not met. The toll it takes on a family to start and stop so many new “medical breakthroughs” due to lack of effect has been both emotionally and financially devastating. But as a parent with a nonverbal autistic son, I know firsthand the sense of urgency to find a treatment that will help your child realize their fullest potential and live an independent life. It’s something I’m constantly searching for, and something that I now realize is not a well-paved path that I can take.

To be a better autism warrior mom, I’ve come to learn, requires you to try everything with an open mind.

My philosophy has always been that as long as the treatments inflicted no pain or harm to Skyler, I am on board for trying those that had plenty of medical evidence to demonstrate a benefit. This philosophy has been tested after years of false hope the potential treatments have provided, only for our family to not see the positive benefits from them. But, even after countless therapies, medical interventions and treatments over the past 15 years, I constantly remind myself that I am a warrior fighting for my son. And I will never give up.

Tomorrow presents another opportunity to try again.

I remind myself regularly that the best way to make it from the valley to the mountain isn’t to set my eyes toward the mountain’s peak, but rather to focus on my individual steps. It will take a multitude of individual steps to get to my destination, but each step I take is one step forward.

Your life may present continuous letdowns following your failed attempts, much like I have experienced here recently as I try to help my son maintain a daily routine amidst the current global pandemic. My journey is proof, however, that while you may feel a moment of disappointment when a career goal isn’t achieved, a friendship hits some turmoil, or a treatment option doesn’t help your child, tomorrow is a new day. The sun will rise, yet again, and you will have the chance to make another step in your life’s journey up the mountain to reach the peak.

Albert Einstein said it best: “Learn from yesterday. Live for today. Hope for tomorrow.”

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Your Story Matters, Welcome to My Life https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/your-story-matters-welcome-to-my-life/ https://www.lauriehellmann.com/2020/07/your-story-matters-welcome-to-my-life/#respond Fri, 03 Jul 2020 00:55:03 +0000 https://www.lauriehellmann.com/?p=110 We each have a story. In fact, each of our stories is as unique as our own fingerprints ... our own DNA ... our own life’s tapestry. Some of us openly share our stories, realizing that in sharing we are connecting. Others of us hide behind the story that we tell others and the story [...]

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We each have a story. In fact, each of our stories is as unique as our own fingerprints … our own DNA … our own life’s tapestry. Some of us openly share our stories, realizing that in sharing we are connecting. Others of us hide behind the story that we tell others and the story that we tell ourselves, hoping that the real story never breaks through.

Yes, we each have a story, and I am ready to share mine.

Welcome to my life.

I am often asked: “How do you do it all and always with a smile on your face?”

For those who first learn of my family’s autism journey, this question quickly becomes a topic of our conversation. It’s a good question, I know. And I wish I had a profound answer, but the truth is, many days I’m merely hanging on by a thread.

My smile is a part of my story. It’s how I get through each day as a mother to a son who is 17 years old and nonverbal autistic.

Often times — especially during the initial months of COVID-19 quarantine — I feel like a prisoner in my own home. We have child safety gates blocking every doorway to keep my son, Skyler, from running room to room like a tornado knocking over and throwing everything in his path. Gates are strategically placed in front of the bathrooms so he doesn’t eat our coveted toilet paper stash, too! Being that my 14-year-old-daughter, Kendall, and I are only 5’2” (with good shoes!), those gates are practically impossible to scale over quickly, so we constantly trip over them and they are sent crashing to the floor.

And oh, the noise in and of itself can be unbearable! If it’s not the gates slamming, it’s Skyler’s incessant banging on walls, doors, counters, TV screens and himself 24/7! It honestly gives me a migraine and daily sends my stress level to a 50 on a scale of 1 to 10! While I know the poor kid is just expressing his pain and frustration because his belly is in knots due to his ulcerative colitis and he’s unable to verbalize exactly what is wrong, that doesn’t mean his ways to communicate aren’t overwhelming to all of us, me included.

Why then do I smile and laugh when I am frustrated at how confusing this disorder is and the challenges that it brings?

The answer’s simple really. Autism is a part of my family’s journey, and it forever will be. A long time ago, I accepted that my family does not fit into an “ordinary” mold. We do what we can to get through every challenge and find the beauty in it. It is our daily mission to ensure that autism does not stifle our dreams — ours or Skyler’s.

Our attempt at normalcy and happiness, as we define it, is not diminished. We get the choice to either laugh or cry; and 90% of the time, I choose laughter. I’m only human and an occasional meltdown is inevitable, but I just pick myself back up and remind myself that tomorrow presents another opportunity to smile.

My smile helps me cope, but it also helps me refocus. It’s how I navigate working full-time after sleepless nights with Skyler banging on the walls. It’s how I find my normalcy in the thick of what I’m realizing isn’t a part of everyone else’s normal. It’s how I see the good in our lives even when our lives feel upside down. My smile — along with my humor — helps me LIVE! And it helps our family live too.

Our story matters. And your story does, too.

I decided to share our family’s raw and real story with others because our story just may be the catalyst to empower another family to find the good in the struggles … it just may be what another family needs to make it through to another day.

Our story is chronicled in my recently released book, Welcome to My Life: A Personal Parenting Journey Through Autism, which gives readers deeper insights into our family’s experience with autism. It’s honest in all ways, which I hope will help two groups of people: those who face autism daily in their own lives and those who are open to gaining an understanding of the beauty and the challenges that autism brings to the lives of many.

Each of us has a story. And each of our stories matter. Possibly, our stories are meant to be interwoven and together we can help change the lives of others … maybe, even in the thick of the difficult times, we can find new ways to help others smile.

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