The Books of My Life: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

liz and lisa 2014 photoh (3)For the life of me, I cannot recall how I first got turned onto book blogs. One of the first blogs I visited regularly was Chick Lit is Not Dead, which was hosted by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke. To my bibliophilic pleasure I won many, many books just from reading the site. Soon after I started following Liz and Lisa, they landed a publishing contract for TWO books. It was evident that they were head for big things! Their blog is now a part of their author website, and they’re still giving away tons of books. I urge you to check it out! Continue reading The Books of My Life: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Autism Angels: Blue & Dublin

Autism parents have the same fears as typical parents . We’re afraid of something bad happening to our child, about their futures, and that our children won’t have friends. Unfortunately many of these fears are amplified by different aspects of autism. Some children on the spectrum are nonverbal; others have a tendency to wander off; some experience great anxiety; and others suffer from seizures. I know my greatest fear is that I will lose Barrett, because he does have a bit wander lust, like his momma. Autism service dogs help alleviate many of these fears.

Blue and Dublin are two autism service dogs who belong to classmates of Barrett. Service dogs are different from therapy dogs, and have protections under the law that allows special needs individuals’ public access with their dogs. A service dog is task-trained in specific areas to serve the person that that they are with.

We don’t have a service dog for Barrett, but after some of my son’s antics over the last few weeks – I’m seriously considering it. He’s been a handful, but that’s a post for another day. Today I want to introduce to two special four legged friends, Blue and Dublin. I’ll confess that when I heard that there’d be service dogs in Bear’s classroom, I was nervous. I thought it would make things a little crazy for Barrett. Barrett loves dogs and on occasion has visited canine friends in the neighborhood without permission – from any party! I imagined a scenario where Barrett would think the dogs were for him and this being a problem with his classmates. As with most mommy-worries, it was all for nothing.

I’m in Barrett’s classroom quite often, and I usually forget that there are dogs. They just blend in. I was there once during a class period change, and it was quite chaotic with all the peer buddies, three teachers, therapists and eight students. The dogs seemed unaffected by the noise, which was impressive. I remember being overwhelmed.

Randi, the “mother” of one of the service dogs, has talked to me quite a bit about what it was like to get a dog for her son, Ben. It’s quite a process and very expensive. Yet, the benefits of having one of these dogs far out-weigh all the hassles involved in getting one. Why haven’t I pursued it? Mostly selfish reasons: the road trip, money, and time spent training the dog. I know, I know. Maybe one day.

Meet Blue and Erik, aren’t they cute?

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I interviewed Deanna and Randi, moms of Barrett’s classmates, about their experiences with service dogs. They’re members of my autism sisterhood and I really admire them. They’re dedicated, kind, and work very hard to help their sons be the best they can be. Continue reading Autism Angels: Blue & Dublin

The Books of My Life: Nina Badzin

ninaNina was the very first friend I made when I dove into the world of blogging. Actually, I met her before I made the plunge. I read her post, I’m Not an Aspiring Novelist,” and something in me clicked. I’d just been hired by My Forsyth to write book reviews, and my editor had asked me if I had a blog. No, I thought, I’m going to write a book.  In fact, I’d already written a “novel” over ten years ago. It’s still in a box in my closet and I’m scared to look at it. But I wanted to write and I don’t know – that post inspired me to get serious. I commented that I was “in the process” of starting a blog. She replied back and told me to let her know when it was live. I did, and she visited and commented and kept on doing so. It was through Nina that I connected with Jessica and Stephanie and The HerStories Project. From there, I met Allison Barrett Carter, who also became a mentor. And Allison led me to my blogging sister, Kristi Campbell, of Finding Ninee. See what blogging can do?

Nina’s amazing, brilliant, funny, talented, and oh so wise. Have you read her friendship column at the HerStories Project? You must. Nina’s also a total book nerd like me. She reviews books at Great New Books, a wonderful site for readers that I’m dying to write for. Last summer, while traveling through Minneapolis on our family road trip, I got to meet the real-live version of Nina. She even wrote a post about it, which was an honor. Friends, Nina is everything she seems to be on-line – she’s the real deal. My only regret is that our visit was rushed and my daughter had hurt her leg and she wouldn’t leave us alone. That sounds bad, but the time of her accident was rather suspicious, that’s all I’m saying.


Here’s my interview with Nina about the books of her life: Continue reading The Books of My Life: Nina Badzin

Autism Angel: Mary Hendricks

Once upon a time, I was a very stressed-out and scared mom. That was last week – no, I’m just kidding. I’m talking about my own personal annus horribilis. The year was 2003. We’d just received our autism diagnosis. My husband was working on a long-term assignment out of state (Kentucky). He was only able to come home every other weekend. We sold our first home and moved out of state to Maryland. I had knee surgery. And my father died. All this happened in a period of five months – I kid you not. I was a mess.

As only someone who’s had a child diagnosed with autism may know, after the shock wears off and the anti-depressants kick in, you go into search and destroy mode. I spent months doing research on the internet, calling parents and experts, going to evaluation and therapy appointments, and purging our house of casein and gluten. I was determined to do any and everything to help my son.

I found a program for Barrett that I loved at Emory University, but couldn’t afford the tuition (or the two hour round trip drive, twice a day). Then I discovered a public school system with the very same program – in Howard County Maryland, where my husband grew. When the universe sends you a message like that, you listen.

My first contact in Maryland was Mary Hendricks, who at the time was a resource teacher for early intervention services. She changed my life. We spoke on the phone many times and I cried so much that if I’d been her, I would have stopped taking my calls. I’d been looking at programs in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida and Georgia. I didn’t know what to do, and confessed as much. I’ll never forget what Mary said to me: “Come on up, I know we can help you and your son.” And you know what? She was right.

Mary is kind, loving, and brilliant. She has a gift and it’s evident every time she interacts with a special needs child. She’s a ray of sunshine and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without a smile on her face. She has had helped hundreds (maybe thousands?) of families in her thirty plus years teaching. Her enormous capacity for empathy helped me when I was in a very dark place. I was so stricken with grief during my very first IEP meeting that I cried through half of it. Rich was still in Kentucky at the time and I was all alone in a new place. She walked me out to my car and gave me a hug – a really good one. It’s a memory that has never gone away.

Mary is full of innovative ideas and a fantastic resource for anything related to special education. Her son Sean was in high school when I met and hired him to hang out with the boys and help them interact with each other. I was in no condition to engage in floor time, and then came baby Audrey, so I really needed his help! Sean is now married and a speech therapist in Baltimore. Oh time!

And I will forever be grateful to Mary. I’m honored to introduce you to this Autism Angel (although her expertise with special needs goes beyond autism!):

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On one of our road trips, Mary drove down to Annapolis to meet us for lunch, so she could see the kids! Continue reading Autism Angel: Mary Hendricks