Kristen headshot

Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.

Shannon headshot

Shannon Enos is a wife, recovering Pinterest addict, and homeschooling mom of two young girls. Her hobbies include analyzing music with her husband, pretending she’s going to finish that crocheting project she started 4 years ago, and making lists of things she has already completed just so she can cross them off. Shannon values truth, education, the arts, open minds, humor, and “Nashville" binges on Hulu. She believes that learning happens everywhere, whether you’re paying attention or not.


Pink Owl

Look who's back!

So, as many of you know, Tommy spent a (whole five days) week at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce Center last week.  The goal of this week was to evaluate his strengths and weaknesses in order to help him get an idea of future employment options, and to hopefully get recommended for placement in their transitional living skills training.

The evaluation week also helps determine whether or not driving is an option, and what kind of training Tommy would need for job placement.  The primary goal of this program is to help individuals with disabilities the means to obtain competitive employment.  For us parents, this should translate as something like “independence” or “not staying home, living in my basement, playing video games” for our children that are challenged by a disability.  Either translation works for me.  We should get said results in about three weeks.

So, how did he do? How was his week? 

In a word: awesome.

Tommy prefers to text, so I didn't talk on the phone with him, but texting happened every afternoon after class time.  He was happy, he and his roommate were friends, he got to play computer games, he went swimming, and he learned about a new anime show to become a fan of.  I always asked him how was class, and was he remembering to brush his teeth, while he was telling me about anime shows and the PlayStation games.  Somewhere in there he assured me he was fine, and he'd see me on Friday, and that was it. It felt pretty OK. 

When I picked him up, he was packed (!), dressed, and waiting calmly in the TV lounge.  He hadn't forgotten anything (I insisted on checking his room), and he didn't seem overly anxious.  He needed a little direction to turn his keys in (it didn't occur to him that he had to turn them in).  His hair was a mess (did you shower? Did you remember to use soap?).   He assured me used soap, deodorant and toothpaste, even though I wasn't so sure. He didn't smell bad… but that hair… but he was appropriately attired and ready to go.

More importantly:  he was ready to come back.

Huge news, guys!  Tommy, in just a week, is just a few steps closer to independence.  He packed his suitcase! He didn't forget anything! He was excited about the program.  He is excited about (hopefully) learning to drive. Apparently, he'd be pretty good at it (according to the simulation machine and the driving counselor, who doesn't live with him, and who doesn't live in Northern Virginia- just sayin’).  Tommy, though, says he can drive like James Bond.  Um, no… that is exactly why we haven't pursued driving- but that's another story. He is excited about materials management and driving a forklift. He liked being on his own. 

He wasn't bullied. He was safe.

I am so happy to have Tommy back home this week, and I can't wait to get evaluation results.  He fell right back into his home routine, which I expected.  He needs reminders and directions to do the regular-everyday-stuff.  He doesn't have a huge motivation to get out of his pajamas, although lately neither do I; thanks rainy weather!  He still makes his bed the same (all the sheets and blankets are piled up on the bed), and he had to be told to shower and shave.  It's all good, though, because I know he can function independently for at least four nights and five days.  He may not have used shampoo, but, hey, we can't have it all.  Forward motion is still moving forward. I’ll take it. God is so good.

On a side note- my husband and I were out to breakfast this morning (date day instead of date night), and we got an emergency call from Katie and Tommy.  Apparently the toilet was overflowing, and Tommy had the tank lid off and was clamping the water tube while Katie was calling. Super-husband was able to instruct her to turn the water off so Tommy didn't have to stand there holding the water tube.  Here’s the thing-- how did he know to look in the tank for the water source? We went straight home expecting to find a disaster, but Tommy had cleaned up the bathroom and had the towels and bath mats in the washer (and the washer going- with detergent added) before we got home.  I am sufficiently shocked.  I will still need to bleach everything, because I'm neurotic like that, but he problem solved, AND cleaned up on his own!  And he knew to look for the water source!  A success!  A win!  These small steps and breakthroughs are so, so rewarding!!  I know I shouldn't be teary eyed over a toilet mishap, but these are the details of life that make me proud.  My kid is growing up. We all are.

So, awesomeness.  It was a great week.  Forward motion. Parent on!


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The Blog Formerly Known as Pink Owl...

I think the original name of my blog was somewhat non-defining.  I picked it initially because I thought it sounded cute.  I was also, and still am, actually, infatuated with owls.  They are the coolest creatures!  Harry Potter had Hedwig, the owl, and my (sweet, wise, old) grandma always had a thing for them.  They show up everywhere, too, now. I like to color owls, draw them, and visit them at the zoo.  I look for them in the wild, but have yet to see one there (in the wild).  Plus, owls are the symbol for wisdom, which is what I'm always seeking.  I picked pink because pink is my favorite color.  I found some picture of pink owls, and viola! I had a name for my blog.  Cute creatures, seeking wisdom, and pink… I couldn't go wrong with that.
So, now that I've been writing for over a year, I think it's time that I change up the title of my blog to be more definitive of what I'm writing about.  I am having much anxiety about this.  I am not the clever-witty type that comes up with stuff easily.  I am more about the high anxiety, and wanting everything to be perfect and make sense type.  I'm in agony… Ok, I'm being a little dramatic, but still.
I write a lot about my family. I think I write about them because there is just so much they bring to the table that is my life.  We are a funny, crazy bunch, and I love us fiercely.  I share a lot about how autism is a part of our story, too. I want other families to know they aren't alone if they are on the new side of a diagnosis, or in the middle of a challenging time.  It helps to know that there are programs and support in the community.  I feel pretty darn passionate about that, actually.  Sharing is caring (unless it's the flu- then not so much). We are not just autism, though, so I like to write about faith, family, and the keeping of the home, as well.
So, I think I’ve come up with something that ties it all together. Did I mention I'm not so good at this? Here is what I've come up with:
"We’re All Mad Here” (A Lot of Love… and a Little Crazy)
The main title is a literary reference to Alice in Wonderland.  We (my family… the ones I write about) are a bit mad (not angry, of course, just a tad bit crazy- in a good way- but also a bit literally).  We live life, we have crazy schedules, we home school, we have issues that we deal with honestly, we like to laugh, we have to sometimes cry… We are growing up.  All of us are growing up -- me, especially.   The subtitle part is us… A lot of love, and a little crazy. It's true.
So, just like Alice (and my pink owl), I'm still seeking wisdom, and trying to impart that wisdom to others, humbly, with beauty, and with a bit of humor.  Life on planet earth is short, adventurous, and a little (sometimes a lot) crazy, so perspective and sharing are necessary for living well.  I know, for sure, that I get by with a little help from my friends- and that's what this blog is all about :  a little help, from a friend.
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Independence Steps

Tommy is taking his first steps toward Independence!!  
Monday (yesterday, as I’m writing this) was the day we had been waiting for since last spring!  This was the long awaited day that Tommy would finally  go to the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville, Virginia. He is there without any familial representation (to a mother this means “all alone”). There are at least twenty other individuals there for their evaluation week and there are about 380 students on campus at any given time, receiving training or participating in supportive work environments.  He is not, I know, all alone.  It is the first time, though, ever, that he has been anywhere overnight without someone who is family to him.  
He is being evaluated this week for job readiness, job skills, driver readiness, transitional living skills, career options, etc.  I have been "ready" for this for a long time, meaning all this year that he really didn’t have much to do except volunteer at our library on Thursdays. So, I was caught off-guard by the sudden feelings of wanting to insist on holding on to him just a little bit longer.  It was hard to be brave and confident and exude composure that conveyed that this was an entirely joyous occasion!  I fretted over things like, had I prepared him enough?  Was he ready to get up and go to bed on his own?  Would he remember to brush his teeth and shower? Would he remember to wake up (on time)? These are things all mothers worry about when they are sending their kids off to college, or the military, I know.  For our family, though, these are not things he does without reminders. Like, for everything, he needs a reminder.  I’m not even exaggerating, for example:  Did you change your underwear? Did you remember to use soap?  Did you remember to rinse?  What about deodorant?   I guess I’ve guided Tommy for everything for so long that I was just overwhelmed that I wouldn’t be there this week physically with him.  It’s weird.  It’s wonderful.  It’s terrifying.
The Wilson Workforce Center is amazing, though.  Everybody was helpful.  Every person we encountered was encouraging.  The whole check-in process was streamlined and we moved quickly: talking with student health and a counselor, to getting his room key, and making his bed.  As my daughters (lovingly and gently) led me away from Tommy after I said goodbye, we encountered staff that were cheering me on, telling me it was going to be ok, telling me that by the evening he would have friends. I really needed to hear that.  I really did keep it together, too, even though my oldest daughter thought I was about to lose it. She was so sweet about it, though, and protective at the same time.
The girls and I left him in good hands and we immediately proceeded to Target to get special drinks from Starbucks.  It’s all good. I can’t hardly wait to talk to him tonight!  He was very brave, too, by the way.  He assured me that he was fine.  He was very tick-y, though… lots of flapping.  The beauty of going to a place like the Woodrow Wilson Center is that no one stared, or indicated that he was weird.  Everyone treated him like the adult he is, and me as the mom of said adult.  It was pretty cool. It was pretty weird. Did I already say that?!  I didn’t once speak for him, because I wasn’t asked anything; everything was directed to Tommy.  I guess it’s time to start letting that happen.
I want to to impress upon the parents/guardians/care-givers of children with special needs:  there are great resources in the community!  The trick is knowing they are there.  The dis-Ability Center in Fredericksburg, DARS (the Dept. of Aging and Rehabilitation), and your county’s Parent Resource Center exist for YOU.  I would not have known to contact DARS for this program if I had never gone to the Parent Resource Center in Stafford.  Aging and rehabilitation are not cue words to me indicating services for kids with autism.  Yet, this agency has been the most instrumental in getting us realistically pointed toward independence.  And our social worker there has been wonderful.
I will keep everyone posted about how our Tommy is doing. Parenting is the hardest job out there that most of us have in common.  We need to celebrate each and every baby step, milestone, and success.
Keep Calm, and Parent ON!

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From His Perspective

I asked my son if he’d like to be a guest blogger on my blog and write about having autism.  He said, “ Sure.”
So, a few days later when I asked him to post it on Google docs, he was a little taken aback and told me he’d already blogged about having autism on his blog.  We have this “lost in translation” thing happen a lot.  After some discussion and persuasion he emailed me a copy of what is already on his blog.
I'm going to edit the post and translate a little (the brackets are mine, and I cleaned up some grammatical things) because he writes like a serial killer: not a lot of punctuation, and many run-on sentences. He writes as if he is talking. In one long sentence.   He got an “A” in senior English last year before he graduated, so I know he can use grammar and spell-check, but for whatever reason he doesn't think it is important.  I do, but I'm not him.
From his perspective:
“This blog post is for my mom, for her blog, on what it’s like living with an Autistic child (although technically, I’ve been 19 since last week- happy birthday to me!). 
Which reminds me, I’m supposed to be at the Woodrow Wilson Workforce Center for 9 weeks (everyone: yes… don’t remind us! We don’t want you to leave) {These in-his-head-conversations happen all the time}.  Well, I have some good news for you, and bad news for me, because, now it’s been shortened to one week for a while because they are doing an evaluation, whatever that means.  Why can’t they just use simple non-fancy terms like:  We’re going to use this week to test your skills week, or if you’re in the government and don’t like mouthfuls but love acronyms:  W.G.T.U.T.W.T.T.Y.S.W.  Which is still a mouthful and a lot harder to remember!
Now, without further ado, let’s get back on topic. What’s life like having Autism {he always capitalizes autism}?  If you asked me this question a few years ago, it would be so uncommon it would be like seeing me actually understanding math, which is to say, as rare as a dinosaur, post meteorite {clarification: he is trying to illustrate how we have never asked him this before, and he has not understood math since about the fifth grade}.  Now, I am getting asked this question a lot by my family.  I have a theory that it’s because they’re used to having me around them, and they understand that I’m going to the Workforce Center, and they're thinking:  Wow, I wonder what the people who go there are like?  
So, what’s it like for me?  Well, it makes a lot of things difficult- like doing math, eating slowly {he inhales his food- a little disturbing to watch}, doing simple chores {making the bed is a huge struggle, so is folding laundry, any work that requires detail, touching wet sponges, dirty dishes, etc}.  It also makes me better at things like: reading, martial history, history in general, knowledge of swords, fandoms, and classic rock song lyrics (which would make me awesome at karaoke if I had a good singing voice). 
It makes some sounds painful, like the "shh" sound when you tell someone to be quiet; when I was younger it was the word nose {it did cause actual pain- meltdown-type-pain}... I can hear colors, except for pitch black which is why I find darkness soothing {we did not find out he could hear colors until last year- it was by accident, I was reading aloud about synesthesia, and remarking that some people could actually hear colors.  He was like, "Doesn’t everybody? They make noise.You mean you don’t hear color?"}.  
Autism makes me empathize with animals more than people {he has told me he would save an animal first before saving me, for example, in a house fire he’d get the dog and the chinchilla out before he could get to us humans. Hypothetical, of course}.  It also makes me do ticks, which are uncontrollable, I don’t realize I’m doing them, and I do them constantly.  My oldest… is flapping my hands; I do this when I’m excited, frustrated and when I’m thinking or having a really awesome daydream.  I don't know whether or not this has to do with my Autism, but when I dream, I know I'm in a dream because I can control my own personal gravity and levitate or descend which is strange because that's the only thing I can control in my dreams.  Otherwise my unconscious mind has total control of them and they're even more wild and unpredictable than my imagination which is huge and elaborate. I could theorize anything, like how Han Solo would survive being stabbed through a vital organ and fall off a bridge into the core of a planet that later exploded  (which he better have survived somehow or Disney I'm coming after you.) and how Sherlock faked his death.  I also can dream about modern day dreams involving me as a bad-to-the-bone sword master who can travel the multiverse and into fictional worlds (and those are some of my best daydreams, partly because they're how I wish my life would be.).
My Autism makes me love-obsess over things like: classic rock, groundhogs, swords, meteorite forged objects, knives, baby bats, fandoms (especially Doctor Who, Star wars, and Gotham), Time/multiverse travel, etc. and on the same level I have the same obsessions on the hate scale, of the love/hate obsessions for: Bolsheveiks, math, HOAs,  animal abusers, poachers, dog fighters, forced wearing of shoes {he hates shoes}, baseball caps being more popular than the much more awesome hats we wore pre 1970s {he has a vast collection of unusual hats}, revolutions, abolishment of monarchies, deforestation, etc.
 My Autism makes me notice certain minor tiny details, but forget huge ones.  For example, I found an arrowhead, and a piece of amber with a bug in it on the Appalachian Trail, but I sometimes don't notice my fly is down, or that I didn't make my bed in the morning. 
All in all my Autism makes me different, makes me think differently than  most people, but it also makes me unique.  It is not a disease.   I disapprove of people calling it a DIS-order, because, while it makes everyday stuff difficult, it also makes me a creative and unique individual, and it’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember.  I can't imagine life without having it, because I haven't lived without it.
So there, that's my blog post for today! Oh wait, one other thing:   April besides, being my birthday month, is also, ironically, Autism Awareness month.   For more information on Autism go to Wikipedia to learn more.  And one last little detail before I get offline, and please note this, as this is important, what I described as having Autism for me is not what having Autism is for everybody who has autism. Each person's Autism is unique from another person’s  autism.”
{Now, I am weepy in a handkerchief because his first week away on his own is approaching. That’s my baby boy!}
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diagnosis story

With it being autism awareness month, I wanted to write a few posts about living with autism in our family.  I can officially say I have two kids on the spectrum.  Some speculation about other family members being autistic is always there, too.  I kind of feel like I have developed a radar for seeing autism where others don’t see it at all.  It's like, a super-power... or it's just experience... anyway, I can see it. Everywhere. 
So, Tommy (our oldest) was diagnosed when he was five, but he had been in our county’s PIED program since he was about eighteen months old.  I get a lot of questions about how and when we (my husband and I) started to suspect any issues with Tommy’s development; after all, he was our first child, we didn't have experience with any other kids, we weren't teachers… So, how did we know?  Well, Tommy was born the same day as one of my friends’ twins.  So, as the twins started crawling, walking, talking, etc.  and Tommy wasn't doing any of those things, I became concerned because he was an “only” child, and he wasn't doing the things that the twins were doing.  I knew that oftentimes twin development can be a little slower, especially in the area of language.  Tommy eventually met most of those developmental milestones, and he wasn't so far delayed that he qualified to receive services, at first.  It wasn't until he was almost three that he qualified for speech, and then he qualified for the special education preschool once he turned three.  Tommy, by age three, was walking, and meeting a lot goals and benchmarks that his team wanted to see him meet, but he was behind in language, fine motor, and visual and auditory processing.  
We weren't really concerned that he was autistic until he developed language, when he was four years old.  With language came decreased eye contact and flapping.  Did it coincide with vaccines?  In hindsight, yes and no.  There was a lot going on from the age of one to two, and I know vaccines were part of the picture, but not the whole picture (and we can agree to disagree, agreeably... I don't have a platform about vaccines, I'm not anti-vaccine, I'm not pro-vaccine).  Tommy was also sick with strep and ear infections constantly after he turned one. Have you ever heard of PANDAS?  It's very, very interestting, and very hard to explain, and worth a Google search. Tommy has that.  Some of the medical community doesn't believe it exists.  We were fortunate to have the right doctor at the right time that totally diagnosed it for us.   It's so interesting, to me, how different autism looks to each individual family!  It's fascinating, really, to hear and study all the differences, and all the similarities, as well. 
For me, I actually felt validated when he was finally, officially diagnosed.  I really felt that once it had a name, I could understand what we were dealing with, and proceed from there.  I know that other people may feel very differently, but I was glad to be “in the know”.  With validation, for me, I could go through the grieving process, and move forward.  It's not that I was ever sad, per se, it's just that I had typical expectations for parenting, and that was all changed a bit with an autism diagnosis.  So, yes, there is a grieving period.  And, yes, it's OK to say that.  And, everyone in the family has to go through that at their own pace.  My acceptance and grieving looked much different than my husband’s did.  A lot of marriages, actually, don't survive special needs parenting, and I totally understand why.  For us, we have had to go through some very painful, and trying times, hard, hard conversations, and vast different ideas on how to deal with a wide range of topics… And that's just related to parenting Tommy.  Marriage, at best, is hard.  We truly believe we can't do marriage without God, let alone anything else that gets added in to life together, including parenting... including special needs, too.
So, fast forward twelve years.  My youngest was born when we were going through the diagnosis process for Tommy.  She came two weeks and one day early, and hit the world running, and has. not. once. slowed. down.  True story.  This girl is my “crazy Katie-cat”  and her Daddy’s “special K” and she is busy.  She is fearless when she should have fear, and horribly afraid of things that are unrealistic. She can do math in her head, but has a hard time with reading.  She loves minecraft, horses, gymnastics, and cats.
Let me let you in on a little secret:  when you’ve met a child with autism… you’ve met a child with autism.  That's it.  They are all so different. The spectrum looks so much different for girls, especially hyperactive, anxious, little girls...especially when she is the baby of the family, as well.   I’ll add, also, that having one with autism, and then suspecting you might have another with autism, does not mean that you are trying to pin a label on everything. Let me release you from that, please, because following your gut-feelings about the child that you live with may get you ahead in terms of therapies or medications your child could benefit from.  I really believe that knowing is half the battle.  So, this last fall, I insisted that she be evaluated by (the absolute best) our psychologist.  Not surprising, but again, very validating, she got diagnosed with autism, too.  She has a few of the same co-morbities (fancy-speak for things like ADHD, OCD, anxiety, oppositional defiance, etc. that occur with the autism) that Tommy has, and some new things we don't really have a lot of information about (but we are learning!). She is much higher functioning, and much more social than he is.  Like I said before, though, each case is its own case.  So,we're learning.  Knowledge is power.  It's a super power!
So, there is our diagnosis story- or a snapshot of it, anyway.  It's been a wild ride, to say the very least.  I've been fortunate to have a ton of support from friends and family, near and far.  I know that sounds cliche, but it's the truth! I've also been fortunate to find resources to include doctors and therapists who have listened, guided, and recommended strategies and tools to help us parent and raise our family well.
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The Table at St. George’s

The Table at St. George’s is a market-style food pantry serving the extended local community. Visitors are invited to select their own items from a variety of fresh food, including locally grown produce. The Table’s mission is to encourage healthy eating, build relationships with those in need, and blur the lines between those serving and those being served.