Saturday, April 5, 2014


Perspective.  We all see things differently than others. Most of us follow certain social norms when it comes to interacting with others. Most of us learn these norms through social experiences as children. It is true that people who have autism have difficulty in learning typical social norms therefore they have difficulty with perspective taking. 

Today I'm not going to tell you all the reasons why people who have autism have difficulty with this skill.  

Today I'm not going to tell you how I think you can teach people to "fix" this difficulty in learning.  Today I'm going to share (with his permission) an interaction with a young man who I have worked with on and off over the past few years.  

I have worked with this young man (who is now teenager) in his home and community on developing his social skills. I am not currently working with him, however he does email me from time to time to check-in and to ask questions. Below is part of the email correspondence between us.

(Please note: I have permission to share the following from Z and from his mother.  I have also slightly edited the text as Z prefers to email me using all capitals and does not choose to use any punctuation. I have added punctuation and lowercase letters but the rest is his.)

Z: Hi.  I read what you said to my question.  Yes this is making me angry and I do know what other people would do and what I should do because we learned it.  I am doing what you said.  I am remembering what a thought is.  I know I am not the only one who has a thought I remember that my friends have thoughts.     

What do I do when I spend so much time thinking about what my friends are thinking and trying to be like my friends that I can't remember what I was thinking? How do I know what I am thinking if it will be what they want me to think?  If I do it wrong they will say I am weirdo and they going to not be my friend. I'm tired of worrying about friends and this is why I tell you and mom that it is just fun to not have any friends.  I want friends to want to do what I want to do all the time. I hope you read this and tell my mom that I don't have to go and if you do she will listen to you. 

ME:  Wow Z.  You really have me thinking... First of all I never want you to think that you have to think like other people I just want you to understand that other people think differently than you do and feel differently than you do. Everybody has different thoughts.

You can and should have your own thoughts and you should share your thoughts with others and allow others to share their thoughts. Sometimes you have to take a chance and just see what the response will be but I don't want you to feel like you have to think what other people think. I want you to be who you are.

I know this is really confusing and I need to take some time to either meet with you or write more later in a way that you understand. I have a meeting now but will try to call you later or email
 tonight. I'm sorry this is so confusing. I think it is confusing too. 

Z:  Welcome to my world. Are you autistic?

Z and I talked on the phone and hopefully I was able to give him some guidance that wasn't so confusing. He said he felt better after we talked. This whole interaction really got me thinking and to be quite honest it got me feeling guilty.

All people should never be afraid to think what they think. Social norms are "rules" but we all (especially me) need to remember that nobody follows all the rules all the time. If we did life would be really boring.

I sent Z an email
 last night asking him if I could share our conversation on my blog because I thought it could be helpful to other people. (His mother also gave me permission to share.) This was his response. 

Z:  Yes you can talk about me on your computer stories.  My mom showed it to me. You should talk about me because you are talking way to much about your family on your computer. You are supposed to change topics so people don't get bored. Also I don't think your son is a pirate. Are you a pirate?

Dear Z if you are reading this story, no, I'm not a pirate.

You are correct I should probably change topics every now and again on my blog because too much of anything is usually not good.

Be who you are and remember that I never wanted to change who you are as a person; I just wanted you to understand that other people might think differently than you. Thank you for reminding me of that and for giving me the opportunity to think about how I do my job.

Perspective. Wow. This is why I do what I do. I get to meet some pretty amazing people and I get to be a part of their journey.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Journey 2014

The journey. The path. The walk. The phases. The good. The bad. The ugly. The things that make us mad. The things that make us happy. The things that make us who we are.

Our babies. Our toddlers. Our school-aged children. Our adolescents. Our children who grow into adults.


Every person who takes on the role of parent knows exactly what I'm talking about. Parenting is hard. It's a challenge. It's also for most of us, the most amazing thing that we ever experience in our lives. That being said, everybody's experience is different.

Here comes the BUT... You know the one, the one where I say BUT for parents of children on the autism spectrum or children who have developmental disabilities it is different. Well, today I'm not going to say that. Today I feel different. My thoughts today have been building slowly over time for seven years. Today I feel the power to embark on a new journey that I have never felt more pride, fear and accomplishment in accepting and embracing.

Perspective. Change in perspective. Teaching perspective taking to others.

My head is spinning.

I work as a Behavior Consultant at Alternative Community Training, an amazing organization in Columbia, Missouri. I also, at times, most of the time, parent as a Behavior Consultant. I spend a lot of time teaching people, my son included, who don't have the social skills that are needed to live and be independent in their community. I accept that. There are many days that I agree with it. But lately there are a lot of days that I hope, dream, and imagine living in a community that embraces differences in all people in a way that can and could make every interaction with others that we have a teachable moment.

Social interaction that is an experience that is filled with acceptance and not judgement. An experience that is filled with acceptance and not pity.

Social interactions between all members of our community where every member takes a few seconds to think about what the other person might be thinking before placing judgment or misinterpretation on the other person. An interaction between two people who just accept each other for who they are and who they are striving to be.

The best person that they can be in that moment.

It's nearing the end of March, and in our family that typically means gearing up for April, Autism Awareness month, a month filled with blue puzzle pieces, blue lights, walks and awareness for our son who does in fact have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. By writing this, I'm not asking you to see blue puzzle pieces and blue lights as negative or exploiting his differences in any way. I'm just asking that when you put on that blue shirt, turn on that blue light, and participate in events that bring needed awareness and education about the differences of all people that you make a real effort to not think about pity. Instead, take pride in understanding that all people are different.

On April 2nd, World Autism day, we will be wearing our blue, we will be raising awareness that brings about change and most of all we will be looking at our boy with pride, acceptance and teaching him that all people are different, have different abilities and most of all that we love being his parents completely because of who he is and who he is striving to be.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Check out monthly "Tips" from me on Alternative Community Training website

Most of you know that I work for a great organization here in Columbia called ACT, Alternative Community Training.  I will now be writing a "tip" a month on various ideas and strategies on the ACT blog/newsletter.  I hope that parents, grandparents, or even teachers can find the ideas helpful.   You can find the first "Tip from Tara" blog here.  

If you have any ideas,questions or topics that you would like me to write about please leave me a comment here or on our Autism Pirate Facebook page.  

ACT, founded in 1975 is a not-for-profit, nationally accredited, (by CARF private agency which provides services to over 400 individuals with disabilities throughout Mid-Missouri annually.

I actually worked at ACT during college as a direct support staff and for the year after college I spent in Columbia before moving to St. Louis when I begin working for Becky Blackwell at Judevine Center for Autism.  I worked in the residential services program that is now a part of the program at Easter Skills Life Skills.  Both Judevine and Easter Skills Life Skills provide services to many individuals across the state of Missouri.  

I have always said that every job I've had has prepared me for the next, ACT to Judevine Center to Case Management in Colorado and back to ACT.  I guess for me, all professional roads start and end at ACT, at least for now anyway!  Who knows where my professional life may lead me, but for now I am happy working for an organization that provides many outstanding services to both children and adults.  If you would like to follow "Tips from Tara" checkout our website or "like" the ACT Facebook page here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday Rye!

May 8, 2013  

Dear Rye,

I started a tradition last year of writing you and your brother a letter every year on your birthday. Today you turn 10. I can't believe it. A decade of being your mom! I can't believe how quickly the time has gone by, I love you!

I know that you worry about growing up and that you worry about mom and dad growing older too, but time moving on is all a part of life that you can't change no matter how hard you try.

One of the many things that I will always love about you is that you teach me something almost everyday. I'm supposed to be the one teaching you, but you teach me more than i teach you. One thing that you show me over and over is that taking life too seriously benefits no one. When you face challenges in life I always want you to remember that taking time to laugh and play is a big part of what is important. Mom is not always good about remembering how important this is and the fact that I don't always do this is NOT something I want you to learn from me. Mom is lucky that you and recently other people have reminded me about this, and I'm working on finding more time for fun. Hopefully when you read this letter when you are older I will have made progress on this and you can see that I've always tried to do what's best for you and Wyatt and having fun as much as possible is BEST.

I know that fun for you sometimes is a world outside of reality that includes movies, TV shows, books and games that you love. Sometimes I try to limit the time you spend in the movie and TV world but just for FUN on your 10th birthday I want to tell you about 10 movie and TV characters that you can learn something from. Most of these characters you won't know but take some time to get to know them and learn from them.

1. It's too big a world to be in competition with everyone. The only person who I have to be better than is myself. -Colonel Potter, MASH  

2.  “Don’t ever let somebody tell you… You can’t do something. Not even me. All right? … You got a dream… You gotta protect it. People can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want somethin’, go get it. Period." – Christopher Gardner, The Pursuit of Happiness  
3.   "Do or do not. There is no try." - Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back.  

4.  "There's no crying in baseball!"
- Jimmy Dugan,  A League of Their Own (1992)  

5.  "Anything worth having is worth going for- all the way." -J.R. Ewing, Dallas  

 6. "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side 1 of Led Zeppelin IV."
- MIKE DAMONE in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Only when you are old enough, like 30!)  :)  

7.  "
Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” - Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption

 8.  Reach for the sky! -Woody, Toy Story.  

9.  “Don’t be afraid of it just because it’s new.”  - Babe  

10.  Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your gonna get.  –Forrest Gump  

Happy Birthday! My sweet boy.  Be who you are, have fun, and don’t ever let anybody tell you that you have to be something that you are not.  Be who you want to be, love life, your family and yourself.  Have FUN!



Monday, April 1, 2013

Day 1 of 30- Let your child be who they are and you just might learn something!

April is Autism Awareness month.  30 days.  We are going to share a post a day all month.  30 things we have learned along the way.

Day 1 of 30- Let you child be who they are and you just might learn something!

This is one of my favorite pictures of Rye...

We were at the Shine a Light on Autism Lighthouse Challenge in Hannibal, Missouri.  Scott pledged to climb the stairs of the lighthouse a ridiculous number of times.  He did it.  We were very proud of him.  While we were waiting, they had a bounce house, children's games and face painting.  All the kids were getting the "typical" face painting characters, animals, butterflies, balloons, etc.  Rye sits down and declares that he wants two blue circles around his eyes.  A few kids said "why do you want that?" while giving Rye an odd look.  I asked Rye if he was sure that he wanted blue circles and he replied with his typical "sure I do".

I didn't think another thing about it and I nodded to the face painter telling  her to go ahead.  Rye loved his circles and thanked the face painter saying they were "just right".  We continued with the activities and Scott finished his challenge.  We visited with other families and after an hour or so we decided it was time to leave.  On the way to the car I had to laugh as I saw three children leaving the face painting area with blue circles around their eyes...

Let your kids be who they are and when you least expect it they might surprise you.  Early on in our journey I wanted Rye to be exactly like other children his age.  I worried way to much about what other people might think about him.  I worried a lot that people might think he is weird or odd.  These days I just want him to be happy, be who is and live up to his full potential.  When it comes down to it, that is all that really matters anyway.