The Reward (is in trying)


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How many times, as parents (especially parents of children with special needs), do we utter some variation of the words “just try”. We regularly ask our children to step out of their comfort zone and try things, because trying facilitates learning. Sometimes the learning is how to achieve the goal presented, sometimes the learning is how to deal with not achieving said goal, then there are the times when the process of trying leads to some unanticipated nugget of wisdom that is like discovering a beautiful vista while walking down a road never before traversed.

This urging of our children to try, sometimes is an act of “do as I say, not as I do”, for as we grow older, the fear of future unhappiness from not achieving a desired goal becomes like an ever growing avalanche of rocks blocking the road forward. I recall a fellow Autism mom telling me that she wasn’t putting a real effort into asking others to volunteer their time to work with her child because she would be miserable if she put in her best effort and nobody wanted to help. She realized that she was standing in the way of her own opportunities, because she didn’t want to feel rejected. I think most of us have done this sort of self-protectionist, self-obstruction at one time or another. As we grow up, we are taught mixed messages…try our best…but we should be upset, sad, or angry if we don’t get what we want. We are often taught that if we are not unhappy about not getting what we want, we didn’t want it enough. This incongruence of message is like adding massive boulders to the rock slide. There have been times that I have been stopped in my tracks by the rock slide, and others in which, I have climbed over the rocks…and discovered some amazing things about myself along the way.

In the course of this past year, we were presented with an opportunity to try a new road when our beloved Belgian Sheepdog, Diva, passed away at the age of 17 years old. In Diva’s waning days, we decided that when the time came to bring another dog into our family, we wanted another Belgian Sheepdog, and we wanted that dog to be trained to help our daughter. On this road, there are many “don’t try this” signs…firstly, many have a judgmental view of service dogs being used for children with Autism, then there’s the attitude that only dogs that come directly from a service dog breeding program are fit to train as service dogs, additionally, there’s the belief that a service dog must be a Golden Retriever or a Labrador…certainly not a Belgian Sheepdog. However, looking passed the traffic cones, cautions lights and of course, the rock slide, there were hopeful signs as well. I spoke with several people who had trained their dog to be a service dog, a couple of whom had Belgians. Additionally, I had found many stories of children progressing with the assistance of an Autism service dog. After contacting many service dog agencies, I found one that would help us train our puppy, with the understanding that there are no guarantees that said puppy would certify as a service dog when the two years of training was complete. This is a reasonable caveat considering that there are no guarantees that any puppy (even one from a service dog breeding program) will certify. The reward is in the trying…if our puppy doesn’t certify, we are all the better for having gone through the process…and the puppy will be a more integrated part of our family because of having extensive training. Thus, we sought out a reputable breeder, evaluated all the puppies in that litter, picked the one that scored mostly threes and fours on the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test . At twelve weeks old, our puppy was able to sit quietly during my daughter’s holiday dance recital, and behave quite politely during a three hour trip to the mall after the recital.

Thinking back to the early years of my daughter’s autism, I would stare endlessly at the rock slide and wait for some “expert” to tell me what to do. Our daughter was getting further and further out of reach as the rocks piled up between us. At some point, one of the rocks must have hit me on the head and gave me a clue…because I realized the “experts” weren’t going to rescue me, because I had to figure out what to do. After a lot of late night Internet searches, I stumbled upon The Autism Treatment Center of America’s [ATCA] Son-Rise Program My husband and I attended The Son-Rise Program Start-Up and decided to embark on a new adventure homeschooling our daughter using Son-Rise techniques. Upon hearing our plans, a different Autism mom pleaded with me to not pull our (not yet verbal) daughter from the school system because “they know what she needs”. The fact that our daughter had little to no progress in some areas, and had gotten worse in others, in the years of school attendance, did not dissuade that mother from her belief that we were making a horrible mistake. I thank God that we didn’t listen to her fearful pleadings. Within months, our daughter’s three hour tantrums were gone, she was speaking some spontaneous sentences, was telling us when she had to use the toilet, and had acquired a reasonable sleep pattern.

Eventually, we assessed our daughter’s progress and felt that the time might be right to venture out of the homeschool playroom and try dance classes. I left messages with several dance studios that did not respond. Then a wonderful teacher called back, 20 minutes after I left a message on her voice mail, and enthusiastically invited me to bring our daughter in. Our daughter performed at several public events, including a belly dance performance at an unseasonably cold and windy street fair. In dance class, our daughter made her first friend. Recently, my daughter entered a new dance classroom, her friend, a little blond haired half pint, put her hands on her hips and announced that our daughter “has Autism, and that’s okay!”

In the course of our Son-Rise adventure, my husband and I learned self studentship…learning so many things about ourselves and each other, thus improving our relationship, as well as other relationships in our lives. One of the important lessons that we learned from Son-Rise and the Option Institute (the parent organization of the ATCA) is the importance of flexibility. Barry Neil Kaufman, co-founder of OI and ATCA, has talked about many times about the buildings in earthquake prone areas are often built to be able to sway during an earthquake, because the flexibility allows them to withstand the upheaval, while ridged buildings crumble from the force of the quake.

In daily life, those people who possess flexibility remain agile enough to withstand and even thrive challenging times. Flexibility is a vital quality for being someone who genuinely tries to get what they want. Without flexibility, fear of failure would cement a person in place. Another gift of this adventure was my husband meeting an amazing lady, Corbie Mitleid. She has since become a dear and true friend to us both. Corbie is an inspirational speaker, intuitive, and author…{more on Corbie’s upcoming book in a later blog}. Corbie, who has tangoed with cancer three times, refers to herself as a cancer dancer; not a cancer survivor or fighter…because a survivor does so by holding on with their finger nails and a fighter is always dealing with something fighting back.

However, a dancer knows how graceful they can be under pressure and how to get off the dance floor in one piece, and generally they don’t get their toes stepped on. While this philosophy is presented in regards to cancer, one can also apply it to life in general as a means to thriving, not just surviving. If all of life were a dance, then it would be natural to try a new move on the dance floor…yes, there is a time to dance, and the time is now.

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My Daughter's Mother's Day Belly Dance Performance

My Daughter's Mother's Day Belly Dance Performance

This entry was posted in Autism, Dance, Dogs, General, Homeschool, Music, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Reward (is in trying)

  1. Bill Rishel says:

    I was very moved by this touching account.

  2. Connected through AutAdv list serv on yahoo and I will post this on my FB account. Nicely written–thank you! I look forward to more commentary and I hope your daughter gets well soon.

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