Finding Hope at a Track Meet

I remember when my son’s middle school PE teacher reached out to me and asked me if I thought my son would like to join the track team.  I was elated!  My son has Autism and somehow, through all the speech therapy, ABA therapy, IEP meetings and everything else, I had just given up on the idea of my son being involved in any organized sports.  Thank goodness for this very proactive and caring teacher!

I think the way I find the energy to tackle and break down new challenges like this for and with my son is through an incredible sense of optimism when I launch into something new.  In this case, I immediately had fantasies of my son becoming an amazing track athlete, overcoming the odds, and being one of those viral stories that hits the internet and motivates countless people.

The realist in me understands the odds I’m up against.  But this remote possibility is enough to help me get started.  If you share a similar dream, here’s how I broke this down:

1. Find the time.  My son has ABA therapy twice a week and lots of help with homework.  We just had to put this on hold for a while.  Track season isn’t that long.  6 weeks to make room for a new experience that has the potential to build confidence and potentially open up an entirely new world is worth it.

2. Support the time.  Our ABA therapist met my son at the track 2 days per week.  Her time was spent observing my son to determine where he needed help.  He knew NOTHING about track and has gross motor problems that inhibit his ability to really run.  As he runs, it’s as if he needs to think about every movement to make it happen.  His arms pumping, legs moving, even how his feet touch the ground – it’s as if he has to think about each movement to make it happen.  We worked on running, understanding the track, “the rules”, understanding the race he would run, the starting gun (and how LOUD it is), what a finish line is, everything.

3. Coordinate the time.  On the days when the ABA therapist was not at the track, the babysitter would pick him up from track practice.  On Wednesdays, there was no track practice so my son needed to understand that on that day of the week, he needed to get on the school bus to get home.  Track meets were typically on Fridays.  He would need to support this very chaotic environment, to know when his race was and what he should be doing before and after his events.  I would flex my time at work to support this when our aide could not.

We used a calendar to help our son (and the rest of us) understand the schedule.  A typical week looked like this and was critical to not only ensuring my son knew where to be but to help coordinate who was picking him up on specific days and setting his expectation so he knew who was meeting him.

Track Schedule

4. Enjoy the Ride.  The first time I saw my son run in a race is something I will never forget.  I was fearful.  I knew he was slow and I wondered how all of these people would react.  What followed blew me away.  As my son was waiting, he was smiling, happy to be there and be part of things.  This really warmed my heart.  But not enough to lessen my fear that he’d cause a false start. He and the rest of the runners were ready.  The starting gun went off!  No false start.  YES!  As predicted, the other boys were running faster and got farther and farther away from him.  As the first kid hit the finish line of this 55 meter race, the crowd cheered.  By now, my son was really far behind and he was going to be running the last half of this race all alone.  But as he became the only kid still running, this wonderful crowd of students and parents did something I would have never expected.  They started to cheer LOUDER!  Louder than they did for the kid who came in first.  When my son crossed the finish line, the crowd cheered for him.  I’ve never seen him smile so big.  After the race was over, he literally skipped over to the coach who gave him a high five.  A couple of the other kids on the team also gave him a high five.  He was part of something and his confidence soared.  I sat there with a huge smile and tears running down my face.

There’s a good chance that my son will NOT become an Olympic track star or be part of any viral video that inspires countless people.  But he’s happy.  He’s doing new things and learning new things.  He’s becoming part of something larger than his family, becoming part of a community.  He’s showing the world what it looks like when integration in schools works.  As track season came to a close, ALL of his teachers noticed a big difference in him.  He was more confident, raising his hand a bit more in class, improvement with eye contact, improvements with greeting his teachers, all kinds of positive intangibles that are almost impossible to teach.  I would have never known that track would be such an important step to making improvement in the classroom.

I’m so grateful for the school my son attends and these wonderful teachers who are making such a difference.  I’m grateful that I’m sitting with parents who cheer on the underdog and are being such a good example to their own children.  No wonder my son is so happy at school.  We need to do what we can to help our kids be part of things that expand their world.  And even if you’re not in a situation where you have a child with special needs, I hope my story shows you how you can be part of making the world these kids live in a better place.

It’s all about having a dream, a plan, and a little patience


I learned to ski a few years ago and after getting the hang of it, the first thing I wanted to do was share this with my kids.  I had this romantic dream of all of us hanging out on the hill, skiing all day together.  Family bonding at it’s best.

Making this dream a reality is much easier said than done.

My challenge is that my pre-teen son has Autism so teaching him new things takes a little more work than a typical kid.  Asking my friends how they approached teaching their kids, it sounded pretty easy.  Sign them up for all day ski lessons.  They ski while you ski with the grown ups.  Then, to reinforce the lessons, throw them on the school ski bus.

This sounded like a great approach but I knew it wouldn’t work for us.  First, group learning is tough for my son.  He struggles to watch and learn and often needs “hand over hand” type of instruction.  There’s also a communication barrier.  Private ski instruction it is.  Luckily, we ski at Mt. Baker, Washington.  It turns out that they offered private instruction for people with special needs at a less expensive rate than typical lessons.  We signed him up for these 2 hour sessions each weekend.  And we found a great instructor that we kept asking for that was a cool college kid from Western Washington University so that was an added bonus.

Now for the Ski Bus.  This one was tougher.  Kids pile on the ski bus, take their lesson and then ski with their friends until it’s time to head home.  Our challenge:  our son doesn’t really have any friends.  Sure, the kids are nice to him but there’s such a huge communication barrier between him and them, we knew he wouldn’t have a group of friends to ski with.  And you must ski with a buddy.  We’d been making progress with the lessons but we needed more consistency, like the consistency that the weekly ski bus would bring.

We worked with the ski school to have a private 2 hour lesson.  Our lesson included helping our son learn to independently rent his gear, get the gear on, and get to his lesson.  The plan was for me to meet my son AFTER his lesson and then he’d ride home on the bus with all the other kids and I’d meet him at the school.  But all the things that would happen between school getting out and me meeting him at the mountain required a plan for my son to be successful.

As usual, I used a calendar to capture the details of this new routine.

Ski Bus Schedule Clean

This calendar shows my work calendar, the family calendar that the babysitter uses, and my son’s calendar.  For me, I needed to leave early each day.  My work days are extremely busy and this took some juggling.  I admit, I was on a conference call during the drive up to the mountain to meet my son.  For my son, there were many things he needed to remember:

1. He had to bring the right ski gear to school.  The night before, we’d pack his ski back together to make sure he had everything from helmet to ski pass.

2. He would wear long johns under his regular clothes and make sure he wore his ski coat and waterproof boots to school.  These items would be set out the night before so he could independently get ready in the morning.

3.  After school, first, he needed to remember to NOT get on his regular school bus home.  Then, he needed to change into his ski clothes and get on the ski bus.

4. 10 minutes before arriving at the mountain, he needed to get his gloves, helmet and goggles ready and pack up everything he didn’t need on the hill and leave it on the bus.

5. Last, he needed to get to the ski school, rent his gear, get it on and meet his instructor.

These 5 items may sound pretty simple, but they were the reasons why I almost didn’t sign him up for the ski bus.  I couldn’t go with him everyday.  I could only meet him after his lesson.  He needed to do these things independently.  And at 13 years old, he really needed to be able to learn to do this independently, regardless.  This was going to be a stretch for him (and for me) but we did it.

I went with him the first day to help establish the routine.  I met with the ski school ahead of time to explain the situation so they could be watching out for him during the rental process.  And we dove in.  He really enjoyed it.  And by the end of the 6 weeks, he was getting his gear on independently and skiing very confidently on the easy runs.

Last weekend was the first time I went skiing with my son and my daughter without my husband (who couldn’t resist the great back country conditions after a long winter that hasn’t had the greatest skiing conditions).  It was such a wonderful day!  My son did everything on his own.  The rental process was SO much easier since I only needed to help my younger daughter.  On the hill, same thing.  My daughter is a bit of a dare devil and still learning to ski.  While I was helping to pull her out of snow drifts that she crashed into, my son was doing fine on his own and sticking with us.

It took 2 seasons of weekend lessons plus one season on the ski bus to get here.  But we have finally arrived.  I had many moments of frustration along the way where I was ready to give up on this.  But I’m so glad we stuck with it.

In a world where we want quick fixes and sometimes focus too much on the shorter term, this is a long term investment.  3 seasons of investment in lessons and logistics will now translate into MANY years ahead of skiing with my kids as a family.  Already, it’s SO worth the effort that just went in to get us to this ONE perfect day on the mountain.  And this has been a great confidence building exercise for my son.  He WANTS to be independent.  We just need to work a little harder to help him achieve that.

Use a Calendar to Empower your Teen with Autism

When your kids become teenagers, one of the biggest things they need to learn is how to be independent.  They WANT to be independent.  It’s our job to help them learn to be both independent AND responsible.

The same goes for a kid on the Autism spectrum.  The challenge for the parents is a bit tougher.

For my teen with Autism, I feel my job is to create opportunities for him to be independent and then put supports in place to help him be successful.  Our calendar is one of our biggest tools.

This year, he’s joining the other middle school kids on the Ski Bus.  This is a great social opportunity to be around the typical kids that he doesn’t usually see in his special education classes, take ski lessons to increase his confidence and have the other kids in school SEE him doing typical stuff.

For most kids, they sign up, hop on the bus and figure it out.  For us, it took a lot more work but as I look ahead to our first day, I’m optimistic that we will be successful.

First step, instead of a typical ski lesson, I arranged for a private lesson.  He’ll be more successful with one on one instruction so that’s what we’ll do.

Next, setting up a plan to establish the routine for getting from the bus to the rental center and ALL of the important steps involved in getting the ski gear and getting him to his lesson was key.  I met with the director of the ski school.  His team has a heads up that my son may need extra help.  And I will be with him the first day to work out the bumps.

Finally, I’ve made arrangements at work to adjust my hours so I can help each week.  It’s only 5 weeks.  My son will do the routine on his own, but I’ll meet him AFTER his lesson.  Unstructured time is tough for him.  So the 2 hours of free ski time will be with me.

This is where the calendar comes in.  For many kids with Autism, visual information is critical to communication and understanding.  I can TELL my son about what is happening but I know from experience that if he doesn’t visually understand what I’m saying, comprehension will be low.

We’ve broken this endeavor into 2 routines:  before school and after school.

Before school, he needs to get himself ready so he has everything he needs for the afternoon.  We’ve talked about it. He’s seen the schedule but I know he’ll use the calendar on his phone as a checklist so he can get himself ready to go in the morning, independently.

Ski Bus Morning


Now for the afternoon routine.  He’s got the breakdown of what will be happening.  In addition to HIS routine, the picture below shows my work calendar, our family calendar that our babysitter uses AND my son’s calendar.  This is to show that to support my son, it requires coordination across the entire family.  It requires team work. 🙂

Ski Bus Schedule Clean

This schedule shows our first day on the mountain.  This first day is about establishing the routine.  For all the future weeks, my son will be on his own until free ski time.  HIs calendar reflects that.  And my work calendar shows my team that I’ll be leaving early on those days so they know what to expect from me and can plan around me (and better support what I’m doing).

So for any parents out there with kids on the spectrum who look at school activities like this and think it can’t be done, it can.  A little organization, a few conversations with key folks and a solid plan captured in your calendar can go a long way.

Now let’s hit the slopes!

Use the Calendar to Start New Routines

With a new school year starting, I had 2 things I wanted to somehow fit into the day for both me and my son:  Getting consistent exercise by walking the dog AND just getting some quality time with my son.  Because he has Autism, he doesn’t really talk much.  He mostly sends me text messages when he really needs to communicate something.  Over the summer, he was at an outdoor camp with OutdoorsForAll, getting tons of exercise AND because I needed to take him each morning, we had time in the car to spend together.  Though we don’t really talk during that time, somehow a connection is built and I’ve seen that slip away over the course of a school year when we don’t have time like this to spend with each other each day.

So we set up a new routine to address both time together AND exercise.  We’re on our second week and it all started by putting this in his Outlook calendar.  We agreed to walk the dogs every morning from 6:45 to 7:15am.  Because it’s in his calendar, he gets up and is ready to go by then.  He’s just wired this way and I’m convinced this will be the key to him being independent and holding a job as an adult.  While it’s hard to get up a little earlier each morning, I’m loving the time we get to spend together each day.  And it’s a great habit to teach him for his life now and well into his future.

Positive Parent-Teacher Partnerships

We’ve all heard the horror stories of parents at odds with the school and their child’s teacher, especially if an IEP is involved.  I’ve been lucky.  I’ve never been in this situation.  I’m part of a great school district with outstanding teachers but I think I play a role in the very positive relationships I’ve had with my son’s teachers over the years.  My son has Autism.  I’m going on 10 years of partnering with teachers.  2 years of head start before Kindergarten and now he’s entering the 7th grade.

I’ve got a few basic principles that I approach each year with.

1. “How Can I Help You?

As I meet my son’s new teacher, or in the case of middle school, teachers, I always ask them, “How can I help you?”  We know our kids better than anyone else.  Teachers know their classroom, their curriculum and the challenges they face working with a classroom full of kids more than anyone else.  When I first introduce myself to a teacher, I ask them to let me know right away if they have any issues or challenges related to my son and make sure they know that our home program is all about supporting the IEP.  If I understand what he’s learning at school, we can add supportive learning activities at home so that classroom time is as valuable as possible.

2. Help the kids in the classroom help my son.

Each year, I work with the special ed director to sit down with the class and explain my son’s situation to the kids he interacts with each day.  When kids understand what is going on, they have an incredible amount of empathy.  Over the years, I’ve seen kids go out of their way to say hello to my son knowing that he won’t say hello back, helping him get into line when he doesn’t understand that’s what the teacher has asked, picking him to be their partner on a class field trip, all kinds of support!  And when the kids are helping out, it helps the teacher AND helps my son have more opportunities to interact with other kids, not just the teacher.

There have also been a few years earlier on where I had opportunities to speak up at back to school night, introducing myself to parents, telling them about my son and encouraging them to call if their children came home with any questions about Autism.  I felt very well received by the parents who reached out to me.

3. Understand that the school has limited resources.

I know my rights.  I know what my child needs and what he’s entitled to.  I know how to be an advocate.  But I also know that the teachers involved are human beings with only so much time on any given day.  I know there are other students who also have needs to meet.  If there is a problem and the teacher say they can’t solve it in a way I’d like, I ask to sit down and brainstorm ideas on how to solve it.

An example – when my son was in the 5th grade, he was NOT liking his math class.  Each night, I ask him a basic set of questions like “What was your easiest class today?”, “What is your hardest class?”, “Did you eat lunch with anyone today?”.  You get the idea.  Math was consistently coming up negative so I emailed the teacher to see if she could help me figure out why.  I didn’t accuse her of anything.  I didn’t assume anything.  I approached her with questions.  It turned out that my son was coming back in from his pull out session in the special ed resource room towards the end of math in his regular classroom.  Any child walking into that would be lost.  And that raised 2 big problems: the time he was spending in math was wasted time AND it was making him feel bad.  We talked through the situation and came up with a solution.  My son was focused on reading in his pull out session.  But 2 minutes before he was to go back, the special ed teacher would pull up the MATH assignment that they had worked on earlier in the day on a netbook.  He was instructed to work on this assignment in the classroom after he returned.  About 15 minutes after returning to math in progress in his regular classroom, the lesson would be finished up and ALL students would begin working for about 15 minutes on their math homework.  My son was now doing what everyone else was doing – working on math homework.  And his teacher knew what he was working on so she could check up on him just like the rest of the students in her class.

Sure, the school should have been on top of this.  But after I facilitated communication across the special ed teacher and the classroom teacher, we had a plan and it worked.  That’s all that mattered.  Why focus on the problem?  I brought the problem to their attention and we found a solution together.

4. Look out for the teacher.  Watch for burnout.

In the same way that I watch out for the people who work for me at Microsoft, I’m looking out for the teachers that work with my kids.  If my employees are overloaded and get burned out, they can’t do their best work.  The same goes for teachers.  When we meet at that first parent teacher conference or school meeting, I ask questions to figure out if the teacher is doing TOO MUCH.  Yes, I don’t want the teachers doing too much for my son.  It’s a long school year.   I want to see the teacher be able to support my son for the whole year at a sustainable pace.

When my son was in the 2nd grade, at the first parent teacher conference, I asked how things were going with him.  The teacher was very proud of how much she was doing for him to keep him engaged.  But it was too much.  In the science part of her daily class, my son was acting out.  It was clear to me that the content was beyond his comprehension so his attention was wandering elsewhere and behavior problems were the results.  There was no option to pull him out during this time.  The teacher was working way too hard to keep him from distracting the rest of the class – which was bad for the ENTIRE class (and bad for integration efforts as a whole).  I could not get an aide for him.  So I got the school to agree to pulling together some worksheets that were related to things he WAS working on where he could work on them during science AND be accountable via his special ed curriculum.  We had to juggle resources around for a single week so that we could jump start this new program but once it was working, it worked VERY well.  My son was making better use of this time in the classroom.  The teacher wasn’t being over extended trying to teach science AND manage a distracted student who couldn’t follow along.  This part of the curriculum was NOT related to the IEP.  We found a solution and that allowed the teacher to have more energy for ALL of her students.

5. Support Efforts at School From Home.

By working with teachers at the beginning of the year, I get details on the curriculum so that I can reinforce this content at home, and make better use of the time spent in the classroom.  My favorite story on this was when my son was in the 4th grade and the class was learning about the states and capitals in the US.  My son can memorize.  At home, we got flashcards that help kids learn the states and capitals.  His afternoon babysitter worked with him every afternoon.  He learned this material so well that he was acing the tests at school and when they had contests in the classroom to drill on this content and teams were being picked, my son was picked first!  He was the ringer.  This was the first time that my son had a truly integrated experience with his peers in the classroom.  And it opened countless doors in the classroom related to group projects and even skit day in the classroom at the end of that year.

6. Be solution oriented.  And be part of the solution.

I use the IEP as a guide.  When I don’t feel that goals are being met or that I see a plan that will support them, I call a meeting.  I express my concerns and start a dialog about how to solve it.  I always offer ideas on what we can do from home via our home ABA program.  Often, the trick is getting more information from school coming home so that we can do more to help from home.  In my son’s first year of middle school, math was a black hole.  The teacher was not communicating despite all of my best efforts.  No homework was coming home.  When I looked at the IEP goals related to math, I had zero visibility into how we would meet them.

I could have simply complained about the teacher, demanded more home school communication, that sort of thing.  But I just didn’t think that would go very far.  When I had attended back to school night, I could see this teacher cared a lot about her students and had very good intentions.  I just couldn’t tell if it went any further than that.  When I approached our case worker from the perspective of wanting math homework to come home so that we could help focus our home program on the goals, it was an easy conversation.  After all, we were signing up to do additional work!  The math teacher changed her routine to include my son taking responsibility for bringing his math worksheets home.  Completed worksheet went back to school so she could see we were putting the time and effort in.  And the entire relationship changed for the better.

At the end of that first year, my son had the opportunity to join the middle school track team due to a fantastic PE teacher of his.  This math teacher ended up being a huge volunteer supporting the track team.  And this good relationship we had built extended onto that field.  My son’s confidence soared from his track experience.  And this math teacher was a key to making that a positive experience for him.

In summary, as our kids get settled into this new school year, think about how you’re really partnering with these amazing people who are teaching our kids.  Ask them, “How can I help you?” and see what happens.

Using the Calendar to Manage Back To School Anxiety

I think all kids get a little anxious about going back to school. What will their new teacher(s) be like? Will their best friend be in their class? It’s tough for all kids, and even their parents. But for a child with Autism, it can be even tougher due to difficulties around being able to express how they are feeling.

My 13-year-old son loves school. But he’s showing signs of anxiety as we look ahead to school starting next week. He communicates with me mostly via text messaging, even if he’s sitting in the same room with me. He’s on a trip with his dad this week and will return the day before school starts.

After he left, I got this text from him,

“Get my PE shirt in my room in the anchors and put it in my backpack so I could wear it to PE”

He’s thinking about school and what he needs to bring on the first day. PE happens to be his favorite class with his favorite teacher. Before he left, I told him I’d get his school supplies together, but I didn’t mention the PE shirt.

Today, I got this text from him,

“Next Tuesday after school you’ll drop me off at 11:30 and on next Wednesday the bus will be coming back on bus 45 like last year”

He knows the first day of school, the Tuesday after Labor Day, is a half day. In this text, he’s trying to understand how he’ll get to school that day and also confirm that the next day, Wednesday, when the typical school schedule starts up again, he’ll be riding the bus to school like last year – and that it’s the same bus.

With our typical kids, we can talk with them and help answer questions about the things they are wondering about, the things that make them anxious. But with my son, that doesn’t work. What DOES work for us, is using an electronic calendar.

I set up an account for my son and then I shared his calendar with myself so that I could easily add information to the calendar directly from my account. When you share a calendar from one account with another, the other person gets an email telling them that the calendar has been shared with them and then this calendar shows up in their calendar list. When you share it, you can decide if the other person can just read the calendar or you can give them the ability to actually add items and change things. I keep my son’s calendar “turned off” most of the time so it doesn’t clutter my work schedule but when I need to add something, I can easily toggle it back into view, add what I need and it’s done.

I’ve given my son a smart phone so he can text with me in order to communicate with me. But the calendar is our second method of communication. My son remembers schedules really well, AFTER they are established. But as we try to establish new routines, the calendar is key.

Over this past summer, he went to camp with Outdoors For All. They schedule camps a week in advance with different activities everyday. When the schedule is sent, I add the details to my son’s calendar, including things he needs to bring. For example, if they are swimming that day, he needs to bring a swim suit and towel, wear sun screen and remember to bring a lunch. If they are hiking, I add a note in his calendar to “wear hiking boots” and he takes care of the rest.

The calendar gives my son a sense of control. And because I can let him know what is going on and add information about what he needs to bring to camp or to school, he gets the independence that he desperately needs to have, especially as he enters these teenage years.

When schedules change or the routine has exceptions, this can also cause anxiety for any child, but especially children with Autism. I also use the calendar to help manage these changes. For example, my son has guitar practice every Tuesday evening with his step dad.

Guitar Practice

If the guitar instructor cancels due to illness, I go into the calendar and change the appointment from “Guitar Practice” to “No Guitar Practice – Peter is sick today”. My son checks his calendar after school. When he sees this, he knows the schedule has changed, knows what to expect, and there’s no issue.

No Guitar Practice

You may wonder, why don’t you just tell him that practice has been cancelled? With my son, it takes multiple times for a verbal message to register. And if the babysitter is the one passing along the message, for some reason, my son doesn’t believe her! But if it’s written in the calendar, he believes it. I know he needs visual aids to help him comprehend things. The written item in the context of this day and time in his calendar is how he understands the changes.

When he was young, we started with visual schedules. This is a common tool for younger children with Autism. But as our son has learned to read and as his interest in electronic devices has grown, his schedule has grown up to be just like an adult who manages their work schedule in Outlook. And his ability to understand schedules may be one of my key tools to helping him be an independent adult someday.

Thank You to Steve B for his Support of Families Dealing with Autism

The world is learning this morning that Steve Ballmer is leaving Microsoft.  I’ll be sad to see him go.  Under his leadership, Microsoft has allowed me to help my son with Autism in ways that I don’t think would be possible at any other company.

In October 2005, I left a very promising job at to join Microsoft.  I loved my job and my team at Amazon but the benefits at Microsoft, especially the benefits specific to Autism therapies, were better at Microsoft than anywhere else.

I went from paying out of pocket for my Program Manager AND my ABA therapists (who were working 25 hours per week at the time) to having that covered at 80% as well as no caps on speech therapy or occupational therapy visits.  The dollar value to me was at least $45,000 per year!  Microsoft also has a philosophy behind it’s benefits where the goal is to take care of their employees so that they can take care of their families — so they can actually focus on their jobs.  They have that right.  I spent countless hours on the phone with insurance companies before joining Microsoft to get them to actually cover the things that they were supposed to.  Microsoft has spared me that stress and hassle so I can focus on my career AND the needs of my son and family.

I had the opportunity to meet Steve just before the release of Windows 8.  I was on the OneNote team at the time building the first version of OneNote on the new Windows 8 platform.  Steve wanted to check out the app so his admin called my team and I ended up in Steve’s office along with another member of the OneNote team.

We installed the application on his machine.  It was a gigantic touch screen.  I also gave  him my Surface so he could use the application at normal size.  As he toured the application, he was looking for how easy it was to figure things out because he wanted it to be easy and simple for our customers.  At the time of this encounter, I was engaged and had a OneNote notebook that I was using for my wedding planning.  He noticed the content and said, “Are you getting married?  Congratulations!”

Then he began to ask hard questions about features we hadn’t built yet in this version of OneNote.  I don’t need to explain software development schedules to him.  And frankly he didn’t care.  But he DID care about how our customers would feel about what features we included and which ones we didn’t.  He cared A LOT!!

When all was said and done, I’d been there for over an hour answering some very hard questions.  I left feeling inspired and motivated.  His passion for the customer was infectious.  And I did my best to infuse the motivation he’d given me back into my team as we finished our work to ship OneNote on Windows 8.

When it comes to Steve Ballmer’s passion, this is the kind of leader I want to follow and the kind of leader I want to be.  We all need to surround ourselves with people who are passionate about what they do.  The people I work with on the Outlook team have passion like this and it makes me love going to work.  The teachers at my son’s school are passionate about helping him succeed and it makes our partnership even stronger and makes us all want to do our part.

So a big thanks to Steve for his leadership at Microsoft all of these years. You will be missed.

YouTube Reminders

As parents, it’s our job to creatively solve problems.  My problem: I’m not convinced my 13 year old son with Autism is washing his face well enough.  And puberty is becoming less forgiving by the day.  I’m not sure if this is a problem that all mom’s face.  But it’s one I’m facing now.

We’ve taught our son how to wash his face, shown him YouTube videos, everything, but if I forget to remind him, I’m not convinced he’s getting the job done.  When I have him wash his face in front of me BEFORE entering the shower, I can see a noticeable difference in his skin the next day.  This is a tough problem.  A 13 year old boy does NOT need his mother interfering with the shower routine.  He needs to learn it and independently do it.  When I remind him, I feel like a mother hen, nagging him.  And by his response to me, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t appreciate what I have to say about the matter.

So this week, I’m trying something new.  I call it a YouTube Reminder.  I’ve added a reminder to his electronic calendar which he can see on his iPhone:

Wash Your Face in the Shower (

It’s set to pop up on his phone about 15 minutes before he takes his shower.  Since routines run my son’s life, he predictably takes a shower at 7:45 each evening so I can use this to my advantage  My hope is that he’ll see this just before he enters the shower, and he’ll click on the YouTube link.  He’ll see the pretty girl, talking about how you need to wash your face to avoid pimples, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll not only remember, but he’ll do the thorough job that I know he’s capable of because Vanessa Hudgens told him to.

As is the case with all of the things like this that I’ve tried over the years, it may be a huge success – or a terrible failure.  But it’s worth a try.  It may even create a more positive dialog where we can laugh about the video and the topic won’t put him in such a defensive place as he’s trying so hard to become more independent.  (Something I celebrate despite the difficulties.)

2 weeks later…

I’m calling my experiment successful.  This turned out to be a more fun and positive way to remind him about washing his face.  It changed the conversation from one of a nagging mom to something funny we could laugh about.

Since my son isn’t verbal in the same way as a typical kid, here’s how I know he’s got the point.  He started talking about his age and how it relates to his sister’s age.  She had a birthday last weekend and here’s what he said (paraphrased):

“When she is 9, I will turn 13.  When she is 10, I will be 14.  When she is 11, I will be 15.  When she is 12, she will need to wash her face.  When I turn 16, I can drive a car.”

He’s got the point. 🙂


Not Ready For Summer To Be Over

As fall has already arrived with cold weather and lots of rain, I put all of our deck furniture away a couple of weeks ago.  The chairs are folded up and sitting along the side of the house and the table is on it’s side, also on the side of the house.

This afternoon was very sunny, a perfect Fall day.  When I arrived home, the sitter told me that my 9 year old son with Autism was commenting on how sunny it was.  I think he’s still figuring out what the seasons are and with the sun coming out, he decided it must be summer again.

In the summer, we eat dinner outside on the deck almost every night.  One of my son’s chores is to set the table so while the babysitter was working on homework with my younger daughter, my son got to work.  He got the patio table back out.  I can barely move this thing let alone get it from it’s side to an upright position.  He did both and put it back in the spot where it usually goes on the deck.  He got out all the chairs, set them up and put them into place.  He cleaned off the dirty table and then set it with place mats, plates, silverware, napkins, everything.

The babysitter discovered all of this after he was all done.  She was so impressed by his work and all the effort behind it that she was worried about telling him it would be too cold and dark to eat outside.  She praised his good work and gently broke the news to him but told him to leave everything until “mom got home” so I could see what a great job he did. She cleaned off the kitchen table so it would be ready to set when I got home.  Without saying a word, my son decided to move his table setting inside.  He wasn’t upset or anything.  He just seemed to understand.  (Maybe the setting sun confirmed what the babysitter told him?)

The moment I got home, the first thing my son said to me was “Can we eat outside?”  I didn’t know what had gone on yet so I just told him it would be too cold and dark and “we only eat outside in the summer”.  The sitter told me the story in front of my son and he just beamed proudly.  When I saw the table and chairs, I was just shocked!  “Ddid you set the table up all by yourself!?”  Again, he was just sooo proud.

I love watching what my son can accomplish when he sets his mind to something.  I think all parents love moments like these.

My Son’s Chores

As I push my 9 year old son with Autism to become more independent (and watch him WANTING to be more independent, even being rebellious at times), he (and and his younger sister) both have a list of chores that they need to get done each day. Most of them aren’t a big deal, but it’s important that they do them.

His easy chores include: Opening the blinds each morning and closing the blinds each evening.

The tougher chores are: Setting the dinner table, cleaning off the dinner table, doing the laundry (when there IS laundry) and doing his homework.

The toughest chore for him to get was making his bed. You probably don’t think about it much yourself but making your bed is a PROCESS. Fitted sheet, flat sheet, blanket, comforter, pillow…how does all this stuff go together? Aiden struggled at first. And there are Autism resource books that show ways to break down these types of tasks because they CAN be quite difficult to master.

My son and I started with us making the bed together, him on one side and me on the other. We’ve reached a point where I get things set at the foot of the bed and leave the rest to him and he gets it done. We’re not talking hospital corners here (like his sister) but good enough for a 9 year old boy to call that chore DONE. And since it’s on “the list”, I don’t even need to remind him very much anymore.

Today, as I was sitting on the couch chatting with my mom who is visiting, the beeper for the washing machine went off. My son got up and brought out a set of clean sheets. He usually just dumps them on the couch for me to fold. Since we were sitting on the couch and they are MY sheets, I told Aiden just to throw them on my bed. He did. And my mom said, dumbfounded, “Is he doing the laundry!?”

“Yep. That’s one of his chores.”

My son proceeded to move the wet clothes out of the washer, into the dryer and start the dryer. Then he went back to whatever he had been doing. (I put the clothes in the washer to start the process.)

Later that night, long after my kids had gone to bed, my mom and I decided to turn in. I walked into my room and found that my son had put the fitted sheet onto my bed and put the pillow cases on the pillows. The flat sheet was thrown over the top. And the comforter was still where I left it. I NEVER ask him to make the bed like this. I only expected him to make a bed that is mostly put together and has just been slept in.

Once again, my son has shown me that he is capable of more. And these are the moments when I say to myself, “YES! He IS going to figure this stuff out. We’ve just got to keep pushing him.”