Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Can You Be Thankful When You're Depressed and Stressed?

Now that 'tis the season to give thanks, I ask myself how thankful should I be?

This morning, I couldn't breathe again. It wasn't particularly stressful but there I go, feeling uncomfortable even though no one is bothering me. Either way, I'm not thankful for this feeling this morning.

Should I be thankful that I'm tired all the time? Should I be thankful that I hate myself sometimes for losing my temper with Logan and that don't spend enough time teaching Spencer anything? Should I be thankful that I'm on the phone half the time dealing with something for them rather than spending time with them when they need and want my attention.

Well, in a crazy way, I guess I can be thankful for some of these things and more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Giving Them Chances to Succeed and Not Succeed

I've already written about my nightmares in searching for Logan's extracurricular activities for him. Music class, soccer class, Tae Kwon Do... just did not work for us. However, I had recently found some agencies that might even pay for a music or gymnastics class for Spencer. He is eligible because he has the PDD diagnosis. I wanted to use the much of the funds on classes since I felt that I wasn't being fair to Spencer because we had barely ever tried to put him in a class with typical children his age. Our disasters with music and soccer class with Logan sort of scarred us.

But free classes! A place to go when the weather is freezing! Isn't it a dream come true?

Well, not quite...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From $200 to $2 Million: A Mom Finds Success in Serving Children with Autism

Win Choiceworks Visual Support System!
(See Below)

Whenever you are feeling like the world is against you, read this post about one extraordinary mom named Julie Azuma. I have to say that I'm ashamed to have sat next to her at meetings for years and hadn't the slightest clue how accomplished she was. This is before I had children and barely knew anything about autism or any other special needs.

Luckily our paths crossed again just a few months ago when Spencer's ABA therapist told me to visit a website called Different Roads to Learning ( to find tools to help my older son Logan (ADHD, SPD) who wasn't receiving ABA therapy. Soon I realized that this was Julie's company and was floored to find out what a tremendous figure she was in the world of special needs children. In 2006, Inc. Magazine even honored her alongside the likes of Martha Stewart and Michael Dell (Dell Computers) in their 26 Most Fascinating Entrepreneurs issue.

Julie's Story
Fourteen years ago, not long after her adopted daughter Miranda was diagnosed with autism, Julie decided to create a store that offered tools to help children with special needs. Her main motivation came from having experienced the frustration of not being able to find toys and other tools that were suitable for teaching her child.

Julie soon found out that it would cost her over $200,000 to open a store and while the idea was very new to many back then, Julie decided to open an online store instead. In the first year, she earned just $200 dollars and was very happy. At the time, the store was more of a hobby for this former high-powered apparel executive.

As the store grew larger, she developed Different Roads to Learning to become a resource for ABA therapy. Julie had found that ABA worked best on her daughter whose speech consisted of one word sentences when she started the therapy. "Within 6 weeks of ABA, she could say, 'I want juice please.'" While Julie says that Miranda's speech has not gone much beyond that point, she does respond better now and she credits ABA for much of her child's progress. "We really believe that the data on Applied Behavior Analysis indicates that that's the best intervention," said Julie.

Soon her "hobby" of providing appropriate toys and tools for families of children with special needs began to grow. Last year, she netted sales nearing $2 million dollars. This is amazing and yet it doesn't surprise me. Even though many schools and clinics order from Different Roads to Learning, as a parent, I think the store is really easy to navigate so I can quickly choose what I need. Many online stores sort of overwhelm me and leave me feeling that the site is geared towards professionals.

The site is indeed consumer-friendly and stocked with what I can best describe as "really good stuff." However, I think the greatest key to Julie's success is quite simple. That is, she gets it. She gets mothers of special needs children and the needs of their whole family. If we had a checklist of common crappy experiences of special needs families starting with the hurtful comments from ignorant family members to getting the run-around by the "best" medical experts, Julie could check every box on that list along with the rest of us.

She has even dealt with possibly the worst of all special needs scenarios: Julie was running an errand at a bank when her daughter Miranda had a terrible tantrum and so she had to restrain her. (Raise your hand if you've been there. Mine is raised.) A bystander, who didn't recognize that Miranda had autism, notified the bank guard and that's when the real trouble began.

"We told the security guard at the bank that Miranda had autism and they let us go but the guy had even called the police on us. I explained to the guy that she's autistic and she has these behaviors and he said, 'Well, I've never seen that before!'"

Julie understands how parents feel. She understands how frustrated and difficult their lives are. "We know they are not sleeping... Just making a call to us is taking a lot out of them." I couldn't have liked her more when she said that. There are so many times when I'm on the phone trying to get them more help but they are clawing at me and being so loud. I am always asked if there is a better time to talk and the answer is always the same: NO.

As I write about finding calm as a special needs mom, I admire how Julie took the circumstances of her life and turned it into a wonderful opportunity by helping others. I am hoping that this blog can become more than what it currently is but I don't know if I have what it takes to go beyond these boundaries. Having said that, Julie's story sure inspires me.

I asked Julie what advice does she have for us moms who are looking to be as successful as she is and she said she didn't really have advice to give except to say that the common denominator she sees in successful moms (in the special needs world) is solely this: drive. "They are driven and they know where there's a need," affirms Julie. She described that the passion that they have carries them beyond their own children and that those in the special needs world succeed because they want to help everyone. "I wouldn't want a parent to have gone through what I went through," said Julie.

Thanks to Julie, more people have access to better tools to help their children succeed. If only Julie could develop a tool to prevent ridiculous people from calling the police on us when we are just trying to keep our children safe from hurting anyone including themselves. Surely, that would be a bestseller.

The Transitions-Made-Easy Contest - (now closed)
Pictured above is Choiceworks, a kit that uses visuals to help children with social skills, develop appropriate responses and improve self-control. I think this product helps children with a variety of challenges including ADHD, Autism, and Anxiety. (Click here to learn more.) I love it for Logan because it helps him with transitions which is a huge issue for him. It also helps me get less frustrated with him. Lucky for us, Julie would like to give away a free kit ($80 value) to a reader that can best answer this question:

What do you do to help your child better handle transitions?

Please write your submission in the comments box on this post and keep it under 150 words. Include your email address with your answer so that we can find you. If you do not wish to leave your email with your submission, send me an email immediately after you submit your answer (with a detail or two) so that I know that it's yours. This post will be included in the "Readers Give Advice" section on this right side of this blog, so your contributions will always be there for anyone looking for tips. Deadline is Sunday, November 29, 2009 11:59 pm. Julie will be choosing the winner. Good luck and thanks for submitting your ideas.

Above photo: Julie and her daughters Miranda (bottom) and Sophie (left) at an outing a couple of year ago. Miranda is now 21.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Flattening Breasts Can Be Empowering

Do you think about your accomplishments at the end of the year? Sometimes I do but this time, it is strangely all in the perspective of how I'm taking care of myself. When I was working, it was about how much I made, what promotions I got, where I want to be next year... now, I've set my measurement goals differently, like how many panic attacks I've had this month vs. last month.

Things I've done recently that make me feel like I'm a responsible grown-up:

1. I finally went to my regular check-ups -- Internist and Gyno! It only took a vaginal pimple to scare me into getting up-to-date with my regular exams! I even got myself new birth control because I had to make an admission to myself that I am not going to remember to take a pill every day. (I still don't know if I have ADHD) Even with my anti-anxiety pills that I really depend on, I sometimes forget to take those as well. This time I decided to go with a brand name because these once-a-month things are never generic, however I did save money by going to my insurance company's pharmacy.

2. I got my first mammogram! I didn't even know I was supposed to get one but some doctors want you to get one between 35 and 40. I was a little worried because I didn't know where to go but I got a referral from a friend to a good place called Doshi Diagnostic and luckily I was familiar with the company because they have been philanthropic to causes that I've cared about and I even had an old drinking buddy working there. When I got there, I wasn't scared until I walked into the room and saw the squeezer-machine and then I started to get really anxious. However, it went really well, the technician treated me delicately and the exam didn't hurt. Now that I've had a mammogram, I kind of feel grown-up but I'm really not looking forward to my future colonoscopy. I've actually seen one performed. It's cool and not cool.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Flowers Grow on a Bed of Tragic Family Loss

When I was in high school and college, almost all of my friends were Korean American. High school was an especially painful time for me and I got through it because I found some friends with whom I could relate.

I didn't have to sheepishly ask them to take off their shoes when they came into my house. I could open the fridge and feed them whatever Korean food I had to reheat and I didn't have to explain what it was and if it was spicy. I also could freely talk about my feelings on race and culture and never felt the need to be politically correct. Everything was understood.

I guess we all go through these new definitions of self-identity and it's always a blessing to find a kindred spirit with whom to cry and laugh. This happened to me not just in high school but also when I became a mom and then again when I became a mom of special needs children.

However, some unexpected things happened to me when I started this blog. Other mom bloggers contacted me and we quickly became friends. In my neighborhood, strangers came up to me and started chatting with me about holding it together as we try to be good moms. The next thing you know, I have more friends than I ever did and they weren't necessarily mothers of special needs kids like mine.

I write this today because I want to talk about a very special person I know who started a blog recently. Samantha recently lost her husband to suicide and he left behind one teenage child and two young children. Moreover, her husband was the breadwinner in the family.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Homework Paired with a Medium-Bodied Merlot

When I was in the second grade, it was also my second year in this country. I was conversational by then but I couldn't read my homework assignment and no one in my family could help me. My older brother who barely knew more English than I did and my mother who knew even less would spend hours together trying to figure out one problem which probably went something like:

Jane has two apples. Sharon has three apples and gave them to Jane. How many apples does Jane have? No one in my family could do this.

We all cried. I wanted to just die. It was important to all of us that I complete my homework despite my language barrier. We were given no assistance either. I was just left to hand in incomplete and incorrect homework for a couple of years. There was a lot of shame.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Weighted Blankets From Santa

One day, after receiving a whole bunch of toys and clothes for my boys from my brother, I got up the nerve to tell him, "If you are really going to spend all this money, can you get Logan a weighted blanket next time?"

Normally, I would never say such a thing but if I was my brother then I would want to know that my sister would rather have a weighted blanket than a really cute outfit. I had been eyeing it for months and months online but never felt like I could buy it. Within one month of me blurting out my needs, Logan got himself a weighted blanket. He sleeps with it every night.

As the holiday season approaches, I sincerely hope that all your family members think of you and your child's special needs before buying gifts this year. We need different things that can not always be found in Target and Toys 'R Us. I know it is hard but I think being direct might be the easiest way to do it.

My List of Things I Can't Live Without or Want Really Badly:

1. A Good Timer: I don't know what I'd do without my timer which is just an egg timer right now but I am upgrading to the Time Timer since Logan will be able to see just how long he has before the bell goes up. I have so many uses for it: time outs, prevent languishing at dinner, quiet time (go do your own thing), and computer time(when the bell rings, it's over). Timers also keep me from burning pots.

2. Maxemail (Fax) and My Copier/Scanner: It is almost cruel how parents of special needs children need to do so much copying and sending documents. To save time and money, I got these things so that I could get send paperwork whenever I want, but from the comfort of my own home. I create files with an old Adobe PDF maker and it makes my life so much easier. More importantly, when dealing with certain agencies, you must back yourself up with fax confirmation receipts. Otherwise, you can not claim that they received it and that could backfire on you. Click here for the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Professional.

3. Wine: Yes, it's expensive and buying those big bottles doesn't really save you money because you can't drink it all before it goes bad. Sometimes all you need is one glass to deal with the afternoon as you pray they will play nicely and not hurt each other while you make dinner. We parents have to be good models, control our tempers, and praise, praise, praise them but how can you do this if you are not relaxed? Wine, in moderation, helps me for sure.

Monday, November 2, 2009

89 Ways to Say "Very Good"

Not long ago, we decided to not put Logan into the social skills group for which I had searched far and wide. I was sad not to send him but after speaking with his therapist at school, we decided that it would not be ideal for him this year.

I tried and tried to find him other classes but everything was too far or too hard or too expensive. I did find a martial arts class in my neighborhood and we tried it out. And in the first ten minutes, I was feeling really encouraged because they were doing drills and he followed along with each step.

Then came the wait-in-line-to-kick-something drill and we lost him. On top of that, the other boys were mean to him. The teacher even asked him to leave early and come back tomorrow for another free trial class but of course, we never went back.