Confessions Of An Autism Mom

Flo and Ben

Some mornings with Ben are relatively stress free. This is not one of them. I knew when I heard him still babbling at 2 a.m that it would not be easy to get him up in the morning. With my gammy arm (resulting from a mastectomy and lymph node removal in 2012), it can be difficult for me to physically drag his large 10 year old body from the bed when he is tired, but I was up for the challenge. I open his bedroom door and I am greeted by the smell of poop. He had an accident during the night. Well, “accident” may not be the most accurate word. While Ben is fully toilet trained for number 1’s, his preferred method for number 2’s is to do it in his clothing and then dump it in the toilet. However, when I consider how far he has come with his toilet training, I realize how lucky I am that I don’t have more of a mess to contend with this morning.

Up until about two years ago, Ben engaged in a behavior not uncommon for autistic children: fecal smearing. From about the ages of 4 to 9, each time Ben pooped, he would smear it on himself, the furniture, his clothing, toys, the walls and the floors. Over the years I have thrown away thousands of dollars worth of “stuff” and spent countless hours cleaning feces. While many parents of children with autism deal with this issue on a daily basis, it is probably something that you have never heard of. That’s because there is an air of secrecy that goes with it. We don’t like to discuss this issue, even with the professionals who work with our children, because of a fierce determination to protect their dignity. It would kill me to think that anyone looked at Ben and his behavior as “disgusting”, although that would likely be the reaction of many. So we keep it hidden. Truth be told, I am only comfortable confessing it now because he no longer engages in that behavior.

As I pull Ben out of bed and start to undress him, I am reminded of a “poop-fest” that happened a few years ago, when I was undergoing chemotherapy.   It was about 1 a.m. Ben and I were alone in the house and I could hear him moving around in his room. Although I was feeling sick, exhausted, and drifting in and out of sleep, I felt compelled to go check on him.   When I opened his door and looked in, all I could see in the darkness was the whites of his eyes. My first thought was, “Where did he get the black marker?” Then the smell hit me and I realized that it wasn’t ink coloring his face.   It took me more than two hours to clean him, his bed, the walls and the floor. Ironically, while that is an unpleasant memory for me, conjuring up that image reminds me of the progress that he has made in toileting. The clean up this morning will be relatively easy. I feel grateful.

With his bath complete and the bed changed, I slowly get him to move downstairs.

“It is time for breakfast, Ben,” I say as I hand him a plate of turkey bacon and a glass of juice.

“No breakfast! No breakfast! BOOKS!” he yells back.

“Oh no,” I think. “It is going to be one of THOSE mornings.”

As I watch the clock tick away, I get more and more anxious, knowing that we have a small window of opportunity to catch the school bus. Luckily, he agrees to let me get him dressed without too much of a fuss. I put on one sock. He runs into the living room. I chase him and put on the second sock. He bounces to the kitchen, hands flapping. I follow in hot pursuit on my knees to finish dressing him. I feel guilt. I want Ben to learn self-help skills such as dressing himself, yet I don’t have the patience to deal with it in the morning. I put on his jacket and boots just as I see his student assistant arrive at the top of the driveway to accompany him to school. Today we will make it on time. I feel relief.

“Let’s go, Ben,” I say.

“ONE HUNDRED BOOKS! FIRST ONE HUNDRED BOOKS THEN SCHOOL!” he screams.

I feel impatient. “Jesus, Ben. We have to go now or we will miss the bus!”

“Bye, Jesus! Bye Jesus! Mommy is happy,” he shrieks. He senses that I am getting angry. He doesn’t like to see me upset.

I know it is pointless to argue with him, so I try another tactic, “Ok Ben, you can take 5 books to school today.”

“10 books,” he replies firmly.

I smile and nod my head in agreement. He has mastered the skill of negotiating. I feel proud.

Ben fills his backpack with books and we head out the door, just as the bus drives away. I feel frustrated. Although it will make me late for work, I have to drive him to school. On the way, I hear the familiar sound of Ben’s happy noises, “Queek, queek, queek,” he vocalizes with a big smile on his face. I smile in return.   I am glad that his mood has shifted and I wonder what happy thoughts accompany that bright, beautiful smile.

“He may be a little off today,” I tell the student assistant who greets us at the door of the school. “He didn’t sleep well last night.”

I breathe a sigh of relief as I board the car and head to my office. I love my work as an Educational Psychologist! Each day, I work with kids like Ben. Kids who don’t quite fit the mold; kids with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders. I feel thankful that Ben has taught me so much about how to understand their issues. Being Ben’s mom also allows me to better support the teachers and parents of the kids that I work with. I know how they feel. When I discuss methods to deal with certain behaviors, I am not just “talking the talk”, I am walking that walk every day as a parent!

Mid-morning I am surprised by the sound of the fire alarm going off at the school where I am working.   More than 500 kids file out of the school into the freezing cold. Soon we are all ushered to a neighbouring school to wait in the gymnasium until the issue is resolved. The loud noise of a gym full of excited and scared kids is almost unbearable. I look across the room and see a boy about Ben’s age. While I don’t recognize him, I immediately recognize his behaviors. He has his hands clamped firmly over his ears, and he is gently rocking back and forth. There is a look of pained fear on his face. I feel compassion. I cross the room, give him a hug and gently rub his back. He smiles at me. I realize why God has blessed me with this challenge.

It is sometimes hard work being Ben’s mom. It is always a blessing.

 

My Very Own Little Christmas Miracle!

In a recent post, I made reference to my own little Christmas miracle, and with the permission of my friends, Natalie and Veronica, I would like to share this story with you.

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L to R: Veronica, Natalie and Flo, circa 1998

I have been blessed throughout my lifetime with wonderful friends, too numerous to mention. Natalie, Veronica and I share a friendship that spans nearly two decades. Over that time, we have supported each other through sickness and health; births and deaths; marriage and divorce. While we have been geographically separated for most of our friendship, we kept in touch through frequent emails, phone calls and about twice a year, we would come together to meet. In our younger years, these meetings were about eating junk food, drinking wine and dancing till the wee hours of the morning. However these days, we would be more likely to offer one another energy healing, as opposed to tequila shots.  Like me, these ladies can be described as spiritual seekers, meaning that we actively focus on our spiritual development by reading books, doing courses, and maintaining a spiritual practice of prayer, meditation and reiki, among other things. We can also be described as healers, not in the physical sense of the word, but rather healers of the emotional and spiritual bodies. Because of our shared love of spirituality and healing, I believe that we are connected on a soul level. Natalie and Veronica are my soul sisters.

Several years ago, we decided to embark on a magnificent project; we would write a book together about our individual spiritual journeys and the life lessons learned along the way. In this book, Soul Steps, I poured out my heart and bared my soul about my many life challenges: a nervous breakdown, my divorce, my son Ben’s diagnosis of autism and my own diagnosis of cancer, and how each of these challenges helped me to grow as a spiritual being. Then, during the time that I was battling cancer, just when Soul Steps was about to be published, I was confronted with yet another heart-breaking challenge: the loss of this precious friendship. In retrospect, I can see the warning signs, but at that time it seemed to me that our friendship came to an abrupt end overnight. It does not matter who said what, or who did what, but each of us caused hurt to the others, which was never in any way malicious or intentional. Sadly, for nearly four years we lost our connection. These women disappeared from my life, and our book, while ready for publication, never made it to the press.

Just prior to Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised by an email from Veronica, inviting myself and Natalie to meet on December 23 at a central location, to reconcile our friendship and resurrect Soul Steps. I leaped at the opportunity to reconnect with my soul sisters! One might think that I felt nervous making the four hour drive to central Newfoundland to see these women after such a long time had passed. But all I felt was a sense of calm and peace. It just felt right to me. We cried when we embraced for the first time, and I felt nothing but pure, unconditional love. Instantly, the time separating us just seemed to dissolve, and we laughed and cried while sharing stories and catching up on each other’s lives.

Veronica shared with us the story of how she felt guided to reconnect by finding a picture of the three of us in an old book of hers. Even though she does not recall moving the picture, it just seemed to show up in different books over the following weeks, reminding her of the love we shared. She knew that this was a sign that it was time for us to reconcile our friendship. While I did not know about Veronica’s experience, “coincidently”, around the same time, I too stumbled upon a picture of the three of us in one of my old spiritual books that I felt guided to re-read. I was not surprised then, when Natalie shared with us that she too had come across a picture of the three of us in a book that she felt guided to open. What are the chances that each of us would have the same experience at around the same time?

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as coincidence, rather these signs are messages from the universe to guide us on our life paths. I also believe that the disruption in our friendship happened for a reason. In Soul Steps we talk about some deep topics, such as acceptance, unconditional love and forgiveness. We could talk that talk, but when it came right down to it, could we walk the walk? Could we allow ourselves to be vulnerable? It takes courage to let go of your story, to let go of the past, and to take a chance on healing. Unless we could put these ideals into practice, Soul Steps would lose its integrity. I am happy to say that we were successful! By letting go of the hurt, embracing forgiveness and feeling the love, we passed the test.  I look forward to the spring of 2016, when Soul Steps will come into the world in authenticity and I  look forward to sharing it with YOU!

 

 

The Best Presents

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My daughter Kaitlyn (L) and her friend Shelby (R)

These two young ladies have the Christmas thing figured out.  Rather than exchange presents each year, they gift each other with a rare treat: time spent together.  As Christmas approaches, they set aside an entire evening to go out to dinner and then just relax and catch up on each other’s news.  I am pretty sure that at their age, had one of my friends suggested just hanging out in lieu of exchanging gifts, I would have opted for the presents!  However, the older I get, the more I appreciate the PRESENCE of my family and friends, as opposed to the PRESENTS they give.

Of my 48 Christmases in this world, this has been the most precious one to me because of the presence of my family and friends. First of all, I have been blessed with three beautiful children. While I miss the days of playing Santa and wrapping dolls and toy cars, I now get to experience the excitement of waiting for my daughter, Kaitlyn to come home from University and have them once again all together under one roof. The presence of my three children in our home is by far, my greatest gift.

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L to R: Donovan, Ben, Flo and Kaitlyn

 

I am also thankful for the presence of my 95 year old grandmother. While Nan has enjoyed good health for most of her life, she suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and we worried that that Christmas might be her last. But I am very happy to say that she has mostly recovered, and continues to regale us with her stories and songs.

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Flo (L) and Nan (R)

While so many of my friends have lost one or both parents, I am very grateful to be able to share the Christmas season with both my mom and dad. This year, my sister Lynette came from Florida to spend Christmas with us in Newfoundland, bringing together all but one of my siblings.

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L to R: Mom, Juana, Sherry, Flo, Lynette and Dad

While my “Calgary sister”, Celeste, was not able to spend Christmas with us in Newfoundland, I was very fortunate this year to spend New Year’s Day with her in Alberta. I am so thankful that she made the three hour drive from Calgary to Sherwood Park with her son, Ryan, to spend a fun filled day together. This is the first Christmas season in many years that I have had the opportunity to spend time with all four of my sisters, and for that I give thanks.

 

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L to R: Celeste, Ryan and Flo

I have also been blessed this year with the gift of new love. I met Steve in May, and the past seven months have been a whirlwind of romance and adventure! Not only are Steve and I in a long distance relationship, but it is what I call a “double long distance relationship”.   Steve’s home is in Sherwood Park, Alberta, while I live nearly 7000 kilometers away in Newfoundland. He spends three weeks at home and three in Newfoundland where he works as a helicopter pilot. However, even when he is working in St. John’s, my home is 350 kilometers away in Lewin’s Cove. Despite the geographical challenges, Steve and I have somehow managed to spend a lot of good quality time together. Fortunately, I was able to spend a week of my Christmas vacation visiting him at his home in Sherwood Park, and meeting his beautiful family.   Thank you, God for the gift of this wonderful man whose presence in my life is more precious than any present I could ever receive.

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Flo and Steve

Finally, the good Lord has blessed me with the gift of good friends. With our busy lives, it is not always easy to carve out time to maintain our friendships, but I am happy to say that I managed to connect with most of my friends this Christmas season. I also experienced my own little Christmas miracle by reconnecting with two very dear friends, whom I had lost contact with for nearly four years.

As I reflect back on 2015, I have so many things to be grateful for. As a cancer survivor, good health will always top my gratitude list. Next to my health, it is the love that I share with my family and friends that means the most to me. Intellectually, I have always known that people are what matter most in life, however one of the perks of having cancer for me was the experience of knowing that truth on a deeper level. When I was too sick to care for myself, it did not matter how many degrees I had, the size of my house, or my bank account. My very survival depended on my loved ones taking care of me. While I always had an appreciation for my family and friends, I now make a more conscious effort to put time into my relationships, and I strive to be fully present with them when we are together.

Wishing you much health, happiness and the love of good friends and family in 2016!

Want to change the world? Here are 5 things you can do right now.

I just came across this awesome blog post written by Susan Gonzalez, the co-author of “100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It”. Let’s spread some LOVE!

The Savvy Sister

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way this world will change is from the ground up.  By that I mean grass roots efforts by you and me…individuals…not some big group, political agenda, or organization that seems to start off good, only to fail in their methods and core energy.

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If hate breeds hate, then love certainly breeds love.  So let’s do some love breeding…right now!

5 things you can do to change the world: (in no particular order)

  1.  Smile at 10 strangers every day.  This sounds like it won’t do much to change the world, but sharing your positive energy with someone you don’t know…maybe with someone who doesn’t look exactly like you, or maybe someone who doesn’t speak the same language, will knock out the wall between you and strangers and instantly connect you. This connection already exists, but the smile helps solidify it…

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The Ghostly Christmas Visitor

Back by popular demand!  Last Christmas I posted a true story about a “ghostly visitor” to my parents house, Len and Madeline Strang, of Lawn Newfoundland.  I hope you enjoy my little poem:

 

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Len and Madeline (Mom and Dad)

 

The Ghostly Christmas Visitor

Twas a month before Christmas

When all through the Strang’s house

Not a creature was stirring

Except for one little mouse.

Len’s long johns were hung by the bedside with care

With hopes that Madeline’s knickers, soon would be there.

But Madeline was snoring, as happy as that,

So they both settled down, for a long winter’s nap.

When all of a sudden, there arose such a clatter,

Len sprung to his feet, to see what was the matter?

“Something just touched me!” Madeline said with a fright.

“It was nothing”, Len said, “Go to sleep and Good Night!”

In a very short while, Len’s eyes opened wide,

“Something touched me too”, he said with a sigh.

All through the night, the haunting took place

With ghostly fingers caressing their toes to their face.

In the morning light, they were took by surprise

For looking right at them was a pair of mouse eyes.

“Good Fripse!” Len shouted, as he made a great clout.

But the Christmas mouse clamoured, until he got out.

“A mouse in the house, I will not have it,” he said

So he set the traps all around the house and under the bed.

To the sound of a squeal, Madeline later arose

And saw the Christmas mouse trapped, by one of his toes.

“It’s a sin to kill it, but Len must not know,”

She whispered as she released him on the fresh fallen snow.

So if ever in your travels you meet a limping little mouse

It might be the one evicted from Len Strang’s house.

Madeline has taught a lesson for one and for all,

We are all God’s creatures, whether great or small.

To live out our lives, we all have the right,

So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Healing Your Emotional Body

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When I went through a painful break up in March of this year, I felt as if my whole body was engulfed in grief.   Emotionally, I felt intense sadness and hopelessness. Mentally, I thought that I would never truly be happy again. Physically, I experienced the sensation that there was a huge rock sitting in the middle of my chest, making it difficult to breathe and even to speak. I felt that way for weeks, until I got a phone call from a dear friend who was going through a similar experience at the same time.

“Hey Flo”, she said, “You have to go see my energy healer, Barb. She is fantastic. I went in to see her feeling like crap and came out after one session like I was walking on air!”

I did not doubt the effectiveness of energy healers, as I have seen several over the years for relief from anxiety and to help balance my emotional state. I myself, am in fact trained in a form of energy healing called Reiki, which I administered to myself on a daily basis while going through cancer treatments. However, even though I had trust in this form of healing of the emotional body, I was very skeptical that anything could help relieve my anguish at that time! But I was willing to give it a try.

There are many forms of energy healing, but they all involve bringing balance to our life force energy, also known as “ki”, “chi” or “prana”. When this energy is flowing smoothly, we feel a sense of wellness and peace. However, when we experiences blockages in this field, it causes emotional and mental distress, sometimes followed by physical ailments. In my case the break- up had caused a blockage in my energy field, leaving a big ball of grief stuck right in the middle of my emotional body, so intense that I could physically feel it.

While Reiki is a hands on practice used to move this energy through the body and remove blockages, the type of healing that Barb practices, “Reconnective Healing”, is for the most part, hands off. The hands hover above the body, but within the energy field of the person.   Some people are more in tune with this energy field than others. Try this test, close your eyes and slowly bring your hands together, palms facing each other, and then move them slowly from side to side. Can you feel a change in the energy as your hands get closer? It might feel like a tingling, a heat, or a slight resistance. That is your energy field. This energy can be manipulated either by direct hands on methods, or with the hands not touching the body but remaining in the energy field.

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As soon as I walked into Barb’s room, I could sense the spiritual energy. The very setting itself made me feel comfortable and calm. I chatted a bit with Barb about what was happening in my life, and then lay on the table for my treatment. The first thing I noticed as I lay there with my eyes closed, was the sense of relaxation that came over me almost immediately. Soon after, I felt the warm pressure of hands at various places on my body. I thought, “WTF? How can her hands be on my head and my feet at the same time?” I opened my eyes a crack to find Barb standing at my head with her hands hovering above my forehead. So although I felt the sensation of hands on my body, they weren’t Barb’s hands! Many people who have had energy healings report a similar sensation of feeling hands on their body.

To my surprise, and delight, I left my one hour session feeling as light as a feather! I could not believe the difference from just one session. The weight was gone from my chest and I was not only smiling, but also singing as I was driving home. I could not wait to call my friend and share my experience with her.

“Don’t get too excited yet”, she responded, “It wears off after a day or two.”

I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, but sure enough, after a couple of days, that ugly, heavy feeling was back again. So I booked another session with Barb for the following week, and I continued to see her once a week for 6 weeks. Each time, the feeling of lightness lasted a little longer, and by the end of the six weeks, I felt that the grief had moved through my body and I was healed on an emotional level.

In 2014, I attended a fabulous yoga retreat at Kripalu, with my favorite cousin, Lil. After several days of clean eating, yoga, meditation, and hikes in nature, I joked with Lil, “Oh my GAWD! I have not felt this good since I had cancer!” The truth is, it is usually only when I am going through one of my many emotional crises that I really commit myself to a dedicated spiritual practice of self-reiki, prayer and meditation. So ironically, I tend to feel at my emotional/mental best when I am going through these difficult times because it prompts me to devote more energy to my spiritual well-being. Well, just last week I had a thought. Why wait until I am in crisis mode to pamper my spirit? So I brushed the dust off my rosary beads, unrolled my yoga mat and began to administer reiki to myself each night. The result? I feel like a million bucks! I can actually feel the spiritual energy around me and something is moving in my life that has been stuck for about four years. That is another topic for another blog post….but so many synchronicities and so called “coincidences” are happening that it is laugh out loud funny. The universe is definitely conspiring to bring about a much needed change in one area of my life.

The wonderful thing about Reiki is that by giving it to others, I allow it to flow through my body. So by giving Reiki, I am also getting Reiki. Actually the healing energy does not come FROM me, but I act as a channel and it flows THROUGH me. Usually this energy is very subtle, and I feel it as a tingling, a pulsing or warmth in my hands. However, I have had a few more powerful experiences with this energy. I was once giving a treatment to my daughter, Kaitlyn, and when I placed my hands on her chest, I felt a strong vibration, almost like an electric current, pass down my arms and out through my palms. At the same time, Kaitlyn giggled. Not wanting to interrupt the flow of energy, I kept going with the session for another half hour. At the end, I asked why she laughed and she told me that when my hands were on her chest, she felt waves of energy pulsating into her body.   Coincidence? I think not!

As part of my spiritual practice, not only am I giving self-Reiki, but I have also decided to offer Reiki treatments in my private counselling practice. If you live on the Burin Peninsula, and you would like to learn more about Reiki or book a session (it is covered by most insurance companies), send me an email: florencestrang@hotmail.ca (not dot com!) or Facebook message me.

Namaste!

 

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Are You Getting Enough Omega 3’s?

Have you taken notice how many foods on grocery store shelves are touting their omega 3 content lately? Is it just some new fad? Is it an advertising gimmick? Or have I been missing out on an important practice for healthy living? With these questions in mind, I set out on a quest to see what I could learn about the fatty acids.

eggs

While neither the word “fatty” nor the word “acid” conjures up images of good health, it turns out that our bodies need omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids in order to survive. They are necessary to maintain healthy cell membranes and to build many important molecules in the body. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “Omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions”.   While our bodies are capable of producing omega 9 fatty acids, we must get omega 3 and 6, referred to as “essential fats”, from the foods we eat.

So, if our bodies need both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, then why aren’t advertisers bragging about the omega 6 content in their packaged foods? The reason why the omega 3s are being pushed on the grocery store shelves, and not the omega 6’s is because the North American diet is already saturated with omega 6’s whereas most people are not consuming enough of the omega 3’s. The recommended ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 is 1:2 to 1:4. So for every unit of omega 3 you consume, you should consume about two to four units of omega 6. In North America however we consume an estimated ratio of 1:20. In other words, most people are consuming about ten times the amount of omega 6 fatty acids than they actually need! To make matters worse, while omega 3s have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, which is important for disease prevention, too much omega 6 can have the opposite effect, making you more susceptible to diseases such as:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
  • macular degeneration
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma
  • cancer
  • psychiatric disorders
  • autoimmune diseases

So, the bottom line is this: most of us need to focus on increasing the amount of omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, and reducing the amount of omega 6.

Foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids include:

-flax seeds

-chia seeds

-walnuts

-spinach and other green leafy vegetables

-canola oil

-sunflower oil

-and oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel.

Foods that are high in omega 6 include:

-corn and corn products (corn oil, corn chips, etc.)

-shortening

-margarine

-dairy

-eggs

-beef

-chicken

-pork

 

My favorite way to get my daily intake of heart healthy omega 3’s is by eating chia seeds. Just one tablespoon full of chia seeds has the omega 3 equivalent of 5 fish oil capsules! I like to throw a spoonful into my morning smoothie, but you can also add them to your cereal, pancakes, or muffins. Be creative. You can easily hide them in your children’s (or your husband’s) favorite foods.

If you are a fish lover, the recipe below is a great way to increase your omega 3’s, and as an added bonus, the sweet potato in this recipe has a disease preventing anti-inflammatory effect on the body AND is packed full of Vitamin C! Did I mention they are also delicious?

SALMON CAKES

salmon cakes

Ingredients

2 tins wild salmon (215 g)

1 large sweet potato

2 large white potatoes

1 medium onion, finely diced

¼ cup flour

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons dried tarragon

1-2 teaspoons each of salt and pepper

1 cup Panko crumbs

Olive oil or canola oil for frying

Method:

Drain and mash the salmon with a fork. Boil sweet and white potatoes and mash. Fry onions until cooked. Combine potatoes with onions and salmon.   Add egg, flour, tarragon, salt and pepper. Let cool.  Form into cakes and roll in panko crumbs to coat the cakes.  Fry on medium high heat to brown on both sides. Note: Tarragon is a little expensive to buy, but it is what gives these cakes the WOW factor!

To learn more about eating for disease prevention, check out our book, 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It!