Friday, June 20, 2014

Determined to be Courageous

What a whirlwind!!
Three days... two nights... several hundred miles...
and still processing all the information.

See, Jared and I just got back from our second year attending the I'm Determined Summit.  This year Troy joined us this year as well.
And once again --- it was life changing.

I'm Determined is a time for youth with disabilities to come together to learn self-advocacy / self determination skills.  While the youth are in their sessions, parents are in parent sessions learning all sorts of valuable information - from transitioning from school to adulthood, to taking care of yourself in order to support others, and much more.

The youth leaders at this conference are so impressive!
Each with a disability and each DETERMINED to reach goals that they have set for themselves.

Jared does not exactly look forward to going.
It pushes him - in ways that he doesn't like to be pushed.
He has an entire day on his own (meaning at the Youth Summit without mom).  It's an unfamiliar environment, unfamiliar people, and very social...
all of which equal a very tough time for Jared,
who, because of his autism, unfamiliar things and anything social can create a perfect storm.

On top of that - he is asked to communicate!
Communicate to others and share his view on what his strengths are, what his goals and dreams are, what he needs to be successful, and what a good day looks like for him.
Communication - another difficult area for Jared.  Jared communicates - just not always using words.
And it takes someone really knowing Jared, knowing him, to understand who he is and what he is trying to communicate.

Everything about the I'm Determined Summit is difficult for Jared.
And to be honest, it is difficult for me.

I like to protect Jared and keep him from any difficulty as much as possible. 
I also have been his voice, in so many circumstances and for so many years, that it is difficult for me to send him off and not be there for him.
In addition, there are a lot of teens at the Summit who despite their disabilities and their struggles, are very social and verbally communicate very well.
Some of these students have such incredible stories that they can share - clearly and all by themselves.
And I can count on Jared having a meltdown at least once while we are there.  (He actually had two good sized anxiety ridden meltdowns this year).
It would be easy to say, "This is not for us".


The I'm Determined Summit is very powerful for my family, for Jared and for me.

It reminds me:
Jared is always capable of more than I give him credit for.
We grow when we are stretched.  We ALL grow when we are stretched.
Jared should have a HUGE say in the direction of his schooling and his life.  After all it is HIS life.
Everyone has struggles. Everyone uses supports in one way or another.

And most of all, spending time at the I'm Determined Summit, reminds me...
that I need to be willing to let go!  (For those who know me, and who know what a control freak I can be, you know how difficult this particular thing is for me).

But I was reminded this week again...
that I need to have the courage to let go
courage to let go and let Jared make more decisions
courage to let go and let Jared have more of a say in his future
courage to let go and let Jared have experiences that may be hard
courage to let go and let failures happen

I am reminded over and over again to have courage.

Jared lives a life of courage!
I have learned so many things from him.  He has been and continues to be my best teacher.  He shows me how to live life with courage.

The I'm Determined Summit puts teens with disabilities side by side with each other and learn from each other - how to be a self-advocate and find a dream within themselves


it puts parents of teens with disabilities side by side and builds our knowledge base, builds our support base, shows us that others experience the same sort of struggles that we do.

But for my family - the most powerful thing we bring home from the Summit - is a renewed sense of COURAGE - to continue pushing forward no matter how difficult this life gets!
I am still afraid but I have found courage once again.

What a GIFT!
Thank you for the experience I'm Determined!!

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear."

- Ambrose Redmoon

(Yes we did get him to wear a shirt that wasn't white!  Not for long, but he did.  And oh that smile!  Love this kid!!!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Another school year in the books

Another school year is almost complete.  Just a few more days and this one will be... as they say... in the books. 

Middle school and high school end each year with a grade level award ceremony.  In these students are chosen for grade-level awards in each subject as well as a few special awards.
Today I am going to the middle school as Amber is receiving an award for math and for band. 
And last week I went to the Junior class awards at the high school and Brett was given an award for citizenship... the assistant principal called the few students who received this award the "unsung heroes of the school". 
In these type of moments, I can't help to feel so proud of my children and what wonderful young people they are!!

Brett has one year of high school remaining - and then he will be off to conquer even bigger challenges!!
I am excited, nervous, worried, and thrilled for him all at the same time.
Deep down though - I know he will be FINE!  He is ready for this time in his life, so look out world, he's coming your way!

Brett having one year left, means that Jared is close behind... close to being finished with high school as well.... and that keeps me up at night!

Unlike Brett, Jared will not leave high school with a diploma.
With college prep in the minds of so many high school parents and students, the task of actually obtaining a high school diploma doesn't seem like much of an issue any more. 
It is more like a given.... a way to just move on to the next academic place... college.
It is also something, as parents, we assumed was a given for our children.
Of course they will get a high school diploma, of course they will go to college.

But Jared will not leave high school with a diploma.
He will receive a certificate of completion.

In Virginia, in order to receive a high school diploma you must take a pass a certain number of classes in each subject (4 English, 3 Sciences, etc.), and these classes must be academically on grade level.  You must also pass any end of course state level tests that are associated with these classes.

Jared is so bright.
However, his autism causes language/communication issues and social/anxiety issues.  These two things coupled together make grade level academic learning out of his reach.

He has come so far.
From a child who didn't talk until age 4 to a young man who can now share things about his life with you.... a young man who can call me mom sometimes "mother" and who can tell me "I love you" (a miracle that I will never, ever take for granted).

We made a decision to focus his school time on functional reading and functional math and social skills (those things that will be important for him as an adult to reach the goal of having a job that pays a livable wage and living as independently as possible). 

I am reminded of these things when I see Brett so close to finishing high school.  I am reminded that Jared will not do so many of the things that most people his age will have the chance to do...
go off to college

But I am also reminded that I will never say never.

For Jared has done so much that we were told he would "never do".
And he does things his way.
And most importantly.... at the end of the day.... Jared is HAPPY with his life.
He is content.
And daily he teaches me to be content as well.