Snip

Our favorite photo of our eldest son, aged 13 months, is the one where he is being propped up by his Dad after his first big boy haircut. Splendid moment shared with the gal who’s styled my husbands hair for over 10 years.

Too few years later, when my Mother wanted a shot of her grandkids, all of them together, one for her memory box. Off to KMart, all the kids posed for the camera. The photo of our youngest, just a baby, held by my niece is precious beyond belief. What a beautiful boy, and a striking young lady. My Mom was very pleased.

Our oldest, the one on the autism spectrum, only gave the photographer one shot. Still enveloped, in the basement are the copies – that shot reflects the painful truth – he was officially gone. His eyes reflected the void that consumed our beautiful boy. He checked out, only to return, on his own terms in small amounts over the many years up to now.

Turn on an electric razor, spray water on his head, talk too loud or fast while barbering the oldest triggered the panicked meltdown of the little boy who had lost all control of his environment. Sensory issues with kids on the autism spectrum impede their lives doing most or anything typical. Bath time, toilet training, brushing teeth, combing hair, all of it a living hell on their systems – and the family.

Enter Linda, my new friend and a shining light to our family circle. Linda and her husband Charlie, along with our friends Troy & Barb and (later) their kids all get together at our house every few weeks. We call the meetings “Haircut Parties”. Evolving from a tiny cry for help for my son to a new co-worker – I happened upon Linda professionally cutting hair of a salesman, in the service department of the Mercedes Benz dealership where we both worked. She happily agreed to be of help.

She came to our home. Rolled out her gear on the kitchen counter, pulled up the kitchen chair and invited our special needs son to jump up. She cooed, persisted, and ever so patiently worked her magic over him. She is one beautiful soul. Our boy liked her enough that night to accomplish the only other big boy haircut he’d had in over 2 years. Using only her scissors, it was with the patience and love he felt from her that got him to sit still long enough, to gain the trust of this stranger, letting her finish the job. Oh my, he looked very handsome – we quietly celebrated with smiles and a beer.

It’s been 12 years and we still meet – catching up for dinner and haircuts in our own timely manner. We’ve had several guests over the years, however, the core group remains. Charlie, Linda’s husband has become one of my husbands very closest friends. We all went through fertility treatments with Barb and Troy, their first blessed child that come along was Cole. The twins, Trent and Turner, arriving a little later to complete their family. Growing from babies to little boys. It has been exceptional to know them all.

I never know what to tell our friends to bring to share for haircut night dinners. The menu shifts from moment to moment, depending on what is happening in our lives the very day we scheduled the date. But the rule? It’s understood – come to our house, drop your stress at the door, pull up a chair, grab a drink, play with the kids, tease the dogs, and forget about everything else…we are here to celebrate. Celebrate the life we are living with special friends, good food, cold drinks and the knowledge that regardless of the rest, these moments – the fun and banter – really are what matters most in our world.

We honor you, Linda, Charlie, Troy, Barb and your boys……thanks for being our friends and understanding our beautiful boys. ~ Wendy Frye

“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
~Albert Camus

Earl

Awwww, Annie. I didn’t know, wasn’t thinking, and honestly didn’t realize how hard you would take it last night. You were so happy to see me, “Hooray! Mommy’s home! I can relax! Hello, hello, hello!!” Sniff….”??????”

But it’s true, his name is Earl. He and his buddy, Murphy, are such good boys. Their Mom, my friend who styles my hair, she’s a self-confessed animal hoarder Not true, but she does have her fair share of family pets. Healthy, happy mini-farm full with critters and pets. Rural paradise.

He’s a blond Annie – with big, sultry brown eyes. Not like your black ones – striking against your white, fluffy fur – alert with the goings on in your life. No, his eyes are of the wise man, the dog who patrols the house, checks on his Mom from time to time to get a kind word, belly pet and meet her guests. Remind you of anyone?

His sidekick, he’s the skittish one. But together? They are so huggable, lovable and sweet – what was I to do? Pals, like you and the Lillster. Other people need pets too, big girl. And the kitty? Contrary to any other I’ve met – this one actively sought out my lap to be crooned and groomed.

You were instantly (intensely) curious about the blend of scents I brought back with me last night. Into YOUR home no less, how could I? It didn’t take your sniffer very long to process the subtle nuances – right before I saw you slump. Absolutely crushed. Totally betrayed that one of your own people, the one you battle with for the Alpha slot everyday, betrayed you, Lilly, and your boys.

I didn’t know, Annie. But, you are the responsible one of our pair of pups. Last night you took it upon yourself to be the brave one, slept in the closet with my pants, the clothing tainted by the stench of potential intruders to your life, threatening you enough, prompting your family clan to act like the eldest son of lore. You needed to protect your family.

Had to have been a rough night for you, tossing and turning. I pray you found a few minutes of rest, my dear. It’s true, you never EVER know, those trousers could have jumped on the bed at any minute and taken your spot by Daddy. The stress, it had to have been monumental.

Please, don’t tell Lilly, but you are our favorite. Must be the first child thing….we have made every mistake, blundered every training, given every treat, to ultimately screw you up the most. It’s not intentional girl – but destiny. We love The Lilly, too…don’t fret – but didn’t you notice something? She didn’t really care about Earl. No, it was about her and her chest pets last night.

The slacks have been removed from the closet, washed, rinsed, dried, ironed and put away. That’s your youngest charge, always protective of his girls and their feelings.

And the next time I see Earl? That date is set for 7 weeks from today, when my friend will again brighten my hair to make me presentable to the outside world. Earl will be there, kitty and Murphy, too.

You’ll be fine, my little Antoinette. I’ll give Earl, Murphy and the cat some pets that night. You will recognize the scents later, and remember – my pants didn’t take your throat, they were subdued in the closet. You will be just fine. Are you listening to me girl? Hey, are you shaping that bone into a shank? That’s pretty sharp over there, “Honey!”, where did the dog find that bone? Annie come! Annie sit! Annie, listen to me, don’t run away from me….ANNIE!?!

She’s The Annie, Annie Bannanie, and she completes us. ~ Wendy Frye

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
Roger Caras

White Rabbit

Having your child diagnosed on the autism spectrum subsequently changes a mother. Words simply cannot explain the changes to the body, mind and soul of a woman who’s handed something akin to a death knell about their child. The baby they prayed for, dreamt about and waited for over 5 long years. Then, two years of life with the little guy, only to be told he will never actually interact WITH you, won’t speak, we can’t explain what happened, but get ready to put him away – away to an institution and please, try to get on with your life lady.

Stunned stupid? Yes, with a death ray that could feasibly destroy any planet of your choosing.

Not taking this laying down, in those early days before we knew what really happened to our son, my time was filled with research, frustration, panic, and according to some, a manic pursuit of wellness for my son. These things strain relationships, family, friendships, and marriages – nothing is immune from the fallout surrounding an Autism diagnosis.

The summer of 2000, my husband was invited to tour China as a Fulbright Scholar. What an amazing compliment and honor for someone who deserved so much more from life than he was so urgently experiencing. Besides, we needed a break. We needed to know we could make it to the finish line, together. Not pleasant, but please remember, 99% of all parents with a disabled child divorce over the details of the disability. Were we going to jump over the 99% to stay in the light, the 1% who trudge through, together?

He packed his bag, jumped on a plane, and was only able to call one time while he was away in the exotic far east.

The boys and I were really alone now. My oldest son, the one with Autism, had had his tonsils out the week before. It wasn’t going well for him. I needed to call into work the next week to stay home. My boss was ticked, I was sorry – but my son, he was still bleeding from surgery.

The lawn? My brother-in-law mowed once, I paid the neighbor kid the next time and even managed it myself another time. I was exhausted. Exhausted to a point I had never known before. Clinically exhausted……

But who really cared? My mother – the toughest woman in my world, was sick. She had learned just a couple of weeks before China that she had a very rare blood/immune system disease. Of course, she won the other shitty lottery for our family. Four people in the US have this disease – and just where did she find this ticket? Seriously, where in the world does this kind of thing come from?

My mother is a brand of her own. She was suffering herself. She loves my kids – and me too. It had to have been a personal brand of hell to know your daughter needed you more than ever this time….but she literally couldn’t darken the door of my house…because she could die from the exposure. Six weeks of her own house arrest to sort out her cancer. God, the irony….it really is endless.

My Father, a light in my life, brought the food to me. Oh ya, Mom is an excellent cook. Dad delivered delicious meals, seasoned with my Mothers love, spiced with the words she couldn’t bring herself to say – compete with salt, pepper and a napkin. I dined like royalty – from the hand of my unwell Mother…doing what she could to help her own daughter, in the depths of her own personal hell, fighting for her own life.

Upon entering the living room, after his tour of China, was my husband. We knew were the only two people on this planet capable of taking on our family’s needs. That was the best decision ever made by both of us.

Two weeks after my husbands return, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and a raging case of Pleurisy. This explained my clinical exhaustion. I had found my bottom and was ready to leave it all behind, heaving upwards and out of the rabbit hole we’d all fallen into.

Bless my Mother. The White Grandma. She prepared me for this moment. I regained my health, to surge forward. And my Mom? She continued supporting my boys with whatever it takes to get back to “normal”. Now, She’s trudging along, changing history with her stubborn need to dictate to my Dad and the rest of her family. Give ’em hell, Mom. Give them all Hell.

~ Wendy Frye

Necessity… the mother of invention.
Plato

Mother Nature

Spring is officially here. For some families, you know the ones, it’s time to get out the camper, RV, tent or trailer and gear up for weekend getaways. To the lake, to the mountains, to the river, or even the RV park….every weekend a new adventure!

Camping is the All American Brand of Affordable Family Fun. Throw a few chips, hot dogs, and marshmallows in a bag – chill the beer down in a cooler. For breakfast? Eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese – its all in the pan to cook up a camp omelet. Yummy! Everybody’s in ~ we can leave right after work Friday afternoon. Don’t forget your swim trunks, fishing poles, boots, water bottle and backpack for the family hike tomorrow. Let’s Go!!!

Exit scene. Enter our family.

One disabled and highly allergic son. The other son, uncontrollably wild and just as allergic. No eggs, no feathers, no dogs, no cats, no chemicals, no peanuts, no tree nuts, no petrol products, no trout, no shellfish, no wheat, no milk, no soy, no hay, no pollen, no mold. No fun.

But wait! We can “try” to do this, right Honey? My husband’s family has a gorgeous bit of land north of where we live. My husband possesses a mental box full of wonderful memories spending time with his immediate family camping and fishing. They would spend time with his grandparents who lived close by the property when he was young. He and his brother tore up the back 10 with ATV’s as teenagers. His uncle, my Father in Law’s best friend, has adjacent property with a wood fired stove to bake the family’s Thanksgiving turkey. We had many good times there before we had the boys, didn’t we Sweetheart?

Hiking up my big girl pants to wedgie heights, I know we have to try. Urban survival is one thing with an Autistic son, but in the woods, without all our usual routine and necessities? Repeat this mantra: “Must be brave, must be brave, must be brave…..”

To the general store! We needed all the “stuff”! Tent, sleeping bags, night light, flashlights, folding tables, Coleman stove, two kiddie fishing poles with matching tackle boxes, air mattress, camping chairs, and every other thing my husband thought was “critical” to have on hand. We are going to use all this equipment for years to come, right Honey?

To the grocery store! Soda (the perfect stimming liquid), frozen pizza (I think we can bake this on the camp stove..), chicken nuggets (would these work okay on the end of the marshmallow stick?), frozen french fries (maybe baked in foil packets?) and one steak for us. Comfortable foods, served in a uncomfortable place just might work, right Dear? Adapt or die time.

Nebulizer with AC adaptor, Benedryl, Zyrtec, Cortisone cream, alka-seltzer, band aids, Epi-pens for the car, tent, backpack and pockets of all. Can’t be too prepared, right?

The van with no paint was full with our family and new “stuff” – we were finally on our way to the great wildness known to our boys as “Chewelah”. This was where my husbands favorite family stories are set. His mother, whom I never had the chance to meet, passed away before me and the boys came along. These stories always honor her and the bonds their immediate family shared. The boy’s Uncle was going to be camping too, just like when they were younger sons themselves. Uncle was bringing Oakley, his Siberian Husky given to him by his Father for his birthday. Oakley, he was a really good dog.

My children were ethered with excitement. Arriving later in the afternoon, nervously we set up “camp”….taking all the new “stuff” out of boxes. We struggled with tent poles, held the boys back from branding themselves on the Coleman stove and started handing out snacks, I did not have a clue what to do while “camping”. The stress-o-meter started listing just a touch……

Activity #1. Fishing!…..jump back in the van, drive to the historical fishing hole of my husbands youth. Get out of the van. Hike over to the spot. See a dried up trench. Get back in the van, drive another 15 minutes, reassure the boys we will fish, check out the next dried up hole. Scratching his head in confusion, where the hell did all the fishing spots go? Well, I suppose after 15 years they could have changed addresses, Sweetie.

Activity #2. There is no activity number 2 today. Back to camp. Get off the dog! No shoes in the tent, repeat shoes off and on five thousand times to throughly annoy parents and the other campers. Take a Benedryl. Boys! Again, the dog is not a horse, get off him! Give a nebulizer treatment. Yes, you are bleeding. Find the band-aids. Make dinner. Drink an adult beverage. Roast marshmallows, pretend your kids really like them melted, It becomes clear they don’t but it is pretty fun to play with fire. Youngest son showing every gang sign that he’s a budding pyromaniac.

Blow up the air mattress, get out the sleeping bags, its time for bed you little bastards. Forgot the plug for the air mattress, sleep on the ground. All four family members sardined in the tent, the new camp light doesn’t work. The youngest son is just as fascinated with flashlights as fire. My husband, having indulged in more than one adult beverage, needs to relieve himself.

He makes it to the tree line, I think. He’s singing a song. Happy husband rounding the curve but misses the entrance. Flattens my side of the tent. Other campers are very aware of my husbands relief and subsequent battle to re-enter his castle. We have lost the popularity contest already. Beautiful.

The next morning dawns another perfect day. The boys emerge, without shoes, to jump on the dog. My sister in law woke up with acne – feeling the stress perhaps? Pizza and chicken nuggets again for breakfast. More nebulizer treatments. “Get away from the FIRE!”. My brother in law gets stung by a hornet. Ouch! Give him the first aid kit. He takes a Benedryl. Discover the hornets nest 10 feet away. Sweet Jesus, really? Dead sons walking……

We decide that our family has enjoyed (endured) enough of this “camping” thing and start packing up. Giving in early was not a punishment. But it did look like a crime scene. Taking less care, we start shoving what was our savings account, back in the van. ” FOR ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, GET OFF THAT DOG SWEETHEART!” Where’s my epi-pen?

Look up – it’s Black Grandma & Grandpa! Are the boys super thrilled to see their friendly faces, or maybe… its the Happy Meals they’ve managed to smuggle into the wild? What a heartening moment for Black Grandpa. To see the next generation of his family enjoying the land that was his families legacy…..motivated enough to come and visit. That’s family for you.

We happy campers flamed out within 24 hours, never to try again. Total cost? $576.42. Seeing my husband look up at his father and over to his brother with his son on his hip? Priceless.

As a more mature family of four now, we enjoy vacations as regularly as we can. Airplanes, hotels, it’s the city life for us. Museums, art galleries, arcades, plays and performances for this group. While my little family couldn’t fool Mother Nature that weekend, we survived, and all the while I was being choked to death by my big girl pants. ~ Wendy Frye

“A man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew.”
Herb Caen

No Bull

Bullies abound. EVERYWHERE. Take a quick inventory, or deeply reflect upon the people who populate your life. Are all your relationships well and good? Are you working on any damaged links to get back to fine? Excellent! Let’s move on to the rest…..the people in our lives, with or without our choosing, that are known as “Bullies”.

Wikipedia: “Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when the behavior is habitual and involves an imbalance of power.”

Substitute passive aggressive and you’ve got typical human nature folks. Your day is probably studded with interrelations with this type of bully – necessitating an evening of Tums, Advil or a shot of vodka.

Bullies run rampant, many times moving in clusters or groups, and they have a common cause – to keep others from stripping them of their own imagined power over the rest of us.

Locker rooms, water coolers, hallways, parking lots, meeting rooms, playgrounds, cafeterias, family gatherings, churches, schools or any other place people interact – its always the same….someone (or “someones”) emerges as “The Bully”.

And bullies need their allies. The little piss-ant minions who are just the tool the bulls need to rock the equilibrium of their victims. Spy, negate, report, leverage, gossip, lie, bargain, or basically sell their soul to be accepted by the one who rejects the rest.

Is there anything meaner than a pack of middle school girls? Well, those girls grow up to become middle aged women. The elementary school kid who picks fights, suckers lunch money, threatens retaliation on the weak – they too grow up to be middle aged men. These people, the ones who think they have the power, Riggggghhhhttttt (wink, wink)…

These are the individuals who heckle our President and get away with it. The SOB who insults his laborers with with a grinding work schedule, no benefits, and “no hope for you” management style in an economy where any job is a good job. The person you work with that won’t let you finish a sentence because you might be right, and in their mind, that makes them wrong. The evil person who shot an innocent young man down while he walking home from the convenience store, talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone, and enjoying some Skittles. Tragic.

Bullies can be transparent, or obvious – and there is one universal reason why. Abject insecurity.

Consider this, the person who actively tries to destroy, hold back, ruin a reputation, play judge and jury, gossip, lie, injure, damage, pretend to care, or any other nasty thing they can think of to another human being, does not have the self confidence to do a true good deed. Any act of kindness is instantly negated by their historical behavior against their current or past victims. Period.

My son, diagnosed Autistic, does not have the type of ego that lends to being a bully. He is the one who has been bullied most of his life. Entering adulthood, he is a strong and capable young man. I am very proud to say, he is NOT a bully. Our family is learning every day, and we are grateful to be here, together – blessed knowing our purpose in this life.

Let go of “ego”. Live a day without saying (or thinking) “I”. Smile in the face of someone who is being horrible to you. Love your enemy. Sit with the unpopular person at lunch and listen to what they have to say. Dare not to care what people think. Walk away from gossip. Don’t be selfish. Go to church and listen. Stay home and heal. Get out of your own way. Learn to say what you mean and not what they want to hear. Take a chance. Be nice, it really does matter. Push someone else up the ladder instead of knocking them off “your” rung. Choose your words more wisely. Don’t gossip. Don’t react. Dance with the short man who had the nerve to ask. And above all else, remember this, perception creates reality.

Perceive a world without bullies. ~ Wendy Frye

“A lot of people are afraid to tell the truth, to say no. That’s where toughness comes into play. Toughness is not being a bully. It’s having backbone.” Robert Kiyosaki

Brother

They say you can’t pick your family, just your friends. When we are delivered into this world, it is out of any humans control who their family is. From there – the point of being born – to become who we ultimately design ourselves to be.

One souls destiny could be the ghettos in a third world country, fighting for a meal to share with his family. Another wins the universal lottery to be crowned prince, enjoying royal privileges unimaginable to the masses.

…..quietly, another soul, picked from the center of the eye of the one we call GOD, is the brother to the son who’s challenges in this life changes the family – forcing us to grow in directions unbeknownst to most ’till this day.

He wears it well. The full coat of responsibility for his brother. At times it weighs so heavy, this invisible leaden vest, it would crush the heart of a weaker person. We really can’t understand why, as a family, other children are allowed to tease, taunt, boldly stare, or insult another child with a difference about them. Even more confusing? To do the same to the sibling – by very virtue of a genetic link – it is the height of moral atrocity.

Our youngest is proud of his brother. We never pointed the differences out to him, he learned the differences were in others – the ones who were the most cruel. The kid in middle school who brought a walnut to class knowing full well my son was deathly allergic. The boy thought it was big fun to try and cram it in his mouth. What does my son do? He runs to his much bigger older brother. Together they jump on what some people call “The Short Bus”, you know, where the “retards and chairs” ride to and from school, making the safe exit home to sanctuary.

Later in the week, my son asks me where the justice is. Why did the little bully only get off with a warning? What are you speaking of, son? Relaying this recent past experience back to his mother with only mild details – always the one to protect others – I can only imagine the sheer terror he actually felt.

That was one remarkable phone call to the principal. “Hey Pal, you have 8 minutes if nut meat hits my son’s mouth.” Cold, calculating explaining “You better call 911, because if he shot my son with a gun, it would only be then that you have more time to save him. Concerning how much time with his nut allergy? 8 total minutes.” “We clear on the 8 minute thing?”

And his older brother? He’s the big and tall kid who hops like a bunny down the hall, you know that move, the one the kids just can’t stop laughing about? But if his older brother gets even a whiff of what is HAPPENING THERE, be aware.

Be very aware. He’s the quiet one. The one who LOVES his little brother and will think nothing of taking out the little perpetrator who’s chasing him with a walnut. “Do you understand all of this, Mr. Principal?” And know this too, he may be moderately Autistic, so it WILL be considered right now, by all parties, ABSOLUTELY appropriate to react protectively of his brother. “Let’s just make that clear, shall we?”

So, our youngest tripped back to school the next day, armed with a cell phone and the family license to protect himself. My husband showed him a certain swift and direct move to perform on another male that would immediately render them harmless – since in this case they are already stupid.

These much later days, our family is beginning to know more freedom and joy then in the past. Our youngest, always prime for an adventure, is carving out a beautiful future as a bright light, a shining example of grace and courage.

We love you, younger one. You speak quietly, with your actions, for many other brothers and sisters growing up like you…..embracing your exceptional circumstances.

“Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…”
Willie Nelson

Let them grow up to be Astronauts.
~Wendy Frye

The Artist’s Statement!

Our oldest son was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum 15 years ago and will graduate this year. He is a bonafide artist……This is his professional statement to the world. Enjoy!

THE ARTIST’S
STATEMENT

word – n
…a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representations, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

ON THIS PLANET, MOST PEOPLE COMMUNICATE WITH WORDS. MANY, MANY WORDS ALL STITCHED TOGETHER; RICH WITH EMBEDDED OVERTONES THAT TINTS OUR MIND WITH EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS. WHAT OF THE MEANING OF ALL THE WORDS? ALL THOSE WORDS WHICH ARE TO BE INTREPRETED BY THE LISTENER TO EVOKE AN UNDERSTANDING OF ANOTHERS EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS? TOGETHER, THOSE WORDS CAN COLOR ANYTHING, EVERYTHING OR NOTHING.

LIKEWISE ON THIS PLANET, JAMES FRYE, COMMUNICATES HIS FEELINGS AS A YOUNG MAN ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM THROUGH HIS ARTWORK.

THE WORK OF JAMES FRYE IS UNIQUELY HIS OWN AND HIS OWN UNIQUELY. HIS PRIDE REFLECTS DIRECTLY UPON HIS PURPOSE HERE AND IS THE VERY REASON WHY HE CREATES ORIGINAL ARTWORK TO SHARE WITH THE WORLD – COMMUNICATING HIS FEELINGS UNLIKE ANY WORDS CAN EXPRESS.

Art, at its simplest, is a form of communication. As most forms of communication have an intent or goal directed toward another individual, this is a motivated purpose.​

JAMES FRYE HAS DECLARED HIMSELF TO BE “AN ARTIST!” WOULDN’T IT BE SOMETHING TO JUST KNOW WHAT YOUR LIFE WORK WILL BE BEFORE YOU GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL? WOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN SOMETHING MORE TO KNOW HOW YOU WOULD BE LEAVING YOUR BOLDEST THUMBPRINT ON THE WORLD SO YOUNG?

YOU SEE, JAMES FRYE, “THE ARTIST!” WAS DIAGNOSED ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM AT THE AGE OF 3 ½. JAMES WAS BASICALLY NON-VERBAL UNTIL AFTER THE AGE OF 6 YEARS OLD. JAMES HAS WORKED VERY, VERY HARD OVER THE YEARS TO OVERCOME HIS LINGUISTIC COMMUNICATION DISABILITY.

JAMES PAINTS WITH ACRYLLIC PAINTS IN AN ABSTRACTED STYLE AND SOMETIMES FORMS SYMBOLS WITHIN THE HARD LINES THAT ARE UP FOR INTREPRETATION. HE DRAWS AND SKETCHES HIS HANDS AND THEN FORMS STRINGS OF THESE SYMBOLS ACROSS THE PAGES. HE IS ALSO A VERY TALENTED CERAMIC ARTIST THROWING POTS AND WORKING THE CLAY BY HAND TO MAKE SOME VERY INTERESTING WORKS OF ART.

WITH HIS ART JAMES MOVES BEYOND HIS COMMUNICATION LIMITIONS – HE NAMES HIS PIECES VERY THOUGHTFULLY SUCH AS; “SQUIGGLY LINES & BRAIN CELLS”, “FRACTUAL FACES”, “SADNESS OF MEMORIES”, “RUSSIAN GEOMETRY OF NUTRITION” AND “PEACE MORE”. IT IS WITHIN THESE TITLES, WHERE THE WORDS ARE, THAT IS THE PLACE WHEREIN THE ARTIST COMMUNICATES.

Victory Lap

After we received the diagnosis that our son fell somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, we enrolled him in our local school districts developmental preschool.

He was three and a half years old. Between preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school and now high school, our son has had a long period of learning.

Most of his teachers have been wonderful. The heart of the student always shines warmest when surrounded by the dedicated staff in the special education department. When someone connects, and I mean really connects with a person with autism, magic happens. And, the one to one aids? Those special individuals deserve their own blog. A mere mention here is insufficient to their calling.

Key player two in the school? The nurse. Quite a few students with disabilities are medically fragile. Our son proved to be the same – allergic to our world for many of his first years.

Epi-pens in every room, locked in a box. Later, he packed his own (not like he’d stab himself) but just in case of an emergency on the bus or outside the classroom. We received quite a few emergency calls, and in the beginning, you’d find my response akin to a full blown panic attack.

So now, many years into the game, well – let’s just say it’s not my first rodeo. Paramedic crews at my youngest sons middle school commented to the nurse that I really was “under-responsive” telling him over the phone that “I’ll finish up what I was doing at work and then come by the school to collect my son.” Heartless? No, just the rodeo queen wondering why my son decided to try a kiwi, during school lunch, when he’s had the same things for lunch AND dinner for the last three years eating at home. Still don’t get that one.

Imagine me, with my “under-responsive” pulse when my oldest son’s special education teacher calls. Oh, “Hi Brenda!, whats up?” “Everything is fine.” (translation – no one is going to the hospital today) But, she really needed to tell me the good news. Our son, as a sophomore, HAD PASSED HIS STANDARDIZED TESTING TO GRADUATE HIGH SCHOOL!!!!! While it takes many typical students a couple of shots to pass, our son hit the ball out of the park the first time. (Okay, not to exaggerate, he passed under his own development level, but he passed it the first time, dammit!)

I sucked in my breath and while it was really beginning to sink in, the sheer magnitude of this accomplishment, I started rewinding in my mind, back to his first day of pre-school – his dire diagnosis, the long processes of recovering his health to exhale my sincerest “Thank YOU” to her. She, as well as all his past educators, get as much credit moving him up and along the road as he does.

“But…” his teacher says….he passed all three recommended categories, and missed the fourth by a sliver. Even though it didn’t matter if he passes Science, he still passed the testing to graduate. Oh, whatever, I started to think.

Well, my son took the news a little differently about the Science portion of the testing. He was PISSED! He had worked so very hard, over many years, and unbeknownst to all of us – really cared about his level of work and ultimate graduation from high school.

According to his teacher, there was absolutely no reasoning with the young man. He has his father’s temper, Sicilian to the core. Unable to express himself he started running around the common area of the high school. Six foot four and 250 pounds of pissed off student circling the building. She told me that they couldn’t get him to calm down and PLEASE, can I come and get him?

When I arrived at the high school, my alma mater no less, his teacher met me at the door. She and I were giddy with the excitement that he had passed testing. She told me that a couple of other teachers were helping keep him calm. Oh really, it looked like the entire football coaching staff was in the office to be disciplined by the principal. And sitting in the middle chair, was my son.

Classic moment for teasing. “Really (son’s name)? You are PISSED that you didn’t pass science?” “Last time I checked you thought your little brother was a nerd liking that stuff.”

He grinned – the grin of a young man ready to move forward and teach the world a thing or two about what it’s like to be him. I can see him in my minds eye, running around the hallway with the adrenaline he’d held all these years – and the coaching staff groaning that he wouldn’t rush the defensive line. Irony? Perhaps – I asked him about playing in a football game for me – he thought I was out of my mind. “I’m an artist! I cannot risk injuring my hand – are you insane?”

No, not insane son, just gaping in awe of someone as amazing as you…….
~Wendy Frye

“I feel we are all islands – in a common sea.”
Anne Morrow Lindbough

Go Time

Finally, a break in our family storm. Our oldest son, diagnosed on the autism spectrum at the age of 3 1/2, had recovered enough health and stamina that we gleaned the courage to take a family vacation.

When the boys, ages 8 and 6, my husband and I all came to the agreement over dinner that we would take a chance and travel to the magical kingdom of Disneyland, there was no going back. If you say it to your autistic kid, you had better mean it.

Almost instantly comes down the family calendar, pick the days, fire up the computer, check out Expedia, press go and it is now our family’s vacation fate and this promise to the boys is sealed tighter than a blood oath.

The days are marked off very carefully each morning by two excited siblings. We parents are just as anxious, considering every possible outcome, pitfall, unanticipated event, or hairy pin turn we might come up against. Again, we are not the most adventuresome people, having just learned to move as a “cohesive-ish” group.

The VIP pass provided by Disney is totally the bomb. Middle of July, no waiting in line. We had the freedom of rock stars, stepping up, flashing our badge – and escorted to the front of any and all lines. How cool was my family? Oh, we were ALL that, and a bag of chips.

The sensory overload on our oldest had to be monumental. The sights, sounds, colors, smells, textures, temperature, climate, crowds, all of it – for anyone – total sensory overload. I have to hand it to him, he was holding it together, and still excited to be there after the first hour.

Then, came the moment most kids would have waited for, taking their first Disney ride! Well, our oldest shot down the first three offerings we provided. Our youngest son, was getting more than a little annoyed. We then decided to start in the little “kiddy” area – Toon Town.

Toon Town was one of our sons favorite cartoons, he belly laughed at Roger Rabbit, watching the videos over and over and over and over…..

Arriving at Toon Town, towards the back of the entire facility, was where we were going to start. We approached the building where the “ride” was housed. I could feel all defenses in my oldest son flaring up to high alert. Just before the entry door, he balked. I went Ninja, people. I grabbed him, startling him throughly, and executed my no BS now, I am your Mother, you are going in, you are going to sit on the ride, I don’t care if you are autistic, you are going to LOVE THIS!!!!!!

Throwing him into the seat, he was now terrified. I breathed deep, and in the very sense of love I held him, and went still. I calmly (vice grip) held him down as he was screaming bloody murder. We were attracting ALOT of attention. I didn’t give a shit. My husband and younger son had evaporated. The train started at the childish pace it was meant to render, my son, gotta love him – started to relax. My efforts were rewarded when he began to trust that I wouldn’t knowingly kill him on a Roger Rabbit ride.

Exiting the Toon Town venue, with a relieved younger son and husband, was myself and our undamaged oldest. He bought in. We were all smiling and happy. Across the lane, witnessing the carnage, was Kobbe Bryant, his mouth agape, mumbling something to his wife. I can only wonder what was being thought by the witnesses that day, about the bi-polar family who’s tortured kid is screaming entering the building to exit later all smiley and ready to roll?!?

We finished that first day visiting 16 attractions and enjoying the best dinner as a family we’ve ever sat down to. I was served my first Mint Julep, and it was divine. And together, as a family, we learned that sometimes we have to trust enough in each other to overcome our base fears to hopefully discover something sheerly delightful.

Life is good. ~ Wendy Frye

Bus Stop

Everyone has the potential to slip into their routine, so soundly, that it takes some kind of jarring event to snap out of it. Going to the same restaurant every day for years, driving the same way to work, eating the exact brand of cereal, forever – sometimes you just got to change things up.

When you have a child on the Autism Spectrum, routine is your very best friend. Making charts, calendaring, and keeping the same routine is a must do. Planning an event? Break out the picture exchange cards, introduce the concept early, practice and finally, if all the planets line up, execute the “new” routine.

Going to the Dentist? Autism parents plan ahead, organize a few visits before hours, introduce the staff, point out the equipment, explain the process and repeat as often as necessary until everyone is on board for the final execution (appointment).

For all the years my son has been going to school, he has had door to door transportation on the special education bus. When we first relinquished control of his transport, it was admission to a new era. Our son was now at the age and ability that he could carry his own home key, let himself in after school, call me directly to let me know he was safe and stay alone for the few minutes it took his brother to arrive home too.

The first few weeks were critical to success, his and ours. We tried not to be “hovercraft” parents, and our son was doing a great job getting himself inside (using a key!) calling his mom letting me know he arrived safely (talking to me on the phone!) Day one, he nailed it. He was a self proclaimed independent young man now!

This routine was successful for many, many years. So, what do we do? Switch on to auto pilot. As our son grew, regaining his health to a better degree, he was taking on more and more responsibility for his own day. We all were getting very comfortable not taking all the precautions like in the early years. And grown he has, right to a strapping 6 ft. 4 inch, 240 pound handsome young man. In Autism Land, when things are going pretty smoothly it’s called a “honeymoon”.

Waiting for the bus, in his chair watching out the front window one random morning, was my son. Ever vigilant of the passing vehicles, he still carries anxiety that he may miss the bus, and so he waits. He has a clock in the living room to keep on the time, has his coat on, hands on the backpack, and waits for his ride.

The driver was early. So, he thought he would go around the block to kill a little time. Why not? what if our son wasn’t quite ready? That. Was. A. Bad. Plan.

“WAIT FOR ME!!!!!!!” Thundered my grown son ~ so startled in the other room, I almost wet my pants. He launched out that chair, threw open the front door, and tore down the street. His arms were held high, and was off. Oh, man – did he ever run. Full on panicked adrenal rush, he hauled it so fast, my mouth gaped open.

The driver must have seen him in the mirrors, or heard him screaming “WAIT FOR ME! WAIT FOR ME! WAIT FOR ME!”. The driver instantly realized how poor his choice was to circle the block. I stood in the driveway, robe, wet hair, and not just a little worried for the man’s life. The end of our honeymoon……

My son reached the bus, I saw the door open, I held my breath. “What were you THINKING driving by my house?”……”Have you lost your mind?” I saw him pause and step slowly on board and take the back seat.

The call from Transportation received later that morning was classic. The two men who run the bus were more than concerned about the incident, however, they were throughly chastised for their bad choice. It was a “man to man” chat. Sounds like my son railed them all the way to school. And this was a child who didn’t have the words to say what he meant for most of his lifetime.

That was the morning that we learned our son could speak up for himself. We, his parents, were speechless.

~ Wendy Frye

“Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.” ~ Erma Bombeck