Archive for July, 2010

by Shannon Penrod

People ask me almost every day what the warning signs of Autism are.  I can be on the phone with my credit card company and as soon as they know that I do a radio show about Autism or that I am a mom of a child recovering from Autism they start asking about symptoms.  Waitresses ask me, people in line at Disneyland ask me, friends of friends call me – they all have the same question – How do you know when to be worried?  It’s a really good question.  And while there is no easy answer, there are some guidelines that can help you to know whether you should seek out a qualified medical opinion.

It’s important to note that if you have concerns you should talk to your Doctor as soon as possible.  Early intervention is one of the most important keys to helping children with autism  lead happy and successful lives.  So if you have concerns, don’t hesitate to get a qualified opinion.

Here are some symptoms that can be warning signs for Autism and should warrant a discussion with a qualified physician.  Not everyone who displays these symptoms will have Autism, but theses symptoms need to be addressed.

1. A child  over the age of a year displays little of no eye contact.

If your child cannot make eye contact or struggles to make and keep eye contact they should be seen immediately.

2. The child shows a delay or lack of speech for their age.  By one year of age they should be cooing, by 16 months they should be able to use at least one word to identify an object and by two years of age they should be  able to use two words together without repeating what someone else has said.    If the child is not demonstrating these skills they should be seen immediately.

3. The child does not respond appropriately to social cues.  The child  does not respond when you call their name, they show no interest in playing, they do not point at things to show  you something, they do not wave good-bye etc. these are all symptoms that require further inquiry.

4. The child loses any skill at any age.  If a child is talking and stops talking, or even if their language seems to diminish this is a cause for immediate concern.

I can not say enough that it is best to follow your instincts.  If  you feel that there is a disconnect in communication with your child take them to a qualified physician who can recognize the signs of Autism.  I keep saying “qualified” because the vast majority of parents that I meet with a child on the Autism Spectrum report that at least one doctor told them everything was okay before they were ultimately diagnosed with Autism.  That was certainly our case.  Because our son was speaking in full sentences I stopped worrying about Autism.  Then when his language began to slowly deteriorate my concern spiked.  Our pediatrician patted my hand and told me I was overreacting, that our son would soon be speaking in paragraphs.  She was wrong and we lost six months.  By the time our son was diagnosed he was considered non-verbal and we had lost more than six months of precious time when he could have been gaining skills instead of losing them.

Make sure that your pediatrician is knowledgeable and if you aren’t sure don’t waste time – get a second opinion.  Remember that time is of the essence when diagnosing Autism.

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By Shannon Penrod

You’ve probably heard of  six degrees of separation, the idea that supposes that we are all only six people away from anyone on earth.  I prefer the expression of being only “three phone calls away from the president”.  This is great party conversation, “Which one of your friends would you call first if you needed to get to the president in only three phone calls?”  It’s one of those riddles that can keep you up late at night.  Who would you call?  It’s a fun little brain teaser and for most of us not something we need to actually attempt.  But the other day in what can only be described as an “I love Lucy moment of clarity” I had an idea, an idea that refuses to go away.   I find myself in the unique position of needing to figure out who my three phone calls are – but not to the President, to the  First Lady!

I am a Mom, more poignantly I am an “Autism Mom”.  I am one of the millions of Moms around the globe who wakes up every morning and immediately steps on to the front lines of the war against Autism.  I am one of the lucky Moms, because in my home we are winning the battle.  I say that with pride, jubilation and guilt because I know that there are Mom’s all over this wonderful country who haven’t had access to our miracle.  Even worse,  there are people all over the world who don’t know what is possible when it comes to treating Autism.  They don’t even know what to ask for. 

Those of us who have seen the return of our children, who have seen the progress that is nothing short of miraculous, know that a change must come.  We know that schools are desperate for information that can change the face of Autism.  We know that it’s possible to rescue our children, we just need the right person to see it and believe it with us.  I believe that person is Michelle Obama.

So I had my “Lucy” moment and thought – “Invite the First Lady to see what’s possible!”  And I instantly knew where I want to take her. The Center for Autism and Related Disorders is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year.  As part of a celebration of 20 years of research and recovery there will be a gala event in Los Angeles on September 25th.  It is now my personal goal to get Michelle Obama to willingly attend this event so she can see first hand what is possible when we give our children with Autism what they need.  Of course the President is welcome as well, but I believe that a woman with a fire in her belly is capable of anything and that is who I believe Michelle Obama to be.

Now I only have one problem!  Who are my three phone calls?  I never thought I would have to do this for real!  I definitely need some help.  If you know someone who knows someone…be one of my phone calls and help me to persuade the First Lady to attend this important event!

I frequently think of how polio was viewed in my mother’s childhood  versus today.  I hope that someday we can look back at Autism and think of it as something that a different generation had to cope with.  Wouldn’t that be remarkable? 

Shannon Penrod is the host of the weekly radio show Everyday Autism Miracles on www.toginet.com  Free podcasts of the show can be downloaded on the show page www.toginet.com/shows/everydayautismmiracles or on iTunes

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By Shannon Penrod

I think the worst part of having an anxiety disorder is that sometimes your anxiety is warranted.  Unfortunately, last night was beyond my worst nightmare.   I love the 4th of July because it means there is a 100% chance of seeing fireworks.  I like to get there really early, get the best vantage point and then spend quality family time.  Last night I just couldn’t get into the groove.  We left late and I was what I call “Mommy crabby”, you know, that general feeling of just frustrated crabosity because nothing has gone according to plan.  I was sure we weren’t going to get a parking spot and even worse we weren’t going to get a great view of the fireworks.  I didn’t want to be crabby, but I couldn’t seem to shake it.  I even thought to myself, “What’s it going to take to get out of this mood?”  I started running through my grateful list:  I’m grateful for my family, for all of our health, that we are together and safe, for the fact that we are going to fireworks, there are no emergencies, no one is hurt or dying.  24 hours later the irony is painful.

We got to the fireworks and despite my still marginal mood we found a parking spot quickly and ventured out to find the best view.  We stood on a street corner and I looked at a family sitting there and thought to myself “That mom planned better; she got here early!”  We settled for a tiny open spot just a few feet away and I continued to work on my mood. 

I was anxious.  So I started working through everything my therapist has ever told me about anxiety.  I started with a list of questions.  What am I anxious about?   We’re so close to the road, all it would take is some one to come up on the curb and it would be devastating.  Has that kind of thing ever happened before?  Not that I know of.  How many years have you been coming to these fireworks?  Has a car ever jumped a curb since you’ve been coming here?  No.  I settled down a little.  After all we had great seats for the fireworks! 

I kept thinking about a friend of mine who was slightly injured last summer when a car crashed into the Starbucks patio he was seated at.  I even picked up my phone to call him so I could say, “Hey, I’m sitting here thinking about what happened to you.”  Instead I turned to my husband and confessed that I was feeling anxious.  Instead of telling me that I was crazy he expressed that he was feeling the same way.  I was worried about drunk drivers, he was worried about people who might try to drive while watching the fireworks.  We shared our fears and even considered moving but instead we sat right there waiting for the fireworks.

The fireworks started uneventfully and then right as the grand finale began the unthinkable happened.  The sounds and images that keep running through my head are disjointed and do not completely make sense.  They are unrelenting.  An image of fireworks with an ominous boom, followed my a tinkle of glass and the screeching of tires, quickly followed by screams and the revving of an engine.  The image of a car coming toward us.  Another boom and the image of the side of a car over the curb coming toward us with insane speed.  Screams.  Mayhem.  The image of my husband holding our child on the other side of the sidewalk (his reflexes were miraculously faster than mine), the sound of my husband telling me to stay with our son.  The image of my husband walking into the screaming crowd.  Feeling my son shiver.  The sound of my own voice screaming, “You have to get the car off of them!”  The image of my son’s scared face.  Screams. And then the car was miraculously in the middle of the street.  I am told that the crowd lifted it off the injured people, I didn’t see it.  It was like someone had snapped their fingers and it moved.  More screaming and crying. People hugging in the street.  Sirens.  A man on the table of the restaurant patio screaming, “The little girl!  Dear, God, someone help the little girl!” as he covered his eyes with his hands.  A tiny but authoritative woman yelling into the crowd, “Who can hold my camera, so I can go help?”  I knew I couldn’t go, but if I held her camera she could go.  “I will hold your camera.”  I said.  She handed me the expensive apparatus on a pole, she looked at me and said, “You’re a mother, I trust you.”  I said, “Yes.” and she disappeared into the mayhem.

It seemed like hours passed, but I’m sure it was only a matter of minutes.  My husband returned as the authorities arrived and assured us that the best thing to go was to step back and allow the rescue workers room to work.  Within a minute the diminutive photographer returned while helping a police office to string police tape.  I gave her back the camera and asked her if everyone was going to be okay.  She looked down and said, “No, I don’t think so.  It’s pretty bad.”  With thousands of other people we did the only thing we could at that point, we turned and walked away quietly saying prayers as we walked in safety to our cars. 

The family that I had walked by and admired because of the great viewing spot was decimated.  The mother whose planning skills I was so jealous of was dead.  One of her children was airlifted to a children’s hospital in critical condition.  The other two were taken to the local hospital.  10 minutes earlier they had been enjoying the fireworks with us, just 20 feet away.

I don’t pretend to understand this life or the lessons that we are expected to learn.  But I do know that my gratitude list looked significantly different from the time we got out of our car to see the fireworks to the time we got back into it to leave.  We didn’t see the firework finale. I’m sure it played, but I have no memory of it.  Instead I have different memories, like standing in the parking lot and hugging as a family while we thanked God that we were all still alive.  There are other memories too, memories that we will all have to work through, my son included. 

Gratitude is not the only lesson learned.  We won’t be sitting by the road for fireworks anymore and from now on there will be more listening to that anxiety ridden demon who reminds me that there is no safe place for our children.  Unfortunately there are times when that little voice is right.

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By Shannon Penrod

Why is it that creative geniuses always seem to be surrounded by “Yes” men?  C’mon you know it’s true!  Look at Steven Spielberg… who was willing to tell him that A.I. had gone completely off the rails?  Apparently no one.   M. Knight Shyamalan is the latest victim.  The much awaited release of The Last Airbender has left this writer convinced there is no one in Shymalan’s entourage who has a back bone or the willingness to speak up.

How do I know this? The extremely misguided decision to change the pronunciation of the title character’s name for the film version.  Shymalan chose to pronounce it “Ahng” as in “Wrong”, instead of “Aang” as in “gang” of angry viewers who have no idea why you would make such a bone headed decision.  Are you kidding me? 

When Shyamalan bought the rights to the story for a film version my entire family rejoiced.  We love the Nickelodeon cartoon and watch it addictively. There  was some speculation about whether Shyamalan would stay true to the series but I heard that he was a “fan” so I felt better.  Really M.?  You decided to stick very close to the Nickelodeon beloved tale with amazing loyalty, but you changed the pronunciation of  the main character? Really?  

No, I can see it.  You’re in the shower, visualizing the film version and wanting to in some way put your mark on it, make it different from the already spectacular cartoon version.  How can you possibly separate the film version from the cartoon version?  Suddenly it comes to you.  Change the pronunciation of the main character’s name!  What a great idea.  You jump out of the shower with renewed purpose.  You’re a creative genius!  Except that is the moment when someone on your team is supposed to give you a reality check.  That is the moment when some lucky schmuck is supposed to break it to you that your idea is not pure genius, it is pure caca. 

I sat and watched the film today with a large group of fans all of whom visibly flinched every single time someone said “Ahng”.  Talk about ripping people out of the moment!  It was like going to see “Batman” and having everyone in the film call him “Bootman”  It was wierd.  It was unnecessary.  It was wrong!

This, ladies and gentlemen is what happens when you don’t keep someone on the team whose job description does not involve kissing your butt and telling you how great you are.  It’s the same reason  no one told Michael Jackson that he needed to get off the meds.  It’s the same reason  Donald Trump keeps turning up on television with ridiculous hair.  Somebody needs to tell these people the truth!

Having said all of that (other than that Mrs. Lincoln…) there was a great deal of the film that I really liked.  I didn’t think it was possible for me to love a live actor playing Aang but Noah Ringer made me a believer.  I hope that Shyamalan gets the opportunity to complete the trilogy and I will certainly plunk down money to see the films.  But M. if you can’t find someone to tell you the truth, call me!  I will be happy to be your reality check!

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