Archive for February, 2011

By Shannon Penrod

There are some lessons I have to learn over and over again.  The biggest one is the power of now.  Last night, I was putting my precious seven year old who is recovering from Autism to bed.  He had been sick the majority of this last week and had run a low fever for several days.  I slathered him with Vicks Baby Rub, gave him a methyl B12 shot and tucked him into bed.  And then we had an amazing conversation.  It was the kind of conversation every Autism Mom dreams of.

He laid in the bed and made amazing sustained eye contact and then he lovingly touched my face.  He told me that I needed a haircut, that my hair was starting to look like I was always in a wind storm.  Then he smoothed my hair down and told me that I looked beautiful.  As if it couldn’t get better he asked me a question about my new job and what it was like.  We talked.  Back and forth, effortlessly for probably ten minutes.  He kept up the killer eye contact and I was putty in his hands.  It was easy, he didn’t keep changing the subject back to video games, or start  about a subject that I would have to decifer.  He asked me questions, listened to the answers and responded to them.  We laughed and chattered like magpies.  It was heaven.

Eventually, I stupidly broke it up.  It was past bed time, I wanted to take a shower, yadda yadda poop.  As I went to leave he said to me, “May I hug you?”   May I?  May I?  I laughed and praised him and I hugged the daylights out of him.  He explained to me that may I is the correct way to ask and even offered the example that workers in stores are supposed to say, “May I help you?”  We’ve been working on getting him to ask before giving hugs.  He’s getting big and his sudden hugs have been known to nearly topple friends, teachers and therapists.  We haven’t focused on grammar, just asking, which frankly hasn’t been going well. 

Somehow the combination of the methyl B12 shot and the low fever, which in all likelihood burned some of his excessive yeast, left me with a perfect pocket of a moment when my child wasn’t having to fight through his Autism symptoms to talk to me.  It was lovely, it was beyond divine.  And then I tucked him in and took a shower.

In the shower I couldn’t help but think about my Dad after he had his stroke.  He was different, communicating was hard.  He struggled and we all struggled to get to know this new person who looked like my Dad, but wasn’t.  And then every once in a while, the mist would clear and for a short period of time my father would be my father.  On those rare moments you could talk  to them man he had been before, only that’s not entirely true.  He was the old him mixed with the new him in a wonderful, unpredictable way that could simply take your breath away.  We quickly learned that those moments would come and go in the blink of an eyelash.  If you wanted to participate in them you had stop everything and enjoy the moment.

I thought about that and realized the same is true with my son.  There are some moments that transcend bedtime, that transcend the desire or need to take a shower.  I turned off the water got into my pajamas and crawled into my son’s bed to read Captain Underpants with him.  He was tired by that point, but I managed to squeeze a little it more joy out of the moment. 

I kissed him goodnight again and told him what a remarkable wonderful boy he is.  I crawled into my own bed a mass of feelings.  I was grateful, a little sad and painfully aware of the passage of time.  Moments continue to fly by.  Sometimes I catch them, sometimes I don’t.   I’m learning…again.

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By Shannon Penrod

I should start by saying that I haven’t seen Waiting for Superman, the hit documentary that details the decay of our modern public education system.  I can’t bear to see it.  I saw clips on Oprah when she featured it and I couldn’t breathe for a full day.  It all seems so overwhelming.

I volunteer in my son’s school on a regular basis, but until recently I only spent time in his classroom.  I had already made the decision to offer to direct a play at his school when I heard about Waiting for Superman, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it made me follow through.

For the last two months I have been making semi-regular visits to the fourth grade of my son’s school, rehearsing the Women in History Theatre project with them.  I started this project out of a sense of obligation.  I owed it to the school.  They’ve been really good to us.  We’ve had some amazing support for our son; teachers who have cared deeply, a principal who has been amazing and a community that has embraced our child in all of his wonderful quirkiness.  Did I mention an aide who has basically become a member of our family?  Yeah, I owed a huge debt.  So, I decided to step it up in the way that I felt comfortable.  I’m not good at selling cookie dough.  I don’t remember to cut the box tops off of groceries.  I’m not even good at going to PTA meetings, but I can direct a play so that’s what I offered to do.

We are still three weeks away from the two performances we will be doing for friends and family and it is abundantly clear that no matter what, this is an experience I will never forget.  There really aren’t words to describe how rewarding this project has been.  Imagine getting to spend 2 hours a week with 100 sweet little sponges who get excited when you talk to them about the thing you are passionate about.  It’s a lot of fun.  It’s humbling.  It’s unbelievably rewarding.  I think if parents knew how wonderful it is to donate their time they would do it more often. 

So…I don’t know about Waiting for Superman, but it seems like your local school might need you, and from  what I’ve seen it more than worth it to show up.

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by  Shannon Penrod

It’s important to have a conversation starter for every situation.  When I meet a woman over the age of 30, I generally ask her if she has kids.  I figure I ‘ve got a 50/50 chance that we’ll have something to talk about from there.  It used to be when I met a guy between the ages of 17-27 I was really at a loss as to how to start a conversation.  What on earth do I have in common with a twenty something male?  Then by accident I discovered the ultimate opener. 

I was on the phone with customer support at Best Buy, my assigned help was a young guy and for what ever reason we had a great deal of down time while he took care of my issue, so we attempted to chat.  He asked me if I played video games.  I laughed and told him that my husband does voiceover work for video games.  I didn’t know that this was the male equivalent of telling a woman that Oprah is a close personal friend (at least what I imagine).  I was instantly popular and he had so many questions I thought I would never get off the phone.  When I told him my husband is the voice of Subzero in the last two Mortal Kombat games I thought he was going to faint.  He stood up in his cubicle, told all of the other twenty something guys that were manning the phones and he let me listen to them cheer!  I had no idea it was such a big deal.  Now I know the power of Subzero.

Now whenever I meet a young guy I open with, “Are you into video games?”  It’s a sure-fire way to ensure my cool factor goes up, while making conversation virtually effortless.  It also makes my husband’s day when I tell him about the fans of his that I meet in my travels.  The new Mortal Kombat comes out on April 19th.  Voicing the role of Subzero is my talented husband:  Jim Miller.  Here is a preview:

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By Shannon Penrod

Everyday Autism Miracles

Mondays at 4pm PST of http://www.toginet.com

If you know me or follow my story at all, you know that my son is in the process of recovering from Autism.  Jem was diagnosed with Autism 5 years, 25 days, and approximately 4 hour and 15 minutes ago.  But who’s counting?  On that very first day when he was diagnosed I felt so many emotions.  I was relieved because I figured that now we had a name for it we could help him.  I was overwhelmed because I didn’t know what that help was and I was terrified to the core of my being that I was going to let my little guy down somehow.  I promised myself that I would do everything that I could for him and that somehow, someday I would try to help other parents who faced this devastating diagnosis.  A lot of water has meandered under the bridge in the last five years but all in all everything has turned out great.  My child is a walking, talking miracle thanks to the intensive ABA therapy he has received from The Center for Autism and Related Disorders

As for me, for the last year I have been busy hosting a radio show about Autism called Everyday Autism Miracles.  The show is focused on the positive things that are happening in the world of Autism.  This week Everyday Autism Miracles is moving to its new time slot:  Mondays at 7pm EST, 6pm Central, 5pm Mountain time, and 4pm Pacific time.  The move was necessary to make room for my new gig as the host of Skills Live.  

Back in September I was invited to see the unveiling of a new tool in the fight against Autism.  It was an amazing program called SKILLS developed by The Center for Autism and Related Disorders, the same people who gave me back my child.  I saw SKILLS and fell in love.  When I tell you that it was a life changing moment, I’m not kidding.  I saw clearly, for the first time, the answer to a problem that had been dogging me for years: “How on earth are we ever going to get the help my child has received to all of the children with Autism?”  SKILLS answered that question for me.  It gave me hope.  It made me shake for hours, I was so excited.  I had to pull the car over and call my husband, I was that inspired.

To now get to work on this project, well it’s beyond my wildest dreams.  Early this Spring I will begin hosting a live webcast every weekday morning; helping parents, teachers and caregivers to get the very most out of this revolutionary new tool.  I’m pretty sure that makes me the luckiest person on the planet.  For now, while we are in the pre-production phase, I continue to be in awe of the amazing minds that are working tirelessly to recover our kids from Autism.  It is beyond humbling to work with these brilliant people.

Everyday Autism Miracles will continue on in its new time slot.  Right now we are finishing up a series on what to do when your child is first diagnosed.  Free podcasts of all of the shows are available on the show page and on iTunes.  If you or someone you know loves a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder I hope you’ll encourage them to tune in.  There’s more hope than ever.  I also hope you’ll check out SKILLS to see exactly why I’m so excited.  You can even take advantage of a free trial opportunity to do a wonderful ELearning program that effectively teaches you everything you need to know about ABA therapy in order to be a knowledgeable member of your child’s team on the road to recovery.  The free trial is almost up so check it out today.

This is the beginning of a new chapter for me.  I am excited and grateful.  It has not escaped me that as this journey begins as another is winding to a close.  The truth is I couldn’t even consider doing this job if Jem weren’t doing so well.  It has been an amazing five year journey.  There is a moment at the end of  To Kill a Mockingbird where Harper Lee narrates about getting ready to go to the Halloween Program at her school.  She is speaking of her brother Jem, whom my son is named after and she says, “Thus began our longest journey together.”  I have thought of that line so often over these five years.   I can honestly say that it has been a privilege and an honor to have shared this path with my son and husband.  Now with light at the end of the tunnel so clearly in sight there is nothing to do but look forward.   And I do.

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By Shannon Penrod

I caught myself mentally gardening on the drive home today.  In times of stress I know most people like to think of themselves on a tropical island; I like to mentally garden an organic, tiered vegetable garden.  To quote Roz from  GREASE, “There are worse things I could do!”

This year I may have gone slightly off the deep end with my mental gardening…I ordered seed catalogues.  I live in a condo; this is not well behavior.   My husband, after nine years of marriage is used to my pre-spring planting insanity.  Last year our balcony was filled with Topsy Turvy planters.  The year before it was “patio salads” in coconut husk baskets.  But this year I’ve discovered EarthBoxes.  This is the equivalent of crack cocaine to the frustrated gardener living in small quarters.  I might be slightly obsessed. 

I find myself at odd times of the day and night mentally planting rainbow swiss chard and 14 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes.  I can’t help myself.  It’s genetic.  You can tell me that my Welsh, Irish, and German ancestors fled their homelands to escape religious persecution but I know the truth; they came to America because there was more land to be planted!  How sad my ancestors would be to see me attempting to grow Long Island Cheese Pumpkins on a 4’x8′ balcony, EarthBox or not.

I keep thinking that someday they will open a community garden in my area.  I guess with all of my spare time (HA!) I need to do some research into how to make that happen.  Until then I will gleefully pour over my organic seed catalogues, dream of tiered vegetable gardens in cedar lined raised beds and order a couple of EarthBoxes to place below my Topsy Turvys.  Heavy sigh.

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