Posts Tagged ‘Shannon Penrod’

By Shannon Penrod

UPDATE:  I will be adding more resources as they flood in.  Check back regularly at the bottom of the list to see more fun things to do and get more great, free resources.

The reality has sunk in…you’re going to be home for awhile with your kids.  It’s a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be, even if you have special needs kids.  You just Jem sevenneed to make a plan and keep them busy and having fun.  I have compiled a list of 101 fun things to do.  They won’t all be right for you and your kids, so just do the things that peak your interest.  Pick on or two a day.  Have fun.  I’ve made a real effort to find things that are free and only use materials you probably already have in your home.  Please feel free to add to the list!

  1. Read with/to your kids. Reading is fundamental!  There is no age limit.  Make it fun and interactive.
  2. Act out what you read. Don’t be afraid to be silly.  Create voices.  Feel free to move and get your children moving.
  3. Draw pictures about what you read. Read a chapter and then draw pictures about the chapter you read.  Show your kids what you drew and why, ask them to show you what they drew.
  4. Sing! Karaoke or acapella!  Singing stimulates the vagus nerve, which lowers stress.  Sing with your kids!  Some cable companies have a Karaoke channel, Disney Plus has great sing- alongs, but if you are saving money you can find lots of free karaoke videos on YouTube.
  5. Learn a new song from YouTube – Don’t know too many songs? That’s okay.  Learn something new.  Find a song your kids like and learn it with them.  Learn all the words.  Put some dance moves with it.  Don’t be afraid to take out your camera.
  6. Start a band – use pots, pans and other household items to make instruments. Improvise or play along to an existing song.
  7. Build a blanket fort. Use tables, chairs and blankets to create a special hang out!  Add pillows and favorite things to make it cozy and comfortable.  This might be the perfect place to read with your kids, with a flashlight, of course.  Don’t worry about making a mess!  No one is coming over, anyway!
  8. Build a pasta tower. This is a great STEM exercise.  Put a variety of pasta (spaghetti, lasagna and penne are the best) and marshmallows on the table and have a contest to see who can build the highest tower.
  9. Find a craft on Pinterest and do it. Don’t worry about having it be perfect. Half the fun of doing a Pinterest craft is seeing how different it comes out.  Search Pinterest fails and have a laugh!
  10. Find a science experiment on Pinterest and do it. Pinterest is filled with science experiments you can do with your kids, using common household products. Here is one of my favorites: https://www.pinterest.com/sheilakddjk1375/science-activities-for-toddlers/?autologin=true
  11. Make a music video to your favorite song. The sky is the limit.  Have your child pick the song and the story line of the video.  Have a blast trying to capture their vision.
  12. Make a short movie. It could be about anything.  It could reenact their favorite scene from their favorite movie or be something they made up.
  13. Learn a magic trick on line. Here are five magic tricks you can teach even a small child. Let them perform their own show, just like the kids in the video!  5 Magic Tricks for Toddlers
  14. Learn a dance on YouTube. Personally I am a fan of the Phil Wright.  He is a choreographer who does dance classes with families that are super fun.  Watch his videos and learn the moves with your kids.  There are several, but here is my favorite: Phil Wright: Let’s Groove
  15. Make an obstacle course in your house and have each family member run the course!
  16. Make a how to video. Is your child good at something.  Have them do a short “explainer” video to teach the rest of us.
  17. Bake something, anything. Have your kids help, make it fun.
  18. Play treasure hunt – hide a treasure and give your kids clues where to find it!
  19. Teach everyone how to do laundry – make it fun! My friend Karen says:  “We play Dry Cleaners. We clock in, register the laundry on our computer, process everything, and complain about the manager. It’s all imaginary, so it’s not like we literally use a computer program or anything, but both of my girls love this.”
  20. Take a class with your kids on KhanAcademy This is a free platform that has classes appropriate for preK – college.  Register for a parent account and a student account.  Take a class along side your kiddo, track their progress.  Did we mention it’s FREE!
  21. Watch an Opera and sing like the actors. The Metropolitan Opera will be live streaming amazing operas for free!  Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.  Here is the calendar: Metropolitan Opera Calendar
  22. Play a board game! In fact play all the board games you have, just not all at once!
  23. Go for a walk, observe social distancing. There’s nothing quite like a walk around the block!
  24. Play beauty parlor. Let’s all do each other’s hair and nails.  Don’t be sexist and leave the boys and men out.  This is great fun for everyone.
  25. Play School and let your kids be the teacher. Be a good student and learn whatever your child decides to teach.
  26. Make your living room a bowling alley with water bottles as the pins. Bowling balls could be oranges, grapefruit, baseballs…the list is endless.
  27. Turn anything into a competition – who can make their bed the fastest, who can pick up the most toys in 20 seconds? Give prizes and awards.
  28. Play tag inside. It’s important to keep everyone moving.  Tag can be super fun!  If you don’t have space to run safely, try it while crab-walking! It takes up more space, but it slows everybody down!
  29. Visit the library virtually – Use Overdrive and the Meet Libby app and you can borrow digital books from your library for free!
  30. Put on a show in your living room – Act out scenes from your favorite Disney movies.
  31. Play FREEZE with your TV – put it on something active like sports, dance or exercise. Take turns pausing the TV and having everyone try to copy the frozen person on TV – hilarious!
  32. Exercise with work out video on Youtube or other social media. There are so many exercise videos on line, there is something for everyone.  I like this one because it is easy and features kids: Kids Working Out!
  33. Call a family member or friend on Facetime! Have some set topics and questions to help foster conversations.
  34. Have your child help make lunch or dinner. Make it fun for them and compliment them on being a good helper.
  35. Do yard work. This may not seem like fun, but it is actually really good for our kids to use their big muscles, get some sunshine, fresh air and fell like they are accomplishing something.  Clear weeds and leaves, plant seeds and flowers, dig up flower beds, etc.  It will help tire them out so they will sleep better.
  36. Put on music, hook up the hose and wash your car!
  37. Institute a 10 minute cleaning fest where everyone cleans, puts things away, dusts and vacuums for 10 minutes. Make it fun, be silly!
  38. Make race cars with Legos® or recyclables and race them. Race Cars from Recyclables
  39. Make puppets out of old socks. We love the Smarty videos, here is the one teaching how to make a sock puppet: SMARTY: Make a Sock Puppet
  40. Do a puppet show. Move the couch out, get behind it and do a show with your kids.  Videotape it so they can see it.
  41. Watch a classic movie with your child. Now is a great time to introduce your kids to all the classic movies you loved as a kid.  Have they seen all the things on this list?  Many are available on streaming services. Here’s a great starter list from Common Sense Media, that includes age ratings, and info about what might be upsetting to different kids:  50 Movies All Kids Should See Before They Are 12
  42. Get the crayons out and draw what you are feeling. Art is a great outlet for what we are feeling!
  43. Take an online typing class with your kids. Here are ratings for some that are free! Free Online Typing Programs
  44. Turn a laundry basket into a race car – push your child around in it. Then put toys or laundry in it and have them push it around.  This is good exercise and mad fun!!
  45. Play “The floor is Lava” with your kids – make sure to participate and supervise.  The rules:  The floor is pretend lava, so you can’t step on it.  You can start by filling the room with dining room chairs that help you get around the room.  Use caution.  Be safe but this is great fun.
  46. Do art projects with handprints and footprints. Turn your child’s foot into a Disney Princess Disney Princess Footprintsor a Marvel SuperHero: Marvel Character Footprints
  47. Take an online yoga class with your kids. There are so many on YouTube! Here is just one: Yoga for Kids
  48. Learn Tai Chi with your kids. Here is a video with ten easy to learn Tai Chi movements you can do with your kids! Learn Tai Chi
  49. Make a balance beam out of tape on your living room floor. Practice walking across it with different silly walks, don’t fall off.
  50. Dress up in costumes – either Halloween costumes or make your own silly costumes. Take pictures.
  51. Play a card game.
  52. Go through your toy box/bin and find toys you haven’t played with in a while, find new ways to play with them. For example, make a stop motion video with old figures.
  53. Build something unique out of Legos or other construction toys.
  54. See who can make the highest house of cards
  55. Have a video game tournament.
  56. Do the Hokey Pokey!
  57. Go for a drive and listen to a book on tape.
  58. Watch educational programing for all ages on PBS. Here in California our local PBS stations are offering curriculum aligned programming for different age groups. PBS At Home Learning Check with your local PBS station to see if this is available in your area.
  59. Watch an old fashioned musical and get up and perform with it. Here are 22 that are currently available on Netflix – be aware they are not all suitable for all ages. Musicals on Netflix
  60. Do silly tongue twisters. Here are 50 to get you started: 50 Silly Tongue Twisters
  61. Draw faces on your hands, do a puppet show. This doesn’t have to be rocket science.  Use a non permanent marker, draw eyes and a face on your hand and let the fun ensue.  Here is a cute (but blurry) video of a kid having some fun talking through his hand. Hand Puppet
  62. Draw faces on your toes. Sing a song.  Make a video.  Here is a great example: Singing Toes
  63. Teach your child how to load or unload the dishwasher – make it fun. Then challenge them to always put their dishes in the dishwasher as soon as they are done eating! Will they remember every time? Create an easy reward! Three meals per day – for every time you remember to put your dishes in the dishwasher, you get five extra minutes of reading time at night!
  64. Put wax paper under your feet and “skate” around the room. Be careful!  This can get pretty slippery!  This blog has great instructions: How to Wax Paper Skate
  65. Make a robot out of stuff laying around the house. Robots for Recycled Materials
  66. Play a game where you take small amounts of fragrant things from around the house, in the fridge and in your yard. Put them in separate cups, bowls or glasses.  Take turns blindfolding your kids and have them guess what they are smelling.
  67. Make mud, play in it and make old fashioned mud pies.
  68. Make and dress your own paper dolls. There a plenty of sites to help you – here is just one: Make Your Own Paper Dolls
  69. Play restaurant. Someone is the cook, someone is the waiter, someone is the customer.  Go from ordering to paying, your kids will love it.
  70. Get out your Christmas lights and hang them with your kids, wherever it makes you happy.
  71. Make a collage with your kids using recycled materials.
  72. Have your kids make a cooking show! Record it!
  73. Play follow the leader.
  74. Play Hot/Cold. Hide an agreed upon item somewhere in the house.  Start looking for it, the person who did it says “Cold” when you are not near the hid item, “Warm” when they are getting closer and “Hot” when they are really close.  The person who finds the item gets to hide it the next time.
  75. Rearrange the furniture with your kids – this is good gross motor activity.
  76. Make masks out of paper plates. Here are some fun ones from Life as Mama: Paper Plate Masks
  77. Challenge older kids to make a video for YouTube about their favorite subject…even if it’s video games.
  78. See who can make the silliest face in a selfie. Have friends and family vote.
  79. Play a video game as a family. We love to play Mario Cart as a family!
  80. Do calisthenics as a family. Older kids can do push ups, planks and crunches but all kids can do these moves: 5 Exercises for Kids
  81. Make a mural on the wall, by taking old wrapping paper and hanging it face down on the wall. Supervise your kids to only color or paint on the paper, not the wall. A fun thing to do is just draw shapes and lines, have them color each shape a different color. Geometric Art Projects
  82. Make toilet paper tube art! Toilet Paper Tube Art
  83. Make paper plate animals. Paper Plate Animals
  84. Make up a funny handshake with your kids. Be creative!  Make it fun.
  85. Make a crazy string sculpture in your house. Know where your scissors are before you start.  Tie string to a door knob and then tie it to something across the room.  Zig zag back and forth high and low until you run out of string.  Practice trying to cross the room without touching the string.  Make sure you take a picture before you cut your way out!
  86. Teach your child to sew a button on. Need a refresher before you teach? How to Sew on a Button
  87. Help your child to create a story or script – act it out. Don’t be afraid to be silly!
  88. Pretend you are on a boat, on an airplane, in an elevator, at the zoo. PRETEND!
  89. Pretend you are different animals, change frequently; take turns yelling out which animal to be.
  90. Play “I Spy”.
  91. Make a fairy house with recycled materials.
  92. Memorize a poem, scripture, monologue or speech –perform it!
  93. Pretend your kids are the parent and you are the kid! Let them order you around.
  94. Play balloon volley ball. Blow up a balloon and try to keep it from touching the ground by hitting it into the air.  Kids love this and don’t realize it’s good exercise!
  95. Make soup out of all the fresh veggies you have in the fridge. Have your kids help you find ingredients for the soup.
  96. Meet friends and/or family in a free Google Hang Out – Play a game together or read a story together. Don’t know how to do a Google Hang Out? How to Do a Google Hangout
  97. Make popcorn the old fashioned way. Don’t know how?  Here are some great instructions!
  98. Dance while vacuuming.
  99. Play retail store. Make someone the cashier and someone the shopper.  Have fun buying and selling your stuff!  This teaches pre-employment skills!
  100. Find free educational resources on line. A bunch are free right not, this blog details them all!  Free Educational Resources
  101. Take your kids on a field trip to a famous museum, virtually! Here are 12 of the best from around the world: 12 Museums to Visit Virtually
  102. Take a field trip with your kids…virtually!  Here’s a list:  Virtual Field Trips
  103. Need support with speech?  SpeechBuddy.com has put together a great list of activities and resources: Speech Resources
  104. Don’t get overwhelmed, do what looks fun! Come up with your own fun ideas and share them on the internet!

Tune in to Autism Live to hear more on how to cope during this uniquely challenging time!

Shannon Penrod is the host of Autism Live, a free resource, providing information for the Autism Community and those who care about the Autism Community.


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My mother loved to knit.  She was the only woman I knew who could knit while reading a book.  She was famous for knitting, reading and watching TV all at the same time. Yep. She was the queen of multitasking, doing 3 and 4 activities at a time and knitting or crocheting was always the central activity.  My  Mom loved sharing her passion for knitting and delighted in giving free lessons.  In the mid 1970’s with all of the other women in our neighborhood my mother started a group called, “Knitting”.  Once a month all of the ladies in the neighborhood would go to one home, each month a different home, the ladies would drink coffee, chat and knit.  Before the end of the night a dessert would be served, something homemade by the hostess.

I find myself thinking about those “Knitting” nights more and more.  As a kid I both hated and loved those nights.  When it was our month toPatty Jo Pittman Penrod host “Knitting” my mother would insist that the entire house be cleaned top to bottom.  We couldn’t think of allowing the neighborhood ladies to enter our home if there was even a speck of dust.  The cleaning was a drag, but honestly I was kind of thrilled when the ladies would come over.  There was so much to learn if you stayed quiet, and I’m not talking about knitting.  The ladies talked and it was like a live 70’s version of Pinterest.  A quiet kid could get tips on everything from how to make 7 Minute Frosting, to how to clean grout between bathroom tiles.

I’m sure I expected to hear gossip and juicy tidbits about everything going on in the neighborhood.  The truth was much more innocent and infinitely more trans-formative.  These were ladies.  They talked about their lives without drama and they supported each other.  I learned so much from those ladies while their knitting needles clanked and hot black coffee was sipped from my mother’s best china.

In truth, I learned the most from watching my mother.  There was nothing better than watching my mother in her element.  She loved to show others how to make something they could be proud of and she had an amazing way of doing it while bolstering a person’s self-esteem.  She knew just what to say to make everyone feel like they were doing a good job, as women, as mothers and as knitters.

I don’t remember what happened to “Knitting”.  Eventually I got too old to be interested in what the neighborhood ladies had to say.  I was busy looking for my answers elsewhere, which is sad, but true.  I went away to college and it never occurred to me to ask my mother if “Knitting” had become a thing of the past.

As a working 21st century mom I find that most of the connection I have with my women friends is on the cell phone.  From time to time I threaten to host a modern-day version of “Knitting”, sans the knitting, but it occurs to me that you can’t have one without the other.  “Knitting” worked because there was the excuse that the ladies were doing more than just visiting.  It was the 70’s version of a quilt circle.  I don’t know what the modern-day version is…yet.  Let me know if you have any ideas.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I think of my mother and of the ladies of “Knitting”.  They were amazing women, caring mothers, devoted wives and loyal friends.  They were the pillars of our community and although many of them are no longer with us, their legacy remains, in their children and grandchildren and in all the projects they completed in “Knitting”.


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By Shannon Penrod

Penrod Family

I think it’s important to celebrate the life of a person when they are gone.  People are remembered for their work, for the joy the brought their friend

s and love ones and for the memories they left behind.  My mom, Patty Penrod, left this planet a year ago today, but she left a legacy of love and laughter that will live on and on.  Today to celebrate her life, I offer one of her prize recipes.  This is one of those no fail dishes that is inexpensive, delicious and will please kids, teenagers and adults alike.  It’s great to make for potluck because it travels well, its a great staple for a Holiday

dinner and it perfection on a cold night when you want comfort food.  YUMMY!  *** The big disclaimer here is this is not a gluten free or even vegetarian dish (check the ingredients on the Jiffy mix box) so for those of you who look to me for GFCF recipes – THIS ISN’T!  For the rest of you, ENJOY! and keep my mom in your heart!


Patty Penrod’s Scalloped Corn


1 large onion – diced finely

2 boxes of JIFFY brand cornbread muffin mix

3 eggs

1 stick of butter, melted

2 cans of whole kernel corn – do not drain

2 cans of creamed corn

16 oz. of sour cream

Mix all the ingredients well.

Pour into a large buttered baking dish (a lasagna pan is perfect).

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Eat it hot, eat it cold, reheat it…it’s all good!

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by Shannon Penrod

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m crabbier than usual.  Maybe people are ruder. Or maybe my son has just improved to the point where it doesn’t occur to people that my son has Autism, but lately random people have been saying things to and about my son that just irk me. Image

First, it was the woman in a museum gift shop who sarcastically asked my son how old he was because we was playing with a toy that is meant for a much younger child. She then turned to me, rolled her eyes and said, “Really, Mom, how about some age appropriate toys?”  I didn’t snidely inform her that ages on toys are tied to development and all children do not develop at the same rate, nor should they be made to feel bad about that.  To be honest, I kind of froze.  I was so busy watching my son to see if he was going to get the sarcasm or understand what she was saying and be offended.

He didn’t, but it was because he and the nuerotypical friend he was with were having such a good time playing with the toys, they didn’t care. By the way, the nuerotypical boy, same age, didn’t pick up on the sarcasm either.   Still, I couldn’t just let it go, so when the boys were out of earshot I quietly took the woman’s supervisor aside and explained why she shouldn’t be making blanket assumptions about children’s abilities and interests. My comments were well received and I left feeling like the woman would be more aware before commenting again.

Then I went to see a new Dr. the other day.  I picked up my son from school and scurried him into the car to get there on time.  I checked his token economy chart to see that he had done a great job in school for the day.  His focus was great, he didn’t need prompting and he stayed on task all day.  It was time for him to get a break and a reward.  In the waiting room of the Drs. office I handed him my phone and told him he could have some uninterrupted game time.  He had earned it.  Then I grabbed a magazine for myself and in doing so the entire magazine rack came off the wall and spilled 3 magazines on the floor.  My son looked up and went right back to playing.  Along comes the nurse to help me pick up the magazines and she starts in on the full sarcasm assault of my son.   

“Way to be aware.”  She says to him. 

Oh man.  Really?  Because the irony here is that she is the one who is not being very aware.  Yes.  In an ideal world, my son would have jumped up and helped me.  And believe me there are times when he does.  But he’s just spent 6 and half hours being aware at school.  His brain is on a much-needed vacation.  And instead of giving him a clear direction and saying, “Gee, I’ll bet your mom would really appreciate some help!”  She decides to be passive aggressive and throw some sarcasm his way.  Now he’s supposed to stop doing the thing he finds rewarding, listen to her, detect sarcasm, take stock of his behavior, notice what he did wrong and then change it.  That’s a lot to ask of any 10-year-old boy playing a video game after a long day at school, but for one with ASD it’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.  Both my son and I ignored her. 

In my head though I started the conversation where I would say to her: 

It’s possible that everything isn’t what you think it is.  Maybe the kid you think is rude has been fighting for two years to make eye contact with you, not because he wants to be able to make eye contact with you, but because he’s been told it’s important to you.

Maybe the child who is having a tantrum isn’t spoiled but has no other means of communicating their needs. 

Maybe that parent that you think hasn’t disciplined their child is exhausted from fighting to get their child life changing services. 

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t know everything about anything. 

Maybe you should think before you decide to speak.

Maybe you should take a stroll in a pair of shoes other than your own and open your eyes to the challenges that face many individuals.  

I wanted to say it, but I didn’t.

Perhaps what I should have said to her was what she said to my son. “Way to be aware!”

Shannon Penrod is the Host of Autism Live an interactive, online video podcast that provides news, resources and support for parents, practitioners and teachers working with children with ASD as well as individuals on the Autism Spectrum.  Her son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2. Visit www.autism-live.com to view the show and interact with Shannon and her guests.


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by Shannon Penrod

When A Child Dies From Autism…

Last week, on Mother’s Day, Mikaela Lynch’s parents experienced a nightmare that didn’t end.  Mikaela, a nine-year old with Autism, went missing.  For four days volunteers, family members and friends of the family searched for her.  During that Mikaela Lynchunbelievably difficult time, Mikaela’s parents would have been told that their child did not qualify for an “Amber Alert”, which would have mobilized more help and created more media coverage.  Amber Alerts can only be used when there is evidence that the child has been abducted. Children with Autism who are known to “elope” do not fit that criterion, despite the fact that they may be facing life threatening challenges.

The Lynch family was also subject to some negative media barbs wondering why they hadn’t watched their child more closely. As if you can ever watch a child with Autism who elopes closely enough…as if these poor parents could transcend the human necessity of blinking, getting a drink of water or simply looking away for a split second.

I wish there were a happy ending to this story, that Mikaela had been found alive and that her parents could have sighed with relief and held their child in their arms, smelled her hair and felt her breathe.  That isn’t the end to this story.  Mikaela’s body was found on Wednesday, in a nearby creek.  For the Lynch family all that is left is to mourn.  For the rest of us, we have the responsibility to learn from this tragedy and hopefully prevent the next one…because if we don’t, more children with Autism will die.

I know what you’re thinking.  Autism isn’t fatal.  Children don’t die of Autism.  I hear this a lot.  When someone tries to explain to me why there are more children affected with Autism than Cancer, AIDS and Juvenile Diabetes COMBINED but it still receives only a small percentage of the funding these other medical issues garner, this is often the excuse I hear.  “Autism can be devastating to a family, but let’s face it…it’s not fatal.”

Tell that to Mikaela Lynch’s parents.

This isn’t a question of bad parenting.  A recent study estimated that over 50% of children on the Autism Spectrum will at some time engage in something called “elopement.”  No, they aren’t talking about running off to Niagara Falls to get married.  They are talking about when a child runs or walks away without regard to safety or rules.  Every parent who has ever had a toddler knows what this looks like – the child just takes off.  It’s scary for any parent, at any age.  Imagine for a moment what it would be like if your child never grew out of that behavior? Imagine feeling as though you could never let your guard down, not now, not ever.  It is unimaginable, isn’t it?  For a parent with a child on the spectrum it can feel that way sometimes.

The horrible truth none of us likes to think about is that it is impossible to watch our children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We can try, we can do our level best, but it is impossible.  Every year we hear about more children with Autism who go missing from their homes.  Some are found safe, many are not.  What follows is astonishing to me.  As in the case of the Lynch’s, the media and the public often point fingers at the parents.  If they knew their child was an eloper, why didn’t they keep them safe?  This is the rationale of someone who doesn’t want to face facts.  Until we make sure that all families facing these issues get help and support, we are ALL responsible.

The good news is there is support we can give families to help stop their children from eloping.  It takes time, and systems have to be put in place to keep the child safe while they are getting the proper intervention.  It takes money.  It takes trained specialists.  It isn’t something an exhausted parent can do by themselves.  We need to stop acting like they can.

If you or someone you know has a child who elopes, don’t wait and hope that it will get better.  There are organizations that can help you.    Call your local Autism Society and ask for help.  Contact a TACA parent mentor.  Apply for an emergency grant from Autism Care and Treatment Today!  Don’t wait.

If you are a grateful parent of a well child, and you are able to use your restroom, or step into the kitchen, or take a phone call without fear of losing your child forever, please, please, spread the word and support organizations such as the ones I listed above.

Lastly, send a loving thought to the Lynch family.  Their loss is immeasurable.

Shannon Penrod is the mother of a nine-year-old with Autism.  She hosts Autism Live, an interactive web show devoted to giving free information about resources and solutions in the Autism Community.  Ms. Penrod makes the choice in her writings to capitalize the “A” in Autism, despite the fact that it is not grammatically correct.  In her words, “Trust me, when someone tells you that your kid has Autism…it’s a capital A.”

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By Shannon Penrod

I got concerned this year that I had missed Thanksgiving.  I walked into stores expecting to see pumpkins and pilgrims that would signal to my Pavlovian brain that it was time to buy turkey…and oh yes, to remember to be thankful.  Instead I walked into stores and was bombarded by full on Christmas.  I almost had a panic attack when I ran into Wal-Mart for panty hose the other day and was assaulted by a sign that said, “Only 44 more day ’til Christmas!”  Only 44 more days!  Holy…oh, wait a minute…44 days is  long time.  What happened to Thanksgiving? Judging by Wal-Mart’s shelves it’s non-existent and Wal-Mart is not the only one to jump the gun a bit.  Did all of the world’s retailers sit down and have a secret meeting where they decided to just skim over Thanksgiving this year and just plow right through to Christmas?  Is the economy so bad they just assumed that none of us had anything to be grateful for?  I was mulling this over, and was actually afraid that I wouldn’t remember to be grateful without all the commercial prompting, when I had Grinchesque moment.     Stores don’t remind us to be grateful, life does.

I remember years ago hearing Reverend Beckwith speak.  He was talking about all the little things that manage to bring us down on any given day.  He asked us to stop and consider that whatever was gripping us might be the very thing we should be grateful for.  We might be frustrated that we have a sink full of dirty dishes to clean, but somewhere in the world there is a homeless person who is dreaming of being able to have dishes in a sink that need to be cleaned.  Talk about a reality check!  I remember going home and saying really nice things to my noisy and on the verge of breaking dishwasher, not to mention looking at all of the little blessings that I had taken for granted.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the minutia of our lives and to view it as unsubstantial.  Yet, when the mundane acts of life are threatened or taken away they are exactly the things we wish for.  We move through our days unaware of how lovely it is to be able to grocery shop until something prevents us from doing it.  It could be as simple and as temporary as a cold or something as serious as long-term illness or the death of a loved one.  Suddenly those simple tasks, the things done mindlessly on a Tuesday afternoon, take on new meaning.  We long for them.  What we wouldn’t give for just one day of blissful normalcy.

As I was worrying about the commercial wipe-out of Thanksgiving and what it would mean to my spiritual developement this week, I noticed that the posts of a high school friend had changed on Facebook.  Her husband and family were posting for her.  Stage four cancer had made it impossible for her to chat with us anymore.  Yes, life reminds us to be grateful.  When I might have complained about the long lines at the grocery store I remember what a privilege it was to be standing in line.  When the thought crossed my mind that gas prices are high I remembered how lovely it is to be able to pick my child up from school and talk to him about falling leaves.  I was reminded that everyday is a gift.

My high school friend departed this earthly world yesterday.  I know that she is at peace now and in a better place, but I can’t help wondering what she would have traded to have one more Tuesday filled with laundry and dishes and shopping as well as the laughter and love that tag along with them.  Yeah, I was definitely reminded to get my grateful on.

As a kid we would always decorate our Christmas tree and then stand back and admire it before we piled tinsel on it.  Occasionally someone would suggest that maybe we shouldn’t put tinsel on it at all.  That kind of thinking never won out because invariably someone would pipe up and say, “Every thing looks better with tinsel on it!”   As a child I agreed.  I’m not so sure anymore.  I suspect there are some things in life that no matter how much tinsel you put on it, there’s no improving it.  What I do know is that no matter how much commercial tinsel gets heaped on Thanksgiving I can and should remember to count my blessings.

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By Shannon Penrod

Dear Jim,

Nine years ago today we stood in front of friends and family and took vows that have more meaning to me now than they every could have meant then.  I remember part of our vow was an Irish prayer that said, “You are the last person I want to see before I sleep and the first person I want to see upon waking.”  Honey, it was true then, but it’s so much truer now.  When you asked me to marry you I said, “Yes!” without hesitation, because I knew I loved you and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.  I’d already tried to live without you and I didn’t like that.  What I didn’t know was how truly marvelous you are.  I didn’t know it because time had yet to reveal it.

How could I have known that you were going to be such an amazing father?  I believed it, but the reality is so much better. I couldn’t have known that you were going to love our little boy with a fierceness that takes my breath away.  I couldn’t dream that you were going to be the type of Dad who calls me up from work and says, very seriously, “Honey, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and… we just aren’t videotaping enough.  I just know that some day we’re going to look back and wish we had a camera running 24/7.”  It just takes my breath away how wonderful you are.

The things you do to make that little boy laugh!  Oh my!  Yeah, other people may have Emmys and Oscars for their comedic performances but baby they’ve got nothing on you.  The best laughs I have ever had have been of your crafting.  I can not count the number of times you have made me laugh until I have fallen off the couch, been doubled over clutching my stomach and begging for air.  You funny.  It’s kind of my little secret and I LOVE to watch people who don’t know you realize it.  For years my friends and family thought that because I’m funny you must be the straight man to my humor.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth. I love your sense of humor and I treasure all of laughs we share.  Thank God we have laughed, because we have been through some @#!$!

When I think of what we have been through in the last five years I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or wet my pants.  I’d rather just hold on to you and tell you over and over, “Thank you!”  Thank you for sticking by me, through Autism, through a nervous breakdown, a reality show, three moves, being sued by the school district twice, 2 summers in Southern California with NO AIR CONDITIONING, total financial devastation, IRS hell, a dead landlord with a crazy ex-wife and ever so much more.  Thank you, because looking back on it, it all seems like a really funny adventure now.  That’s because we were in it together.  There was never ever a moment when I thought for even a second you weren’t going to stick it out with me.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I can go anywhere and do anything because I know at the end of the night I get to go home with you.  That’s my ace in the hole, right there.

I think back to all of the promises we made nine years ago.  We’ve been able to keep almost all of them.  Yes, a few of our dreams got differed because of a little thing called Autism.  We haven’t been able to do all of the “couple” things we would have loved to.  Even this morning, you’re off to take Jem to Harry Potter Camp, while I’m staying home to tackle the garage in preparation for yet another move next week.  It’s not the big romantic anniversary we would have planned nine years ago.  It may not be what others would choose, but I don’t care.  I want you to know that I still choose you, I still choose us.  I love our life, our love our little family and I love being on this adventure with you.  I love you and I love the way you love me.  I never, ever thought I would have that.  Thank you for making our story a love story.

Happy Anniversary Love!

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by Shannon Penrod

I’m not terribly good and beginnings and endings.  I like middles.  Beginnings are bumpy and fraught with unexpected muck.  Endings are messy and emotional.  Today is an ending and I am definitely feeling messy and emotional.  While I am writing this my son is in the next room having his last session with one of his ABA therapists.  5 1/2 years ago I remember hearing the word Autism in connection with my son and feeling like I was stepping off a cliff into a hole that had no bottom.  It was a messy beginning to say the least. But, that was then and this is now.  I’m sitting on the sofa crying because I can’t believe we actually did it. Somehow we managed to rearrange our lives to accommodate an army of trained therapists parading  through our home, coaxing our child out inch by inch, hour by hour, year by year until we  finally arrived here.  Here is unbelievably good.

I remember the first time I ever drove to California. I couldn’t help but wonder at the tenacity of the first settlers who reached the Rocky Mountains and decided to scale them to get to the other side.  For the first time I understood why places like Denver became cities.  A whole lot of people looked at those mountains and decided it just wasn’t worth it.  I always thought I would have been one of those people.  Now, on the other side of the mountain I can’t help but look back and think, “Holy CRAP!!! Did we really just scale that?”  We did.  We really did.

For the last few weeks I’ve been watching this really amazing docu-series on the web, called “The A-Word”.  It follows a family through their early days of diagnosis and getting ABA therapy.  It’s amazing.  I can’t stop talking about it.  For me it’s like getting to relieve those early days without all the fear, without all the uncertainty.  I’m watching the family adjust to the fact that their entire life has been picked up and shaken like a box of Legos, and I find myself crying – because I know how lucky they are.  I don’t know if they know it yet, but I do.  But they are at the beginning and we are at the end.  The Alpha and the Omega of ABA therapy for Autism. Everyone should be so lucky.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that this journey has been life defining for me and my family.  Can’t isn’t in our vocabulary anymore.  Hope is something that has legs.  Fear is just false evidence appearing real.  Courage is a small child who doesn’t give up.  Love is never giving up.  Hard is meaningless and everything is possible.

So, what do you do to mark such a moment occasion?  We already had the party, we already went to Disneyland so today we’re just going to be normal and go see the premiere of CARS 2.  That’s what 8-year-old boys want to do on a Friday night; and starting today that’s who my son is, an 8-year-old boy, just like everyone else.  It is our new Alpha.

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By Shannon Penrod

Just when I think I have the food thing figured out I hear God laughing again.  He laughs at me a lot.  I eat really healthy, my child eats really healthy, I can’t speak for my husband but let’s just say he eats healthier now than he ever has and leave it at that.  My child willing eats vegetables, even requests them, so I must be doing something right.  Still….I read and wonder.  I am religious about having my son on a GFCF diet (Gluten Free/casein Free for those of you outside the Autism community), he is also free of sugar and artificial sweeteners.  This is not a some time thing, it’s an all the time thing.  I’m the crazy woman at the birthday party with the weird-looking cupcake and the sliced beets on my kid’s pizza.  So you would think that I am crazy organic too and great friends with a group of sustainable farmers.  Yeah…not so much.

I don’t know if the rest of you have noticed, but organic stuff is expensive.  I’m talking EXPENSIVE!  I used to care more about organic before the whole Autism thing came to live at my house.  But Autism is even more expensive than organic vegetables so it won the fist fight.  Now I’m thinking that may have been a bad choice.  A new study has come out that suggests that ADHD may be linked to pesticides.  Apparently pesticides are designed to disrupt something in the bug’s neurotransmitter system.  I didn’t know that, I thought it just killed them.  That probably sounds stupid, but I never thought about it before.  I just figured it choked the bugs somehow that wasn’t great but wasn’t all that harmful to humans.  You’re talking to the woman who used to run into the fog made by the DDT truck when she was a child.  Those pesticides probably killed the neurotransmitters in my brain that allow for higher thinking about pesticides.  I digress.

If this pesticide disrupts the bugs neurotransmitters and we eat vegetables that are sprayed with it doesn’t it stand to reason that we would see a BUNCH of people having neurotransmitter issues?  Oh, yeah, we have. Hmmmm.  How about that skyrocketing rate of Autism, ADD, ADHD,  Depression, BiPolar disorders and the list goes on.  So I am arranging to have an organic farm co-op bring us a box of food every week.  I don’t see how I can’t.  It’s not even that expensive, maybe $10 more a week than I would have spent, but I would have spent that in gas driving to 3 different stores.  It’s an adventure.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

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by Shannon Penrod

I am an admitted control freak.  The worst part of being a control freak for me is my unshakeable belief that I can solve all of your problems if you would just let me.  I have no desire to work on my problems.  Why would I?  My problems are old, boring and insurmountable, not to mention complicated and convoluted.  On the other hand, your problems are crystal clear – to me, and infinitely solvable if you would just do what I say.  Of course it’s exhausting knowing how to fix your life and watching you resist my plan for you.  Not to mention that quite honestly there are a few things that I need to take care of in my own life that I can’t seem to get to because I’m so entrenched in what you should be doing.  There’s the rub.  You know what they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears….I must be ready, because my teacher has appeared.

I am reading Bryon Katie’s book, Loving What Is, and I am seeing myself in a way that I haven’t ever before.  Even in the first few pages of the book she has challenged me to consider that there are only 3 types of business – My business, everybody else’s business, and God’s business.  Katie simply asks her reader to examine when ever they are sad, lonely, angry, uncomfortable, cranky or just our of sorts, whose business they are in when feeling that way.  Her supposition is that when you are out of whack it is because you are in business that is not your own.  Ugghhh.  This is a little too close to home.  I live in other people’s business!  Still, I thought I would give it a try.  Oh my!  In the past 24 hours I have discovered that, oddly enough, I am rarely in my own business  AND when I make a conscious choice to let go of other’s business and be in my own business…I am really happy and peaceful.  Who knew?

I can’t wait to read the rest of the book and see what else can happen if I stay in my own business.  Is it really possible that I could turn into one of those really happy, present people who oozes peace like a Buddha on a Benadryl.  I think I would like that.  So here’s the really exciting news, I’m not only reading Byron Katie’s book, I’m interviewing her on my radio show this Monday at 4 pm PST – 7pm EST.  You can tune in and listen to my chat with Katie by visiting www.toginet.com.  Better yet if you want to work on getting your inner Buddha on give us a call during the live show and you can chat with Katie too!  Simply call 877.864.4869 during the live show.  For more information on Bryon Katie and “The Work” that she does visit  www.thework.com. You can find her book, Loving What Is, by visiting here.

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