Okay, okay. I get it. I'm a blogger who hasn't blogged in a really long time and frankly, that's not a good look. I can't even say I really had writer's block. I just had "I don't want to talk about it" block. What can I say? I'm a complicated person but that's part of my charm.
Anyway, what I have been doing is some public speaking gigs and that's been pretty cool. Scary and nerve wracking AF but very cool. I've met a lot of nice people who are up to their elbows in autism just like me. Being an autism family sometimes makes me feel like I am forever walking into a cafeteria and not knowing where to sit. Going to events like this? Well, I have my pick of a slew of tables. It's really nice.
My last gig was the other night for this kick ass school here in New Jersey called Spectrum 360. (You can check them out here.) At the end of the night a gentlemen who's name I have forgotten already (Forgive me. It's summer break for Kiddo. My brain is already mush.) asked me to put my speech up on my blog because he really liked it and he wanted more people to see it.
So since I need to remember I'm suppose to be a blogger and I have the content already, this one is for you guy I met at the end of the night! By the way, it's kind of long. So go get a cup of coffee now and settle in. :-)
Good evening teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists,and all the rest of the Autism Entourage. It’s wonderful to
be here today. My name is Eileen Shaklee but you can call me “Mama Fry”. and I am the writer of the blog called
“Autism with a side of fries”.
A little about me. Before Motherhood and Autism had me“level up”, I was on the other side of the IEP table as a job
coach and Pre Vocational instructor at the Children’s
Center of Monmouth County. (Which I bet some of you
might have worked there before you came here. If so,
HEY!) When my son was one, I decided that I
had had enough autism. I was burnt out at my job.
I needed a break from all things special needs.
Cut to the scene about eleven months later when an earlyinterventionist came to my house and casually threw it out
there “So he probably has autism but there are lots of
It was in that moment I felt like Michael Corleone in theThe Godfather movies “Just when I thought I was out, Autism pulled me back in.”
Since I started my journey as a parent to an autistic childthere are so many times I want to reach out to those
former student’s families. I have so much I want to say to
them. Mostly, I just didn’t know. Anything. Nothing. Zilch.
Now I’m not saying “You pros know nothing.” and pleasedon’t sit there thinking that I or all parents don’t like you.
Quite the opposite. I am forever grateful there are so
many willing to go into this field. It’s not like you’re going
into this for the money. I even give really good gifts
at the holidays. Not just another coffee mug either!
Seriously,I took one of my son’s former teachers to go see
Cheap Trick with me in concert.
I’d just like to share with you a few things I have learnedsince switching sides because what I have learned time
and time again is that BOTH sides of the IEP table doesn’t
always know the full story.
I had no idea what it would be like to read all the notes,data, and paperwork with your baby’s a name on it. I get it
now, both the good and the bad of it. If there is one thing I
could stress to professionals now is that Autism Parents
have a serious case of Communication Notebook/Phone
Calls from School PTSD.
Don’t believe me? The ring tone on my phone from theschool is the old Irish drinking song “Whiskey in the Jar”
cause that’s usually what I feel like drinking after some of
I know you’re not calling just to shoot the breeze on whathappened on the Real Housewives last night. Whatever is
coming with that call is going to be heavy. However, I also
know you may have sighed before picking up that phone
before dialing.I usually sigh when picking up.
Here’s another tip from me to you. Please start with “He/She is perfectly fine.”
The weight of the words on these reports and calls are often seared into our memories. We take them personally, even when t’s not what you mean to do. What can I say? Our kidsaren’t the only ones that are kind of complicated.
(And Bless my kiddo’s school nurse’s heart whenever she calls and asks “How are you?” and I always reply “I don’tknow. You tell me!” because that’s gonna depend on her
answer. At least she’s always sweet enough to ask!)
I appreciate honest feedback about my Kiddo but if he’shaving an “off” day please make sure to add what you
intend to do about it. What’s the plan of attack based on
what you observed. Because I am simply not there. I’ll be
glad to come in and help you troubleshoot but remember
sometimes I’m all out of ideas like you. I’ll honor that you
are trying your best if you do the same for us. This is also
my promise to you and parents listen to me here. If my
Kiddo has been up since 3AM, I’ll fill you in. If my Kiddo
refuses, to change out of his Pajamas, I’ll send in a note
and a change of clothes explaining it was a rough morning
and maybe he might change once he gets there.
If Kiddo is scripting “Where is my freaking phone charger Eileen? I don’t know Rich. I’m not your mother.”, I’ll let you know my husband and I aren’t always polite to each other before the coffee has kicked in.
Just ask me what you want to know. I’m an open book.
Money. Now this is something I didn’t get at all before I had a kid. I mean, I worked in school, so I wasn’t exactly rolling around in a pile a cash like Scrooge McDuck. However, I didn’t realize that down the road I would be forced to make medical and therapeutic choices regarding my child based on whether we could afford it or not. Every year I get to have thesame conversation with my health insurance plan after my son’s “allowed” 30 visits with a speech therapist. “Do you want to continue services?” “Well let’s see. My son is still Autistic and I’d like him to be able to communicate his needs, so YEAH!”
Like seriously, can you imagine? “Hey Son, we’re onvisit 28 so if you could just learn how to speak that would
be great? Okay? No pressure! Thanks!”
I’ve even had year where we had to pick between OT andspeech. Even still, I consider us very lucky as we just
have the one kid. Imagine a family with a couple of kids
and a couple of diagnoses. I can’t even fathom what they
must have to do to make it work. So if you see us hesitate
when you recommend more therapy or some sort of item
to buy to help at home, there’s a reason for it. We are
But to the parents I must say, whatever it is they aresuggesting, I bet you can MacGyver it. Come on Parents,
we’ve made something out of nothing a lot of times. I bet ifyou collaborated with the team at school, you all could come up
with a solution that would not only you could afford but could work!
We are also tired.
I am so sorry to those former families of mine I didn’t
know that by the time you got to me, you were already
worn out from autism. My twenty something fresh from
college, ready to set the world on fire attitude must have
either annoyed you or gave you hope. I hope it was the
latter. Even if it didn’t, maybe you went home later and had
a laugh over my inexperience or possibly wondered if I still
got carded when buying a drink at a bar. I had the best
intentions even they didn’t always work and as a parent I
have to remember that you do as well. I also operate on a
level of exhausted that can’t be measured by modern
methods of science and math. Our kids DO. NOT. SLEEP.
Let me put it to you this way, if Kiddo sleeps past 5AM, my
first thought is “Is he still breathing?” followed by “Is he still
in the house?” So yeah, if I didn’t cheer your suggestions
of a sticker chart as groundbreaking, don’t take it
personally. I may zone out once I here “token reward
system” being mentioned. This seems to be the “go to” for
any and all issues and once you see it not work for your
kid, you really don’t want to hear about it again. Token
Reward System becomes like that bad for you boyfriend
you know you shouldn’t date. It sounds good in theory but
you know he’s just going to break your heart again.
My kid is 15. You know how many of these we’ve tried?The stickers could wrap around the world twice by now.
I know I am also very sorry that I gave looks of pretentiouspity. Those families needed my empathy, not my sympathy.
I can’t stress the importance of just listening and acknowledging what it is we deal with daily. Autism doesn’t just affect the one diagnosed with it. It encompasses the
whole entire household. An autistic adult self advocate
once said to me “You have autism by proxy.” I can’t think
of a better way to describe that.
That being said if there are two big things you can do for us is the following.
- If you have to call us daily to come get our kids due to behavior then let’s just put the cards out on the table from the start that this placement is not the right one for our kids. I know from our own personal experiences, once I’m called to come get him, you are no longer the one in charge of that appointment or that class anymore. My son’s former school did this move and boy did it teach him well how to get out of school whenever he wanted. Behavior is communication and in this case my son was letting us know by loudly yelling and throwing of furniture that the environment was not the right one. That’s when it’s time to break up with us. We may be mad at you for a while but we’ll realize later on it was for the best. I think it’s extremely important to be upfront and honest if you cannot give the child the supports that they need. Save us the time and heartache BUT Help us find the next placement.
- Likewise, our kids grow up. My son is currently 15 years old and adulthood is rapidly approaching. Now what? I see folks mentioning buzzwords like “services” but what are they? If you are a pediatric therapist, do you know of professionals to refer your clients out to when they become of age 18? Start collecting this information now because we need it!
We both need to acknowledge the other is human. Thatthere are days when we both “phone it in.” There will be
“off” days for a variety of reasons. (Illness, relationship
stress, stayed up too late the night before because of a
Netlfix binge. New episodes of Orange Is The New Black?
Don’t mind if I do!) It’s okay. We are in each other’s lives
because we love that kid. I know your students/clients are
“your kids”. They were mine when I did that job too. Even
when I punched out for the day, I was still thinking about them.
We also need to acknowledge you are speaking anotherlanguage and one most parents do not understand. I didn’t
realize how much so till my husband was sitting in on some
of these meetings. I knew what you all were saying but he
had a giant “WTF” in his face.
And maybe it’s because it’s at your job and there are moreof you that are in the know than parents in the not, but it
can really make our parental head’s spin. Remember how
I said earlier how freaking tired we are and how our kids
don’t sleep. Rattling off terms like like ABA, FBA, BIP,
FAPE and what seems to be a large serving of Alphabet
soup without explanation only puts up a dividing wall
between two parts of the team. If you explain these things
to us, I’ll be happy to supply you with a list of known
behaviors and translations of my Kiddo’s verbal stims.
We both need to remember we are on the same team.We both need to remember that neither one of us in the
enemy. Seriously parents. Let’s remember that. Would
you willingly send your kids to the enemy everyday? Of
course not. So let’s chill that “Eye of the Tiger” getting
ready for a fight at the IEP thing. It needs to stop.
We all need to remember to take a deep breath, try again,and when all else fails, order another side of fries to share.
And then they were super sweet and gave me this lovely plant that the students put together in one of their vocational programs and gave everyone a french fry stress ball!