Over the holidays, there was some mild upheaval with a happy ending.
Right before Christmas, a huge tree in our backyard fell on and took out the lines that carry our Verizon Fios internet, cable and home telephone. It had been raining heavily for the previous week, and the tree was dead enough and the tree's root system weak enough that all it took was a massive amount of rain and down the tree came. Luckily, no one was hurt and the broken fence can be repaired.
Verizon came out to look at the damage the following Monday. The only way to enter our backyard is through gate that is secured with a padlock, and when the Verizon rep left, he didn’t close the lock.
About 6:30 that night, right after I had discovered I'd lost my cell phone, my friend Doug tells me "I can't find the dogs". We discovered that Ringo and Lucy were let out into the yard and escaped through the unlocked gate. It was dark and rainy, but we roamed the streets and drove around trying to find them. We gave up after 1/2 hour as it was clear they weren't in the immediate neighborhood.
Both the dogs are microchipped and have tags with our contact information, so we knew if they were turned into the shelter they'd be returned. Ringo's tag has our home number, which was unoperational due the downed tree, and Lucy's tag has the cell number of her previous owner, Doug’s son Max. Lucy came to us because the alpha dog in the house had been attacking her and she needed a safe place to live. Luckily, as you'll soon learn, we never updated her tag so she still had Max’s number listed as the contact.
After we returned from our search, Doug checked his cell phone and discovered a message from Max. As it turned out, a very nice young man found both dogs about a mile from our house. When the home number on Ringo's tag didn't pick up, the young man called the number on Lucy's tag and then Max called us. We quickly drove over and picked up our dogs, safe and sound just 45 minutes after they escaped, though now they were wet and smelly from the rain.
I realize how lucky we were. Ringo and Lucy travelled in the rain over two very busy streets. They could have easily been hit by a car and killed. The area were they were found is not especially nice. They could have been found by someone who wasn’t an animal lover like us. The outcome was happy, and it was because of our good fortune that Ringo and Lucy avoided being hit and they were found by a nice young man who took the time to call us and stay with our dogs in the rain until we arrived to pick them up.
I’ve been thinking about how lucky we were in this incident, and this has gotten me thinking how lucky I’ve been with Jacob. We are in a good place at the moment. He's doing well at Culver High School. His grades are good, the teachers are all saying good things about him, and he even has a buddy at school, though Jacob isn't one to fill me on the details about his new friend. He just got a job with the school's workability program working a couple hours a week at Petco, and the manager reports that he's working hard and doing well. He's showing more interest in others, and he's engaging in conversations with both Doug and me. It's been over 13 years since his diagnosis of autism, and he's come such a long way.
As any parent of a child with special needs knows, the progress your child makes does not happen in a vacuum. You count on professionals, therapists, and friends to help you and your child. Just as the nice young man who found Ringo and Lucy made it possible for them to safely return home, there have been others that have assisted both Jacob and me in our life's journey.
There is Dr. Sandra Kaler, who was the first professional to accurately diagnosis Jacob at age 3 ½. Not only was Dr. Kaler supportive, she pointed me in the direction of the Westside Regional Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District for services. She referred me to a professional speech therapist. She recommended the one-on-one aide that helped Jacob through preschool and kindergarden. Her assistance was invaluable and without it, I would have been lost. The road would have been much longer, cumbersome and more difficult in my quest for Jacob's services.
There is the director of Circle of Children where Jacob attended a developmental preschool for a year. When I decided I wanted to enroll Jacob, the class was at the limit for boys, so I called the director almost everyday for two weeks until she finally agreed to let Jacob in. Jacob had a rough start in the class, but the director allowed to let Jacob stay if I was in the class as his shadow until I could find someone to take over.
That's when I found Cambra, the one-on-one recommended by Dr. Kaler, who worked with Jacob at Circle of Children through Kindergarten at Marquez Elementary. Cambra was so patient and good at getting Jacob to stay focused. Without Cambra, Jacob's ability to stay in a mainstream classroom would not have been possible.
There are the teachers, administrators, and therapists at Marquez Elementary and LAUSD who were always so warm and supportive. Though most of he teachers had limited firsthand knowledge of children with Autism, they were receptive to any information and reports that I supplied. There is Patricia, the district occupational therapist who put so much energy into making sure Jacob had what he needed. And the IEPs that were held, all I can say is I was blessed. There were always 6 or 7 people at each meeting, and they all were there to discuss Jacob and his needs. The district always agreed to my requests, and even paid the entire $10,000 for the first year of private speech therapy.
There is Robin of Pathways Speech and Language who worked with Jacob for over two years. She helped him in his use of language, how to be more flexible and focused, and how to make eye contact.
There is Chris Mulligan of Groupworks West who has been my RDI consultant for the last two years. Chris has been such an asset in helping me become a competent parent. I've learned so much in how to relate to Jacob in a positive way which has stopped the power struggles that used to feel so unmanagable. Jacob also attends a once a week social skills class at Groupworks and I've seen how much this has helped Jacob become more socially adept.
There are the teachers at Culver High School that have helped Jacob create a smooth transition to a large public high school. In the Workability Program, there is Dan and Jacob's job coach, Alana. His teachers - Ms. Donahue in Algebra, Ms. Kaiser in English, Mr. Roth in World History, Coach Wright in PE, Ms. Scherling in Biology and, until the holiday break, Mr. Dicey in Culinary Arts - that have been so supportive this year. There are the school district administrators that attended and helped implement the goals of the IEP that helped make everything work so well.
And last but not least, there are my friends that were there for me when I needed to talk or cry it out and unload my problems. There is Susan who always told me how wonderful I was and treated me to a spa day on my 40th birthday. There is Diane who has always been a wonderful friend for a very long time and a rock-solid support. There is Caroline who is on the Executive Director of the Autism Society of Los Angeles where I am the President of the Board. She is incredible in so many ways. And most important, there is Doug, who has been my best friend and partner for over 8 years. Even when I have been high strung, worried, or a royal pain-in-the butt, he has always supported me no matter what.
There are a lot more people that have made a difference for both Jacob and for me, but it would take too much time and space to mention each and every one. Some I can vaguely recall but they are there none the less. And because the work is not yet complete, there are still more people that will play key roles in our lives. To the people that I already know and to the people that I'll one day meet, I look forward to the time that we'll spend together in the distant and not-so distant future.
I think the Beatles said it best.
Though I know I'll never loose my affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
Susan's Blog is Taking the Awe Out of Autism http://aweoutofautism.blogspot.com/