Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Faces of Hope

I met a wonderful, amazing woman whose son is in my grandson's class. Her name is Leslie Face and I'd like to tell you why I admire her so. Leslie has not one, but two autistic children. Matthew is the oldest and Joshua the youngest. You'd think she had her hands full, but somehow, while a single mom dealing with more than most mother's do, Leslie managed to start a non-profit organization, helping children in the area who suffer from debilitating conditions. She's organizing a grand opening and I recently had the good fortune to tour the blossoming facility. I just kept looking at her and wondering how someone could accomplish such a major miracle for families here in Gallatin, TN and the surrounding areas.

The unemployment rate in Tennessee was high before the economic crisis, and dental and medical insurance are not often provided by employers. The state will assist in making a preliminary diagnosis, but as with Spencer, my grandson, they give you a the test results then send you off to learn to deal on your own. It's a nightmare. Imagine trying to determine a child's needs when he can't tell you what there are. Autism usually locks away a child's social capabilities, and most don't communicate at all. They flap their arms and often engage in repetitive noises or behaviors called stimming. I recall when I was in grammar school, the children in these so-called 'special' classes weren't treated very nicely. I'm sad to say, adults aren't always very polite either.

Facing Spencer's challenges were minor compared to what I've witnessed in other children. He's considered 'high-fuctioning, and yet is in classes with children who are not. This is a serious problem for children that fall under the 'autism umbrella.' They are all lumped together and, in Spencer's case, the children that he mimics are those with more severe disabilities. Mainstreaming requires time and patience, something that seems sorely lacking in our school district.

Since I've met Leslie, I don't feel so alone in dealing with my special grandson. I have a resource, and someone who has probably faced just about everything that comes with having autistic children. I asked her point blank if she considered she might have another child with autism when she got pregnant a second time. Just a few years ago, no one suggested that history would repeat itself in that way. Joshua was born with a hole in his heart, too, so his doctor assured Leslie it was highly unlikely he would be autistic. He is. If someone has an autistic son and has another child, the changes are extremely high you'll have another. Leslie looked at me and smiled and said, "Even if I knew Joshua would be autistic, I would still have had him." That's love. Amazing, amazing love.

Just so you can know Leslie a little better, I want to share one of her blogs with you. I'm sure she won't mind:

Nothing else in this house that POOPS as long as I am the only one here that cleans it up!" That's the rule. NO MORE POOP. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

Let me explain.... I love animals. From the time I was 12 until the time I was 18 I worked at an animal hospital. I grew up with fish and cats, friends and family that had dogs and birds... I love animals. Always have. When Matthew was born we owned two cats, Sam and Snickers, and two or three unnamed fish... My parents had two dogs, Abbey and Maggie. The little guy was surrounded by animals. He loved them. They loved him. So far so good.

Very early on in my journey as Matthew's mom, I knew that if I wanted Matthew to say anything it would have to be about an animal. He has this amazing ability to look at a picture of an animal and tell anyone what kind of animal it is. From the day he began to discover his voice he has been able to share curious bits of information about wildlife. As a matter of fact, "hibernaculum" was one of his very first words. (Ok, "bubbles" was first.) Animals seem to comfort Matthew. They don't seem to notice or even care that he has autism. They communicate just fine without the words that so often elude and frustrate Matthew.

Fast forward now.... If we were to take a roll call here in the Face house, it would include 3 birds (that's a long story), 2 cats, 3 fish, a dog, 2 precious little boys, and me. Well, that would have been the roll call a few weeks ago.... Shortly after we got the first bird I instituted the "NO POOP" rule... Since the adoption of Pickles and Amigo (birds 2 and 3) we were doing pretty well with the rule.....

Matthew had a really bad day at school. For those of you that don't know me or even understand what constitutes a "really bad day" let me suffice it to say that Matthew didn't even make it out of the car into the school for 2 weeks after that..... We had to make a trip to Vanderbilt to see his developmental pediatrician about his anxiety. I had promised Matthew a trip to the pet store if we could survive our appointment. Once at the pet store, the manager-- who knows us well-- came up to us to show us some little girl gerbils-- sisters, she said. Sisters that had been abandoned and that really needed a home. I shared the NO POOP rule with her and, after our brief visit, we left the pet store-- WITHOUT THE GERBILS, I might add. Matthew was hysterical.

The events that followed don't really matter. I had to turn the car around after the doctor called to see if Matthew had calmed down. "He needs a diversion," she said. We now own two little girl gerbils. Matthew named them Peanut and Sweetie. He's doing much better now though school is still a struggle for us in the morning and his anxiety is still often off the charts. A few nights after we welcomed these sweet little orphaned rodents into our home I found myself in tears-- asking God to forgive my stupidity and to rescue me from the poop that I had invited into my house. Then, in a way that only God can, He sent me a little "postcard."

I walked into Matthew's little playroom and saw him sitting next to the gerbils. He was talking to them in clear, perfect sentences. "It's ok, Peanut. It's ok, Sweetie. Don't be scared. Everything is going to be ok. It's ok." In that moment I was reminded that when Matthew is talking with and taking care of the animals-- he isn't at a disadvantage-- not at all. Quite the contrary. Matthew gives and receives compassion and understanding that I believe most of us miss because we talk too much..... Matthew was reminding me that though we have hit a bump (ok, a small hill) in the road, "everything is going to be ok."

So... Mother of the year I am not. Smarter than your average bear? Nope. Abider of rules-- even good ones? Not usually. Nope. If I were the pilot of this plane, I would tell you we have 13 souls on board. And, yes, I am the only one that cleans up the poop...... And you know what? I am thankful that God has chosen to bless my life with Matthew, Joshua and their friends Ellie, Sam, Snickers, Pretty Bird, Pickles, Amigo, Mr. Fish, Mr. Fish's Brother Mr. Fish, Peanut, and Sweetie.


So, you probably see why I'm in awe of my new friend. She's positive, upbeat, and even finds poop a blessing. How many people do you know who can do that?

If you want to find out more about Faces of Hope, please visit their website Now comes the hard part...finding people who want to donate to support this wonderful endeavor. One in 100 children are born with some form of autism, and no one has a clue why. Leslie may not be part of the research to discover the answer, but she's certainly part of the solution to help desperate parents find the resources and answers they need. Angels walk among us. Yep, they do.

1 comment:

Maryann Miller said...

What a wonderful story and an amazing woman. Kudos to all.

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