One Little Boy and His Three Superhero Pets!

Super PowersAs a child growing up back in the day, I took for granted the fact that I always had lots of pets around the house. We always had a family dog and I had my own rabbit that was my responsibility to care for. Now I am older I realize how lucky I was back then, and actually how much my pets helped me learn about life.  A love for animals is something that I have always carried with me, and when we had kids it was really a no-brainer that we too would have a house full of animals like I did when I was little.

So we have a bit of a madhouse really now. There’s the three kids, two dogs, a goldfish, two chickens, oh and my son has his very own pet tortoise!

Like I said, we were always gonna have a house full of pets, but what we have found over the last few years is how incredible our little furry friends really are. You see, my son has Autism and struggles with relationships, and can often prefer to be by himself most of the time.  But the relationships he has with his pets are simply incredible. He seems to bond with animals on a whole other kind of instinctive level.

They are like little ‘Superheroes’ opening up the world to him with no words required.

Let me explain…..

Meet Charlie


Charlie is our old faithful family dog. My son has grown up with him, side by side, together all the time. Every day when my little man comes home from school and dumps his school bags on the floor, he knows that Charlie will always be there waiting for him. No matter what has happened that day in school. No matter how he’s feeling, or what he has done that day. And without fail, every morning Charlie makes his way to my son’s bedroom and plonks himself next to his chair.  My son is always anxious about going to school. And it’s almost like Charlie is there to reassure him just by being there with him.  Like he’s saying, “It’s ok, bud….I’m here for you.”

Charlie teaches my son about love, friendship and trust. Those are Charlie’s superpowers!

Now meet Betsy


Betsy is the latest edition to the madhouse and, as you can see from the picture, she is a mischievous puppy! She loves nothing more than to play ‘tug of war’ with my son on the floor, and my heart could melt when he rolls around with her laughing and barking as he pretends to be a dog. Sometimes she’s a bit, well, ’naughty’, but we always forgive her because we love her so much (she’s partial to a smelly old slipper or two). And sometimes she does things she’s not really meant to but it’s our job as her family to teach her the right things to do (like not doing your business on the bedroom landing!!) But we don’t shout at her because it’s not her fault; she doesn’t understand the rules of our world yet. My son is absorbing all this subconsciously. Betsy makes mistakes, but it’s OK. Sometimes Betsy does things without thinking, but no matter what happens we’re all family, and we’re here for each other. We try not to get cross.

She is also a little bit anxious about going to new places like the vet and the park. But my son takes control and scoops her up, saying “C’mon Betsy, it will be fun.” He is learning through her that new things can be OK.

For such a little puppy, her superpowers are pretty big!

And finally, let me introduce you to Turbo-teddy (He has ‘moves like Jagger’, this tortoise. Trust me: He’s fast on his feet!)


Teddy is my son’s very own special pet. He’s a bit different from the rest of the pets we have because he’s not at all cuddly like the dogs. And he doesn’t really like to be fussed over too much. But he’s really special in other ways. My son loves to care for him. He bathes and feeds him every day, and talks to him with such love and care when he handles him. Teddy is teaching my son to think about someone else. He has his own unique Tortoise needs, and it’s important that we care for him properly, or he will become sad and unhappy.

What incredible superpowers: to teach someone how to care for others, to think about someone else first over and above what you want. That’s what Teddy is helping my son to do.

So, you see, something magical happens when my son interacts with animals, and I intend to do everything I can to nurture that. I can only imagine what a chaotic and confusing world my son experiences every day and our pet animals help him understand and process that whole heap of craziness.

Children like my son have a lot to teach the world. He shows us that growing and learning doesn’t all come from textbooks and classrooms. It can come from the most ordinary and unlikely of places; like family pets, chewed up slippers, or trips to the vet.

My son is amazing because he can turn the mundane into something wonderful and magical that we could all learn from!

Now that’s a superpower if ever I saw one.


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There’s This Thing…

There’s this thing.

It’s driving you crazy.

It’s different for every child, of course, but whatever it is your child is fixated on it.

Maybe it’s a favorite TV character or show, watched over and over and over.

Maybe she just won’t…stop…sucking…her…hair…

Maybe he keeps asking whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

You wake up each morning, ready to start a new day. Fresh, energetic, going to tackle the world. Or at least your small part of it. You swear you will not get upset or frustrated. Not today. Oh no, today is going to be different, better, perfect even. You practice smiling in the bathroom mirror. You take a few deep breaths. Today is going to be the best day ever!

But first, coffee. You pass the family room to get to the kitchen…

And there she is, on the iPad, sucking her hair.

And there he is, watching the same episode of Gumball, for what? The hundredth time?

And what’s that they’re wearing—his bathing suit in the wintertime? Her footed pajamas in this sweltering heat? Is he even wearing anything?!

And just for that moment, you see RED. All that good will you had a minute ago—it’s gone in the blink of an eye. The stress and frustration and despair engulf your entire body, oozing out of your pores. You want to scream, kick the cabinet, tear your hair out, and more. You want to cry—lock yourself in the bathroom, turn on the shower, and just have your own meltdown. Above all else, you want to turn in your Adult card for the day.

I’m the one that gets to tell you: Life doesn’t work that way. Take a deep breath. Suck it up. Dry your tears. Take another deep breath. Relaxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Things could always be worse.

One of the phrases I seem to say the most is “This too shall pass.” But, guess what? This thing might not. It just may be something that you learn to deal with, or at least accept, as part of your life.

More likely, it’s just a phase. And phases do pass. They pass without any warning. One day she’s doing that thing that she’s been doing for what seems like forever, and then the next she isn’t. At first, you won’t notice. You’ll just feel like something is missing. And then you’ll realize what it is. Whoohoo! Finally!

But don’t pop the champagne yet—you won’t have time to celebrate. Because while old habits might die hard, new ones are waiting in the wings to take their place.


Believe it or not, the things that drive you crazy may just be the very things you miss one day.

5 Tips for Planning a Special Needs Birthday Party

Birthday Cake

Planning a special needs birthday party is really not that much different than planning a birthday party for a child without special needs. For either child you should take into account all of their likes and dislikes, with the goal of having as many of their favorite things and as few (if any) of the things they don’t like, as possible. If you can, involve your child in the planning so that they can help you make decisions related to their big day.

Of course, don’t involve your child if you know that they’re going to ask for something totally unattainable. You know, like having Taylor Swift or a real dinosaur at their party. Or “tie-dyed” cupcakes that involve separating the batter into six different bowls, coloring them with different food dyes, layering each color into each individual form in the cupcake pan, and then baking them, all the while muttering that you’ll never, ever do it again—this may or may not have been me.

I’ve learned over the years to think about my kid’s personality and come up with a potential theme that I think they’ll like, and then run that by them. Some kids like choices and some don’t, so factor that into consideration too. You can easily make the choice for them if they’d prefer that. However, don’t make it a surprise if your child absolutely, positively panics in the face of surprises.

Here’s some more advice for throwing a party for your special needs child:

#1 – Keep the Party Small

If your child gets easily overwhelmed in crowds or has sensory issues such as aversion to a lot of noise, it’s best to keep the party small. Depending on the type of party you have, more children can also mean more waiting, as in waiting their turn to play a game, waiting in line to get food, etc. Most children, on or off the spectrum, hate waiting.

There’s no need to make your special needs birthday party into the social event of the year. Keep the guest list simple and invite only your child’s close friends and/or extended family members. I’m sure that if you ask your child who they want at their party, the number of names they mention could be counted on one hand—possibly two.

#2 – Ask Parents to Stay

Along with inviting just a handful of guests, ask parents to stay at the party if their children also have special needs. This will not only keep you from being outnumbered by kids, but will also prevent you from having to be in three places at once. Well, in theory at least.

Problems and meltdowns can happen in an instant with children, so it’s better for all involved if a parent is there to help out if their child gets upset or needs help. If a child decides that they’re no longer having fun at the party and want to go home right away, you can circumvent any potential tears or fits that would happen if they needed to wait for their parent to come by simply having them there already. Parents of kids with special needs usually won’t just drop them off at a party anyway, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

#3 – Think about Gifts

It may sound strange, but not all kids like presents. I know a little boy who doesn’t like change, including new things. Birthday presents are definitely new things!

If you have a child like this, and you think they’d do better not receiving birthday gifts, feel free to note that on the invitation to your child’s special needs birthday party. If your child merely gets anxious and would rather not open the gifts in front of other people, don’t make them. Instead, set aside time after the chaos of the party is over and the guests have gone home for them to have a quiet moment to look through the presents.

#4 – Monitor the Menu

Kid’s birthday parties are usually a time for serving up all kinds of foods that they’re not allowed to eat on a daily basis. Typically, these are sugary foods like cotton candy, cake, and all things chocolate. Kids who digest too much sugar tend to get hyperactive, and if they’re already hyperactive to begin with, you’re setting them up for behavior problems that they can’t control. Instead, consider party foods with low sugar contents, or only feature one food–such as birthday cake–with sugar in it. After all, it’s a party—you don’t want to kill all the fun, right?

#5 – Play to Their Strengths

If your child is highly energetic, do NOT plan a sit-down, make-quiet-crafts kind of party. Remember, the goal as a parent is to always try not to set your kid up for failure. Instead, a highly energetic kid will benefit from a highly energetic party—think about a sports party or keep everybody busy with lots of games. I’m talking about Musical Chairs 2.0, at the very least.

On the flip side, quiet, introspective kids will appreciate a low-intensity party. Ideas for this include tea parties and parties where it’s just the birthday child and a couple of friends out to the movies. My son loved a party where a local “reptile guy” came to the house and just quietly discussed and showed off his scaly brood.

Above all, birthdays are times for celebration, whether low-key or over-the-top. Do what will ultimately make your child happy while at the same time causing you the least stress.

Parenting: The Hardest Thing You’ve Ever Done.


What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done as a parent?

It’s not an easy question, is it? Your mind races back through so many snapshots; a fast-flipping Rolodex of moments and memories.

I remember my first (but far from only) hard parenting moment as if it was yesterday, and not already 13 years behind me. We’d just brought home our firstborn, a nearly ten-pound boy who emotionally enlarged my heart and physically exhausted my spirit. The staff at the hospital had intently focused on nursing and diapering to, I’d discover, the detriment of other little, important parenting things. Such as swaddling.

How hard is it to wrap a blanket around a newborn? you might ask. Well, let me tell you. I was close to freaking out when it was just the three of us at home–no nurses, no grandmoms–and I realized I had no idea how to wrap the baby and tuck those corners in so that the baby package stayed together. I laugh at it now–because, c’mon, anybody who has made a wonton, blintz or spanakopita can swaddle a baby–and know it’s a skill you never lose once you learn it. But there I was, an avid puzzle and game player, nearly brought to tears by one squirming baby and the blanket that just WOULDN’T STAY WRAPPED.

Of course, there have been many more difficult parenting moments in the ensuing years. Life has a way of throwing curve balls with no hints to warn of upcoming meltdowns and misadventures. Good intentions only get you so far, and usually that’s not nearly far enough. There are days when parenting is simply a minefield and you’re out there on your own, tiptoeing around, never sure if you’ll successfully avoid disaster.

Autism itself is a giant curve ball, but that doesn’t mean you can’t adjust your stance and master your swing. Parenting is compromise, revision, modification. I’ve learned to stop focusing on the home run—whether it’s the desire for a day out to go as perfectly as planned or a kid to have any interest in my favorite childhood book—and instead celebrate the times the bat simply connected with the ball. (Pardon the baseball imagery; themes crop up occasionally). After all, parenting is in the small things.

Of course, I miss those days when the worst I could do wrong was not correctly wrap a blanket, or warm a bottle, or answer a distress cry quickly enough. That 13 year-old is currently at sleep-away camp. It’s his second year and I’m the one who championed the experience. After all, children need space sometimes to discover who they are and who they can be. But I miss him. Daily. As we sit down around the kitchen table for dinner each night, there’s an empty space at the table that both tears at my heart and makes me thankful that it’s temporary. For now.

Because I know we likely have more years behind us than ahead of us in which either of our children will still be sitting around that kitchen table, telling us knock-knock jokes and testing out their newly acquired semi-raunchy vocabulary on an always-responsive and always-supportive audience. I also know that our protective control over their lives is slowly eroding as they grow and move on. At some future point, we’ll have to let them fly away, hoping to God that the world is kind and we’ve prepared them to adequately navigate through it.

The end game is always independence, is it not? The irony is that we are the ones who help them gather the feathers and teach them to make the wings that take them away from us. And that, my friend, is truly the hardest thing about parenting.