Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category
Having a place to go – is a home. Having someone to love – is a family. Having both – is a blessing. ~ Donna Hedges
Before Yael left for her second summer at URJ Camp Coleman, we were out running a few errands. There were, after all, a million little things to buy and pack before she and her sisters headed off to camp. Yael had been thinking about what she wanted to share with her bunkmates in regard to her autism. It’s a conversation she has had before. She takes it upon herself to educate those around her, to help them better understand her autism & how it impacts her. She speaks with eloquence and grace as she allows her peers to experience the world through her eyes. And just as Yael embraces & accepts herself, she helps others to do the same with her honesty, her insight & her willingness to be so open.
So, as we drove, she asked me if I thought we should practice the conversation she was preparing to have at camp. I thought for a moment & then asked Yael what she felt that she needed. If she needed to go through that conversation with me, I’d be happy to. If she felt confident in her words, her thoughts & her perspective, then perhaps we didn’t need to review. She paused for a moment, reflecting, and then decided that she was confident enough to handle the conversation without any further input or coaching from me or her dad. I love that. I admire that. The truth is, she’ll need that life skill as she moves forward. She’ll need to educate others & advocate on her own behalf. She went on to say that last summer’s conversation was so positive and meant so much to her. “I told the girls all about my autism & you know what Mommy? They really understood & accepted me. They treated me like…. well, like family! I always felt included and isn’t that what family is all about, mom?” And through a stream of tears, I simply nodded and answered, “Yes, Yael. That is what family is all about.”
When we dropped Yael off yesterday, it was not without fear or hesitation. I own my identity as a bit of a worrywort when it comes to my special needs child. Frankly, I worry for all of my girls. They are my heart & my soul. It is hard to entrust them to the care of others, particularly when it comes to Yael. We had once again shared our concerns with Bobby Harris, the director of Camp Coleman, and his wife Ellen Zucrow. Ellen plays a key leadership role as an Inclusion Specialist, helping to support those kids who come to Camp Coleman with special needs. Ellen had spoken to both myself and my husband as we attempted to get all of our ducks in a row for camp. As we arrived at camp and made our way through the various support staff, it was clear that they had created a strong & secure safety net for our girl. Each conversation that we had, from Ellen to the unit head & on down to the counselors, helped to ease my fears & angst. Though I would not be there to watch out for Yael, it was clear that there would be an abundant amount of loving eyes on her, ready to support her in any way that she needed. Each conversation reflected the camp’s devotion to creating a safe, nurturing, inclusive & supportive atmosphere for Yael.
Yael has described family as those who love, accept & include you for who you are. She’s right. Leora, my middle daughter has often described camp as “a home away from home.” So, as I sit here and think about all that Camp Coleman’s staff has done for Yael, and all that they have done for all three of my girls, I can’t help but think of them as family. They don’t simply have my daughter’s back, but they have mine too. And, when I reflect upon the communal spirit that they nurture at Camp Coleman, and the values that they embody, I know that while all three of my precious girls are not with me right now… they are home. Home is a place where you feel safe, loved, cared for and valued. Home is a place where you can be yourself and be celebrated for all that you are. Home is where you find your family, both the one you were born into, and the one that you create. I am so very, very grateful that Camp Coleman has given my children a second home & an extended family. That is a gift & blessing beyond measure.
Today Yael wanted to share her own thoughts with you. So, here is her perspective on today’s Georgia Walk for Autism. In her own words…
This is our fourth year walking for autism. While we were driving to Atlantic Station, my Mom and I were talking about why we do the walk. We talked about raising awareness and raising hope.
Today, we did. We raised awareness by inviting our friends and family to walk with us. We let our teammates know about what we want to accomplish this year and about why we want to do the walk. We also raised hope. I know I feel hopeful by looking at how many people are more aware of autism and caring for those who have autism. Today felt great because of all the people we walked with, who love someone with autism.
I am so happy that my friends and my family care for me and that they want to help raise money for organizations like Autism Speaks and The Marcus Institute. For me, on a personal level, I am happy to be different. I feel special with autism. It’s part of me. I feel special every year when I walk. I feel cared for by my parents who have helped me since the beginning of my diagnosis, my sisters who make me smile from their cheering, and my best friends who were so sweet to take their time off & walk with us since the beginning of The YaYa’s. It means a lot that they come and are always there for me. I also loved having my newest team member and homeroom teacher, Lauren, because she knows what it is like to work with special needs kids and is always there when I have a problem at school.
I hope that I can inspire others who are living with autism.
This is what today felt like for me… in my own words.
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much (Helen Keller)
I’m all registered and ready to reunite our team for the 2012 Georgia Walk for Autism. Our team name, “The YaYa’s” is inspired by Yael’s nickname, given to her when she was only days old.
Every year I look forward to the walk. Some might wonder why that is. I’ll tell you…
First, the walk reminds me that there is strength in numbers. Looking out at a sea of people, numbering in the thousands, reminds me that our family is far from alone on this journey. The collective strength of the families, friends, educators & professionals that walk, demonstrates that we truly are a force to be reckoned with. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that when you are immersed in the trenches day to day. Truth is, we’re all part of something much bigger than ourselves & our own families.
Second, some might expect that an event like the walk would be filled with melancholy people full of sadness and a sense of defeat. Perhaps they envision a large group of self-professed victims, sitting around holding a gigantic pity party. That could not be further from the truth. The feeling of hope, pride and unconditional love and support is palpable. T-shirts profess team pride, often championing a single child or loved one who lives with autism. Phrases like, “Autistic Kids Rock” or “I am not a Tragedy” tell the world that though we want answers and a greater understanding of autism, we sure as hell don’t want to be pitied or appeased. We are proud mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends & family of incredibly unique and amazing human beings who happen to have autism. Some may walk for a cure, others to raise money for advocacy, research & intervention, and still others walk simply because they want to stand up and be counted. And when we walk, it is with our heads held high, our chins up and our hearts full.
Third, from the moment that we step into the area where the walk is held, Yael can look around and see kids just like her. So much of her life she lives in the minority. One of the few kids in her school, at her synagogue, in her neighborhood or at her camp, who has autism. But at the walk, it is the total opposite. She sees younger kids, older kids & adults, all living with autism. She gains a greater understanding of the spectrum upon which she lives and gets to meet some of the neighbors who live there with her. It may not sound like much, but to her it is one of the rare & precious moments where she gets to feel as if she truly fits.
Fourth, let’s be honest. It is easy to feel drained as the parent of a child with autism. There is so much to do from advocacy to therapy, helping your child develop social skills and so much more. Sometimes I feel like I am running on vapors and my gas tank is on “E.” After spending a morning at The Georgia Walk for Autism, I always feel like I have been given just the boost of energy that I need to keep on going. I feel empowered, strengthened, emboldened and ready to keep doing what I do. I am reminded why I started this blog in the first place. It isn’t simply to write down my family’s experience with autism, but to try to raise awareness, encourage advocacy, inspire people who may just be starting out on this journey or simply to connect with another human being and let them know they are not alone. But, I’m the mother of 3, the wife of a busy rabbi, a preschool teacher and a blogger. I don’t always feel like I am doing any one of those jobs particularly well, and when I am running low on time & energy, it gets even harder to strike a balance. While I would never turn down a good massage, a day to myself or the ability to eat tons of chocolate without gaining a pound, none of these things gives me quite the same boost as an advocate & parent of a special needs child, as this walk does.
And finally, I feel as if this walk is our family’s chance to stand together, to give back and to pay it forward all at the same time. We stand together as one team, inspired by our captain, Yael. We are a mother, a father and two sisters who are united in our desire to honor Yael, demonstrate our acceptance, love & pride in the person that she is and the lessons she has taught us. We give back to those who helped Yael get to where she is. We know with each step that we take that she would not have come this far without the devoted educators, therapists, friends and family who have accompanied us on this journey. They are often the unsung heroes, the behind the scenes talent that never take center stage. But we know who they are. We walk for them as well. And we pay it forward with the money we raise. We help to fund advocacy efforts, research and interventions that are so incredibly important not only for family’s like ours, but for all of those who live with autism and those who love and care for them.
So, if you happen to be in the Atlanta area on Sunday, May 20th you should come check out the walk at Atlantic Station. If you want to join our team, we’d love to have you. The more the merrier. And if the spirit so moves you and you want to support our team, any donation big or small is sincerely & profoundly appreciated. And finally, if you’ve never participated in one of the nationwide autism walks, I sure hope you’ll consider doing it sometime. It’s a beautiful and powerful thing to be a part of.
If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together. There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. (Winnie the Pooh)
The words I share with you today are not my own. They are the words of one of Yael’s best friends, Halley Cooper. Halley had a school assignment to write an essay honoring a personal hero. Halley chose to honor Yael. Her words come from the heart and reflect a deep friendship rooted in mutual acceptance & unconditional love. Yael is so blessed to have such a friend in her life.
Honoring Our Heroes
by Halley Cooper
What comes to mind when you hear the word autistic? Different, struggle or just strange? What about inspiring? That’s what I think of. One of my best friends, Yael, was diagnosed with autism when she was three years old and came to my school in the fourth grade. She was so fun and beautiful, and when she wasn’t talking or making me smile, she was singing. That’s her dream, singing. What’s not to like about her? Well some kids at school could come up with quite a few things. She got made fun of just because she was different. Do you think that those things got to her though? Not often.
Things like autism & bullies don’t affect her. She keeps singing, dancing and having fun no matter what people say about her. We sing together all the time and she tells me that when she is sixteen, she will be the next American Idol. Who says she won’t be? She truly is an outstanding singer. Even if she does get some tough criticism, that won’t stop her from doing what she loves. It will only make her better.
Yael has taught me never to take things for granted. Who knows what life will throw at you? Follow your dreams because if you let bullies prevent you from doing just that, than what is life for? We only have one life to live, we should make something of it. Those are only a couple of things that I have learned from her.
Yael has also helped me realize what it means to be a true friend. She helps me with fairness and honesty. But most importantly, she has shown me that you should be who you want to be, not what others want you to be. If you follow your heart nothing can stop you. Not even autism. Not anything. Yael hasn’t let anything get in the way of what she wants to do or be, nor will I. Yael has given me that courage and has helped make me who I am today. Now if that is not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes. (Maya Angelou)