Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sabbatical

I'll never stop writing (I promise), but wanted to share that, moving forward, I'm going to be dedicating most of my creative time to developing content for our new vlog, Hello Big Wonderful World, rather than penning posts here.

So much of our family cannot be verbalized and, for over a year, I've been brainstorming how I can open up to my friends, family, and followers in a bigger way. I thought, initially, it might look like writing more "A Day in the Life..." posts. The longer Milo remains wordless, though, the harder it is getting for me to put him into words.

I'm excited to begin our vlogging journey. One reason I'm excited is that it's something Milo can do. Our life is full of can'ts, but this is a very big can. One of our biggest regrets is not filming more when, between 9-18 months, Milo could point, speak (between 12-18 months, he had a handful of words including his own name [he used to say "My!" every time he looked in the mirror]), and respond consistently (he began turning his head in response to hearing his name around four months of age).

It is our hope that our vlog will enable us to use our family's challenges to spread the story of a God who loves His creation. To share the difficulties of waiting on God. To be real about where we are, spiritually and emotionally. To acknowledge pain in a hopefully honest way. To thank God for these days.


P.S. Please share and subscribe!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My Findings Elsewhere: Volume III

Below are a few readable things I've happened upon lately. I decided to add a section for recent things I've done, too—sometimes it may be a resource I've created, other times it may be an article or creative piece I've published outside of my blog. I hope you enjoy browsing!




Miscellany

Recent Work
My poems "After My Son's Autism Diagnosis" and "Tornado" will be published in the forthcoming May/June 2016 issue of Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Art of Iris: About a Girl with Autism and Her Maine Coon Cat

I'm so grateful for the opportunities I've had recently to share other voices for autism awareness on my blog—from Valerie's decision to facilitate an inclusive homeschool co-op to Gerin's commitment to aid autism families via technology. Today, I'm sharing my interview with Arabella Carter-Johnson, author of the forthcoming memoir Iris Grace.

Arabella Carter-Johnson and her daughter, Iris
Photo by Sarah Vivienne

Welcome, Arabella! Tell me a little bit about your family.
We live in the rolling hills of Leicestershire which is a very pretty part of England. My husband and I travelled all over the world together and we loved living in different places but after renovating a farm in France we missed the UK and decided to come back. We moved to a village not far from where I grew up. A year later Iris was born, she was my first child and from the start it wasn't an easy ride, she found sleep very difficult and that continued for many years. Sleep wasn't the only thing that worried me, she didn't develop language and she avoided any social interactions. At the time I was busy working as a wedding photographer and struggling to hold everything together as I knew something was going on, but what? I then found out about Autism and it all made sense. After that our lives began to change for the better. I researched and employed private therapists who helped Iris with many aspects of her life. Not all worked, but some like occupational therapy and music therapy we had on a weekly basis. Then, when Iris was three years old, we discovered Iris's love of painting and that was my first big breakthrough. Even though she wasn't talking yet it was as if we could hear her not through words but through her painting. Her impressionistic paintings that looked like the nature she adored told us so much and allowed me into her world. She would be happy for me to be around her; I was her artist's assistant and helped prepare the mugs of watery paint. She would guide my hand back to the sink to add more water when she wanted it. It was an extraordinary feeling after so long of struggling to connect with her. After that there was another rather unexpected joy that came into our lives in the form of a cat called Thula. She is a Maine Coon and has become Iris's best friend. She has helped Iris through many difficulties like bath time where she will happily sit in the bath tub with her while having her coat shampooed to show Iris that it's okay, travelling in the car, out on the bikes, swimming and she even came with us in the summer on a boat. Iris's social skills changed after Thula came into our lives and so many other issues seemed to be sorted too. She is a remarkable cat but I like to think that many animals could have this impact on a child's life and that anything is possible.

Iris and her cat, Thula
Photo by Arabella Carter-Johnson

Tell me about your book.
Iris Grace is a celebration of how 'different is brilliant' and the achievements of our little girl and her faithful best buddy. It documents the journey from the darker days, through her diagnosis to us learning how to connect with her, finding her voice. I wanted to raise awareness for autism and what it is like to live with autism, but also to show people that there can be a future. And a bright one. Obviously the techniques that worked for Iris won't work for every child but I do believe that there is always a key—it is about following the lead of your child.

As you know, autism moms are constantly researching. I have a friend who is raising money for an autism service dog for her four-year-old son. Did you specifically purchase Thula as a therapy cat for Iris?
Yes, I have loved animals all my life and in the past I practiced horse whispering. I have always had pets around me. So, for me, my first thoughts were about equine therapy and a service dog. For us neither of those two were right for Iris but after looking after my brother's cat over Christmas one year we saw something special. Iris loved that cat. After that we went on a search to find a cat of her own and we heard of a breed called Maine Coon that sounded perfect, confident, gentle, loving, loved water, always wanting to play and be involved in activities.

Iris and Thula
Photo by Arabella Carter-Johnson

What moment, or moments, specifically made you realize that Iris was forming a very special connection with Thula—a connection that allowed her to unlock artistic talent and expressive language?
Iris and Thula were like best buddies from the start but there were moments when I could almost run around the house with excitement, like when Iris asked Thula to 'sit cat' at the painting table or 'more cat' when she wanted Thula to follow her. Before that Iris had never made any verbal requests and those skills started to transfer to us too. She spoke more each day and they were so relaxed in each other's company. I think part of it is there is no pressure. Thula doesn't ask her to talk; she is just there for her and they communicate easily with body language. Without that pressure, Iris felt happy to try. I have learnt a lot from Thula. Watching them together has allowed me to understand how to interact more easily with Iris and it's always a gentle reminder each day. We even started to see cat shapes within Iris' paintings—a beautiful sign of the bond that they share.

Though this may be a difficult question to answer, do you feel Thula's success with Iris is a replicable course of action for other autism families? All children with autism are different, of course, and respond differently to certain therapies, but do you feel that what happened between Iris and Thula was miraculous or do you feel that animals can serve as an important form of therapy for all children with autism?
Oh, absolutely I believe that this is something we could see in many families. It may not always be a cat—some it will be a dog, others a rabbit or horse—but I believe animals can be an incredible addition to any family. From our experience there are certain things I would suggest: letting the child and the animal spend time together—a lot of time, do activities together, chill together, play. It's helpful to use a harness in the early days so the animal can get used to that and a lead. It makes it safer when out and about. Travelling in the car is another useful skill so doing that on a daily basis while they are young is also a good idea. Time off is also important. Thula has many hours a day outside on her own adventures,  time to be a cat on her own. I think this is important for any animal. We must not ask too much of them and let it be their choice.

Where can we purchase your book?
You can purchase the book through this link.