As many of you know, it’s Autism Awareness Month and we will be focusing on the topic of autism, neurological disorders and special needs children this month on the blog. It’s ironic because this month snuck up on me. I have been going hard since January, working on my business and taking care of my family. You know, tackling the usual daily stressors that keep on coming. I find myself in reactive mode a lot lately, but two Saturdays ago I was awakened.
My son, Harrison and his group of friends had organized a community service project for their school. They had decided to team up with two incredible non profit organizations -– Kids Meals and Social Motion Skills. (Kids Meals delivers free, healthy meals to the doorsteps of Houston’s hungriest pre-school-aged children, and Social Motion Skills provides solutions and support to families and children living with autism, ADHD and similar social challenges.)
Harrison had briefly mentioned the project to me about a month or so ago, and at the time I remember feeling proud he was organizing this project as a way to give back. But if I’m being totally and completely honest, I didn’t really give it much thought. I was in fast-forward, action mode. I was focused on my life and getting it all done — Marlie’s therapies, my business, my parents … I guess you could say, I was trying to conquer my life. But sometimes God is asking us to get out of our vacuum and tune into what’s true.
Well, Friday afternoon rolled around and I received a text from Harrison saying, “Mom, don’t forget about tomorrow. You are chaperoning our community service project at Social Motion Skills.” I immediately texted back, “Oh okay,” trying to act like I remembered. Deep down I was thrilled he was doing this, but honestly I was exhausted from my week, wanted to sleep in, yet I knew I had to go to be there for him. I could sense this was important to him.
Something seemed different about this.
Well, as you could guess, the morning comes, my alarm goes off and I begrudgingly tap my phone to silence the ring tone. I grabbed my coffee and jumped in the car and headed off to meet Harrison and his friends. When I arrived, the kids from Harrison’s school began setting up and getting organized for the Social Motion kids to arrive. Their project for the day was for everyone to stuff goodie bags with healthy snacks for Kids Meals. In essence, one group was stepping up to serve another group and by joining forces, they were impacting the lives of others in need. The idea was a divine domino effect. It was a powerful example of showing how we all are here to serve each other.
As I was coming out of my Saturday morning haze, I began to realize the gift of what was happening. I started to feel a lightness come over me. I also started to feel myself accessing deep emotions. A wave of compassion, empathy and love began to sweep over me. At that moment, one of my best friends, Pam, walked in. She had a huge smile on her face and I said, “I didn’t know you were coming.” She replied, “I wouldn’t have missed it!” (Her son, Parker is one of Harrison’s best friends and Parker was also helping with the project.)
Well, seeing her and having her there made me even more emotional. I asked her how she knew about Social Motion Skills and she told me that Parker had volunteered for them several times. He was a part of their peer mentor group that met every Tuesday night. She told me how much he enjoyed it and my eyes began to tear up. I thought about how this generation is more aware of differences. They are more accepting of how we are all truly unique. When I was growing up, I felt like there were walls separating us from those who were not like us. But today, I see these walls crumbling. These kids don’t see the divisions like those before them had.
The Social Motion kids began to arrive. Many of them already knew Parker which made the transition easier. He was hugging them as they walked in and I was just filled with joy witnessing him embrace these children. As Stephen Shore says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” All of the children had their own unique way of connecting with the group. One boy never lifted his head, another smiled and interacted with loud exuberance, another connected by talking about video games.
As the kids were all getting to know each other, a beautiful, charismatic woman walked in the room. You could see many of the kids faces instantly light up. She had the most magnificent energy. She was full of love, strength and joy. Her energy was enveloping. She called each of the kids by their names and she carried herself with such ease and joy. I was mesmerized by her.
I soon discovered as she introduced herself that she is the founder of Social Motion Skills. Her name is Wendy Dawson. Her twenty-one-year-old stepson has Asperger’s Syndrome and she started Social Motion Skills as a way to support him with his social skills. I walked over to introduce myself to her after she was done talking to the kids. She immediately said, “Wait, I know you! I love your stores and I know about your daughter.” Well, it hit me right then there — I knew God put me there that day. I felt a sense of peace wash over me knowing I was supposed to be there learning about this group and witnessing this incredible moment.
We immediately dove into all of our experiences with autism and special needs, and I told her all about Marlie and her unique struggles. She also shared with me her experiences with her stepson. It’s such a gift to share your stories with like minded, compassionate people.
She toured me around her space and told me all about the programs at Social Motion Skills. She was especially excited to share with me their partnership with Aspire Accessories. Aspire was started by Denise Hazen, another autism mom. I had met Denise several times in the past and had always thought she was the most creative, beautiful soul. Aspire Accessories operates as a program of Social Motion skills to provide training and job skills to those with autism and similar special needs in order that they may become taxpayers living fulfilled lives. As I was looking at what these kids were making, I was blown away. The pieces were stunning. She showed me handmade handbags, jewelry and home accessories.
I was inspired. After we were done touring, I asked her if she would be interested in teaming up for the month of April. We both screamed at the same time — YES! I had that “ah-ha” moment thing happen. I realized I had not partnered with anyone yet for Autism Awareness Month and it’s one of my most personal and passionate causes. I knew it had to be them. That’s why I was there. I needed them, they needed me. The divine domino effect was in full swing here.
As we started to wrap up the day, I sat watching the kids interact with one another. There was laughter, joyful conversation and true connection. For a minute, I forgot anyone in the room was different. It was like watching a mutually beneficial spiritual dance occur. Harrison and his group needed them just as much as they did. You could see perfectionism, insecurities, and inhibitions start to melt away as they all engaged with one another. It’s ironic because so many of us feel pity for people who are different or who might need more in some areas than we do, but in reality we all need each other.
Harrison and his peers are in a reality that’s very much focused on what they can control outside of themselves. It’s all about the tangible, material world around them. That can be a dangerous place to live. It’s hard to be filled up and at peace navigating in only one realm. So many young people today feel they are defined by the material world around them, by what they can see, touch or feel.
What school do I go to?
What kind of car do I drive?
What should I wear to cotillion?
Am I good enough?
As I watched the kids interact, all of that melts away. They all find the common denominator of simply being human together and partaking in the human experience as ONE. And watching Harrison and his friends let go of their walls and tune into their God given gifts of compassion and empathy brought me to my knees.
The pieces of the puzzle started to come together for me. Harrison has lived his entire lifetime witnessing the struggles of his sister. Seeing him take charge with his friends and willingly and freely put himself with these other children showed me he truly gets it. There is no separation.
As we were leaving, one of the young boys grabbed Harrison and said, “You are my friend, right?” And I saw Harrison’s eyes fill with tears and he immediately said, “Yes. Always.”
It is simple, my friends. Love is the answer.
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