Amber and I try our best to not equate songs to ourselves or our lives, but sometimes you hear a lyric and it strikes a chord (no pun intended) and you can’t help but think of the same person every time you hear that song. Recently, that has come in the form of lyrics in the song “Wild Child” by Kenny Chesney (Kaitlyn will be quick to point out that it is not a “new” song for him).
“Looks like royal in a thrift store dress
Keeps my heart and her hair a mess
She goes where the wind suggests she goes, who knows
Got a spirit that can’t be tamed”
from “Wild Child” by Kenny Chesney
One of the things that Amber and I love most about Kaitlyn is that she is a completely free spirit. We are convinced that she didn’t get that from us (although we are a wacky pair for sure); no, her free spirit way was established and expertly cultivated by her “big sister” Jen. Once that seed was planted, it was just a matter of time before it grew, and grow it has.
When we take her clothes shopping, Kaitlyn picks out some of the neatest stuff; it is far from mainstream, and we can pretty much identify what she will want from the second we walk into a store. Pretty much anything that screams “hippie!” will catch her eye, and Amber and I love that about her. If we would let her, and if we could afford it, Kaitlyn would fill her closet with clothes like the ones in the picture on the right. That is just her style, and that she shares the same style as the wife of Florida Georgia Line singer Brian Kelley is coincidental.
It is going to be a blast for Amber and I to see where the wind takes Kaitlyn in the future. The sky truly is the limit for her, and we won’t do a thing to stand in her way or try to tame her at all.
The other night, I was sitting in the living room relaxing, when Kaitlyn came running into the room after her bath. She had the absolute biggest smile on her face, and I soon found out why.
She proudly came up to me, and told me about something that happened to her is school that day. For her to be smiling so wide and proud of herself, I knew that it had to be something big. And it was.
During P.E. that day, they were playing kickball, and Kaitlyn went and kicked herself a home run! I know that might not seem like a huge deal, but for Kaitlyn it was, and I was happy to share her joy over it, too.
I wish I would have captured the look on her face and the pride and joy she had in herself over her accomplishment. While it is certainly something that will forever be burned into my memory, I would have loved to been able to share it with the world.
Amber and I celebrate every one of Kaitlyn’s successes, and we do our best to build on her failures when they come up. We do that so we can continue to build a foundation of self-worth in her because we know that is probably where she has the most difficulty; while she has the biggest heart for others, she is not always the most confident in herself. Successes, no matter how small, only serve to reinforce to her that she is an amazing person.
This is not exactly something that can be filed under “Breaking News” or anything, but Kaitlyn is a planner. Like a serious planner. To the point where Amber and I have to pump the breaks on occasion so she doesn’t get too far ahead of herself.
For example, right now she is planning not one, not two, but three different events/trips/vacations. And when I say that she is “planning,” I mean she is full-on planning entire days and entire weeks.
Kaitlyn brought home a pamphlet and registration form for summer camp yesterday. Like last year, we are sending her to camp at her school for a bulk of the summer. She gets to be with her friends in an environment where she is comfortable, and with people Amber and I trust. Wins all around. In the pamphlet, the entire summer schedule is laid out, and Kaitlyn was already deciding on what her choice was going to be on “Free Choice Thursdays,” and is trying to arrange chaperones for field trips. We still have about 7 weeks before camp starts.
I shared previously about how Kaitlyn already created a schedule of events for her Spring Break next year, complete with pick up and drop off times, but she has taken it a step further now. Because she is planning on spending time at Disney with Amber’s dad, and because he really never tells her no, she is getting into more specific details on what their days will look like, down to where they will eat dinner each night. We’ll see how that goes.
And then came the news last night, which was a little surprising, that Kaitlyn wants to spend time next summer in Iowa with Amber’s mom. It is surprising in that there are quite a few miles between where we live and where they live, and it will be an experience unlike any Kaitlyn has had in the past, but she announced that she wants to go. As of today, her plan is to spend some of next July up there, which will be nice for her; there will be plenty of parades to see (they do seem to like a parade up there) and she will get to do a ton of stuff outside. The details of the trip are sort of thin right now, and we have no idea how long she plans on staying up there, or anything like that, but there is plenty of time to figure that all out.
With all of her advance planning, I am a little shocked that Kaitlyn has really not done much planning for our vacation this August to Panama City Beach. There has been a few times where she has mentioned the trip, but she really hasn’t worked on any details, and that is not like her at all.
I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised by all of her planning. It gives her a sense of comfort to have structure to her life, and that is fine by us.
As I have been scrolling through my Twitter feed this week, or have been checking my Facebook timeline, it has been pretty overwhelming to see all of the posts about wearing blue today, or about using blue lights to illuminate your house or some other structure. For a dad who has made it a primary focus in my life, the increased acknowledgements of autism and autism awareness is wonderful.
Kaitlyn helped remind Amber and I last night about wearing blue today, and she was so proud to wear her blue today as well. As she gets older and starts to learn more about herself and about what having autism (Asperger’s) means, we want her to know that she can come to us with any questions she has, and come to us with any concerns she might have. We want her to be able to share what she knows about autism with friends and family, too.
Continuing to raise awareness is very important, but also important is increasing understanding. Understanding of people on the spectrum, and understanding of those who care for autistic loved ones on a daily basis. We are working with Kaitlyn on her understanding of others with autism, too. We have been teaching her that not all people with autism are like her; there are some, like her, who are gifted and advanced intellectually, and there are those who are non-verbal and have more challenges, and those who fall somewhere in between.
From the bottom of my heart, and with humble gratitude, I very much appreciate the impact people are making today by wearing blue and lighting up their houses blue, or seeing that their Capitol building is blue, or their favorite stadium or landmark. Gestures, words, and even the smallest actions make a huge difference.
A week from today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day. Around the world, houses, like ours, and landmarks will be bathed in blue to help raise awareness for autism. As we have in past years, Amber and I will surely wear blue to work, and we will probably make sure Kaitlyn wears blue to school.
I have written a lot about World Autism Awareness Day in past years (here, here, here, here, and here) both happily sharing our experiences and of places that have gone blue for the day, and also of disappointment in the lack of participation by others. Those emotions are sure to be there again next Thursday.
For us, autism awareness is not a one-day or one-month thing, and autism does not leave our lives on April 3. Amber and I do everything we can to raise awareness every day, and by reading these entries, you are helping, too. And we thank you.
The public’s collective understanding of autism and those on the spectrum, like Kaitlyn, is getting stronger and stronger. There is still a long way to go, but each baby step brings us that much closer to understanding and acceptance.
Those on the spectrum are blessed with so many amazing attributes. Kaitlyn is one of the most caring and compassionate people I know; she has a huge heart for everyone, and truly sees the best in everyone. She is extremely smart and driven to succeed in school. She has a love of the world around her, and a deep commitment to making the world a better place. Her love of dolphins is admirable, too. Kaitlyn does have challenges, too, and chief among them is low self-esteem and self-confidence, which Amber and I work constantly on improving in her. She is coming to understand her Asperger’s more, and that scares her sometimes, which just crushes Amber and I.
We are fortunate to have a great support system in place here, and that was very evident when I shared Kaitlyn’s angst earlier this month; the support we received from our Facebook friends was tremendous, and the comments on there meant the world to us.
While we are surrounded by so many great people, not every family in our situation is. Every day, they face uncertainty and are filled with doubt that they are doing a great job. If that is you and you are reading this, you are doing a great job just be being there for your loved one on the spectrum; if you are the family or friend of someone who cares for someone on the spectrum, reach our to them and be there for them. Encourage them.
Autism Awareness is about more than just one day, it is the continued support of those on the spectrum and those who devote their lives daily to ensuring that their loved one is not slighted or doesn’t live in fear of being “different.”