Open Letter to The Treatment and Learning Center for Autism, Tyler, Texas

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel as though there’s absolutely no place in the world for your child? No place safe enough. No one who desires to take enough time to truly get to know your child and understand him. No one that truly believes in his potential. No place that would assign value to him. 

A few years ago, that is the exact place we found ourselves in. We felt hopeless and helpless. During one of our darkest seasons, God allowed our paths to cross with The Treatment and Learning Center for Autism.

Over the course of the last several years, the staff at TLC have breathed new life into our family. It is all because they chose to believe in my child when no one else would.They challenged him academically because they could see his potential. They challenged him behaviorally because they believed he was capable of overcoming. They didn’t allow him to settle, even though it was the harder road to take. They pushed him to reach his full potential. Things that many others said he would never be able to do, he has surpassed. Our son has overcome so much in the last several years and we believe this is greatly due to the fact that the staff at TLC have given their all on behalf of our child.

They have built relationships with our son. They have gotten to know him: His likes, dislikes, personality, and character. Once they got to know our son, they fell in love with him and in turn, he fell in love with them. Once you capture the heart of a child, you can then capture their mind. That is exactly what the staff at TLC has done. 

The TLC staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The extra time they have put in to offer support, help us to implement strategies within our own home, to assist during melt-downs, to help our child integrate into social settings, and to encourage us to press on could only have been done out of the overflow of their hearts. We will never forget and will always be grateful for their selflessness and willingness to be a support to our family. 

For the very first time in the life of my child, have I been able to drop my son off at school and leave without a pit in the bottom of my stomach. I haven’t had to wonder or worry if he would be safe and handled with care. I haven’t had to wonder if he was truly learning or being challenged to reach his full potential. For the first time in his entire life, we have been able to breathe deep and rest assured that he has received the upmost treatment and care. For the first time, our son has known what it is like to have true relationships with people outside of family. He has had a community built around him to love him, challenge him, and guide him. 

These are the things that are priceless. These are the things that every Special Needs Parent longs for in the life of their child. These are the things that, sadly, are not offered to families like ours in most places. 

The Lord is leading our family to a new city and a new season of life. We are leaving the comfort and safety that TLC has offered. And while we are super nervous and extremely sad to leave behind our TLC family, we know that we could never have made this move if it had not been for their constant help and support over these last few years. Our son would not be in the place where he is today. I believe he would’ve never developed the skills that he has now without the help of the TLC staff. 

I know it must be a great undertaking to keep programs like The Treatment and Learning Center going. If you have ever wondered if it’s truly worth it, our family is living proof that TLC is in the business of changing lives. It’s not just a behavioral therapy center. TLC is impacting the lives of those who are often times cast aside or never given a chance anywhere else. For our child, TLC has been a symbol of hope and promise of a future filled with bright possibilities. 

We will forever consider The Treatment and Learning Center home. We will always be grateful for the impact they have had on our family. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the difference you have made in the life of our child. It is our prayer that God would continue to pour out His blessings on TLC and its staff as they continue to change the world, one child at a time. 

Blessings,

Jake and Nichole Huggins

 

So many special friends throughout the years…wish we had pictures of them all. TLC staff, you know who you are! THANK YOU!!!

Sharing Jesus With My Autistic Son

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How do you share the Gospel with someone who has a disability? How do you know if they understand? What strategies should be used? These questions can overwhelm or intimidate people. For those considering starting a special needs ministry at their church, it can seem like a daunting task. 

I understand. For many, this is uncharted territory. It was uncharted territory for me too until the Lord blessed us with our son, Ezra, who has severe autism. Just like many of you, my greatest desire is for my children to know the Lord. Ezra was no exception. 

As the parent of a child who has a disability, I have found three simple rules of thumb to keep in mind as I share Jesus with my child. 

1. Don’t Discriminate: 

The Gospel is for everyone. We should never elevate ourselves to the position of being able to discern who the Holy Spirit can or cannot reach. Because God’s love and the story of His Son is for everyone, we should share it with all people regardless of background, color, ability, or disability. 

We try to attend church even when it’s hard. We do not hide our son away with the misconception that church is not for him. It’s possible that the church may not learn to accept or minister to those with a disability until those with a disability join their ranks. As parents, we sometimes need to have thick skin so the petty comments or misunderstanding others have for our disabled son don’t get in our way of finding a place for him in the church. We love the church. We believe our son needs the church, and the church needs him. He is a part of the Body of Christ. 

2. Don’t Overcomplicate: 

Our mostly nonverbal son loves music. The lyrics to one of his favorite songs go like this: “You want me. Somehow you want me. The King of Heaven wants me.” He may not be able to clearly sing every word, but he knows this part by heart. With bright eyes and a wide smile, he sings of how the King of Heaven wants him, and it seems to resonate deep within him. Simple truths of God’s love and desire for his children is not lost on my son. 

Many times we overcomplicate the Gospel; we have this plan, that book, this diagram, that program. We overcomplicate and try to overcompensate. However, the Gospel of Christ is simple: Through Jesus, God offers forgiveness and unconditional love. Simple truths of the Bible are used by the Holy Spirit to crack wide the hardest of hearts as He calls out to the souls of the deeply broken. God’s Word does not escape the understanding of the disabled. 

3. Don’t Underestimate: 

One of the greatest mistakes we could ever make is to underestimate a person’s ability to comprehend the Gospel which is equal to that of underestimating the ability of the Holy Spirit to work in someone’s heart and mind. 

Every day our son amazes us with his demonstration of comprehension and the information he retains. It may look different from you and I, but those who have a disability understand so much more than they are often given credit for. 

So every day we share. We share with our son that Jesus loves him. We let him know that God has a perfect plan and purpose for his life. We share simple truths covered in love, and we trust that God will allow these truths to seep deep into the heart of our child. I believe without a doubt that God is bigger than any disability and His Word is all powerful. 

How unfortunate would it be to miss out on the incredible opportunity to share Christ with my child because I underestimated his cognitive ability and even more, the ability of the Holy Spirit to reach all people? 

So dear parent, dear church leader, dear family member longing to touch the life of someone who has a disability, don’t give up! Continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ. You never know the true impact you might be making in the heart and life of a person who has a disability. If you won’t tell them, who will?

First published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church

http://irresistiblechurch.org/sharing-jesus-autistic-son/

Ezra loves for me to read to him the Plan of Salvation each Sunday at Church!

Ezra loves for me to read to him the Plan of Salvation each Sunday at Church!

How You Have Blessed Our Special Needs Family

Do you know what a blessing you are? There you have been, standing in the gap, spurring our special needs family on. When it feels as though there is no place in the world for our children, you have been that glimmer of hope saying it might still be possible. It is because of people like you and the blessing you have been that we press on. 

To the friend who is always there for us, you are a blessing. You have blessed us by recognizing that you won’t always understand. You trust us as the parents of our special needs child and are never quick to pass judgement. Because you aren’t personally walking this special-needs journey, you are not quick to offer up advice, but rather you are a willing sounding board and prayer partner. Instead of reminding me to “take care of yourself,” you put words into action and lighten my load by picking up groceries for me or bringing our family a meal. You have blessed us with a friendship that is not dependent upon flashy vacations or the newest restaurant (because these are not our family’s reality), but rather a friendship that is deepened by prayers, tears, truth, and heart talks. You have blessed us. 

To the family member who wants to connect with our child, you are a blessing. You have blessed us by your willingness to listen instead of taking it personally when we try to explain the way our child “works.” You have included and not excluded. You understand that no two kids are alike (especially when it comes to special needs), and therefore you ask questions about our child. You have gotten on his level to play with him and made an effort to enter his world. You have been patient, and you have cheered him on as he grows and changes. Your thoughtfulness, consideration, love, and desire to connect with our son feeds our souls and fills our hearts. You have blessed us. 

To the church leader who welcomes my special needs child, you are a blessing. You have helped create a community of faith for my child who is often excluded by others. You have assigned him value, and by your example you show others what a blessing it can be to include those who are “different.” You believe the gospel is for everyone and walk this out in how you teach our child. Our son’s noises, singing, and loud laughter do not give you pause. You welcome imperfection because you know that God does his most beautiful work in the midst of the imperfect. Your heart for sharing Jesus with ALL children and your efforts to include our child allow us to come and worship. You have blessed us. 

To the teacher who believes in my special needs child, you are a blessing. There is a difference in being a teacher and teaching with belief. You believe. You look past our child’s weaknesses and capitalize on his strengths. Even on the weary days, you push him and never give up. You are in the fight with us: the fight for knowledge, the fight for inclusion, the fight for a better tomorrow. You have taken the time to see the heart of our child. And once you saw his heart, you refused to give up. We have watched the beauty of your love pour over our child as we have cried and planned and worked together to help him achieve his personal best. You have blessed us. 

Being a special needs parent can be lonely. Each of you have been there at just the right time, when God knew we needed you most. There are days in the life of a special needs parent that seem too hard and too big for us to handle in our own strength. Your presence has helped us through those days. My plea to you is this: keep doing you. The world needs your example of unconditional and selfless love.

First published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church  http://irresistiblechurch.org/blessed-special-needs-family/

Thank you to those of you who truly believe. You have made all the difference in our life and in the life of our child!

Thank you to those of you who truly believe. You have made all the difference in our life and in the life of our child!

What the World Does Not Yet Know...

There are things the world does not yet know about you, but we do… 

We know the joyful heart you have; how you love to smile and make others smile. Jokes are not lost on you, you are fully aware and very capable of sly humor in your own way. Your belly-laughs and wide grins are gracious blessings on this journey of autism. One day the world will understand that children who have autism feel deeply too. 

We know you have unique intelligence. We watch you absorb every detail of life through hungry eyes of exploration. We find it incredible that you play trains in your room to the movie script on the TV three rooms away; you hear everything. We are baffled by the fact that you can listen to a song once and match the melody and pitch perfectly. You seem to memorize people by their smell. You can read a heart from a mile away; you know if someone wants to be around you or has to be around you. And quite frankly, you don’t have time for the naysayers. You know roads and routes, and you are quick to let us know if the upcoming destination is pleasing to you. You are detail oriented in every way, and you are so aware of the conversations, noises, and activities going on around you. One day the world will recognize that children with autism have an incredibly and uniquely wired intelligence. 

We know your behavior is communication. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, behavior “for no reason” does not exist when it comes to you. We watch the battle rage inside of you between impulse and control; it’s so visibly real. And we have learned that every, tiny impulse has a cause. It is our prayer that one day you will be able to explain with your own words what you think and feel, but until then, we must listen to your actions. What if the world began to look at behavior as more than just a problem or discipline issue? What if we began asking WHY? If every behavior was considered to be a conversation, perhaps we could look past ourselves and help unlock the mystery of what you are so desperately trying to communicate. When the world begins to understand this significant key, true acceptance might become possible. 

We know that purpose does not pass over you. We believe that God has a very special plan and purpose for each and every individual. Just because you have been given the worldly label of “autistic,” does not mean that God’s purpose has passed over you. Therefore, we will press on. We will continue to help make a way for you and try to give voice to your life and who you are. With every trial and triumph, we will hold true to this belief. There is nothing wasted in your struggles and nothing wasted in your victories. You are perfectly made. When the world also begins to assign purpose to children living with autism, there just might be a chance of a cultural heart change. 

“Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”—John 9:3

First Published at IrresistibleChurch.org  

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To My Son's Special Education Teacher: We Need to Talk

Dear Special Education Teacher,

It’s time. I’ve been holding this back for far too long. We need to talk.

You see, I’ve been waiting. I’ve been waiting to see if you would do what many other teachers have done before. I was waiting to see if you would grow weary, lose hope, or just plain give up. As the parent of a special needs child, we are far too familiar with the disappointment of a discouraged teacher. Now, as the end of the school years is upon us, and as many Special Education classes have simply slipped into survival mode, here you are still pouring yourself out for our little boy.

I want you to know how thankful we are that you have not given up on our son this year.

You know better than anyone else that this has been a hard year. With every milestone crossed, there has been a new mountain to climb. With every behavior overcome, there was a new behavior that seemed to take its place. As it goes sometimes in the world of Autism, this year has been a never ending journey to try to help quench the insatiable need for sensory input and curb the overwhelming impulsivity that seems to try swallow our precious little boy.

It would have been so easy for you to give up. It would have been so easy for you to maintain a survival mode mentality. It is because of your refusal to give into defeat and your determination to not just allow my child to “pass through” your classroom, that we were able to confidently entrust our child to you each day.

So, now it’s time. We need to talk. I want to make sure you understand all the reasons why THIS was my child’s BEST year of school, even though it was the hardest.

Constant Communication

There were very few mornings this year that I did not drop my child off at school without my stomach being in knots or at least a few tears streaming down my cheeks. I knew that my child would be well taken care of, but I was just so burdened for him and for how his day would go. He struggled this year. As a Momma, when our babies are struggling, it’s just so hard not to worry.

Your constant communication was what helped me to get through each day. I knew that I would receive pictures of my child and sometimes even videos.  I knew that you would keep me updated on the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout the day.

Every afternoon when I got home from work, I would go straight to my child’s backpack to check his folder to see what you had written about his day. I knew that if for some reason you were unable to write in his folder that day, you were just a text or phone call away.

Teachers of Special Education Students sometimes lose sight of the fact that our children cannot tell us about their experiences at school. They cannot tell us what made them sad or happy. They cannot tell us about their huge accomplishments or things that made them frustrated. You, the teacher, are the only link between school and home. If you had not told me, I would have never known. Thank you for your constant communication.

Honesty

You’re a straight shooter, and I’m so thankful for that. While you have capitalized on my son’s strengths and celebrated his many accomplishments this year, you also shared his struggles with us.

I’ve heard the almost mechanical, half-hearted answer of “Oh, he did so great” from many caregivers and teachers before. They are afraid they will hurt our feelings. They don’t like yucky conversations. The truth of the matter is that my child’s well-being and future are on the line, and as the parent of a child with special needs, I don’t have time for flowery conversations if, in fact, not everything is “so great”.

 This year, Autism for our child meant struggles with aggression, impulsivity, and sensory integration, among other things. Your honesty helped us to gage what kind of help our son needed. Your honesty helped to shape his Speech and Occupational Therapy sessions at home. Your honesty helped his Neurologist and Psychiatrist to make informed decisions as they worked with us to help our son learn new coping mechanisms and as they worked to develop a plan that would best serve our child.

I truly believe that the open and honest dialogue we have had with each other this year is one of the main reasons that we consider this year to be a success. There is very little progress that can be made in the life of a Special Education Student unless the teacher is willing to honestly give feedback to the child’s parents. Thank you for your honesty.

Care and Compassion

It has occurred to me that no one outside of our home has a better understanding of our life, than you. Loneliness is a common struggle amongst families who have children with special needs. We wonder how on earth anyone could possibly imagine what our day to day is like. But you know. By having my child in your class, you are privy to an understanding of my sweet boy that others just are not able to have. It is what you do with this special understanding that makes all the difference in the lives of families like mine. And what you have done is show an abundance of care and compassion.

When people think of a Special Education Teacher, I’m not sure they envision the multiple times we have sat together in a dark room beside my sweet boy as he laid rolled up in his stretchy blanket on the floor, trying to calm down. I’m not sure people think about the late afternoon phone calls when my son has had a possible seizure and you are the only person I know to call because you’ve seen him have one before. I’m not sure people realize that the only constant with Autism is change, as you have helped my child meet his ever shifting needs by finding weight and then compression, light and then dark, water and sand, walking with the service dog and then sitting in his box. I’m not sure people think about all the many times you have called to check up on my boy, just to make sure he is ok after a hard day.

Teaching my child is more than a job to you. You have invested in my child and have truly cared for him and his success in your classroom. You were not content to just let him be. Each day was a new day and my son knew that you had not given up on him. You have cared, struggled, disciplined, celebrated, cried, pushed, and have poured yourself out for my little boy. You cared enough to challenge my son and you had compassion enough to love him unconditionally. Care and compassion are not things that can be taught when you go to school to become a teacher. You either have them, or you don’t. Thank you for the care and compassion that you have relentlessly shown our little boy, and our family.

It’s true, it’s been a hard year. I am so thankful that the Lord gave us you for this season in our child’s life. I know you must have days that are exhausting and discouraging. Press on dear teacher! You are making a difference and your hard work does not go unnoticed. Because of your constant communication, your honesty covered in love, and your care and compassion, I can say that this has been my child’s BEST year of school, even though it was his hardest. Thank you for loving him enough to not just settle. Thank you for not just surviving. Thank you for being you!

To the Teacher's Aide in My Son's Special Education Classroom: I See What You Are Doing

As the parent of a child with special needs, I cannot help but be an overemotional ball of overprotectiveness most of the time. I have decided that this is not a downfall, it’s my job. I must be my child’s voice, until he finds his own. I must be my child’s eyes, until he can tell me what goes on around him each day. I must be wise and very discerning of the people I allow to surround my child, because he cannot tell me for himself how they treat him. I must be my child’s advocate on every front, because that is the sacred calling that the Lord has hand-picked for me.

It is because of this sacred calling, that I watch and I protect. And I want to send this message to the teacher’s aide in my son’s Special Education Classroom: I See What You Are Doing.

I see you early in the morning as you greet my little boy in the drop off lane at school. I see how you smile with excitement about another day as he wraps his little arms and legs around you when you lift him out of our car. I see you in class pictures sitting with my child in your lap. I see how he loves to give you hugs and kisses your cheek. I see the gentle hand you use to help guide him into the classroom and how you keep a watchful eye on him to make sure he is always safe. I see the pre-cut triangles and squares that you helped to prepare for my little one to learn with.

I know that you have been there for my child as he struggles to the ground in an Autistic meltdown. I heard how you placed your hands under his head to help protect it from the hard ground. I know that you have walked the empty halls a million times with my little one to help calm his overwhelmed mind. I know that you help my child with the smallest of tasks such as cutting up his food, drinking from a cup, eating his food, going to the bathroom, and washing his clothes after a sensory activity that he had a little too much fun with.  You have learned his personality, his quirks, his strengths and his weaknesses.  Yes, I can see what you are doing.

You are building a relationship with a precious child that longs for connection. You are growing trust in a little boy who feels as though the world is coming at him every second of the day. You are pouring yourself into a child that can rarely offer up a “thank you.”

Let me remind you of something that you already know: my child is brilliant. He can sense love and compassion a mile away. On the other hand, he also knows immediately if someone feels uncomfortable around him or if they are working with him because they have to verses if they want to. Ezra does not learn well in a hostile or begrudging situation. He has to feel comfortable with the people that surround him. You are partially responsible for creating an atmosphere that is conducive to my child’s ability to learn. Thank you for loving him so well. Yes, I can see what you are doing.

I know you have days that are rewarding. I can see the love and trust my child has for you and I hope you can see that too. I also know you have days that are exhausting and so very discouraging. Thank you for not giving up. Because of your unconditional love for children like mine, my little boy knows that each day is a new day and that he is worth showing up for.

Yes, I see what you are doing. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. My child notices you. I notice you. Because God has given me this incredible gift of being the protector of my special boy, I watch so very carefully. Because my precious child cannot verbally tell me about his experience at school, I cannot help but take in every little detail about what I see. And I see what you are doing.

I am not sure what the world’s perception is about a Special Education or Life Skills Teacher’s Aide. I’m not sure if people realize all that you do. I believe that one of the most overlooked and underpaid positions is that of a Special Education Paraprofessional. If I could, I would give each one of you a big raise and a superhero cape. But because I cannot, all I can offer is my heartfelt gratitude. I want you to know that I see what you are doing, and I am so thankful for you.

As I write this, I count myself so very blessed that it brings tears to my eyes. Ezra has such an amazing PPCD teacher who works tirelessly with Ezra and with our family to make sure that he succeeds (more about that in another upcoming blog). But, over the years Ezra has also had multiple teacher’s aides in each of his classrooms who have had a tremendous impact on him and his success in the classroom. Each of them have thrown themselves in 100% to loving and caring for children like mine. They could have not cared so much, but they did. It is because of these amazing professionals (and his awesome teachers) that my son has had an environment of support and love. I have no doubt that Ezra would not have overcome and learned as much as he already has without these incredible educators. If you work in a special education classroom, PRESS ON! Your work does not go unnoticed. I see what you are doing!

Ezra at school. As I understand it, it was the normally scheduled time for Ezra's class to go outside. Ezra lined up, on his shape, all on his own because he is super smart like that. I can just imagine him thinking "Don't they realize what time it is!? They are going to make me late!"

Ezra at school. As I understand it, it was the normally scheduled time for Ezra's class to go outside. Ezra lined up, on his shape, all on his own because he is super smart like that. I can just imagine him thinking "Don't they realize what time it is!? They are going to make me late!"