Sunday, April 19, 2015

MOM Suzy: Autism Awareness Month, Part 1

Instead of waiting for Momster Monday, I've decided to introduce you to the MOM for April today...and there's a reason why. April is Autism Awareness Month and today is World Autism Awareness Day. Today, I'm introducing you to Suzy Higley, who has a son with Autism.  
Suzy is 40-years-old, mom to 3 boys, from my small little hometown of Othello, Washington and she met her husband in 6th grade!
"I met my husband John for the first time in 6th grade. He was annoying and adorable. We were sweethearts in Junior High until I broke his heart on Valentine's Day! Then 3 long years later we reconnected when I got nerve enough to ask him to a dance. We were together ever since...engaged at 19, married at 20. College together. Kids. House. Now we will celebrate 20 really wonderful years married this July 1st."
Suzy and John have 3 sons: Josh, Nathan and Simon. Her oldest son Josh is 16, and suffers from anxiety, depression and ADD. "Something that I wish I had known more about in his early years. It's been a hard transition for him into his teen years, but we are working through it with help from his doctors", she says. 

Nathan is 14 and has mild anxiety and ADHD. Suzy explains that Nathan "has managed well on his own...he found ways to cope well on his own, and is successful in school." 

Simon is 7 and has a more severe form of autism. Suzy further explains, 
"He is minimally verbal; meaning he has a vocabulary he uses for specific things, but struggles to talk. He has a better receptive language but still has Auditory Processing Disorder, so communication is very hard for him. But he is so smart and patient and finds ways to get his point across. He also has ADHD, which means he's a busy body with huge sensory-input needs and a very busy mind that is hard to keep focused. Our children, while all three are much shyer than me or their dad, still don't fall too far from the tree. I am ADHD myself and anxiety has always plagued me...but I manage. My husband as well; so it's in the genes."
As a SAHM, Suzy was able to spend many "years volunteering for preschool co-ops and PTA in the eleentary years for my older two boys. My youngest is now almost 7, and while I'm still busy volunteering, my path has changed a bit from PTA to autism."

I asked Suzy for the opportunity to interview her not only because she has first-hand experience with autism, but she has also been very active within her special needs community.
"Two years ago I started an autism social learning club called Better Together, with some other moms. It grew from a small group of moms trying to create opportunities for their kids, into a full supportive community of more than 245 members. We are now a program of the Arc of Tri-Cities [Washington], where we will be able to do even more for our special needs community."
Since 1954, the Arc of Tri-Cities has been a provider of services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and now serves more than 1,400  individuals each year. All of their services help to advance skill levels, promote inclusion, integration, and socialization, and encouraged independence. 
What would Suzy like everyone to know about those with autism?
"Autism IS a spectrum. It's a big broad curve with lots of colors in between. Some on the spectrum can marry and work, some struggle more and need much more support throughout life. All have the same desire to pursue a happy, purposeful life. Never judge a book by its cover. Assume the desire for friendship and ability for higher learning even if the body language fools you."
In regard to the spectrum, Suzy's son Simon is more impacted, so she can only speak from experience with him. Simon doesn't speak much, but she encourages others to:
"Say hi anyway. Slow down and just see him under the anxiety. Assume he's listening and needs time to think it over and decide to trust you or not. Allow him that. Remember that he is working hard every day to fit in to our way of thinking just to be heard. It's a frustrating world, so be patient and understanding."
Today, this month, and always, Suzy encourages everyone to:
"See the complexity and beauty that is autism. It has its difficulties, but their special and unique ways help them see things clearer and more intense than our brains do...and that's why there is brilliance and beauty in the autistic mind. Appreciate the differences that make us ALL human, and make room for us all in school, in work and in life."
Suzy wears many hats, apart from her role as wife, mother, and co-founder of Better Together, she teaches "Exploring Art" at the Arc to adults with special needs, she loves the coast, and enjoys rearranging furniture regularly.
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Click here for PART 2 as we learn more about Simon, 
how and when Suzy discovered he was autistic, and learn more about Better Together.

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