Thursday, January 31, 2013


I love to read. Perhaps this is why my boys read at such an early age, why there are not enough bookshelves in my house to contain our library, and why Tanner's favorite place is Barnes & Noble. I don't often read fiction, but read to learn - which may explain how I came to be a teacher or why I can't seem to stop accruing student loans!

One of my favorite self-improvement books is "Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys", by Stephen James & David Thomas. It is, according to its own cover, "a practical guide to understanding the way, the mind, and the heart of a boy". It covers a wide range of topics, from the stages of a boy's life to the way a boy's brain functions. It describes how a father's upbringing impacts his relationship with his sons and their mother, and it is eerily accurate.

In one of the chapters, James and Thomas discuss the importance of the family name. They explain the pride a father has in his surname, and how he should present it to his children as such. I took this advice to heart, often telling my boys how "Condreys never quit" or "Condreys work hard to be smart". 

This evening, after having a heart-to-heart with Tanner, he looked at me and said, "Maybe your last name should be 'Condrey---ISH'." I asked why, fearing the usual candid answer. He replied, "Well, your brain doesn't have big ideas like mine. I'm a Condrey, and you're just Condrey-ish." Touche' my little wild thing, touche'.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Yesterday, CNN.com highlighted a phenomenal photographer named Brian Steele, who has not only created a powerful collection of photographs combating "ableism", but has overcome his own physical disabilities and discrimination.

Ableism, according to Steele, is "a type of discrimination against people with disabilities". His project includes black and white photos of people of varying abilities; it's purpose is to show the beauty they portray inside and out.

Click here to go to Brain Steel's personal photography website
   "We filter everything that we see through the lens of our perceptions, so it is not until we are able to step outside of our perceptions that we are able to determine what is real and what is not...
The portraits are traditional, empowering and show each person's humanity." 
- Brian Steele (taken from CNN interview)  

Tanner just came in the room as I typed this blog and looked at the photos with me. His comments included, "She looks so young" and "He looks strong." It is my sincere wish that my children will maintain that innocence to appreciate the true beauty in all people, especially ones that are "atypical". I also hope that others will return the same courtesy to them.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Children with autism usually have problems processing sensory stimuli. As a result, they are often hyper-sensitive to certain lights, sounds, tastes/textures, smells, and/or touch. They can become overstimulated and overwhelmed, which can make for a bad day. 

That being said, what more craptacular place to have a meltdown at school,  then in the cafeteria? It's loud and noisy, uncomfortably packed, and a smorgasbord of smells. 

In my many years of elementary school dining, I have had students who: 
* tried to dive into the "shiny place" where lunch trays and silverware go
* tackled the lunch ladies for a plate of hot dogs (the only thing this child ate)
* make loud noises to drown out the unfamiliar noise around them
* lie their heads down on the table and/or shut their eyes to shut out sensory input
* hide under the table with their fingers in their ears
* made a b-line for the door in a screaming panic

My own son flips and flops relentlessly in the cafeteria, gags on "stinky soup" days, and cannot be the "table wiper" due to it's direct correlation to puking in the trash can...

My new found Aspie-mom friend, Christina Allred, just posted a poem on her blog that sums up the whole experience quite well...

Here is an excerpt from "'Holy Crap' -eteria, An Aspie Poem":

And then like a flash,
With a bang and a crash,
I am racing out the cafeteria door.

After half an hour in such a stimulating place
Is it really such a surprise,
That when walking back to class, away from that hell
I am angry and have tears in my eyes?!!..."

As Christina mentioned, please try to be understanding of students in the cafeteria. 
And if you are eating out and a child has a public meltdown, don't assume he/she is having a tantrum for a cookie....it may be an autistic friend who is a little overwhelmed.

Monday, January 14, 2013


One of the most common traits of people with autism is social awkwardness. My son is not particularly shy when meeting a stranger, but the conversation he tends to engage in usually has all or most of the following characteristics:

* pertains only to topics HE is passionate about (#1 topic these days = "Plants vs. Zombies" video game)

* contains detailed and lengthy descriptions, despite social cues that others are disinterested  (i.e. the "Plants vs. Zombies" video game and all of the characters and all of the levels and all of the achievements you can earn and all of the secrets of the tree of wisdom and all of the updates and all of the plush toys he's collected and all of the ones he's saving up for and.....well, you get the picture)

* involves some type of physical "stimming" (self-stimulation - in Tanner's case, a flipping of the arms/hands between the legs, body bending/rocking forward, feet/legs vibrating on the floor or chair...and if making up a story, pacing or circling the room while stimming)
* does not leave room for reciprocation (in other words, no one gets a word in edgewise!)

* lacks voice modulation (tends to be loud, and gets louder with excitement)
However, because Tanner's vocabulary is mature, his speech articulate, and his imagination vivid, some people don't view him as having a "disability". He is super smart and freakishly artistic for a six-year old, but because he doesn't yet require an IEP, attend special classes, or have major meltdowns during school hours, he must be pretty "normal".

Because Tanner falls on a much higher-functioning end of the spectrum than my students or friends' kids with autism, my own husband used to feel "guilty" saying that his son was autistic. He felt like it was a "slap in the face of those really struggling with autism," he'd say.

Tanner himself views autism as "kids who can't talk well" or "make noises" despite my best efforts to explain the large gamut of children on the spectrum (he is obviously not yet aware of his "label" and spends a great deal of time in my classroom, where I teach children with moderate-to-severe autism)...

Research shows that almost half of children with autism are bullied, most likely the higher-functioning students.

From what I've read on the subject, even children are selective on who is "disabled enough" or "autistic enough". Studies show that if a student has an "obvious" disability, children find it taboo to pick on them. However, autistic students who are verbal and find themselves in regular education classes with little or no support are three times as likely as their "typical" peers to be bullied. They are simply seen as "weird" or "nerdy" and become easy targets as social outcasts...

I am proud of the strides Tanner has made and the insight he already has into his own feelings. I do worry that he often speaks as a 6-year-old with depression. I worry about bullies and intolerant teachers. I worry that if he is "too smart" he won't receive the support he needs. I worry that some family members will never fully recognize the fact that Tanner is special and not just some quirky kid who needs more discipline.

Autism comes in all shapes and sizes. Every family has their struggles. Ours may come in the form of social awkwardness, narrowed interests, and meltdowns due to severe OCD. Others come in the form of still potty training their now 12-year-old, meltdowns that include self-injury or physical abuse, or lying awake at night because their child wanders out into the night. 

I am thankful every single day to have an awesome son who is verbal, affectionate, and healthy. But I will never apologize because he is not "autistic enough".

Friday, January 11, 2013


I have been working on a video as part of the "Snowflake Project" for Sandy Hook Elementary students and families. Over six million snowflakes from around the world were received by the Connecticut PTA to help students return to a "Winter Wonderland". 

Because of the overwhelming response, the family and friends are now asking for photos of snowflakes to be used on a permanent website. Here is my contribution I wanted to share with everyone to honor each and every child and staff member lost in that tragedy on December 14th, 2012. The victims included a little boy with autism, who died in the arms of his "one-on-one" assistant.

  music is by Brandi Carlile ("One Sweet Kiss")

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


photo taken from www.missamerica.org
Alexis Wiseman, the current Miss Montana, will be competing this Saturday evening in the 2013 Miss America Pageant. I am not a huge fan of pageants, but Alexis has made this year's event a game-changer for people like me! I will be glued to Saturday's broadcast to see this articulate, down-to-earth teen represent the beautiful face of AUTISM! 

Diagnosed at age 11, Alexis claims she had a difficult time in school. In fact, according to a recent FOX News interview, she almost didn't finish high school. Now she is headed to college and is the youngest Miss America contestant (age 18) and the first autistic competitor. 

When asked why she chose to compete, Alexis stated, "I think I should be the next Miss America because the world needs to know that even a girl who has a few differences and was labeled an outcast at first is Miss America material." You GO girl!

Here is the cutie patootie on her personal vlog on AbilityPath.org:

Apparently, the public will have the chance to "vote in" a finalist in this year's contest via the pageant website or through Facebook. Soooo...

visit the "Miss America Organization" page on Facebook!
 Then watch and cheer for Alexis
January 12th, 9:00 p.m. Live on ABC!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I have fallen off the blogging grid for a short while, as I have been laid up in bed with a bad back and vertigo (not a good combo for trying to control two young boys!). 

But, I just had to share a follow-up picture to my earlier post, "For The Love of a Chair", which ended with my wonderful husband calling to get "emergency reupholstering" for our recliner. 

The day it arrived, Tanner entered the house and B-lined to the computer to check for an Angry Birds update (something he had talked about all day at school). THEN he acknowledged the recliner by giving his dad a big hug and vegged out the rest of the evening like this:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


As we all start back to school and focus on keeping our New Year's Resolutions, the memories of the Newtown tragedy are already starting to fade from the headlines. Just as with 9/11 , we will certainly never forget, but if we are honest with ourselves, we know that life takes over and other things slowly creep into the forefront of our minds.

While us good-intentioned folks become lackadaisical in our duty to help others, our hateful nemeses are gaining momentum to put autism (particularly Aspergers) in a horrible light. One such delusional group recently changed the name of their Facebook page from "Cure Aspergers, Prevent Murder by Psycho Killers" to "Cure Aspergers, Save Children From Ari Ne'Eman" (I know, right?). John Best, Jr., the creator of this nonsense, continues to take his pages down, only to reactivate them later (thus the low number of "likes").

Change.org features many petitions to Facebook regarding these pages. If you are interested in signing and letting your voice be heard, here are a few links to get you started:



Congratulations to Autism Shines for being highlighted on  www.babble.com and for continuing to bring such positivity to the face(s) of autism!

Click here to read this awesome article 
Babble is a Walt Disney-supported "platform dedicated to honest, engaged, informed, intelligent and open conversation about parenting".