This post is by Marisa Lawrence, winner of the 2014 T-Shirt Contest for Walk Now for Autism Speaks! Her design will be featured on Walk shirts for the 2014 Walk season! Marisa is a team captain for “To Alpha Centauri and Back” for Lehigh Valley’s Walk Now for Autism Speaks. Interested in walking this year? See if there is a walk in your area here.
As a licensed professional counselor with 10 years working with families affected by all types of mental health diagnoses, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I knew there was something missing from our relationship when my son was born in 2008. The connection was not there. My family thought I was crazy, but as he got a little older, all the warning signs started to become clearer. Three months shy of his 3rd birthday, we had early intervention do an evaluation and he qualified with some delays. From that point on, we've had a great BHRS (Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services) team working with him up to 20 hours a week.
At times my family still couldn't see it or understand because my son is very high functioning and never had any speech delays. In fact he started talking so early and still enjoys learning vocabulary. Everyone says, "He's so smart," and he is but they did not get the chance to see all the other characteristics that made each day a daily struggle such as his sensory issues that have prevented us from leaving our house at times. The hardest part as a mom has been watching him in social situations because I think deep down he wants to make friends but he struggles and clearly stands out from the rest of his peers.
Over the past few years, I've decided my personal goal is to reach out to as many families as I can to educate and support them. I have found my own experiences with my son have helped me professionally, but nothing has been as empowering as reaching out to other parents as a mom, not a therapist, and sharing stories or listening to daily struggles. I’ve also been able to use my passion to support my son.
I love art! There is a very important healing power that art can play in one's life. For me, it helps keep me grounded and sometimes cope with daily stressors. I have also been able to use my creative side to raise money for Autism Speaks by painting recycled puzzle pieces and turn them into jewelry. Again, when selling these at various events, I have been able to reach out and connect with other families, which I feel is very important. For families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders, I hope to empower them to look into art therapy as a possible form of treatment or as a way to cope with whatever life has in store for them.
I feel very fortunate that even though this is only my second year walking, I have a very supportive team. I hope my efforts to raise money, raise awareness and create a strong presence at the Walk will only help support families on all ends of the spectrum.
My son is now 5 and is doing well in a regular kindergarten class. He still gets about 15 hours of therapy a week. He loves sounds and calls himself "the best sound making friend in Pennsylvania." He has been able to learn to play the ukulele thanks to his therapeutic staff support worker. He enjoys learning how things work, science and of course video games. He most recently has been obsessed with Star Wars and can tell you all about R4P17 and R2D2. His fascination with space led him to say "I love you to Alpha Centauri and Back" every night before bed when he was only 3. It seemed appropriate to name our walk team "To Alpha Centauri and Back." So when you see our logo that states "We love you to Alpha Centauri and Back,' you'll understand.
Interested in walking this year for Autism Speaks? See if there is a walk in your area at walknowforautismspeaks.org!