Food for Thought
World Autism Awareness
Thanks for joining us as we recognize individuals with autism and the people who love and support them. These dedicated moms share the ups and downs of what life looks like for them on the daily and help us understand the importance of a kinder, more inclusive world.
Brook Stringham, mom to Landon
As a mom to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, bringing awareness and acceptance to Autism is always on my mind. Autism has been the biggest challenge and also the biggest blessing to my family. My son struggles with daily activities that come as second nature to most people. Things like the material of his clothes, brushing teeth, doing his hair, feeling the wind on his face, the textures and colors of foods, and other challenges like that take up a lot of energy everyday. I could name more things that we struggle with on a daily basis but i think you get the idea.
We handle these trials together as a family, we even get my younger son to help Landon with his daily challenges. This is the best way we have found to make sure that having a child on the spectrum does not isolate us or fall solely on one person's shoulders. Instead, it brings us closer as a family. We face challenges together. We celebrate the wins together. It takes patience to get through some of the toughest times, but we always work through it together and it has brought us more meaningful relationships.
Meal times are especially difficult for him and we have to come together as a family to make mealtime a place where Landon feels happy and comfortable. He has to have his food cut a certain way, no food touching, and it takes some major bribing and fun to get him to eat with us. That is why the Planetbox lunchbox is so amazing for Landon! It keeps all of his food separate and it's fun for him to eat out of! He is more motivated to eat when there are separate compartments for all of his food. It also helps that there is the promise of a cookie if he takes a certain amount of bites!
These daily challenges can seem overwhelming at times but I truly would not change them for the world. When he was younger, we had to work so hard to get him to point. We spent months and months working on this crucial precursor to speech. He got it down. We were so proud of him and could not stop talking about how amazing it was that our son was pointing! This was almost two years ago and seeing my son point now, still brings me joy! This is the part about Autism I wish was talked about more. No victory is small; that is the biggest gift. Having a person with Autism in our family feels like such an honor. We get to savor every moment because nothing is small or insignificant but beautiful.
When we first found out that Landon had Autism, I felt this huge weight placed on my shoulders. I thought to myself, "What if I let him down? What if he doesn't become the person he should be or have as amazing of a life because I failed him?" While this is a big job to be an Autism parent, I would say I definitely had it wrong. Now I know that Landon is turning ME into a better person. He is helping ME reach my full potential. It does not take a special person to raise someone with Autism, but holy cow, do those people with Autism turn everyone around them into much better individuals. The biggest mistake we can make is to underestimate an Autistic person, they can and are changing the world for the better. I'm so blessed to get a front row seat!
Find Brook Stringham @thehappyspectrum
Brittaney Cavallo, mom to Danny
Autism, many believe it is a scary word but it does not have to be. Autism does not change who your child is after a diagnosis, rather, the diagnosis opens a floodgate of support. My Danny is still the loving giant he was the day before his diagnosis. The only facet that changed was he could get all the support he needed. The road to getting your child diagnosed can sometimes be more challenging than the diagnosis itself. Every child is just as perfect as they’ve always been, but now there is understanding.
I knew at six months Danny was different, and by a year I knew it was autism. Six months for Danny was Christmas time, a time for family gatherings, and Danny struggled. He had seen all of these people individually, but never altogether, and I could tell he was overwhelmed. I bolted for the door; I knew I needed to get him outside away from all the stimuli. My “mom gut” was telling me something was off- something was different here. This happened again, at his first and only birthday party where he was again overwhelmed by so many around. Danny wanted to be away from everyone. I watched him, taking mental notes, studying him. Thinking, "How do I get his pediatrician on board," this doctor has been saying, “He is a boy, they do things slower.” for months now. Danny sat late, did not crawl until he was almost a year, and did not walk till after he reached 18 months. I knew something was amiss. Finally, at two years old I was able to get him an appointment at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to have him tested for autism. It felt like this was a chance to have the weight of world lifted off my shoulders, and no matter the outcome, I would at least have answers.
When Danny was two and half, the doctor said, “Your son has autism.” I finally had the key to open the doors to support him, and I remember saying, “Great, now how do I get him support?” The therapies Danny receives are not to “fix him”, because there is nothing wrong with him, they are here to support him. As much as I would like to live forever, I won’t. I see the therapies as a way to set him up to live an independent and successful life that I will not always be around for. While learning to get dressed, watch out for danger in the road, or to feed oneself may be mundane to many, it is not for him.
PlanetBox lunchboxes are an amazing help to Danny. One of our first therapists advised me to watch for feeding issues and advised me to keep giving him all the foods and never stop offering, even if he isn’t eating them. One of the first things I noticed was that Danny did not like his food touching. By keeping his food separate and being able to offer a variety, PlanetBox lunchboxes prevents so many meltdowns. No more packing thousands of bags of food for mom- everything has a nice place to keep it together, but separate!
Find Brittaney Cavallo @autismandcoffee
Jessica Ronne, mom to Lucas
Lucas is a joy and is usually happy listening to music and singing songs. Some of his favorite activities include school, his ipad (especially watching the Wiggles and Veggie Tales shows), walking, and hanging out with his siblings.
However, there are challenges to raising a child with extra needs. Lucas has limited mobility and needs assistance walking, bathing and dressing. He also has hydrocephalus, a condition caused by excessive pressure from cerebral spinal fluid in the skull during his time in utero. As a result, his eyesight is limited. He has a shunt to help with this and, thankfully, he has only undergone two shunt revisions in his lifetime! That is quite a feat for a hydrocephalic person.
Lucas is primarily non verbal. As he aged through puberty, we’ve been faced with increased aggression, screaming, and anxiety, which is common for children on the severe end of the spectrum. We’ve been able to calm the chaos through medication and routine. Lucas thrives on structure and as long as he’s aware of what’s required of him, he tends to do very well. When his routine is interrupted – for instance, when a global pandemic shut down school, and we went into quarantine for months on end – Lucas reacted with head banging (a form of self stimulating) and screaming.
When it comes to mealtimes, he engages in sensory seeking behaviors. If given the opportunity, Lucas will attempt to put an entire plate of food in his mouth at once or smear food all over his head. So, we assist him with eating, bite by bite, to ensure his safety.
I often have to hide nutrition in his favorite foods, such as lasagna with spinach or brownies with zucchini. But when I focus on healthier options, Lucas, as most of us do, thrives. He feels better, and as a result, we see an improvement in his overall mental health and mood. PlanetBox helps us focus on a clean diet for him and prepare healthy options ahead of time to help keep Lucas happy and thriving.
Find Jessica Ronne @jessplusthemess
Kaley Stymeist, mom to Hudson
Hudson is a funny, smart, active, determined six year old boy. He has twin eight year old brothers, who he simply adores and follows around. He loves going to school and being with his peers. Hudson also loves superheroes and sometimes jumps around the house pretending to be Spider-Man.
Hudson also has autism and because of this, play looks a little different for him. Instead of asking a “friend” if they want to play, he might run right up to their face or maybe even touch their face and excitingly make a kinda squeal. If you ask Hudson a question he may not answer and if you watch Hudson he may look a little odd as he twirls a tie in front of his eyes over and over, but this is just a stim that makes him feel good.
However, Hudson is very aware of what goes on around him. He understands what is being said and he follows directions quite well. Even though Hudson may not seem to be looking when someone is speaking, it is very rare that he is not listening.
Hudson also is a very picky eater and only eats about 8-10 foods, which makes it a challenge when we are out and about or when he’s at school. He gets a lot of his nutrients from smoothies, which he fortunately loves!!
As a “autism mom” I find myself advocating the most about these 2 things:
- Don’t underestimate Hudson. He is smart, he understands, and it is mine and his educators’ job to find how he can best show us what he knows.
- Hudson needs to be included with his peers. And to do that successfully we need to talk about his autism to and educate his peers. Just as Hudson needs to learn how to work with his peers, they also need to learn how to work with him.
Advocating for Hudson has been the hardest most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I promise that if we give these kids a REAL chance they will change the world!
Find Kaley Stymeist @kaley_and_3
Cover Artwork by Margaret To