Friday, August 28, 2015

What Chelan Means to Me: Christina-Marie Wright #lovechelan #chelanfire

The #lovechelan logo was designed by Rose Weagant Olcott,
known as @dinmutha on Twitter. It is being used to raise funds
and awareness for Give Naked, a non-profit org which actively
raises funding for individual "gives" to meet the needs of those
who need assistance within the Chelan community.
This post is part of a series I will be running in the coming weeks, called "What Chelan Means to Me." It is my hope to share the stories of the grown (and growing!) children of the Chelan Valley, and its current and past residents, in order to raise awareness of the devastating fires which have ripped through our valley, and to help promote a beautiful, meaningful fundraising effort.

Visit to view our fundraising progress, and to contribute. When you make a donation at any of the listed levels, you will receive a unique and heartfelt gift, contributed by someone who has their own connection to our peaceful community.

All funds will be donated to Give Naked, a non-profit organization which actively raises funding for individual needs through Chelan Valley Hope.

You can help by:

  • Sharing this post through social media. Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram... However you connect with your people, please feel free to share.
  • Using the hashtags #chelanfire and #lovechelan in your posts, to help us trend and to raise awareness and participation.
  • Making a contribution to the Indiegogo campaign, linked above. Even donations as small as $25 are rewarded with a heartfelt gift!
  • Praying for our community, in whatever way is sacred and meaningful to you.

Some of you know (and the rest of you will, now) that I grew up in a tiny little village on the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Chelan.

My graduating class was 24 people, and at the time, we were a "big" class.

Lake Chelan is a resort and vacation destination, and people from all over the world flock to its shores to enjoy the water, the mountains, the slower pace of life, and the local love.

Fresh, local apples
It's the sort of place where the village really does raise each child... As kids, if we were out misbehavin' in public, if our parents didn't catch us, some other vigilant mama or daddy would. In a matter of moments, we'd be appropriately corrected, and our parents at home would be waiting, with a stern lecture.

Curlytop, daringly climbing a display of pumpkins at a local business six years ago

It's the sort of place that inspires creativity. I don't know if living in the Chelan valley drives folks to create, or if creative types naturally end up here, but I count among my fellow grown children of Chelan numerous painters, sculptors, poets, authors, musicians, actors and more. It's as if the beauty of the valley comes spilling out through our pens, clay, paintbrushes, keyboards, vocal cords and brains. So much glory is impossible to contain.

View uplake from the deck of a house on one of the valley's smaller lakes
I've spent years in the cocoon-like sanctuary of Lake Chelan, learning to swim in the clear waters, eating apples fresh off the trees in my grandparents' orchard, sledding down the mighty mountains, sunbathing in the glorious rays with Sun-In streaked through my hair... It is where I had my first loves and inevitable heartbreaks, my first kisses, my first broken rules, attended my first "keggers," and delivered my only biological child.

There, too, I suffered a devastating miscarriage, and fell into the comforting arms of my "family" -- the friends, neighbors and co-workers I'd come to claim as my tribe.

The Chelan Valley is where I was encouraged to boldly pursue a love of poetry and writing, thanks to teachers like Mr. Korsborn and Mr. McClure. It is where I met Mr. Wright fifteen years ago, and began a new life with him that is beyond anything I could ever have imagined for myself.

Mr. Wright, the week we met in 2000
It was where my Princess truly became a princess, serving as Miss Lake Chelan royalty.

Celebrating Princess's election to the Miss Lake Chelan royal court
And the community? We take care of our own. When my brother was diagnosed with erythroleukemia, he required countless blood transfusions. Members of the community organized a blood drive, which offset the costs of his transfusions.

When individual families fall on hard times, their neighbors are there, to help them recover and get back on their feet. But... what happens when the loss is so great, we need to look outside our benevolent community for help?

That, my friends, is where we are, now.

Fires have ravaged our community, taking with them homes, memories, business, and... lives. So far, we've lost three heroic firefighters. Businesses have burned to the ground, leaving little but a scorched sign to mark what was once a thriving merchant-place. Houses have been destroyed, the photos and mementos of the families who once felt safe within their walls nothing more now than ash and dust.

We need help. As much help as possible. And so, I am asking all of you to please do what you can to help my home. Please see the introduction of this post for ways you can help, and come visit us, if you can! We'd love to welcome you into our family.

*cross-posted at

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Your Fake Service Dog is Ruining It for Legit Ones

This is Teddy. Services he provides include: licking sticky
fingers, assertive snuggling, and eating
rejected crusts of toast.
Fourth of July Weekend is a big thing in my hometown. Like, ridiculously big. The locals in the town which, nine months out of the year, is a small, closely-knit community brace themselves for the onslaught of tourists who really do act as if they own the place.

We locals do our shopping on Wednesday, and stock up, because going to Safeway on the holiday weekend is the stuff of crazy-making. Standing in line behind an entitled doofus who is outraged over the lack of gluten-free beer selection is never high on my list of "good times."

Unfortunately, Curlytop needed a pair of sunglasses because hers went missing or got broken or were stolen by faeries, so I had to brave the variety store.

Standing at the spinning display of kids' shades while Curlytop tried on every... single... pair (because, you know, they have to feel right, and if they smell different than the others, that's noteworthy, too), we were nearly knocked over by a dog.

A big one.

A Great Dane.

I nearly lit into the handler, but then I noticed the vest.

The dog was wearing a blue vest which read, "Service Animal." It had pockets on it, and it was filthy. I could hardly make out the words, for all the dirt and grime on the vest.

I hesitated, thinking maybe the dog was just so big, it had a hard time getting through the narrow walkways between the display racks, but then I saw the dog was literally pulling its handler along, and bounding down the aisles, stopping to sniff at every passerby and end-cap.

I hope I don't have to tell you that this is not how service dogs behave.

I know, because I have clients who train service dogs. I have a daughter in vet school who occasionally fosters and works with service dogs in training. I have spent time around many a service dog, and this dog was doing it wrong.

See, it's become pretty easy to "authenticate" a fake service dog, and people are doing it in droves. Seriously, I can go to eBay right now, and get a "service dog" vest with authentic-looking information cards with an official-looking seal, telling all about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- for less than twenty bucks for either Teddy or Kipper. Neither of them has had any training, save for learning to tolerate Curlytop and Snugglebug dressing them up in doll clothes and costume jewelry.

To be clear, I am not talking about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), which have a much lower standard to meet, as regards a public access test. ESAs need generally only be able to follow simple commands, behave on-leash, and not show aggression toward other animals or humans. I have friends who gain comfort and assistance from ESAs, and that is not what I'm talking about, here. (ESAs are NOT protected under federal law, by the way.)

I'm talking about service animals, which, by definition, must have accessory training beyond standard obedience courses, and must provide particular assistance to their humans. The assistance might be seizure detection, boundary protection to an autistic individual, support for the hearing- or sight-impaired, carrying of medical equipment, or any other number of support duties performed by service animals.

These animals and their owners, rightly, are protected by federal law.

Having a legitimate service animal means the owner is saying, "I have a disability, and this animal is necessary for my day-to-day functioning." Of course, federal law prohibits asking what that disability is, but but it does allow establishments to ask two things:

  • Is the dog required because of a disability? (Again, establishments cannot ask what the disability is)
  • What specific service or task is the dog trained to provide?
But, here's the rub... Businesses are often afraid to ask, because they either aren't aware of what they can ask, or they aren't informed as what to ask. Some businesses aren't even aware that they can ask the animal to leave, if it becomes disruptive or a danger or threat to the health of others. If they ask the wrong thing, or ask the dog to be removed improperly, they can get sued. Further, they have to take the answers to the two allowed questions at face value, because even legitimate service dogs don't have to be certified, by law.

And so, we have an onslaught of fake "service dogs" jumping up on people, knocking things over in stores, sniffing crotches, toileting in public venues and acting like general -- well, animals. And not well-trained ones.

How does this hurt anyone? Well, the service animal owner in this article says she's questioned more and more about the status of her seeing eye dog. This article shares the many ways fake service dogs harm business, legitimate service dog handlers, the dogs themselves, and the owners. 

In short, these fake "service dogs" are making the real ones look bad, and it's calling into question the legitimacy of much-needed companions for those with disabilities.

You may think your dog is well-behaved enough to pass a rigorous behavior test, and it may be. You may have the best-behaved dog, most well-trained dog on the planet. However, you devalue the legitimacy of disabilities suffered by real people when you fake a disability of your own.

My daughter has autism. She may, someday, require a service dog. Currently, we are looking into how to appropriately and legally provide her with access to an ESA, which we know won't cover all her bases, but we are hoping it can help her to cope with certain high-stress situations which provide common triggers for her. I've discussed it with her therapist, and together, as a team, we are analyzing whether or not it would be appropriate for her, and how best to proceed.

When and if it does become necessary for us to seek a service dog for her, I would hope that she and her service companion will not be subjected to doubt, disrespect, or denial of the legitimacy of her needs. 

There are plenty of businesses which are pet-friendly, and the list is growing. Rather than "faking it," I'm asking those of you who love your pets to please show support of those businesses in your area which have opened their doors to your pet, by shopping and enjoying those spaces with your buddy... without a "service animal" vest and fake "certification" from a sketchy website.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ticked Off

Yesterday, I took my clothes off in front of my college friend and her husband. I also said the "f-word" A LOT. The "f-word." You know... "firetruck," because nice girls don't blog that other f-word. Both the nudity and the cursing were completely justified, and I am not ashamed. I stand by my decision. 

Okay, let me back up a little... I'm currently in Nevada (pronounced Ne-VAY-da, y'all), Missouri -- home of my alma mater, Cottey College -- with GirlWonder. She is attending a women's leadership workshop, which will earn her a $12,000 scholarship to Cottey, if she chooses to attend (and I hope she will). Her schedule is pretty packed,so I'm only able to hang with her for a few moments here and there. 

I'm spending most of my time getting reacquainted with Nevada (oh, how I've missed fireflies!), hanging out in a tiny hotel room, and spending quality time reconnecting with Frankie Stardust, my David Bowie-crazed college friend who may or may not have executed the perfect Frank N. Furter costuming for a showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show in Kansas City freshman year, and her darling hubby, Leatherboy. 

Yesterday, I was super-excited to go out bison-spotting with Frankie. Apparently, there's a herd of wild bison which hangs out around some sort of campground and nature preserve located near neighboring Liberal, Missouri. 

As an aside, as we drove through, we jokingly speculated about what sort of "liberal" ideology may have earned the town its name, back in the 1800s, when it was founded. I supposed that, perhaps, it was founded by "the sort of progressive bastards who thought it acceptable for women to show their ankles." As it turns out, it was actually founded to be a town in which Christians were not allowed, and atheism reigned. I snagged this from Wikipedia:

Liberal, Missouri, named after the Liberal League in Lamar, Missouri (to which the town's organizer belonged), was started as an atheist, "freethinker" utopia in 1880 by George Walser, an anti-religionistagnostic lawyer. He bought 2,000 acres (8 km2) of land and advertised across the country for atheists to come and 

"found a town without a church, [w]here unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training," and where Christians were not allowed. "His idea was to build up a town that should exclusively be the home of Infidels...a town that should have neither God, Hell, Church, nor Saloon." Some of the early inhabitants of Liberal even encouraged other infidels to move to their town by publishing an advertisement which boasted that Liberal "is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell or devil."

I'll have to go back and embed links, later, but I'm posting from my iPad app at the moment. Also? I'll bet those atheists were exactly the type of despicable progressives who did let women show their ankles. 

Anyway, so back to the bison-spotting... We drove along the dirt road, keeping our peepers peeled for a glimpse of the bison, or maybe even some elk, which are also know to hang there. 

The bashful bison eluded us, so we pulled into what we'd call -- back in Washington -- a trailhead, but Missouri is pretty much as flat as my chest before age 17 (late bloomer, I was), so I'll call it a "path head." Because, you know, "trails" are for hiking. "Paths" are for walking. So, we walked.

I wasn't exactly dressed for hiking. Or walking, as it happened. I was wearing long, flowy pants and little black flats, but I wasn't going to let my lack of country-appropriate attire get in my way, because... BISON. I wanted to see the bison, yo!

We began walking, and though we didn't see any bison, I did find a cute little box turtle, which played peek-a-boo with me. Awwwwww!

What happened next might not shock anyone familiar with the -- ahem -- actual outdoors, but as my misadventures with all things nature have been extensively documented, I'm sure y'all know it sure as heck was a bloody shock to me.

To avoid a rut in the path, I veered to the left side of the path (I would later read, on the Missouri Parks website, I should always stay in the center of the path in order to diminish or avoid certain risks, which shall be explained later in the post. Very soon, actually). 

Okay, how about right now? Yeah, okay. I'll explain it right now.

APPARENTLY, the reason the Missouri Parks people want you to stay in the center of the path is because the center of the path isn't likely to have hanging branches and foilage, and APPARENTLY, hanging foilage is where TICKS like to wait for a passing critter to latch onto. 

My flowy pants got caught on a bramble, and I had to stop to untangle them before proceeding. A few more steps down the path, I realized something was EATING ME. 

"Holy FIRETRUCK!" I screamed. "What the firetruck IS that firetrucking THING?!"

I brushed and swatted at the vampiric creature attached to my wrist, but it wouldn't... let... go. 

I slyly changed tactics from brushing and swatting to hysterical screaming and jumping around, to no avail. Frankie calmly walked over, plucked the damn thing off, flicked it away, and said, "It's a tick."

"WHAT?! A mother-firetrucking TICK?! Are there more? Ohmigod... ARE THERE MORE?"

Oh, yes... There were more. A couple dozen more. At least maybe a million, now that I think about it. 

They were on my pants. They were IN my pants. On my shirt. IN my shirt. In my hair. On my mother-firetrucking BODY, sucking my passive VEGAN BLOOD. And for every one we pulled off, eleventy billion more showed up. 

I swear, I'm pretty sure I was being "jumped in" to a gang. The Missouri Tick Gang was jumping me in, and I hadn't even firetrucking pledged, or whatever it is you do to get into gangs these days. 

So, off I went, running back down the trail -- I mean, path -- plucking off aggressive tick gang members (I'm pretty sure these were Bloods, even though they weren't sporting their bandanas), screaming at the top of my lungs, "Firetruck the bison! I am so firetrucking DONE with nature! Firetruck Missouri, and its state-sanctioned firetrucking parks of DEATH!" with Frankie behind me, and Leatherboy behind her.

"I've got to get these firetrucking clothes off! They're in my firetrucking clothes, the little bloodsucking firetruckers!"

Leatherboy pointed to a field, far, far away (but still visible, because you can pretty much see the entire state of Missouri from any point within it, it's so flat) and said, "Oh, look... There are the bison."

Believe it or not, I didn't really care. 

We'd reached the car, where I announced, "This is your final warning... I am about to take all my clothes off, right NOW." And that's exactly what I did. My pants were covered in ticks, both on the outside, and the inside. My shirt was the same way. And -- horror of horrors -- several of those monsters were attached to my legs, abdomen, and back. Frankie had to help me pull them off. 

I checked my clothing again, because NO WAY was I going to take any unexpected passengers into the car with me, put my clothes back on, and got into the car.

Before I could pull out, Frankie reached over and pulled another tick off my pants. She opened the door to flick it away, and before she even had her door closed, I found another one. 

Ticks are like the mother-firetrucking Borg, or something... They must assimilate every fiber they touch, and turn it into a tick Borg drone of some sort, because they were MULTIPLYING. 

I'm not going to tell you about how, when I got back to the hotel, I found another tick on my head, panicked, and flung it off my onto the brown carpet, where it was perfectly camoflagued and is probably still lurking and waiting for me. 

I'm also not going to tell you about how I pulled EIGHT MORE ticks off my legs (because my thighs are luscious, ya know) and belly after I stripped in the bathroom 

I'm certainly not going to tell you about how I almost torched my firetrucking clothes, because they are obviously now part of the tick Borg (I settled for sealing them in gallon-sized Ziploc bags).

Nah... Instead, I'll tell you about the little turtle in the middle of the road on the way back. He was trying to cross the highway, but I was scared he was going to get hit, so I stopped, picked him up, and gently helped him to the other side of the road. When I picked him up, he hissed at me, but when I put him down in the soft vegetation on the other side, he was really grateful, and turtle-scampered away.

Seriously, I hope the ticks don't get him. He might have been safer taking his chances with the speeding cars. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

ICYMI: What Autism Looks Like... Really

In case you missed it, my column this month on Moms Who Need Wine gave the follow-up to our waiting game with Curltop's diagnosis. I've re-posted my piece below, which originally ran here on

I read through the test results, which may as well have been written in Japanese, for all I got out of the therapy-speak and scoring, but there… under “Conclusion”… there was what I’ve known, all along.

My daughter, Curlytop, is one of many, many people in the world who reside within the Autism Spectrum.

God, I was so relieved to finally have an accurate diagnosis! I was so ready to fax off the results to the misdiagnosis-giving-ADHD-zealots, and reiterate my desire that their bunk label find a home where the sun doesn’t shine! I mean, I’m no proctologist, but I’m pretty sure I know where to put that faulty diagnosis. I was so grateful to be on the road to accessing more services, and getting more answers! I was Supermom, on a quad-shot mocha, ready to rock that shit!

And then… The wall. The freaking emotional wall to end all walls? The Great Wall of China-caliber emotional wall? I ran face-first into it.

What does it mean? What does it mean for our family? For Curlytop? What can we expect? What happens next? I know diddly about Autism. What does that even look like?

That was over a week ago. I’ve had some wine, some tears, some Southern Comfort, and some more tears. Now, I am prepared to share with you what Autism looks like.

Autism looks like a scattered sea of freckles across a perfect nose and cheeks. It looks like an unruly mass of twisted ginger curls which refuse to be tamed. It looks like the most captivating blue-green eyes I’ve ever seen, and I will count, tally and remember the precious seconds they make contact with mine.

Autism looks like one of the most strikingly beautiful children you’ve ever seen. Seriously, it will take your breath away with its beauty, and so will my Curlytop.

It looks like fingernails chewed down so far, I will always be astonished they don’t bleed. Autism looks like an endless stream of goofy “posing makes my face automatically look like I’m experiencing painful constipation” portraits, and a hundred perfect and beautiful candid images.

Autism looks like a heavy coat in the middle of summer. It looks like shoes on the wrong feet, on purpose, because they “feel better.” It looks like the most intense connection imaginable, and it looks like a distance so great, it would take the Starship Enterprise a million episodes to cross it… At warp speed.

It looks like plastic spoons, because metal conducts too much heat. Or too much cold. It looks like all the My Little Pony figurines in the world, because nothing else matters. Except maybe Minecraft.

Autism looks like a violent storm, and it looks like a glorious, perfect sunrise.

Autism looks like yesterday, because it’s what we’ve always lived, and it looks like today, because we continue to live it.

Autism looks like tomorrow, because tomorrow brings new challenges, and hope.

Autism looks like my perfect little girl.

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Monday, April 13, 2015

It Might Be Autism. But It's Probably Not... Unless It Is.

Photo of Curlytop by the amazing
Bailey Brennan Photography.
Please show your love and support by
giving her Facebook page a "like!"
Let me tell you about my lovely Curlytop.

When she came to live with us, she was seven months old, and we’d been told she was a “happy, healthy, typically-developing infant.” Our family couldn't wait to love her.

The day we picked her up was the day I learned that some social workers are either completely incompetent, or outright lie when they’re trying to place a child. Curlytop was grossly delayed in motor skill development, didn't really babble or coo like babies do, usually didn't respond to the sound of her name (we actually had her hearing tested, because we thought she was either deaf, or significantly hearing impaired -- her hearing test came back as normal), and resisted eye contact -- so much so, we learned to feed her facing outward, leaning back against my or Mr. Wright’s chest.

She was beautiful -- bald as a turtle, and loud as a fire engine when distressed, which was frequently. She didn't point to things, so we mostly ran around the house, fetching or correcting things, until we found the magic button to shut off the banshee scream projecting from her delicate mouth.

A lot of times, it was an open door (she preferred “clean lines,” when it came to interior decorating) or a particular scent, or a lack of sensory input, or too much sensory input, or… Hell, half the time, I didn't know what the kid needed.

One thing she really excelled at was making “farting” noises with her mouth. She’s still really good at it, eight and a half years later, but she’s not aware she’s doing it.

We would, in coming months, begin using sign language with her -- a communication tool that would serve as her primary method of communication until she was about three years old.

She didn't crawl until she was 13 months old. She didn't walk until she was 22 months old. When she did walk, she was a toe walker. She insisted on wearing her shoes on the wrong feet (still does, today, at nine years old) because the “pinching” gave her extra sensory stimulation.

When she was two, Curlytop was diagnosed with absence seizures. We researched the medications and their side effects, and decided against medicating at the time. After all, she wasn't driving a car, swimming or crossing a street by herself, and the potential “dulling, dazed” behavior from the drugs wasn't worth it, as she already struggled with so much.

Fast forward to about a year ago, when our team of therapists and practitioners decided maybe it was time to get sweet Curlytop assessed for Autism. The resources for Autism assessment are pretty rare in our area, so we ended up on a waiting list at a major children’s hospital in Seattle for her to be seen. The average wait time, we were told, was a year. For the first appointment.

I reached out to the hospital, and had them put us on the cancellation list. The hospital is three hours away. “Give us four hours notice,” I said, “and we’ll drop everything to be there.” We were lucky enough to catch a break and get a call a few months ago to be seen by the screener, who is not a doctor, but is trained to screen out those who aren't likely candidates for further testing.

Curlytop received a recommendation for further testing, but the screener pointed to one piece of information in the file -- a very low IQ score, gleaned from a test administered about two years ago by the school district psychologist -- as a possible cause for all her delays, quirks, and lack of social integration. Plus, she explained, there is information in Curlytop’s file which indicated prenatal methamphetamine exposure.

Back on the waiting list we went, for the next appointment. Average wait time: nine to twelve months. Once again, I requested to be called if there was a cancellation, and once again, we caught a lucky break.

This time, we met with a psychologist and speech and language pathologist (SLP). The psychologist reviewed Curlytop’s medical history with us, while Curlytop and Snugglebug played with toys nearby. It was a “good day” for Curlytop… She played animatedly with her sister, without any meltdowns. The psychologist noted that she seemed to have a pretty vivid imagination, and I pointed out that the scene she was pretending was based on one of her favorite My Little Pony videos.

Everything, by the way, is My Little Pony.

“Would you like waffles, or cereal for breakfast, Curlytop?”

“Did you know Rarity loves waffles? One time, another pony made some waffles, but Rarity didn’t want to try them. But then she did, and she liked them… and then… and oh, I forgot to say this part… and also…”

(Five minutes later…)

“Oh, and Mom, this wasn't a regular My Little Pony movie. It was a mod.”

(I don’t know what a mod is, for the record, but she’s always talking about them. I’m pretty sure they have something to do with video games? I also get to hear about Minecraft mods all. the. time.)

“Okay, so was that waffles you wanted, then?”

“Mom, did you know Queen Chrysalis is a changeling, and can change into anyone she wants to?”

(Of course, I do. She told me this yesterday. And the day before. And possibly the day before, although I can’t be 100% sure. That day might have been a Princess Celestia day.)

“Wow! That’s really cool. So… breakfast. Waffles, or cereal?”

“Being able to change into other things might be cool, but she’s EVIL, Mom. She’s not a nice pony.”

“Waffles, it is.”

“One time, she changed into Princess Cadance to trick Shining Armor into marrying her, instead of Cadance. She was so evil that she…”

“Here are your waffles.”

“What? I don’t want waffles!” *meltdown* “I want cereal!”

The SLP went through standard assessments with Curlytop, and we had a short break for lunch, because the speech and language testing took longer than anticipated, because she couldn't stay on task. Rather, she interrupted the work to share random thoughts and information with the tester, and had to be redirected back to the testing process.

After lunch, we all regrouped with the assessment team for an overview of what they’d determined.

What they said was that they can’t 100% rule out Autism, but, based upon her IQ score from the school district, they were inclined to “nearly” rule it out, explaining the following:

  • They didn't currently have access to the raw data from her IQ testing, just an overall low score. The low IQ score must be weighed out against what the “expected” social integration would be for a child with that score. Based upon her performance, her social skills appear to match her IQ.
  • However, the data from the IQ testing is critical, because if it showed excellence in a single category, but produced a lowered score due to exceptional deficits in other categories, that may lend itself to an Autism diagnosis.
  • If the testing was not fully demonstrative of her actual capabilities (which is not unreasonable to imagine, if she was tested on one of her “off” days), and her IQ is actually higher, she may receive an Autism diagnosis.
  • Even if she doesn't receive an Autism diagnosis, everyone seems to agree that there is “something” going on with her, as her social interactions seem to be largely one-sided. So, maybe not Autism, but maybe something else.

We were also told that prenatal drug exposure often “looks like” Autism, with its inability to concentrate, awkward social skills, sensory integration problems, and more. So, in essence, her “diagnosis” might be simply “prenatal drug exposure.”

When we got home, I cried.

As selfish and self-centered as it sounds, I was devastated at the suggestion that Curlytop might never receive a medical diagnosis that will help us unlock the mystery of how she learns and communicates.

Autism is a medical diagnosis. Even Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a medical diagnosis. But “drug baby” is not. It’s a label, and a stigmatizing one, at that.

Which month is Prenatal Drug Exposure Awareness Month? It doesn't exist. What color is the awareness ribbon? There isn't one.

Where is my parental support tribe?

To be honest, we don’t know, with 100% certainty, that Curlytop was drug-exposed. What we “know” before she came to live with us is boiled down into two volumes of reports from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) of Washington state.

We've also learned that not all of the information in the files is factual, or complete.

We've never seen a positive drug test from the time of her biological mother’s pregnancy. We've never seen results from any potential testing that definitively state Curlytop tested positive for drugs at birth. We've never even read a social worker’s report that states that a positive drug test exists.

We don’t KNOW that she was drug-exposed.

Anyway, the next step is for more cognitive testing, and a new IQ test. Then, follow-up testing with actual Autism-focused assessments will come next.

After our appointment, I chatted with Curlytop’s regular weekly speech therapist to let her know how it went. She informed me that the director of our primary therapy center had recently become certified to administer the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) to help in assessing children for Autism.

Yay! Really? We could save ourselves a six-hour round trip to Seattle and back? Yes, please!

I set up an appointment with the director, to discuss what we’d done so far, and what was on the horizon. I discussed with him the team feedback from our last appointment in Seatte, and how much of it was based upon the IQ score. When he asked what that score was, I told him, and he was taken aback. He’s worked extensively with Curlytop in her ongoing assessments through the therapy center, and he estimated that her IQ score (and he was really just taking a wild stab at what he would expect the results to be) may be as many as 20 points higher.


To put this in perspective, IF he correct, or nearly-correct on her actual IQ, the classification for such a score would take her results from “lower-extreme or well-below-average” to “low-average” or even “AVERAGE.” Both her “current” score and his “expected” score are on the cusps of classification levels, so I’m including a best/worst variance.

As we talked, he thumbed through the ADOS test booklet. He cited many examples of questions, and what he expected Curlytop’s performance might be on each question. I agreed with each of his suggestions on her responses.

Finally, he told me he would not be one bit surprised to find Curlytop somewhere within the Autism Spectrum, based upon her interactions with him and other staff members. We talked about the benefits of screening Curlytop with someone she knows and trusts, in an environment she is comfortable in.

Will an Autism diagnosis help us to access services for Curlytop she might not otherwise receive? Maybe. Will a “rule-out” mean we will stop searching for answers, support, and endeavors to help her succeed? Absolutely not.

When we adopted Curlytop, we really did mean “forever,” which means we will never stop cherishing her for the beautiful, quirky, maddening miracle she is. Regardless of her diagnosis (or lack of one), we know WHO she is. She is our daughter, wonderful, and cherished. She is our gift from God.

It might be Autism. But it’s probably not. Unless it is. And really, does it matter?

April is Autism Awareness Month. Learn more at Autism Society.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Please, Ask Me About My Adoptive Family... But Not Like This

Photo of Curltop and Snugglebug
by Mad Rooster Photography
I love that people are curious about our family, and how it was created. After all, I am blessed to have gained children in every way imaginable -- I gave birth, I've raised full-time stepchildren, and I've adopted. I guess we can rule out immaculate conception, because I'm no saint. Trust me on that one.

Naturally, people want to ask questions, and I am flattered they care enough about our little tribe to find out more.

However, there are some questions that -- no matter how well-intentioned -- leave me bristling. Here are just a few, specifically related to our adoptions:

1. Where's their "real mom?" Or, Do they see their "real mom?" Or, Do they know their "real mom?" Or... You get the picture.

I might ask you, "What is a real mom? Is it someone who gets up in the middle of the night for feedings, cups her hands for a sick kid to puke into, agonizes over every parenting decision from what pediatrician to see to what colleges to look into, maintains a crazy calendar and works her butt off to make sure her kids have what they need?" If you answered "yes" to any of those, I am their "real mom."

Instead, feel free to ask me about their "birth mother," "biological mother" or their "first mother." We use those terms interchangeably, and we reserve a place of honor in our hearts and our family for the woman who gave birth to our daughters.

Incidentally, the same goes for their "birth father," "biological father" or their "first father."

2. Are they sisters?

Yes. Yes, they are sisters. They are sisters not only to one another, but also sisters to our five other children. They are sisters, because we are a family. 

In our particular case, our two youngest daughters do happen to be biologically related, and have the same birth mother and birth father, but even if they didn't, they would still be sisters.

3. Where did you get them?

Oh, you know... someone was outside the grocery store with a cardboard box and a sign that said, "FREE TO A GOOD HOME," so we packed them up, and brought them home. Actually, not really. 

Ask me if we adopted through foster care, or if we had a private adoption, or if we had an in-family adoption, instead. I'll be happy to share with you! Where we adopted from isn't the question you're trying to ask, I assume. Rather, I expect you're more interested in how we adopted.

4. Did you adopt because you couldn't have any more of your "own" kids?

Please, just don't.

Infertility, difficulty conceiving, miscarriages, high-risk pregnancy... It's all hard to talk about, and really -- it's none of your business, unless we are very close. Even then, it may be none of your business, unless I choose to share it with you.

Nonetheless, we adopted because it was right for us, and the decision had nothing to do with whether or not we could have more children of our "own." All our children are "ours," regardless of how they were conceived, and my adopted children are "my own kids."

5. Aren't you afraid they'll have... problems?

This is usually followed by a story about how the person asking has a cousin, or a friend, or a cousin of a friend, or they heard a story about someone who adopted, and the kid had all sorts of "problems." The perceived problems might be medical, behavioral, neurological, or any combination of these.

Yes, I am afraid my kids will have problems. All of my kids. I have an adult child with severe allergies. I have another adult child who has struggled with addiction. I have yet another child who has screamed and punched her way through emotional issues and behavioral problems. Perhaps most concerning, I have a kid who actually thinks Skrillex is "music." 

None of those kids were adopted.

As parents, we worry. We worry a lot. We question every decision we make, and we worry our kids will face challenges we can't save them from. We worry about whether we should save them from challenges and, if so, which ones. We worry they'll get sick, or hurt, or abducted or sucked into a destructive cult.

I'd worry about those things, even if all my kids grew in my uterus. In fact, the "grow your own" method doesn't alleviate the risk of health or behavior issues. 

My kids have 99 problems, and being adopted isn't one of them.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Project 2,996: Remember Zandra Cooper Ploger

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Zandra Cooper Ploger, a 48-year old resident of Annandale, Virginia on September 11, 2001, was a manager at IBM for over 20 years. She was dedicated to her work, loved her two adult daughters, reading, and hosting parties. In fact, she was busy planning a birthday party for her new husband, Robert, who would turn 60 in December.

Zandra and Robert had married on May 12, 2001, but their busy work schedules - Robert was a computer systems analyst for several different companies - prevented the couple from honeymooning right away. When they boarded American Airlines Flight 77, they were headed to finally enjoy that honeymoon, in Hawaii. Zandra was looking forward to not thinking about work for two relaxing weeks, and enjoying a break with her new husband.
Photo source

Friends called her "Z," and she was known for her ability to organize and throw parties which brought together her many loved ones. She was a devoted mother, attending sporting activities and school events for her daughters, and even helping to orchestrate their high school graduation ceremonies. Described as a self-starter, Zandra didn't sit around, waiting for life and opportunities to come to her. Rather, she seized every moment and threw her ambition into exceeding the goals she set for herself, whether it was a work issue, or planning a social event.

Zandra's older daughter, Zena, was born with a heart condition, and Zandra carefully loved and comforted her child through childhood and into adulthood while avidly supporting the American Heart Association. She was the sort of mother who taught her children they could accomplish anything in their lives, and when her younger daughter, Erin, wanted to make a big move, Zandra supported her choice. Even though the distance would be difficult for the two, they maintained a strong bond. In fact, both of Zandra's daughters continued to look to their mother for advice and wisdom, even after they reached adulthood.

Max, Zandra's cat, was a source of joy for her, and by all accounts, she pampered him. Her daughter, Zena, related:
I just remember that when Erin and I were younger, my mom told us we could get a cat. On the trip to pick it up, we were thinking of a name. By the time we got there, she had named it and it was just her cat ever since. Max would cuddle up with her. He slept with her. She would spoon-feed him. He got groomed once a month. One time my husband came to visit and [he] was going to shoo the cat out of the chair and my mom said, ‘Let me get you another chair.’ She just loved this cat, and she showed him a lot of affection.
Photo source

Flight 77 was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon at 09:37EDT, cutting short Zandra and Robert's much-awaited honeymoon.

Zandra leaves behind a legacy of love, friendship, laughter and inspiration to those who knew her. Please remember in your prayers Zandra, Robert, Zena, Erin, and all those whose lives were touched by this beautiful woman.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Michael Theodoridis

This tribute is respectfully reposted from 9/11/09.

Michael Theodoridis, 32, and his wife, Rahma Salie, 28, were passengers on American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001. Rahma was seven months pregnant with their first child. The two were looking forward to being parents as they boarded the plane, intending to travel to California to attend a wedding.

Michael was of Greek descent and grew up in Switzerland. He graduated from Boston University and worked as a technical consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It was difficult to find information about Michael's life, but many online memorial comments helped me to understand the kind of man he was, and how desperately missed he will be:

It's nearly 8 years later and I still vividly remember the day shortly after 9/11 when it went from being a national tragedy to also being a more personal tragedy for me after I found out that Micky and Rahma were on Flight 11. Each summer when my second son has another birthday, I think about Micky's unborn child being the same age as I remember Micky congratulating me and telling me how excited he was about his future as a father.

I pray that they both rest in peace and be granted a place in Heaven. Amen.
- Abdullah Haydar


I never forget your kindness and always positive outlook on life. I had a great time working with/for you at i-cube in Cambridge.

On this 7th anniversary of the attacks, I pray Rahma's, your kid's and your souls are blessed and somewhere special.
- Rob Garcia

Sincere sympathy for the loss of my cousin Michael, rest in peace in God's hand. - John Pondelis

In a business culture full of people whom you forget and whom forget you the instant you part, both Micky and Rhama were anything but forgettable. I still remember Rhama asking me to do an imitation of her accent and it makes me laugh with the memory. Like someone else who commented on this site, it was also Michael's humour, patience and support that kept me going in a very difficult work situation. The world is a much colder place without these two stellar human beings.
- Colin Owens

I worked with Mickey on multiple projects in i-Cube (Stuttgart, Germany; Phoenix, AZ and later in NYC). He was a great friend of mine in addition to being a professional colleague. He was very funny and used to crack me up at difficult times. He worked very hard and managed to keep his sense of humor. He and Rahma were made for each other. It is sad that they could not be together longer. It's so sad! My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
- Jay Natarajan

America Cries
We see your sorrow-
and our hearts cry....
We can not erase your pain
but you do not have to face the anguish alone-for we-
-the American people-
are beside you.
We so desperately want to have the touch that brings you comfort,
the strength that gives you courage,
and the words to lighten your spirits.
And when we are left speechless
may the silence of our nation weave love into your hearts
to ease your sorrow.
May you find healing through our nation's strength as we-
-the American people-
face this difficult time together. Our hearts are with you.
- Teresa Jahn

Please light a candle for Michael, his family and those who loved him. Say a prayer for the father-to-be, husband, and friend who lost his life on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.