Sunday, February 23, 2014

Police Escort and Logan's 12th Birthday Party

In the past… birthdays for Logan have been painfully quiet and uneventful as the years have slipped by.  All that was about to change after I gave readers a glimpse into my life through a Facebook post- where I expressed the tearful anguish with which I have faced my severely autistic son Logan’s birthday each year.  This day has always been a challenge for me since Logan is unable to speak and has a severe cognitive developmental delay that robs him of the ability to engage with his peers in the reciprocal kind of way that creates lasting friendships. 

In this same Facebook post I asked readers to join in my plan for doing something to honor my son’s big day with me by sending simple notes in the mail to wish him a happy birthday.  This was going to be my way of marking this day for what it should be – an important day for a special child.  I assumed that I would get a few cards and notes from a few of my Facebook friends and perhaps from a few others with whom my post might be shared.  I expected maybe 20-30 cards in total.

This was not so.  My post was shared across Facebook, making its way across pages and groups across continents.  I started to realize that something big was happening when I began to see the comments to my post, numbering into the hundreds within the first few days.  People expressed birthday wishes, and words of encouragement to let my family know that we were not alone – there are many others who have severely autistic children of their own and know what it is like to feel robbed of the special privilege of celebrating a birthday the ‘normal’ way.

Then the mail began to pour in.  It started with a notice left in my mailbox telling me that my mail was in the front office of our apartment complex because there was “too much mail” and it would not fit into my mailbox.  This became a daily routine, going to the front office to get Logan’s mail.  The NATIONS had answered – simple cards of heartfelt birthday wishes from all over my home country here in the USA but also from countries across the world.  There have been some very unique things that have come in the mail as well – a full sized flag from Australia, a team picture from the New England Patriots football team, an ‘autographed’ picture of Elmo from the makers of Sesame Street, bundles of cards from schools, girl scout troops, churches, emergency first responders and more.  There have also been some very personal notes as well.  An elderly man with a shaky pen stroke wrote to wish Logan a happy birthday and pledged to continue to do this every year as long as he his “humanly able.”  Dozens of notes have come from other parents of special needs children sharing their love, understanding and support.

Then came a big surprise from right here in Massachusetts - we were invited to a lunch by a Court Officer from the town of Brockton named Pamela who came across the Facebook post.  With the help of at least TEN other local police departments, she invited us out for a burger to celebrate Logan.  Remember, this just started with a request for a few birthday cards.  The day for this celebration arrived on Saturday, February 22.  This was no ordinary lunch date.  Pamela arrived at our apartment with police officers around lunch time.  My son gave Cambridge Police Officer Stephen a bit hug as soon as he walked into our apartment.  My husband, Logan, two younger children and I were escorted from our apartment door to our car. The officers never left our side!  We were not really sure what was going on as news cameras appeared and police cruisers gathered in our normally calm and quiet apartment complex.  Before we knew what was happening, we were driving to our lunch celebration with six police cars escorting us, three in front and three behind, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, sailing through traffic lights and passing every car that had pulled over to make way for the procession.    

During our trip to the lunch celebration I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing it was – as we had gotten into our car, it seemed each way I turned my head I saw a person in uniform, a PD cruiser or heard some talk of "Logan" on a nearby police radio.  I think we were told several times to follow the Andover Police Cruisers and then the Cambridge Cruisers would follow us... “Is this really happening?” I thought, “WE are getting a POLICE escort??? US? HOLY COW!  We're off!”  We drove with an ear-to-ear grin as we looked at all of the police cars around us.  WOW!  It was really happening.  I kept stealing glances over at Logan with his wide grin and curious eyes searching for the flashing lights and sirens.   Oncoming cars continued to stop line up and watch as we pass by (They must thought we were famous- or pretty important).  My daughter shouted up to dad, driving, "Dad, you better drive safe, we have lots of police following us today - they could pull you over!"  Then we saw that the police had even set up a traffic cop at the intersection of our lunch destination.  They had stopped all traffic on the busy road so that we could turn in without stopping.  As soon as we arrived, I realized that it was no small lunch!  Media crews were outside along with officers representing a minimun 10 other Police departments!  WOW!  All this for Logan?  I just couldn’t believe they would take time away from their families, time out of their weekend for us.  They had even reserved us a FRONT ENTRANCE parking place!  That alone... just made my YEAR- (if you are ever in eastern Massachusetts you understand what I mean). Oh My Gosh!  

I know these first responders have a tough job.  I know this because they are the ones overseeing my son's tracking/ monitoring device.  Logan is a child who wanders.  The fact that Logan has not been "missing" is a tribute to these men and women wearing blue!  Not only do they protect him when he needs it, but they are pro-active in preventing that situation.  So, it is just fitting that THEY throw HIM a party!  We love Police Officers and Fire Fighters!  They just ROCK!  Look what they do even on their day off of work.  They step out and help us to celebrate OUR son Logan.  The lines of police officers inside this restaurant just floored me!  I had no idea what to expect.  The white gloves, the swat gear, the radios, cords, badges, the brotherhood of so many police departments and fire departments throughout Massachusetts coming together for OUR son.  Logan, the boy often overlooked or quickly dismissed once people find out he is non-verbal and autistic.  They did this for HIM.  They reached out and welcomed us, welcomed HIM into their brotherhood.  The gifts that these officers treasure the most are t-shirts from different police and fire departments.  The badges, t-shirts, police department hats, coins, and mini badge pins- all which are highly coveted among local police crew- were freely handed over to Logan from the different departments!!  He has his own collection now, and we hope to build on his police/fire department collection for many birthdays to come.  As if this were not enough of a blessing, the officer who set this up PAID for my families' meal... close to $70!!!  I know my husband and I work hard for our money- so I KNOW they work hard for theirs... I just CANNOT believe he would pay for this out of his OWN pocket!!!  These men and women in blue really care.  They care even for our family in this small town of Andover, Massachusetts.
As I sit and read through the remaining cards that were sent from around the world- I stop and realize what an impact this is having on my younger two children. They can already see how much my husband and I love and care for Logan.   But NOW they see other people reaching out to the least of these.... to someone who could never do for them what they are doing- What a ripple effect this will have for GENERATIONS!  What an amazing year this will be for our sweet Logan.  THANK YOU!  

If you still want to mail out a card... please do!!!  I will put them all together into a Birthday Card Book for Logan later this summer.  The book will be MUCH larger than initially expected.  You will make our day!
To read more about Logan and watch our home video from inside our car of the police escort and Logan’s reaction: Please visit my Facebook page: Autism Firecracker Mama This page is completely related to information on Logan and his birthday card journey.    

If you would like to mail a card, mail your card to: 
Logan Pearson 
311 Lowell St. #3210 
Andover, MA


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Support is here!

We started our birthday card plea for Logan out of a desire to get extended family on board in celebrating him.  How do you change Grandma's view of disability?  How do you prevent yourself from crying when you see her treating your "typically developing" children better?  Subtle things become thorns in your side.  Why?  Is this a simply a generational "norm"?  Or is she ashamed of our son Logan?  Could it be that she just lost on where to start in developing a relationship with her disabled grandson, and it is just easier to ignore him?  As a mom, I need the support from extended family!  Logan needs that relationship with his grandma.  Doctor appointments, never ending school meetings, late evening online research for hours, sleepless nights rubbing his tummy and trying to help ease his excruciating gastrointestinal pain, and trying to create a sense of normalcy for my husband and younger children too.  I crave the support from extended family- without it I just feel so alone.  Oftentimes, I just need a soft place to fall at the end of one of these days.  My son knows that I will never treat him differently.  Regardless of where Grandma stands on the issue- I need to be an anchor for him- for my other kids.  They need to SEE that we treat everyone (differences or not) equally!  Even though Logan is non verbal and severely autistic, I want him to look and be treated like other kids his age.  If they are wearing a certain style- i.e. yellow skinny jeans with short spiked hair... that's what he will do as well.  I want so badly for him to be treated with respect, and valued as a person- by more than just his mom!  Weather he "understands" or not about back-to-school new clothes shopping...  I will be in line for him just like I will for my other kids.  He counts!  As for Grandma... I am treating Logan exactly the same as my other kids in front of her.  I emphasize it regularly. Out of the THOUSANDS of cards we have received for Logan... we are still waiting for one from his Grandma.  We are very blessed now to have so much support from 1/2 the world.  We do not feel alone anymore.  We are supported, and Logan's birthday counts!      

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Before the Cards

So many life events have lead up the the request of a significant Birthday for our son Logan.. Logan struggles. We struggle.  No- I mean REALLY Struggle. We do not use the word autism lightly.  In fact, it frustrates me when other people do. Autism is not seasonal- it is something that affects you daily.  Not a pity card to pull out when your child throws a fit.  Here is our experience of Autism.  I regularly wake from a dead sleep- Jump up frantically because all is "too quiet"... to make sure my child is still sleeping and hasn't opened the front door and disappeared- that's our autism.  We are still budgeting for and buying pull-ups and wipes for a pre-teen. That's our autism.  Listening to the same Eric Clapton song ( Tears in Heaven) for the 47th time that day to ease/ prevent  his self injury, that's our autism.  Taking our son to the ER because he is "just not himself" only to be turned away several times because, "He has autism; Sorry Mom" only to find out at another ER that he has a double ear infection, strep throat and a major sinus infection- that's our autism.  To be told that your son and his peers with autism cannot participate in the school Kindergarten Graduation because they are only allowing students not affected with autism to participate.  That's our autism.  Reading medical books, online parent forums until 3 AM because your child's pediatrician looks to you for advice.  That's our autism.   Leaving our jobs, friends, 3,000 sq ft home with in ground pool and garden paradise to relocate over 3,000 miles away into a tiny 2 bedroom apartment for the 5 of us...  so our child could attend an autism school.  That's our autism. Forget the Master's Degree and answer phones for a living so that I can be available at home during the day hours for him and the hundreds of school/ doctor meetings.  If your child is in the mainstream class and you have never been given an official diagnosis of autism- don't throw that around for sympathy.  People like that water down the public view of Autism.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Birthday Blues...

I recently posted the following message on my Facebook page.  I am a mother of three children, and my oldest is is affected with severe autism. This post is a reflection of the gut wrenching emotions, raw guilt and desperation that I feel every year as I face the challenge of trying to make my son's birthday a meaningful day.  The message that I posted is as follows:

"Our sweet Logan turns 12 next month. I have already been feeling sick about losing another year where autism has my son- has his voice! Each year on his birthday I close my bedroom door & bury my face into my pillow and cry. You all know I am a firecracker and not at all a "down" type of person- Logan has stopped getting birthday cards, birthday parties YEARS ago. I guess everyone realizes he doesn't understand anyways. This year I want to stop feeling down-right upset that my son is aging into a young man under a blanket of autism. I want to CELEBRATE him and ENJOY his day on 2/24/14! Logan does not have friends- not even one! So- will you go right now and grab a piece of paper and write Happy Birthday Logan- from your FRIEND------ in Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii... Etc? I want to make a birthday card book for him. Get your kids involved and draw a picture for him. Get your small groups/ friends, students, FB friends involved. Help us celebrate Logan's birthday! Feel free to share this. I will post pics of the completed birthday book on 2/24/14.
Send to:
Logan Pearson
311 Lowell St #3210
Andover, MA 01810

Since I wrote the Facebook post, there has been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support, not only from my Facebook friends, but from many others here in the USA and across the world.  Our mailbox has been overflowing on a daily basis with cards and letters from other moms and dads, grandparents, kids, schools, girl scout troops and many others.  At this point, I think the book I was going to make is going to be a multi-volume set!

I have heard from many others who have said that they have a child with autism and they too have experienced the same kind of pain around birthdays.  Birthdays for us and for other families like ours are supposed to mean balloons, cards, birthday cake with candles... and friends.  It's one thing if your child is a little shy and has a hard time making friends, but what do you do about the social isolation that comes from your child being unable to speak and lacking the ability to understand the basic concept of friendship?  Birthdays can become just another reminder that things are different for your child, and there can be an eerie sense of quiet on the day that you would have hoped to stand back and watch your child share love and laughter with friends and family.

I am starting this blog to share the things that are happening as a result of my Facebook post and to share a little more about my son Logan.  I have been inspired and encouraged as people have briefly shared their own experiences with me over Facebook and in their letters.  Likewise, as I continue to share, I hope others are encouraged as well.

To those families that have a sense of what this feels like, and to those others who offer their love and support even when they don't feel like they fully understand, I dedicate this blog.