Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Words With: Many Hats Mommy (Jenny Herman)

Name/Blogging name: Jenny Herman/Many Hats Mommy

Introduction in her own words:  

I am a Christian, a wife, a mom, and all that comes with that—teacher, referee, chauffeur, nutritionist, nurse, etc. I wear many hats, just like all of you. I also work for Home Educating Family as the Social Media Coordinator. I run their newly redesigned blog and the social media pages. The best part of that is that I’m able to influence a mainstream magazine/company and get special needs some attention. Finally, I am a freelance writer and cause trouble on Twitter with a former guest of yours, Bobbi Sheahan. Some day you’ll see our names on a book together!


AW: What was your first reaction to your child’s diagnosis?

MHM: Honestly, I felt great relief. I was glad to know I wasn’t crazy. I had spent so much time researching sensory issues and Aspergers and autism, and had been told so many times, “He’s a boy. He’ll be fine. Other kids do that,” etc. that I was driving myself nuts going back and forth in my head, doubting my gut and trusting my gut. I wanted the validation.

AW: What was your defining moment of acceptance?

MHM: Quite frankly, I can’t remember a single moment of acceptance. I remember at the first evaluation through the school system, I was glad my son didn’t qualify to be in the developmental delay preschool room. As a former elementary teacher, I didn’t want him in the special ed room.

As I said before, I was relieved to have a diagnosis and know what I was dealing with, but I still had a hard time saying, “My son is autistic.” It was easier for me to say, “He’s on the autism spectrum.” I have no idea why. It just didn’t sound as bad. I think for me, my “moment” of acceptance was when I realized I didn’t have to try to make him interact with others all the time—he was perfectly happy being by himself, playing whatever non-pretending thing he was playing—and that was ok.   

AW: What inspired you to start your blog? Your book?

MHM: My husband encouraged me to start my blog for therapeutic reasons and to get back to my dream of writing. I was really sporadic at first, but he was right. It was therapeutic, especially in that first year or so. You’re still getting your feet back under you, figuring everything out. Having a place to get it out, and even think out loud about things was very cathartic. I haven’t been as active on it lately since I’ve been working on, ironically, a blog for work, but I hope to remedy that in the next month and get back to a regular schedule. You’re still welcome to stop by—lots of good stories and guest posts for your reading pleasure!

Because of my blog, I met lots of other autism parents that were also writers. Some of them invited me to join in a compilation of short glimpses into life with autism. You can find my story “The Gift” in Wit & Wisdom from the Parents of Special Needs Kids: Mostly True Stories of Life on the Spectrum. I am honored to be part of the gang in that book. There is some amazing writing in there. I am amazed that Lynn Hudoba gathered forty plus writers, and not one of us wrote on the same aspect of autism. It’s like a support group to go!

AW: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a special needs parent/writer/advocate?

MHM: Ultimately, the most rewarding part of my involvement in the special needs world is knowing I’ve helped someone else. There are many who’ve gone before me and taken the time to pause, bend down, and offer me a hand up out of the confusion and desperation known as the first year or two of living with autism. If I can do the same thing for someone else, then I’m glad to help them make it through the fog, too. Hopefully I’m just passing the baton, and they’ll do the same for another parent.

The next most rewarding aspect of being in the autism world is all of the friends I’ve made, including Autism Wonderland! Many special needs parents experience having closer friends in cyberspace than down the street. It’s the nature of the beast—folks just can’t understand, even if they want to. Thanks to my blog which took me to Twitter, I am part of an amazing autism support group known as #autism and #aspergers and #youmightbeanautismparentif.

AW: What advice would you offer parents of recently diagnosed children?

MHM: I recommend you take a moment to breathe. Don’t drown yourself in autism research. It’s normal to want to read everything you can get your hands on, but remember that is not your whole world. I don’t mean that to be harsh. I mean it to give yourself permission to enjoy some time with your child. There’s so much pressure with autism to take advantage of the “window of opportunity” and get all the therapy in you can right away. But you know what? That same child will never be young again to experience life as a child. Take time to do things that aren’t autism related.

I also recommend you take time to be yourself and have fun for yourself. I don’t mean it in a selfish way. I just mean that you can easily lose yourself in books, magazines, and blogs about autism. I know—I should have an Associate’s degree in autism research! Chances are your spouse, friends, and family would like to discuss something other than the latest treatment options with you at some point! You may have to force yourself to find a new hobby (remember, my husband suggested blogging).

Finally, I know it may sound silly, but if you are not on Twitter, I highly suggest it. It’s a different kind of support than you find on Facebook. Both are very valuable. It’s hard to explain—because Twitter is more “in the moment”, most likely you can jump on, throw in a hashtag (#) and have someone to talk to almost immediately. Is your kid screaming in the background and trying to kick down the door? It’s ok—sign in to Twitter, type in #meltdown and #autism in part of your status, and one, two, five other autism parents are sending you encouragement to get you through. Did your child just hug you for no reason? Jump on Twitter, throw in #autism, share your excitement, and you have a cheering squad in minutes! And guess what? These folks stick around and will cheer you or hold you up for many days to come. They have for me.

AW: Feelings on diagnosis in 6 words or less:

MHM: Whew! I’m not insane.        

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.