*Note: The event venue had to be changed unexpectedly, so an update was made to this post on 3/27/2012 to include the new details.* In this hope-filled guest blog today, read one mother’s story about her son who was diagnosed with autism at age 3 but is now a successful, happy and fulfilled young adult. Geri McNiece shares tidbits about Kyle’s early years through present day. In honor of Kyle’s success at nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas, Geri is hosting a unique event in Arlington on April 5th. I think you’ll enjoy reading Geri & Kyle’s encouraging story and hope you’ll make plans to attend SPiN Out Autism: A Night of Hooping & Helping if you’re able!
Spin Out Autism: A Night of Hooping & Helping
By Geri McNiece
If you randomly met me on the street, you’d never know I was the mother of a child with autism. You see, my child, Kyle, is a grown adult. He’s living and working on his own, with very minimal assistance, pretty much independently. He loves what he’s doing and is passionate about his work, his studies, his hobbies and his friends. He’s successful, too. Amazingly, all of these things are blended beautifully in his life today.
Now, if you would have asked me twenty years ago if I thought Kyle would be living on his own as an adult, my answer would have been “no.” So, how did he get to this point? That is why I am writing this blog today. Well, that’s partially true…because I am also going to explain more about the reason I am sharing our story in the first place.
Kyle was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism on his 3rd birthday. Not exactly the ideal present we had hoped for. We went ahead and continued our plans for the evening, having a small party for a few close friends and family members.
As you can see by the picture, we didn’t let anything stop us from celebrating Kyle and enjoying the moment. Even though he seemed uninterested, we still followed through with our day. Notice how Kyle looks in the picture here, distant, somber and holding his ears.
Despite his reactions, or lack of reactions, with each experience we just kept on doing things, without excuses. From that very first day, this is how we lived with autism – never letting it hold us back – never letting it get in the way. I only need to look at all the pictures I took to be reminded of what I know deep in my heart: we raised both of our boys with love, laughter and consistency. That’s not to say the road was always easy. There were several times I thought we just would never make it.
I’m not going to write about all Kyle’s symptoms and behaviors but I can tell you about a few. He had many sensory issues (clothing and food texture issues, sensitive to noise) and also enjoyed rocking back and forth on the floor. He could not put two words together at the age of three, yet he could read sentences and repeat back TV commercials verbatim (plus, sing the cute jingles perfectly)! He lined up Hot Wheels cars all over the house, but had no idea how to roll them on the tracks, nor did he try or care to (even when we showed him how fun it was to watch them go fast). When we traveled in our car, he screamed if we turned right instead of left, or left instead of right, depending on the intersection. I think you get the idea.
Kyle didn’t put two words together until close to age four. He wasn’t completely potty trained until close to age five. His outbursts due to frustration were numerous. Each day certainly had its challenges. I think it is important to note that we also had another son three years older than Kyle who had ADHD. Yes, there were days I cried. I thought I couldn’t make it. I would ask God, “Why? Why would you give me these two challenging boys?” Then I would remember the saying about how God never gives you more than you can handle. So, that would make me giggle to myself. Honestly, it was a sense of humor that helped us get through all those early years of parenting. We took every situation and tried to find something funny to help lighten the load. This is still how we handle things today, actually!
Make no mistake…we also got professional help, and lots of it! We went to family counseling and got parent training. Even our boys went to therapeutic play groups and summer camps for years. That’s how we all learned the consistency thing. Time out became as involuntary as breathing. Yet, even through the toughest of times, we were able to keep smiling. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the very first thing Kyle was able to draw was a smiley face. That’s a testament to the way his life began, the way he continues to live today. Despite the challenges, he’s continued on (with our support) and remained happy.
We discovered that Kyle was gifted in music when he was five years old. Frankly, that is what got him through 12 years of school. We started him in piano lessons to help with his dexterity.
Kyle had trouble holding a pencil or crayon correctly, so therapists suggested occupational therapy. We noticed that his computer keyboarding skills were developing well at a very young age, which was another task that helped to build his fine motor skills, we thought, he found handwriting too difficult. About the same time, we noticed he loved playing with the electronic keyboards at Best Buy. That, and he also hummed tunes quite a bit, especially familiar ones from TV shows, cartoons and especially his brother’s video games. It made sense to us that piano lessons could help strengthen his hands, since it involved the fingers and since he seemed to really enjoy music, he’d feel more at home doing it as opposed to some other therapy. We were indeed going down the right path when we chose the piano lessons. By his senior year, Kyle made first chair percussionist in All-City Band. He even received a music scholarship from University of Texas at Arlington.
Unfortunately, college was less structured than high school, so this became a struggle and he had a hard time keeping up with the demands. We decided after one year of college, it was time for him to try working full time. He had held a part time grocery store position as a sacker in high school, so we thought he could turn it into a career. He could work hard and advance. But, working full time became a real challenge for Kyle. It was hard dealing with different people, longer hours surrounded by constantly changing personalities and comments. This made his days more and more uncomfortable. His escape was to come home and play his video games all day. This became the routine and how he managed his stress somewhat. You can imagine our reaction to this, however. I must say, we found it harder to find the humor in his behavior at age 21 than we did when he was younger! We were frustrated and so was he. What would his future be now? He was having a hard time keeping a job, an even harder time finding a new one when he did get fired, his self -esteem was getting lower and video games seemed like the only thing that brought him pleasure.
So, to help him understand his struggles, and to help us learn some strategies, we decided to attend a Future Horizons autism conference in the summer of 2009. While there, during one of our breaks, we learned about a new non-profit organization that was forming. After the conference ended for the day, we met briefly with one of the gentlemen who was starting nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas. As he told us about his vision and plan for the company, we sat there amazed. We could not believe what we were hearing; nonPareil Institute was to become a non-profit video game development company, a technology training program for adults with autism, where they would train, work and eventually live on a campus. They needed to find a few initial students they could attempt to train, to see if indeed this vision was something viable. We left that meeting and drove back to Arlington. It sounded like a dream to Kyle, and it definitely fit him perfectly. Could this actually be something that could grow and become a reality? Should we take the chance and let him become the first student? Well, the answer to both of those questions is YES! We couldn’t be more proud of the company and our son! We are certainly glad that we attended the conference that day!
A few months prior to attending that conference, I had started my own personal journey starting. I was turning a passion and hobby of mine into a business. I created my own company, aRoundJoy, where I began teaching hoop fitness to adults at my warehouse studio, The HoopShack, in Arlington, Texas. As I began to teach & share more about hooping with others, I discovered it was helping not only myself, but so many other types of individuals, on multiple levels. There was so much more about this circular movement than simply one could see. As someone with some firsthand experience dealing with autism, one connection spoke loud and clear to me: parents, teachers, therapists and even autistic individuals themselves can benefit from hooping! The hoop can be so calming and relaxing, it reduces stress, plus generates joy and laughter, too! It is definitely repetitious, and the spinning is a great way to get a child to engage with you. Hooping can be done in groups, but it is a GREAT individual activity, providing a physical release & wonderful physical exercise. It’s a nice way to get in more movement each day for overall well-being, but in a really fun & positive way. It’s not just boring exercise! Bottom line, hooping makes people happy, and we all can use some of that!
As I sat in the front row at the autism conference that day, on the very same day we learned about nonPareil Institute, all these thoughts began to swirl in my head about how the hoop could help the autism community! I began to imagine a large event where I could share this information with everyone. I would work on that. I would grow my business and make connections in my local area, so tha t someday I could find a place to bring hoop awareness to more people in one place, at one large event!
Well, it’s finally happening! I had no idea back then that I would also combine it with an awareness event for nonPareil Institute, but I have! SPiN the STADiUM: a Night of Hooping & Helping for Autism is April 5th at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington! All the details are below and I hope you will attend. You need not know anything about hooping or even own a hoop, although if you are bringing a younger child, a toy hoop for them would be beneficial, as most of the hoops we have for sharing will be adult sized. I will be your teacher that evening, but there will be many othes there who also hoop and will be assisting me on the field, sharing their own knowledge with you.
You will learn how to use the hoop, both on and off your body. You will learn some tips and tricks to help yourself and your kids, students & clients. You can meet the staff and some of the students from NonPareil Institute. You will smile and laugh, while helping yourself and others. I really hope you can make it! If you do come, please stop by and say hello! I look forward to meeting everyone!
WHAT: a Texas-sized hoop class and hoop jam
WHERE: Eddie Deen Crossroads Smokehouse, 1004 North Collins, Arlington, TX 76011 outdoors in their event area
WHEN: Thursday Evening, April 5th, 2012 from 6-10 p.m., weather permitting
COST: $20 at the door, part of the proceeds to benefit nonPareil Institute
WHO’S INVITED: All ages, families, friends, teachers, therapists, school organizations, church groups, co-workers, anyone and everyone!
WHY: You’ll learn about a fun way to get up, move, and create interaction while at the same time, help others and learn more about an exciting future for adults with autism
SCHEDULE: 6 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. Grab some excellent Eddie Deen’s BBQ for dinner
7:15 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Hoop Jam with live DJ and Hoop Class instructions every 15 minute
MORE INFORMATION: Some demonstration hoops will be available to borrow and share. There will be a limited supply of special event, one-color tape, adult-sized hoops for a $20 flat rate. Cash or check accepted. You may pre-order a special event hoop or custom hoop prior to event by contacting Geri of aRoundJoy® directly at 817-925-6625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kids are encouraged to bring toy hoops! There will be music, fun and great interactions during both the hoop class and hoop jam, with some solid advice and instructions on how to use the hoop to improve your life, and the lives of others.
Following her passion for the hoop, Hoopnotica® Master Trainer Geri McNiece started aRoundJoy® in Arlington where she has the only hoop fitness warehouse in Texas called The HoopShack®. She has successfully shared the joy of hooping with her community, with corporate wellness/fitness centers and with local school districts and charitable organizations. Geri is dedicated to spreading the joy of happy movement with everyone for the rest of her life.