Taking Rachel to the mall.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other day, hubby and I decided to go to the maul mall. In a stunning move, Eldest opted out, but we knew Rachel would love it, especially the escalators and indoor fountains. (The trick would be keeping her from jumping into the water.)

Rachel didn’t always like going out. When she was three, an outing to any store would end in her screaming and stripping naked. And Mom would end up in tears. The sensory overload to her system must have been horrible, all the smells, sounds, people, noise…everything unpredictable and random from her point of view.

If she wasn’t screaming, she was darting away from me like in this story. I couldn’t go anywhere in shoes that did not get traction. Through years of therapy, we slowly worked on her staying beside us. (For more on how we decreased her darting behaviors, see here.)

We also learned to plan shorter outings, and did all kinds of sensory therapies to help her nervous system calm.

So, off we went to the maul (I keep doing that) mall, armed with her iPad, a packed lunch, and a bag of activities.

Our first destination was Fuddruckers. (It’s by the mall and has GF buns for their burgers. Yum-o. Plus, it’s kid friendly.) This, however, presented our first challenge. Rachel has very narrow food preferences, so what to do?

First, we examined our goals.

We wanted Rachel to sit in the restaurant and behave appropriately. So, the food was secondary. I brought her packed lunch, but ordered food I could share with her.

While ordering, though, Rachel wasn’t focused on the food. She made the sign for potty and yelled “Pah!” so many times it was amazing I didn’t order my cheeseburger with a side of toilet.

Hubby went off to find us a table, and I took Rachel to the restroom.

Which lead to our next challenge.

My anxiety level amped at the thought of traipsing through a public restroom, even though we do it all the time. As I mentioned in my last blog Walking with Rachel, I did the deep breath routine. Keep calm. It’s about the time with Rachel, not getting something huge done.

Rachel and I entered the stall together. When she FINALLY finished, I had to remind myself again that I had a goal in sight. This was about helping her grow more appropriate and independent, not rushing. So, I watched to see how she would do with the slide lock on the stall door. I had to watch her fail (agonizing) a few times and then walk through it step-by-step, but she learns best through visual and tactile methods.

We were ten minutes into our outing and hadn’t left the bathroom.

After we escaped, Rachel wanted to see the arcade games. I froze. I can’t recall how many times I’ve told her no in public and been rewarded with a huge tantrum. Sometimes I feel like the rat in the maze that’s been zapped so many times its fearful of making any sudden moves.

I had to remember the purpose: Appropriate behavior in a restaurant.

If this went south, we could get our food to go. I took a deep breath. “Later.” I grabbed our drinks and showed her to the super high tech drink machines. Whew. Redirection successful. Crisis averted.

We only spilled our drink once, so another success. I pointed to Hubby and asked her to walk with me to the table. I was afraid she would dart, but she stayed beside me. Yay.

We sat in the booth for an entire ten seconds before she started asking about the games again, but in the midst of her barrage, she passed me napkins and pressed her hands together to pray. I brought in her iPad to keep her entertained, if need be, but she actually ate some of her lunch with a fork.

Did the people in the restaurant stare at us? Yes. But did Rachel have a meltdown and strip naked? Nope. Woohoo. I’ll call it a success.

We managed the rest of the ten minute meal without major issues, and Rach was rewarded with some time in the arcade area where she played with the steering wheel on a game that wasn’t plugged in. Even better.

The mall was next.

Again, we kept clear goals in mind.

Yes, we were there to buy Rach some dresses, but I could always order them online. The goal was to have Rachel stay by us and not throw a fit when told no or waiting for short amounts of time.

Here is how we managed:

We alternated fun activities for her with each short shopping goal.

I grabbed some dresses for her and pointed out the escalator. As soon as I purchased our item, we rode the escalator.

We walked around the upstairs and took an escalator down. We looked in one store and went to the play ground. We stopped at a fountain before glancing around another store.

There were a few moments she had to wait, and without two of us it might not have been nearly as easy, but I kept everything to a minimum. If I didn’t find something within five minutes, we moved on. I tried on one pair of shoes off a sale rack, but nothing else. We kept moving as much as possible.

The trip was more about success for Rachel than getting stuff.

And we only stayed about an hour. That way none of us got too tired and lost our patience.

Mission accomplished.

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Reasoning in the pits.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other night I noticed Rachel’s ball pit looked rather sparse.

A short investigation brought us to …

Because I had cleaned out the ball pit the other day, she had decided it was time to move her precious stash of items to a safer location. Like a squirrel hiding a nut stash, she had slowly moved items to the guest room, where we rarely visit.

Urg! When I walked into the room and saw the debacle, my knees turned watery and my stomach flipped over. I clamped my mouth shut because I really wanted to scream. Why? Why does she do these kinds of things? I know she has obessessive compulsive leanings on top of her autism or maybe because of autism, but keeping up with her messes is as easy as grabbing the wind.

I stared at the mess for another moment then turned out the light. It was too late to deal with it and I wasn’t going to anyway. I would, instead, hope a magic fairy came during the night to pick it up.


The next night, hubby worked with her while Eldest and I were gone. Together, they took balls back to the ball pit and threw some of the trash away. This is the only manner in which we can see to deal with the issue. Making her clean it step-by-step, with us being impartial, unemotional monitors during each of her screaming, agonizing, tantrum-filled moments.

I was still in the magic-fairy-hopeful stage this morning when I realized a game her teacher had sent home from school was missing.

I found most of it in the Room of Doom, as the guest room should be called. However, several pieces are still missing, probably under the layers of shredded tissues and papers.

I pressed my fingers to my temples. I couldn’t help but ask: Why is everything so difficult? Eldest was downstairs having a crisis about her lunch and I was trapped in the Room of Doom doing a geological dig to uncover two stupid magnets that are so small they might be in the trash or in the dog’s stomach.

I still haven’t found those magnets, but as I walked the dog a few thoughts occurred to me.


As a youth, I thought unorganized and messy people lacked motivation and discipline. As a mom, Payback keeps taking me to lunch, ordering the lobster, and sneaking out the bathroom window to leave me with the bill.

Life isn’t simple. It doesn’t come with a neat little box full of comprehensible instructions.

Yet, those overwhelming challenges leave me a better person, even if it is simply a change in my own attitude toward judging others. Pain usually brings understanding and compassion.


I realized I’d recently prayed for motivation to clean up the upstairs… Whoops. Losing an expensive school material certainly gets me moving. So, who says God doesn’t answer prayers? Lol.

Perhaps the biggest thing I need to grasp as a special needs mom is the key to surviving difficulties are to grow in them.

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The right tools for the right crisis (and toilet).

by Jennifer Dyer

The other day, Rachel stayed in my bathroom for a bit too long. I opened the door.

Rachel froze, toilet brush in mid swipe…against the wall. Bubbles dripped from splotches on the walls. Blue foam covered the floor. Streaks marked the baseboards. A blue film covered the outside of the toilet. The inside of the toilet, however, was untouched, at least by the brush designed to clean it.

Worse, blue steaks splotched along Rachel’s hands and legs. She tossed the toilet brush and dashed around me. I slipped on the suds, did the splits, then ran after her.

I had to scrub that blue stuff off her body before it burned her skin.

After showering her, I used one of my nice bathroom towels, which had been trampled on the floor earlier, to wipe up the blue foam meant for cleaning the inside of a toilet.

My heart pounded. Yuck! But I clamped my mouth shut and spent some time thinking and praying: If I blow my stack about this, I will create more harm than good. I simply need to train her to scrub the inside of the toilet, not the floors, walls, baseboards, cabinets and outside of the toilet. But at least her newest hobby is cleaning. Thank you God for that…

I also thought about my own spiritual life. Rachel had the right tool to clean the toilets, but she was using it for the wrong purpose, which created chaos.

How often do I misuse tools meant for good?

I have a Bible. Reading it daily provides my soul with much needed wisdom, rest, nourishment, and hope. But what about the other ways I use it? How about when I read a verse and think about how “that other person” is totally failing at that. Or how about when I have judgmental thoughts based on something I read? Even if it is silent, am I not using the Bible, a good tool, for my own selfish ends?

Food and sleep are other areas I might use incorrectly. Both are wonderful, created by God to nourish and replenish us, but what about when I eat or sleep for comfort? Because of stress? Overdo one or the other?

How about anger? This powerful emotion can spur us on to righteousness, can start movements to save oppressed children in terrible circumstances. But it can also be handled incorrectly or even take over other/all emotions, leaving everyone in its path covered with sticky pain similar to our toilet brush incident.

If I had gotten angry with Rachel in that moment, I would have been using a tool in the improper manner in the same way she used that toilet brush.

Instead, I must remember to keep my focus on the long-term goal of teaching her the right ways to act and hopefully demonstrate the love of Jesus to her in a very real manner.

How about you? Are there tools in your life you want to use differently?

I leave you with this thought from the Lead Your Family Like Jesus book coming out in April:

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I’m not good enough! Do you ever say this? Well, good news…

by Jennifer Dyer

A while back, I agreed to help a friend publicize a project. As I writer, I am aware of how much social media presence means in today’s world. Numbers are king. And I, my friends, am not big stuff.

The publisher of the project asked everyone interested in helping to fill out a survey.

The info they wanted? Numbers. How many hits does your website get? How many people “like” you? Do Wookies and Droids in the galaxy far, far away follow you?

As I read through the questions, a growing weight settled on my chest. Half of the things they asked I didn’t even know.

In my mind, the survey asked the question: “Are you good enough to help us?”

“No! I’m not good enough! Not by a long shot.” I started to believe I wasn’t good enough, so I shouldn’t try to help out my friend. Other, better people would help her. (How wrong is that? I was going to let fear and feelings of inadequacy stop me from helping someone!)

“I’m not good enough” clouded my thoughts, jaded my sight. Every time I tuned into any of my online channels, I despaired at what I saw. No one liked me. I wasn’t making an impact. I should just quit. And I should eat some worms.


All my creative efforts stalled. Instead of doing what I do best, I spent my time worrying about why more people didn’t like me. My doubts poisoned all my efforts.

I some time in prayer, mostly whining to God about why life wasn’t fair.

But God was gracious and didn’t toss me a piece of cheese to go with my whine. Instead I saw:

* Focusing on what others have is wrong and harmful to my own heart. That includes feeling envious of their success. It only leads to distress and distracts me.

* I had to face that I was trying to be in control. That leads to anxiety and doesn’t change anything. You’d think I would have learned this during my extended illnesses. Controlling most things in this world is as futile as controlling the wind with my bare hands.

* Do what I do best and let God take care of the rest. Does this mean I give up? No. It means that I focus on what I do best. I will dedicate a bit of time each day to learn how to navigate the social media world and making genuine connections with people, but I cannot control what other people do. I can only control the choices I make.

* I choose to relax, to write to share God’s love and grace with others, and to let the rest go.

* I don’t have to please the masses. I only need to please my Audience of One.

How about you? Have you ever tried to “control the wind?” How did you get through it?

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Adventures at Grisly Bear Den

by Jennifer Dyer


A few weeks ago, hubby saw a Groupon for Grisly Bear Den. He called me into his office. “We’ve been saving for months to go there. This is a good deal. Should we take it? We can even go on Rachel’s birthday. It’s the perfect gift for her, with the indoor water park.”

Me, being the cheapie in the family, frowned. “But the weekends are so expensive. Maybe we should try for a Sunday-to-Monday trip?”

“The kids will miss school.”

I laughed. “But eldest hasn’t missed a day yet. It’s foolproof. What can go wrong?”

Wednesday before our trip, eldest came down with the flu.

But she rallied. Saturday her fever ended, so we were golden.

We forged ahead to Grisly Bear on Sunday, ready for two days of water park fun.

Two hours into it, I looked at hubby. “Are we there yet?”

“We’re here. In case the water up your nose didn’t clue you in.”

“Are we done yet?”

He shook his head just before a wave drenched him. “We just got here.”

“Oh. Goody.”

I saluted and headed up another six flights of stairs with eldest, carting an inner tube taller than me, so we could be flushed down a giant toilet. “Call a plumber if you don’t see us in 30 minutes,” I yelled to hubby. He didn’t hear me, as he’d just been pulled under the waves in the tsunami pit.

Chasing eldest up endless stairs, my legs turned to concrete. They should have included a 6-week training course to prepare me for the stairs… “Aren’t you still sick?” I asked.

“No, this is fun! Let’s go down suicide pipeline next! And you get to go backward. You’ll get drenched! It’ll be tons of fun.”

“For you.”

She nodded. The child knows a good time when she sees it drenching her mother.

Two hours later, I was on my 50th loop around the indoor river with Rachel. Boys above us had camped out on the bridge, shooting water bombs in our direction every time we passed. The little water guerrillas were impervious to my battle tactics, including a stern mother glare, shaking fists, and pitiful looks.

Waterlogged, I asked Rachel if she wanted to do something tamer, like sleep. No dice.

I was ready to fake a broken leg.

That night, Rachel and I returned to the water park alone while hubby and eldest went on the hotel’s Amazing Quest. Three hours later, hubby and eldest returned. The door opened and the two soldiers crawled in, stretching their arms up for assistance.

I jumped to my feet. “Speak to me! What happened? Was it those little water criminals from earlier? Should I call in the big guns and talk to their mothers?”

Hubby shook his head, falling onto a bed. “No… I can’t feel my legs. Are they still there?”

I settled down. “Yes, they appear to be attached.”

He moaned. “The horror! Up and down flights of stairs, all over the place. Never in the same place longer than a minute. I might not make it to morning.”

“Oh, but we’re spending all day tomorrow in the water again. I had to drag Rachel out of there tonight with the promise we’d return first thing.”

That night, Rachel had a GREAT time. She woke up bright and early…at 4 a.m. and cooed in her nonverbal manner until 6 a.m. Hubby spent the night trying to fix the leaking toilet, and eldest kept telling Rachel to be quiet.

Bleary-eyed, we hit the water park as soon as it opened. Rachel squealed and dove in, face first. The rest of us chugged after her. I mustered a grin for eldest. “You want to be flushed down the toilet again?”

Hubby had a spasm. “I’ve had enough of toilets, thanks.”

Eldest’s face paled. She looked at the endless stairs. “I can’t make it.”

But she was a trooper. We stayed in the tsunami wave pit with Rachel until the chlorine had turned us into bleached prunes. Finally exhausted, we called it a day. At 11 a.m.

We oozed to the car. Dry for the first time, I whipped out my camera, but eldest and hubby ducked. Eldest mumbled from her crouched position. “I can’t smile. My mouth is too tired.”

I gave up and snapped a pic of the car outside the hotel.

We headed Rachel’s fav drive-through to get some lunch on the way home. “Anyone want to go inside to eat?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? Look at me.” And that was hubby…

I gave up. We sang Rachel happy birthday over chicken nuggets in the car.

As we pulled into the driveway, eldest woke up and stretched. “That was so much fun! Can we go back next month?”

I grinned. “Maybe not next month, but sooner than later!”

What is your favorite vacation spot?

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Windex, autism and encouraging my daughter to find her strengths.

by Jennifer Dyer

Rachel discovered a new hobby over the Christmas break–Windex. Often my shadow when she is home, Rachel watched with bright eyes as I pulled out the bottle of Windex and a few rags. She grabbed the rags from my hands and ran ahead to the bathroom. When I made it in there, she pointed to the mirror, indicating I should get with the spraying.

When the liquid hit the mirror, she squealed and jumped, her giggles radiating warmth through the house.

Rag in hand, Rachel wiped and wiped. Then she grabbed the bottle and sprayed some more, squealing all over again.

Half a bottle of Windex later, the bathroom needed airing. I led her to the other bathrooms and mirrors, showing her how to wipe them down. The child acted as if she had hit a huge jackpot in Vegas.

The conservative side of me worried. She is using the Windex too fast. The house smells really strong. She might spray something that will get too wet, like the wallpaper or carpet.

Then I told my inner grump to take a break. I hate that wallpaper, the carpet might benefit from a little Windex, and as far as hobbies go, Windex cleaning is a great one, even a life skill that will benefit her in the future.

So, three bottles later in that many days, I am glad she has a new fascination. It’s way, way better than dumping toys out of drawers and boxes, which we lived through for about 7 years. I don’t know how long this one will last, but it’s fun to watch her delight. My mirrors have never been cleaner.

Wow. I wish I thought of cleaning like that.

How about you? What are some of your kids’ hobbies? Do you see future potential for their adult lives with the interests blooming today?

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Fun vacation family reads/audio books

by Jennifer Dyer

If you are going to spend any length of time in the car this holiday with the kids or even without the kids, I’d recommend Hank the Cowdog stories as a fun way to pass the time.

In the style of radio dramas, author John R. Erickson has a host of voices and songs he uses to share these tails (er, tales) with listeners. Pure family fun. Mr. Erickson is brilliant.

My favorite is still the Case of the One-eyed Killer Stud Horse. I love the first one, too. With 60 books available in book, e-book and audio formats, there are plenty to choose from.

I also posted a book review on Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss here.

What are your favorite ways to pass time in the car? How do you have fun as a family?

Happy reading!

Merry Christmas!


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A brief peace accord…

by Jennifer Dyer



The kids had a MOMENT. They were working. Together. Side by side. Rachel was doing her “homework” while eldest worked on hers.

I ran to get hubby’s phone, since my camera/phone was again MIA.

That’s when eldest said, “Rachel, stop messing up the markers! You’re ruining it! MoooooM, tell her to stop–hey, what are you doing?”

I gritted my teeth in a wolf-just-ate-grandma grin. “I’m getting the camera to take a picture because you. All. Are. So. Cute, so be cute again.”

“Uh, whoops,” she said.

Whoops indeed…

On another note, we are still experiencing technical issues because of the platform change. I’m sure there is a high tech explanation, but I no speaka da language of the magic Google machine… So, I’m sending this blog as a test. I’m not sure if the subscriptions made it through the website change. So sorry if they didn’t.

Hugs, my friends!

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