Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Storm

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the beauty after the storm

The other night I laced up my shoes as I geared up for my nightly run (my soles4souls 5K is coming up on Saturday, eek!) My mind was heavey and loaded with things that can’t be spoken into life on this blog. Luckily I was running with a dear friend who does get it….the hard stuff that comes with parenting a deeply traumatized child.

As we ran in the summer heat, a storm rolled in. We kept running. We became soaked and decided to turn around as not to put ourselves in danger, but we still managed to finish our run. There was a part of me that welcomed the storm with open arms.

I couldn’t help but think of how running in this storm served as a great metaphor for my life right now. I could have easily avoided the storm, but instead decided to run straight into it. I embraced the reality of the rain as it pelted my skin, the wind as it pushed strongly against my body, the thunder as it echoed through my ears. I felt strong, calm. As the storm raged around me, I secretly felt free. This is where I wanted to be, I thought to myself, in a place of personal calm as the storm of life rages around me.

You see, I have been avoiding the raging storm in my own life. Not because I don’t see it, but because I have been paralyzed by fear and denial. But today I have chosen to run in head first, to be embraced by the raging storm…to enter it and walk through it in hopes of coming out the other side better than when I entered it.

My child with special needs who came from a history of profound trauma needs more help than I can give. Today, I sought out that help and it was an extremely difficult thing to do.

I have faith that there will be beauty after the storm. But you can’t get to the other side without first venturing through the chaos and turmoil. So while the storm may rage, we will walk hand-in-hand, knowing that the beauty of the aftermath awaits us just around the bend…

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“I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” ~ Unknown

Yoga for All: the whys and hows of yoga for children and those with special needs

You guys already know that I am a firm believer in nature for all based on my last few posts. Nature has provided more than just a good time or fun escape for my kids, it has provided a place of healing and acceptance. I could write a novel about our experience over this past year of nature being the ultimate therapy for my son with autism. But that is for another time. For now, I want to bring to light another activity that offers benefits for children, especially those with special needs. The best part is that this activity can go hand-in-hand with nature!

Now let’s talk yoga…
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Why Yoga?

I think by now most people in our society are familiar with the benefits of yoga–for both adults and kids. For those who may not be, here are some interesting facts…

Yoga originated 4,000 or 5,000 years ago in what is now India. …The yoga practices that arose out of these systems of thought were designed to facilitate development and integration of the human body, mind, and breath to produce structural, physiological, and psychological effects. The aims of yoga are the development of the following: 1) a strong and flexible body free of pain; 2) a balanced autonomic nervous system with all physiological systems, e.g., digestion, respiration, endocrine, functioning optimally; and 3) a calm, clear, and tranquil mind. Beyond these specific outcomes, yoga practices are intended to facilitate self transformation at every level of functioning, with the goal of improving the overall quality of life.” (1)

There has been some clinical research done on the true medical benefits of yoga and now the National Institute of Health categorizes yoga as an alternative medical treatment in the mind-body category. Although I haven’t performed a thorough search of the medical literature, I know first-hand in my own life that the benefits of yoga are real, which is good enough for me. So a few weeks ago, it dawned on me…..why hadn’t I introduced my children to yoga, especially my son with significant special needs? Yoga therapy has been used frequently with children on the autism spectrum and it seems to be growing in popularity. I’ve also noticed lots of other families around me getting their kids involved in yoga. So we took the plunge.

Yoga as Therapy?

Admittedly, there hasn’t been a lot of scientific research done on the effects of yoga on those with autism spectrum disorders. I found a couple of journal articles (see the end of the post) that highlight the use of yoga as an alternative therapy and they are certainly worth a read if you are interested.

In 2008 a report on alternative therapies stated that “yoga is a mind-body approach that enjoys popular practice for increasing the sense of well being and control with the potential to decrease anxiety. A trial of yoga for symptoms of ADHD was underpowered to demonstrate effect, but suggested some benefit in children on medication. Relaxation therapy decreased symptoms of anxiety in patients with anxiety on a child psychiatry service and in children with mental retardation. No studies have yet been published related to symptoms of autism and response to yoga techniques.” (3)

A couple of years later, it was found that yoga therapy “may offer benefits as an effective tool to increase imitation, cognitive skills and social-communicative behaviors in children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]. In addition, children exhibited increased skills in eye contact, sitting tolerance, non-verbal communication and receptive skills to verbal commands related to spatial relationship.” (2)

Still, very little research has been done in this area. But as a mom to a child on the spectrum, it doesn’t really matter if I have medical evidence to back me up. Here is what I know for sure. Yoga (or “goga” as Big Brother calls it) is helping my son with autism in the following areas:

gross motor skills
spatial awareness and body control
listening skills
anxiety reduction
bonding with me

I’m sure the benefits will continue to rack up as we move forward, and I’m hoping that all of this will benefit Little Man as well. But I am so excited for Big Brother. Not only does yoga provide him with some great results, it does something even more important–it gives him a fun way to be active and have a sense of achievement. Yoga has been the only activity (besides hiking) we’ve found so far that Big Brother really enjoys and is motivated to do. His focus and attention span are extremely short, but when it comes to yoga, he can easily sit and perform for a good ten minutes, which is incredible for him. I’m pretty sure he could go even longer and we are working our way up.

Regardless of all the jibber-jabber you just read (surely someone, anyone is reading??), I’d do the nightly yoga just for a chance to see this cuteness every evening.

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How to Get Started

Want to help your kids get started? I found some fun apps that can help get the ball rolling. My kids especially love the first one pictured–Super Stretch. Big Brother also likes My First Yoga, but it is a really simplified version of yoga geared for young kids. Both are great ones to try. The third app pictured is also good, but my kids seem to like it the least.

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Also, you can find videos to purchase, like this one:

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You can also check with your local yoga instructors, as many now offer classes for children. For now, I know that Big Brother wouldn’t be able to handle a classroom full of kids, but maybe someday. So we will practice together at home and use that time together to bond.

What do you think? Do your kids do yoga or would you consider it now?

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References:

1. Yoga as a Complementary Therapy for Children and Adolescents

2. Application of integrated yoga therapy to increase imitation skills in children with autism spectrum disorder.

3. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

*I might have been a scientist in my previous life (aka before children) but I am not, and have never been, a medical health professional. In this post are my opinions and tips from my own experience that I wanted to share. For real advice, please consult a professional!

Memorial Day 2012

Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough….

But yet it is all I have to offer. It seems so unfair.

Thank you to those who have sacrificed much so that my family can enjoy the precious freedoms that we often take for granted. Like enjoying a gorgeous day at the park…

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“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude; America will never forget their sacrifices.”
- President Harry S. Truman

How to Create a Hiking Group for Families and Special Needs Children

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I have been blown away by the responses from my recent post Nature for All where I talk about the hiking group I launched in my town. Our hiking group provides a safe and accepting environment for families who have kids with or without special needs. We welcome all families and all children. Our goal is to get kids outdoors and connected with nature, no matter the obstacles. I have seen first-hand the healing powers of nature for my sweet Big Brother and I want others to experience that as well.

Our first hike was a huge success and was pure fun for all involved. I can hardly wait for next month’s hike and I’m going to start planning it tonight! A lot of people have shown interest in doing something similar in their own towns. So I thought I would give you some tips to help you get started. Being outdoors is my passion and way of life, so the creation of this hiking group has been the best experience for me! I hope you find some helpful tips below and that you become inspired to start your own group. You can do it!!

1. Intrigue your friends.

I had been wanting to start a hiking group for many months but I wasn’t really sure if anyone would be interested. Then one night I asked my friends via f@cebook if they would be interested in joining a hiking group led by yours truly. My friends knew I was a family-hiking kind of gal, so it was not a far stretch for me to ask such a thing. I have many friends with young children and several close friends whose children have special needs. The instant response was larger than I expected. I was stoked.

2. Make an online space for your group.

The next thing I did was create an online space where those who were interested could connect and leave input for me. Using f@cebook, I very easily set up a page, invited my interested friends to join, then asked them to ask their interested friends to join. Then I posted a mission statement and even posted our first event so that everyone could RSVP.

3. Make a plan.

So about that first event…..well, you’ve got to have some sort of plan in place! For me, I already had a few hiking places in mind that would be accessible to a wide range of abilities. We are blessed with a local nature park that boasts hudreds of miles of trails of varying lengths and difficulty, with even some trails being paved. We are even luckier to have a multitude of natural areas right around the city that make great family-friendly hiking destinations.

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Remember, it is not about the destination or even the type of trail, it is about getting kids outdoors and connected with nature. You don’t even have to use a designated hiking trail. Got a pond? Go on a nature walk around it and submerse yourselves into the wildlife and surrounding terrain. Build a garden together for a local school. Go pick strawberries together and then hunt for bugs. Get creative. No matter where you live, you will be able to find some place in nature for your group to explore. Even if you have children with profound special needs and/or physical disabilities, there will always be places where nature is within reach, you just might have to get creative.

4. Think about capabilities and logistics.

Once the group was formed, I had to make sure to think about all the needs represented by the children involved. My goal was to be able to cater to a wide range of needs by offering a different type of hike each month. Some months may be a bit more strenuous than others, but I want everyone involved to have the chance to take a hike, even if that means a short nature walk on a paved path. So I am thinking about variety. I will definitley be seeking input from my families in the coming months about what types of hikes they and their children feel comfortable with. Anytime you are hiking with young children and those with special needs, safety must be your top priority.

5. Spread the word.

Once our first event was finalized, I really tried to spread the word (and had other friends do the same) to reach those who I might not know personally but who would love to join in. So far, we’ve had lots of interest, especially after everyone saw how much fun we had on our first hike :) Make sure to post the trail pictures to your group page so all the world can see what they are missing.

6. Make it fun.

Add a scavenger hunt to your hike. Make sure to stop and let the kids splash in the creek, dig for worms, feel the moss and play in the mud. Teach them about the insects, plants and wildlife you come across on the hike. Bring some treats for the kids to enjoy. End the day with time at a nearby playground. Have a picnic together. Make T-shirts for your group to wear. Play games. Remember, it’s all about FUN! You want the kids to be begging for more. You want them to see and experience how much fun being outdoors can be. If it’s not fun, then you’re doing something wrong!

Here are some other posts that may help you out as well:

Do You Like Adventure?

Well I’ve got three of them for you! My latest post on the Civilized Travel site shares my 3 favorite off the beaten path adventures and tells you how you can explore these spectacular places, too.

See how this…

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+

this…

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+

this…

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add up to one big adventure in the southeastern US. What are you waiting for? Go check it out and then join me the next time we venture out into the wild!

Review (and I need your help): Stonewear Designs Apparel for Active Women

Today I’m going to do something I’ve never done before–a review. That means you know it must be something truly special that I want to talk about!

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But before I do that, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your kind words of encouragement on my last post. They mean a lot to me and I’m humbled to know that so many people are rooting for us! The boys are doing great now, so thank you everyone.

***

Now back to the review–I am not being compensated in any way. I bought this particular piece of clothing to review with my very own money. I do need your help at the end of the post though, so stick with me! I just feel like this is something that I want my readers to know about, so here it goes….

I am a very active woman and mama. Yes, I hike, run, travel, garden and explore the outdoors on a regular basis, but I spend the majority of my time chasing kids. I never knew real activity until I added mommy to my resume, and I am loving every moment of it. My lifestyle demands clothing that can keep up with me while at the same time make me look good. And friends, that is no easy feat….it takes a very special piece of clothing!

I am very picky about my clothes and demand three things: durability, comfort and style.

I especially have a hard time finding tops that meet these three criteria. I was blessed (if you are a male) and cursed (ladies, you know what I’m talkin’ about) with a small frame and a rather large set of girls on top. This can make finding a supportive and stylish top difficult. Also, I live in the south where much of the year is hot and humid, so the top must be able to keep me cool and dry in addition to all the other qualities I look for. I don’t mind paying more money for clothing that will last a very long time and perform in the way I need it to. I end up spending more money when I buy low-quality clothing and have to replace it so frequently. I have decided that since I’m all grown up and stuff, I should invest in myself–that means investing in the clothing that will help me perform my best.

Enter Stonewear Designs Cross Back Tank Top, and I am in love!

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Here, let me show you:

Here is what I love about this top:

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  • Fits just right–not too tight or clingy, true to size.
  • Stylish
  • Great support with the built-in bra
  • Comfortable, kept me cool and dry during my run in near 90 degree weather

What I didn’t like:

  • That I don’t have ten more of these hanging in my closet ;)

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I am heading to Colorado soon for some hiking and other outdoor adventures, and I also have a 5K and Muddy Buddy run coming up soon in which I plan to wear this top. I can’t wait! I think it is evident by now, but let me state it: all opinions are my own and I am giving an honest review of this product. Oh, and I’m totally stoked to find this top and genuinely happy that this top performed so well for me.

But not only do I think their apparel is awesome, their company values totally rock. Check it out-

“Since Stonewear Designs was founded in Boulder, Colorado in 1996, we have woven the energy and vitality

of active women into the fabric of each piece of clothing we create. While our original designs were fueled by the need for women-specific climbing clothes, we have since been inspired by women’s all-encompassing active lifestyles. We make comfortable, versatile, long lasting clothing for lifetime athletes. And in the Stonewear world, lifetime sports include: chasing after kids, running to meetings and playing with dogs. With every product we develop, our ultimate goal is to make clothing that helps women feel good about their bodies.

We believe in trying to make the world a better place. We make all our clothes in the USA. We look for fabrics that are easier on the environment. In most of our products that contain cotton we are now using organic cotton. In Spring 2010 we will be introducing polyesters that are made from recycled pop bottles.

We are part of an exciting community and we enjoy giving back, helping and inspiring others. We support The HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation founded by Sean Patrick, an ovarian cancer survivor and climber.” via Stonewear Designs

I want to try out some of their other tops in addition to their awesome pants and capris, they look great! What an awesome company to support.

Now Help a Mama Out:
I am applying to become an ambassador for Stonewear Designs. I love their mission and their clothing and would be honored to be a part of their team. If you think I would be a good representative for them, they want to hear from you! You can let them know if you think yours truly–Lauren (Hiking Mama)–would make a good ambassador. Leave a comment on their Facebook page or give me a shout-out on Twitter and tag Stonewaer Designs. You can find their social media pages here:

Facebook Page

Twitter

So tell me, what pieces of active wear can you not live without? Any good clothing companies you think I should know about? If you already love Stonewear, what’s your favorite piece of clothing?

“Mommy Love You”

I sit here typing, not knowing exactly what to say.

I just walked out of my son’s room after several hours of a mega meltdown and I’m thinking to myself “what in the world just happened?” And trust me, I’ve seen it all with Big Brother. Autism, cognitive delay, attachment issues, adopted as an older child, history of neglect, abuse, institutionalization and other traumas….oh yeah, I’ve seen it all.

It started at dinner. My son, who is 5 years old and has Autism and cognitive delay, became overstimulated at the restaurant we were eating in. He began verbal stimming and having a hard time contolling himself physically (this is typical, usually we can manage it.) All was fine once we were home. But then my overtired, typically-developing 4 year old son threw a massive temper tantrum over something trivial. He had been struggling behaviorally all day, I’m not sure what the cause was. But his tantrum was long and drawn out, but eventually he settled down and went to bed.

But that temper tantrum triggered a rage in my special needs son…..a rage and a meltdown that I can’t even begin to describe to you in words. I think he was scared and confused about why his brother was so upset. But this meltdown, it just went on and on and grew into something ugly. It’s not the first, nor will it be the last. We’ve seen it all around here.

But oh, how he raged tonight. Once we were able to bring him down from this mega meltdown (hours later), my sobbing son looked up at me as I rocked him and he moaned “mommy love you,” as much in an inquisitive tone as a pleading one. He was repeating what I always tell him–that “mommy loves you.” But he was searching, pleading for the answer to still be the same.

Oh dear sweet child who does not feel worthy of love, who feels that we will only love you during the good times….how can I make you understand? How can you possibly understand true, unconditional love when this world has only shown you hurt and disappointment? When will people understand that there is only so much trauma you can inflict upon a child before his very spirit is shattered beyond repair? Those of us left to pick up the pieces must witness our children take on the heavy burdens of their pasts. Sometimes, it just seems too much to bear for such tiny beings.

Will you ever understand?

Mommy loves you, forever….the end.