Friday, August 28, 2015

BACK TO SCHOOL!!!

Seems like we blinked and summer was over. We had all of these plans to take some staycations and enjoy being home for the summer. Yeah... that didn't happen. The summer just flew by. And now we've got a 5th grader and a 2nd grader in our ranks. We're looking forward to a fun year!





Saturday, August 22, 2015

KultureCity: #18forlife

It started with a social media connection. Many of my autism warrior friendships started that way actually. We've become a large extended family - all fighting the same battle. We pray for awareness and acceptance. We encourage each other through stories of triumph and hope. We understand the importance of small victories like delayed first words and eye contact; we fear things like wandering and the heartbreak many of our families have experienced in its aftermath. We get it... and we're surrounded by friends and loved ones who get it too. Our village.

Then there was the email I received back on May 1st from Michele Maha. She and her husband Julian founded an organization in Birmingham, Alabama called KultureCity. Their mission is an amazing one. While many autism organizations focus on awareness, KultureCity's goal is to provide tangible help and equip businesses and the community with to aid and understand children and families affected by autism. From art and music camps, scholarships, connections to service providers, IPads, and their lifesaving lifeBOKS, the Mahas have dedicated themselves to making a difference in the lives of our families and communities all over the world. And they understand... they have a son with autism. 

A beautiful reminder in Birmingham.



























Michele invited me to learn more about KultureCity and I was impressed by their mission. The number one complaint I usually hear from autism families is that there is enough awareness... we need help. Real, tangible help. And KultureCity seems to be filling that void. Check out some of their amazing initiatives here.

Michele invited me to Birmingham to receive an award for my autism advocacy. What an honor. I was truly blessed to be among some of the movers and shakers in the autism community. I'm still in awe of this amazing group and all of their accomplishments. From an NFL great, a child prodigy, and a fellow reality star, the list was impressive!


























My KultureCity trip began with a presentation and panel discussion at the Ignite conference. It was pretty incredible. The following morning, we were treated to a VIP party at jewelry store Kendra Scott. We sipped mimosas while customizing jewelry and having some fun and much needed girl time. It doesn't get much better than that.





















A highlight - I finally got to meet my autism sister Jacqueline Laurita of the RHONJ. We've been "Twitter" friends for years and finally got to connect in person. It was great! She and her husband Chris will be in Dallas next month for Generation Rescue's annual conference - can't wait to see them in the big D!


























And then... there was the KultureBall. Over 500 people dressed to the nines came out to raise tens of thousands of dollars for KultureCity and its lifeBOKS and #18forlife program. $18 will provide a potentially life-saving kit to our families. There have been so many autism wandering deaths recently - sad, tragic, preventable stories. KultureCity is trying to prevent them and these kits are making a difference.
















My family and KultureCity knows how to throw a party for a cause. What a memorable couple of days in Birmingham. I'm so blessed to be a part of the KultureCity family and I look forward to helping out as much as possible in the future. Because that's what family does... (and I have to send a special shout out to Diane Zaragoza for being such an incredible hostess).

With Kevin Spencer and Dahn and Alimi Ballard

With the man... Jacob Barnett. Google him.

Mike Vo (we2o founder) and Patrick Whaley (TITIN Tech)

c. David Bley Storytellers

c. David Bley Storytellers


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Autism Chronicles: Still Fighting

I'm tired... already exhausted from fighting a fight I thought I was done fighting years ago. 

My child has autism. There are fleeting moments of "normal" every once in a while that allow me to forget this very fact. Like today when after dinner, Will and I were walking to my car. I put my arm around his shoulder. He responded by putting his arm around my waist. Normalcy. An embrace between a mother and son. Of course, after about a nanosecond I realized how special that moment was - that my son with autism responded to my touch by reciprocating with his touch - and it wasn't so normal anymore. Autism. I'm reminded of it and the impact it's had on our lives - every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

When Ryan was playing in the NFL, we had THE BEST insurance - unless we needed autism coverage. Our policy through Cigna would pay for a medical evaluation for autism, but specifically and explicitly excluded coverage for autism treatment including speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy - pretty much any therapy you can imagine a child with autism might need. After being pre-approved for speech therapy, we got a denial letter for $5,000 worth of services. We had to fight to get the services (that had been pre-approved) covered. If anything, we went out of our way to prove Will needed these services despite having autism. We eventually got the speech therapy covered... his "developmental delays" were clearly caused by the repeated "otitis media" (a.k.a. ear infections) Will suffered as a child. But it wasn't because of autism, because if the delays were caused by autism, therapy wouldn't be covered. 

Unfortunately, our NFL insurance coverage expired (yes, it actually expires contrary to what a lot of folks think) and after paying for 18-months of unconscionably expensive COBRA coverage, we were forced to find a new policy. I was careful to seek out a plan that would continue to cover the ongoing therapy Will was receiving at Easter Seals every afternoon. Coverage under our new policy was working out great (it started in March) until we got a letter saying that Will's services were being audited. Even though Will has been receiving these services for a while now, we are going to have to prove that they are "medically necessary" (buzz words) in order for them to be covered.

Although Will has been identified as a child with autism for educational purposes (annual ARD meetings - another great reminder that your child has special needs), he has not undergone extensive (and expensive) medical testing for autism. Remember, we'd avoided such testing in the past knowing that had Will been diagnosed on the spectrum, his therapy wouldn't be covered. But now, all indications suggest we'll have to seek out a developmental pediatrician, neurologist or psychologist (or a combination of all of the above if we really want to cover our asses) to get a medical diagnosis so that insurance will cover Will's therapy. And we'll have to go back to said specialists regularly to maintain that diagnosis because the need for continual therapy has to be justified. And we'll keep getting letters from the insurance company asking us to prove said therapy is necessary - our policy states Will's services can be audited every three months. So even though Will has autism, even though there is no cure for autism, even though there is state law requiring insurance companies to cover autism therapy in Texas, even though... we now have to expend tremendous resources (time, money, etc.) proving that Will still has special needs... that he has autism... and that our lives are anything but normal.

Shit.

I'm tired. Already.

(An aside: I've chosen not to mention our new insurance company by name yet because our issues with them are ongoing and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize coverage for Will's therapy. But this company has apparently raised some red flags in the autism community because of it's denial of services. If I start referring to the company by name, you'll know things have gotten worse.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

A first time for everything...

Bryn had her hair done professionally for the first time today. Those gorgeous curls of hers needed a trim so I took her to see my friend Ryan Abbott down in Dallas. After this guy butchered my hair and gave me a six-inch "trim" a couple years ago, Ryan was the only one I let cut my hair. I trusted her with Bryn and all went well!

Before





After

Friday, July 31, 2015

There's a New (Movie) Player in Town

Last night Ryan and I (and a bunch of other super important people) got a VIP sneak preview of the brand new Studio Movie Grill in The Colony. We're already big fans of SMG and often traveled down to the Plano location to enjoy dine-in movies. That location is now closed for some much-needed renovations, so we're glad we have this new location nearby. The new theater is located convenient at 121 and 423 (Main).


























SMG has done a great job with it's new theater. There's a full bar with plenty of seating in the lobby to enjoy bites and cocktails before your movie. The auditoriums feature stadium seating and amazing sound systems. We were treated to a viewing of the new flick Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (which is AWESOME) and we could feel the vibration from the bass in the seats. The service was great - the staff was pleasant and wonderfully accommodating (even after a few scheduling hiccups). Overall, we were really happy with the experience and look forward to going back!

Some things to remember about SMG:
  1. SMG isn't open seating - every seat is reserved. You pick your seats when you order your tickets. Sometimes big blockbusters and new releases sell out. We've found that ordering tickets in advance (24 hours usually works for us) allows us to pick the seats we want without a fuss.
  2. You can order food and drinks throughout the movie. And... so can everyone else. That means servers will be going up and down rows during the movie. They try to be as unobtrusive as possible, but in a big theater with lots of folks, their presence is noticeable.
  3. Theater seats have come a long way over the years. These seats are pretty comfortable but they are new... we found them to be a little stiff (your posture will thank you - maybe not) with a little give. If you do end up sitting towards the front of the theater on the floor, those seats recline. I've always been a back-of-the-theater sort of girl, but reclining seats might get me to move up to the front.


























On a special note, SMG offers special needs screenings for some movies. It's the perfect family-friendly environment for our kiddos and their siblings. The screenings are shown with the lights up and volume lowered. It's a no-judgment zone as our kids can talk, move freely throughout the theater and even "dance in the aisles" during the movie if they feel like it. This, on top of other special screenings like Girls Night Out and Family Rewind make SMG the perfect movie location for everyone. Click here for more information.

The theater opens TODAY - check out www.studiomoviegrill.com for more information.

SMG founder and CEO Brian Schultz and other SMG reps
during the ceremonial film cutting.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tackling Football... Jen Welter Cracked the Glass Ceiling!!!

Smart - check.
Hot - check.
Super nice - check.
Can kick butt on the football field - check.
Cracked the glass ceiling and has become the first female coach in the NFL - CHECK!
Overall bad ass - CHECK, CHECK, CHECK!
























I almost tried to flip a cartwheel last night (that could've been bad) when I read the Arizona Cardinals hired my friend Dr. Jen Welter. She'll be an assistant coaching intern during training camp and the preseason making her the first female coach in the NFL. Leave it to this amazing woman to make history!

Jen has been a trailblazer for women in football. Not only has she played for many, many years (she became the first woman to play professional football in a non-kicking capacity when she suited up for the Texas Revolution) but she's coached at the professional level for the same pro team this year (the Revs even made it to the championship game this year). I've seen this woman take a helluva hit (and pop right back up) and earn the respect of her teammates and players. We had the privilege of interviewing her a couple of times on The Broadcast and I'm glad to say she's become a friend. She's an amazing woman and I'm beyond excited for her! The Cardinals have a new fan and I'll be cheering her on this year!

Here's a link to our interview with Jen a couple of months ago! Jen Welter on The Broadcast







Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Autism Chronicles: He Let You Do What?!?

I understand most people don't know what it's like to have a child with autism (or any special needs for that matter). They don't understand what it feels like to always be on high alert... waiting for your kiddo to sprint across a parking lot or anticipating the next thing that will cause a major meltdown (which are different than tantrums - I'll explain that in a later post). Maybe they've never had to spend hours on the phone with insurance companies justifying why their kiddo needs continued therapy to treat a medical condition after a claim has been denied. And let me tell you... the fear and anxiety that come from social invitations - barbecues, pool parties, etc. are stifling. There will be no chill... you're watching like a hawk in case you have to ninja roll and intervene if your child decides to throw an enormous dirt-filled planter into your friend's pool (that's happened). And after an event is over and you're sitting in traffic, you've probably never had to consider asking a cop for a police escort home because of the tears triggered by the epic hour-long meltdown your kid is having in the back seat. Or... or, maybe it's because your other child has never broken your heart by saying that she hates that her brother has autism because he won't play with her. You haven't had to deal with these things... so again, I get it. You probably don't understand...

"Where's Dawn?"

"Where's your husband? He didn't come with you?"

"You let her go out of town... by herself?"

"Are you guys having relationship problems?"

"I mean, if that's what works for you guys..."

Yep - all questions/comments Ryan and I have received both recently and in the past. All full of judgment... maybe even a little concern. One of us may show up to a social event... alone... the other parent left at home with the kids. Chances are Will has had a pretty rough day and we know that any further stimulus might trigger a meltdown. And it's the worst... the absolute worst... when those meltdowns happen in public or in other people's homes. I'd say 98% of the people at the get-togethers usually don't realize Will has autism so it looks like he's having a tantrum. We're pierced with annoyed stares accordingly. The hosts, who usually do know about Will's autism, always try to be loving and reassuring by telling us it's okay. Well, it's not okay. My kid just knocked over the DJ's speaker and is laying on the ground sobbing in the middle of your party. It's not okay. I'm panicking. My heart is beating out of my chest. I want to cry and it's embarrassing. And I was really, really enjoying that beer and some chill. It's not okay. 

So to avoid these situations... sometimes, autism parents roll alone. Why should both of us miss out on some fun?

Vacation.

Everyone knows I just got back from the most amazing, rejuvenating five-day solo vacation the week before my 39th birthday. Yes... I went alone. I guess you could say Ryan "let" me go although I didn't really ask permission - we just coordinated schedules to make sure there was someone home with the kids. Ryan's going to meet some of his buddies to catch a UCLA football game in September. Yes, I'm letting him go alone while I stay home with the kids. And I hope he has an absolute blast. But this is our reality... it's what works for us. It's our way of making sure we both have a chance to come up for air every once in a while. To breathe.

You see, the last time Ryan and I went on vacation together... alone... was about 7 or 8 years ago (I forget, it's been so long). I can remember the sound of the ocean as we lounged in our plunge pool at the La Casa Que Canta resort in Ixtapa. It was the honeymoon we hadn't been able to take after we got married because... football. Will had already been diagnosed with autism, but he was only 3 and my in-laws felt comfortable caring for him for a week (on their territory - we flew will to California then flew back to Texas to head down south). That trip was everything. And needed. 


























We want to go on vacation. Just the two of us. We want to come back with tans and 5 lbs worth of extra weight from endless buffets of exotic foods. We want to lay out on the beach together sipping cocktails and running our toes through the sand. We want to hold hands over a candlelight dinner while tradewinds flow across our faces. A vacation. A dream. A luxury.

It's not that we can't afford a vacation. The issue is finding volunteers to watch the kids for a week while we're gone. The thought of wiping a 10-year-old's butt after he's pooped is scary. And gross. But unfortunately, if you volunteer it's part of the job requirement. We've had some offers but coordinating schedules has made it impossible thus far. Then there's the anxiety of planning the trip... heading to the airport... checking in for our flight... then getting a call that something is wrong so we need to return home. I understand... you may not have had to worry about any of this before. So I understand your questions.

So yeah... Ryan "let's" me go on vacation alone. I'm "letting" him go hang out with his guys friends... alone. Because one of us has to be home. But we both need a vacation... together.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Oh Baby! Mrs. Texas is Having a Little Princess!


























I've thrown some pretty epic pageant watch parties over the years. Miss America, Miss USA and Miss Universe all give me great excuses to get my pageant sisters and friends together for good times. So when I found out my dear friend Whitney Beseda a.k.a. Mrs. Texas 2014 was expecting a baby, I figured a watch party/baby shower was in order.

I absolutely love entertaining and throwing parties. Finding the perfect decorations to fit the theme give me a little high. Planning for Whitney's shower was super fun because I got to shop for anything and everything involving princesses, tiaras and crowns. The party-by-Pinterest based on these goodies was beautiful. 

Decorations... check! 

I found these adorable decorations at IKEA.


I hand glittered the rubber ducky - a little spray adhesive, lots of glitter.


















Food... check! The semi-potluck menu included some goodies: chocolate fondue, regular and cotton candy popcorn, sopapilla cheesecake, cheese and crackers, yummy dips, crown-shaped watermelon slices and a delicious chocolate cake.



























Drinks... check! Infused waters, Prosecco and Rose (12 bottles of booze on the counter...) kept all of the guests quenched. There was even cotton candy to put in your drinks if they weren't sweet enough. Don't worry - we provided the guest of honor with sparkling cider.


















Entertainment... check! We played the usual baby shower games... guess the number of safety pins in a jar; word scramble; and baby price is right. But the big competition of the night was predicting the Miss USA top 5 (and in the proper order). We had a clear winner - Melba had 3 out of the 5 correct. I had... none. There were prizes for all of the winners!


















I'd also painstakingly set up a fun photo area for my fellow pageant sisters... none of whom every really shy away from a photo opp. I loved gathering props for this! 



















And of course, there were presents. Lots of adorable, cute presents. That's what showers are for!




























It was a great night... good food, good fun, good friends. And a new Miss USA that maybe 2 people in the room anticipated going into final interviews. Looking forward to the next big pageant party!


Former and current Mrs. Texas contestants and our director Tracy.

Former and current Mrs. Texas queens, and Michelle Evans - Mrs. America.