My Son is a Genius

My son is a genius. No, I’m not kidding. He is a spacial genius. I don’t know if there is a specificity for the genial kind, but as a mom, I’m telling you, Gabriel is incredibly special and highly talented in spacial understanding and memory.

I know you are dying to hear my anecdote, so let me explain:

For the past few months: Gabriel has recently discovered the stimulating world of Google Earth. He has spent numerous amount of hours virtually navigating the streets of Miami, where he lived until four years ago. He has communicated to us that he wants to move back and that he has found a few spots where we can get a “new house”. He has a special spot in South Miami that he really likes. One day we found him looking at rental properties around the area, strategically planted within walking distance of a Pizza Hut.

Three days ago: My husband called me urgently to come into Gabriel’s room and see what his computer screen was displaying. We stared at it in total and absolute amazement, while Gabriel casually “visited” Seaquarium in his tablet.

24 years ago: When Gabriel was 1 year old, Juan and I, along with our two little ones, moved to “Kendall Club Apartments” and lived there for two years. When our third son was born (he was exactly 8 days old), we moved to a single family home nearby. Gabriel was 3. I do not ever recall returning to that apartment since our move. We drove by Kendall Drive many, many times throughout our life in Miami, but never did we enter the apartment complex again.

Three days ago: Gabriel was virtually standing in front of the exact apartment he lived in when he was 3 years old. Simultaneously, in his tablet, his finger moved through the streets of Miami, from the Seaquarium in Key Biscayne to Kendall Club Apartments. First the causeway, then US1, then Sunset Drive, passing by Pizza Hut, of course, to 87th Ave, to Kendall Drive.

He remembers it all. He can navigate it all. If he had the ability to drive, he would get in his car and drive straight from VA to his favorite spot in Miami. He could also take us, practically with his eyes closed, to Marco Island, Disney World (of course), Steve Reed’s house (inside story), Delaware, DC, Virginia Beach, or anyplace where he has been only once.

This may not seem like a genial trait to some. But for an autistic adult who has never driven, never seemed to pay attention to his surroundings, hardly ever looked out the window of a car, never asked or received verbal directions, nor ever studied maps up until recently, this is quite outstanding. None of my other children (who speak and drive) would be able to get to most familiar places of their childhood without any help or hesitation.

Of course, we already knew this about Gabriel. When he was 8 he got upset when I was driving him to school one day, and told me to “turn right”. I obliged, because when Gabriel used words we all made sure he was rewarded for that. After several commands to turn this way or the other, I found myself in Parrot Jungle. Gabriel smiled. He had only been there once before, but when he directed me there, he did so via an unfamiliar road, one that we had never taken to get to Parrot Jungle. Another time we discovered that he had drawn in his pad the entire way to Marco Island, one picture frame at a time, after we visited there once. The pictures took us to the hotel (and the exact room) in which we vacationed. These pictures were drawn several months after the fact.

Autism puzzles and intrigues me. Gabriel amazes me. I thank God that often times He gives us, who are closest to him, glimpses of the complexity of thought and depth of personality in him.

gabriel and his desktop

Gabriel elated to get a computer for his birthday

Gabriel and I

My boy and I

kendall club apartnements

Kendall Club Apartments in Gabriel’s computer screen

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My New Daughter

Children are a blessing; a gift. You birth them, raise them, and watch them grow into adulthood. Then they leave and you feel as if you were losing them. It’s tough. But then new people are added to your life. Your children get married, and so you are blessed, yet again, with the further growth of your family. Your kids’ spouses become your own children. It feels right.

I raised 4 children. I’m gaining a fifth one: Geneva Rose McGee. Even though she has not married my son yet, and there are still 217 days until the wedding (but who’s counting), she has already become a living, active, and energetic part of our Ledon clan. After a three year long-distance relationship with Daniel, she finally relocated to VA, and it didn’t take long for her to fit right into our lifestyle, schedule, habits, and goals. Effortless.

Geneva is a pretty fantastic person. Steve and Adanna should be very proud of the woman she has become. She respects her parents and loves her family. She reveres God, is driven by lofty values, and relentlessly pursues her goals.  She is intuitive, smart, disciplined, organized, responsible, and kind. She not only loves Daniel, but our entire family as well. She works with Gabriel with great dedication and commitment, she has fun with us, and she serves and helps in whatever way she can. Like a cherry on top, she sings beautifully and has a passion for worship. Can she be a greater match for our family?

I do not know what the future holds for Daniel and Geneva. Whether they remain in town or are employed elsewhere, I feel joy and contentment in realizing that my son has found a good wife, and I have gained another daughter. I am truly blessed.

Engagement Day :)

Engagement Day 🙂

I was congratulating Geneva on her engagement to Daniel. Her mom, Adanna in the background.

I was congratulating Geneva on her engagement to Daniel. Her mom, Adanna in the background.

Daniel and Geneva with Juan and I. Happy day :)

Daniel and Geneva with Juan and I. Happy day 🙂

Geneva's last visit to VA (before she moved)

Geneva’s last visit to VA (before she moved)

Siblings <3

Siblings ❤

Christmas Eve! Typical Geneva laugh :)

Christmas Eve! Typical Geneva laugh 🙂 Elise photobombing and Tita very amused.

Her new job as Gabriel's caretaker. He is very excited to hang out with Geneva!

Her new job as Gabriel’s caretaker. He is very excited to hang out with Geneva!

To read other posts in my “Living Tributes” series, click here.

Gabriel’s Visit to the Ophthalmologist

Yes, we finally found a great group of ophthalmology at VCU. What a team! Loved, loved, loved them!

After a long wait, Gabriel finally went to have his eyes checked today. The doctors and the technology at VCU were fabulous, and most importantly, Gabriel cooperated fully and kept his eyes open for the entire duration of the many tests he underwent. Juan and I were in awe.

It turns out Gabriel’s eyes are PERFECT. Clean cornea, retina, optic nerve, the whole shebang. There isn’t even a trace of the series of persistent iritis he had six months ago. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

This is great news, of course. And it’s also disconcerting, only because we have pretty much tested him for everything there is to test, and we still don’t know why he has had such a strong decline in behavior and mood. The only possible explanation, as far as I’m concerned, unless I’m missing something, is that it is purely sensory.

On that note, it’ll be fabulous to have our dearest friend, Maggie, come visit next week 🙂 Gabriel is going to flip when he sees her!

Anyway, thank you for all who have prayed for Gabriel. I know many of you have and continue to do so. Please don’t stop. He has had several good days, and his eyes have been consistently open for three of them. This is INCREDIBLE. We have suspended the use of migraine medication, which has actually seems fine without it. But we still need to figure out what he struggles with and how to help him, so keep those prayers coming!!

Specific prayer request: Pray that he will receive his Med waiver. He has been on a waiting list for a long while, and it would be amazing for him to get those funds. We can sure put them to good use. Lord, provide the waiver before the fall of this year!!

Sitting casually at the doctor's office :)

Sitting casually at the doctor’s office 🙂

Model patient

Model patient

Ready to go have pizza!!

Ready to go have pizza!!

Things I am Horribly Afraid of

I must confess I am afraid. I am pretty sure I am not the only one out there suffering from fear. After all, it is a human emotion, a normal reaction to danger or pain. I just don’t like it. What’s worst, when I give in to it, my reactions and behaviors become detrimental to myself and those around me. Here are the things that make me most afraid:

  • My kids’ future. I fear they might not be safe, especially, but not exclusively, my autistic son. I fear they will go through painful circumstances. I fear they might make bad choices. How could they not? They are human, right? Thoughts of them not following God wholeheartedly can make me shake in my boots.
  • My own future. I fear getting old. I’ve said this before, but confessing it has not quite made it better. At least not yet. I keep working through this fear in hopes I will feel peace about it one day. Maybe when I’m old, I’ll feel peace about being old. But now, I do way too much worrying over it.
  • Loneliness. I guess it goes hand in hand with being old. Not sure why I associate them automatically. I just do.
  • Not being loved. This is not a fear I’m always aware of, but I’ve been discovering that there are many things I do and say because I am afraid I won’t be loved or accepted. Even when I know that I know that I am loved, I default to an unreasonable fear of losing it.
  • Failure. I am afraid of discovering that I may have failed at something, especially the really important things: failure in parenting; failure in marriage; failure in friendships; or as a daughter, sister, aunt.
  • Drowning. I know, I know, this is a little morbid. But hey, I’m posting about the things I am afraid of, and this is definitely one of them. Throughout my many years of driving multiple little ones in the backseat, strapped to car seats, I avoided driving near water, at all cost. Living in Miami, Florida, that was not an easy task. There are canals everywhere! Yet, I chose alternative routes whenever possible. I think I read one too many stories of cars plunging into water. The thought of that happening to me and my children haunted me in dreams for years.
  • Cockroaches. How did I live in So. Florida for almost 30 years, around mammoth roaches called Palmetto Bugs? Just the name gives me goosebumps. They are the most hideous creatures on earth, at least in my very limited knowledge of earth! I am irrationally afraid of them. They cannot really hurt me, and needless to say, they are immensely smaller than I am. My husband kills them in one swoop. But me? No, I run like a pathetic, scared, little girl.

Fear is not an evil or sinful emotion. If it were not for fear, we would not stay away from dangerous or destructive situations. God created us in his image, and I believe emotions are part of that image. In fact, I believe Jesus experienced fear while living on earth, but instead of giving in to fear and responding negatively to his circumstances, he acted in faith and trust, even in his worst moments. It is recorded that as the day of his death drew near, he went up to the mountain and desperately cried out to God. He sweat drops of blood and demonstrated tremendous anguish at the thought of what he knew very well would happen. Jesus felt fear. But he knew how to handle that fear. The danger and pain he would face were absolutely real. But he received comfort in his knowledge of the truth and by delving into prayer with every ounce of strength he had.

So here is what I’m preaching to myself. Here are the truths I need to remember in order to respond to fear in ways that are not destructive to myself or others. I do not want to be controlled by fear. Instead, I want to reflect faith in God through my anxiety, doubt, and even my disbelief. My fear can most certainly result in glory and honor to him. So remember, my heart, these words:

  • I am not alone. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). When I feel afraid, I have a helper, the perfect helper, who will remind me to trust God and encourage me with his Word. So in time of fear, PRAY, and you will receive his help! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself interceded for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Even when I don’t have the sense to pray or the words to voice, He rescues me!
  • God always remembers me, and my children too. “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalm 103:17). 
  • I am more loved and accepted than I can fathom. Despite possible loneliness, failure, or disappointment, there is one whose love and delight will never be removed from me. I can draw joy and satisfaction from knowing that “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • Any suffering on earth pales in comparison with glorious things to come. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)
  • Any suffering on earth has a good purpose, therefore there is no need to be afraid. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 
  • Love drives away fear. If I truly remember that his love for me is stronger than anything that can happen to me, no matter how disastrous, then I will be able to experience peace instead of fear. This peace is supernatural and I cannot fabricate it outside of God’s realm. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27)

Just as true as it is that I can live in fear, it is true that God can and will meet me at my place of need every single time! I may not always remember him, and I may not always believe his promises for me, but my hope is that I continue to grow in my trust and faith in him. I have come a long way already! I have more confidence than I did a few years ago. I have more hope than before. I have experienced victory over fears that consumed me! So in today’s blog post, I purpose to remind myself of the things God has already taught me. I am certain He will continue encouraging me and helping me overcome my fears. I must admit, I’m not sure I will ever be comfortable around roaches ;), but if I can trust him with the huge things, I think I will survive a bug once and again.

Random Reflections in the Month of May

  1. I like sun. I like sun more than I have ever liked it before. Perhaps because winter felt long this year. I’m so grateful for beautiful Spring days, amazing temperature, green leaves, and flowers. Despite allergies, I still love this time of year. Hooray for short sleeves, skirts, and flip flops 🙂
  2. It feels good being 47. I feel experienced enough to handle things I couldn’t have handled in my 20’s, yet strong and young enough to keep up with my kids. Heck, I might be stronger than some of them ::cough:: Elise ::cough::
  3. I am still learning how to be a teacher. Just when I think I am really good, I realize there is so much I’m still learning!! Maybe by the time I’m in my 60’s and ready to retire, I will be one amazing educator!
  4. I’m thinking more in English than I ever have. I need to do more interpreting at church so I keep up with my native language. I still do math in Spanish. But other than that, I’m actually forgetting words here and there. Not good!! Gotta keep up. Gotta keep up. Gotta keep up.
  5. I’m tired of having back pain. In fact, more than tired, I’m scared. If I’m hurting this bad now, what will I feel like in 10 or 20 years?
  6. It has never been harder to parent my son, Gabriel. The difficulty does not come from the level of care he needs. In fact, the energy it takes to care for him now pales in comparison to his younger years. However, it is very hard to see him feeling so bad. He is still closing his eyes. He is still not communicating much. He has better days than others, but most days are hard. I wish so badly that he would express what he feels. If I could change anything in this world, it would be this. I have enough faith to stand it, one day at a time. But sometimes I fear I won’t make it to the next day.
  7. Starting tomorrow, I wrap up my CWorks classes with 4 great showcases (at least I hope they’re great), and in 2 weeks, my private students are having a recital. I genuinely like my job. I feel very grateful for that. I love and appreciate my students and I just have tons of fun with them. How many people can say they love their job this much? I consider myself very blessed 🙂
  8. I am memorizing Colossians 3. You should try it. It’s simply an amazing chapter.
  9. I went to the doctor last week, and he said my iron is high, reserves full, and my red blood cells healthy. Yay!
  10. My life is happy. My life is hard. My like is difficult. My life is good.

Gabriel: Answered Prayers!

Back in June, I wrote a desperate request for prayer for Gabriel (In Need of Prayer). Then again, in August (Prayers for Gabriel).

It’s been a couple of years of seeing Gabriel decline, and for close to a year, he has struggled with his eyes, closing them almost 100% of the time, walking around like a blind man, fighting “Iritis”. We have done all sorts of tests on him and have found no cause for the recurring issue. It has been incredibly frustrating. We have also started Gabriel on psych medication for the first time. The process has been long and emotionally taxing.

But today I’m writing with more hope and better expectations, for the following reasons:

  1. Gabriel has been fully opening his eyes for almost 2 weeks! He hasn’t gotten car sick (a side effect of car rides with closed eyes), he is not running into people, and he has been drawing and writing more, just like he used to. This is so encouraging! It is so fantastic to see his beautiful, blue eyes, which have been in hiding for so long!

  2. He seems happier, overall. This means his eyes are probably not hurting and his mood is normalizing again. This also means that the psych meds are probably helping him. Again, encouraging signs for my heart!

  3. He has been approved in a program where I can hire people to work with him at home. I can choose the workers myself and design a program specifically for him! I am currently (and urgently) looking for workers… so message me if you are local and interested 😉

So for all of you who have prayed for Gabriel, THANK YOU! I’m not sure if the Iritis will return or not. I really hope it doesn’t. So I ask you to continue to lift him up in prayer. Please ask the Lord to send us the right people to work with him as well, and to design the program that works best for him.

I am so grateful for all of you. The Lord is attentive to the prayers of his people.

About a month ago, Gabriel posing for the camera with his eyes closed

About a month ago, Gabriel posing for the camera with his eyes closed

My Son is Autistic. There, I said it.

My son is autistic. There, I said it.

During the last few years, advocacy groups for the disabled have encouraged the use of “People-First Language”. This concept has become the new and “correct” way of identifying an individual with disabilities. This means that, in my case, it would be incorrect to refer to my son as being autistic. Instead, I would need to say that he has autism. While I do appreciate the effort to not define the person by the disability, I think this is a matter of semantics. And it’s ridiculous.

Think about it. If we were to separate the condition or characteristic from the person, in every instance:

Wrong would be: “I am overweight”. Right would be: “I have extra weight”

Wrong would be: “I am a musician”. Right would be: “I have musicianship” — yeah, that doesn’t even translate.

Wrong would be: “I am talented”. Right would be: “I have talent” — Fine, they both work, but the first one is not really “wrong”

Wrong would be: “I am an American”. Right would be: “I am from America”

So what is the point? Is it to make sure that the autistic individual is not defined by a label? I think the label stands even if we say that someone “has” autism. Being a diabetic and having diabetes are one and the same! Either way, the person is medically defined by the pancreatic decease. Whether the person is or has, he still needs to stay away from sweets, inject insulin, and wear a medical warning on the wrist.

My son has autism, therefore he is autistic. Does it define him? Well, yes. And no. Autism influences the way he perceives the world, the way he processes information, the way he communicates, the way he conducts himself. His extreme talents and equally extreme disabilities and obstacles are because of autism. So yes, autism -not the label- defines him. And yet, autism does not define him. He is my son, autistic or not, he is loved and cared for, autistic or not. He can know God, autistic or not. He has feelings and desires, autistic or not. He loves. He is precious and valuable. So whether he is autistic or has autism, his essence as a person will never change.

My humble opinion is that we should just stop being silly pretending that the use of our verbs will alter the perception of the person. The overweight person can lose the weight, but the autistic person will more than likely never lose his autism. It is what it is. Let’s drop the semantics, people. It’s all good.

Gabriel and Juan hanging out in DC

Gabriel and Juan hanging out in DC

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

Psalm 139:13-14

Prayers for Gabriel

Today has been a difficult day. Gabriel has been struggling for a while and we haven’t known why. So many of you (dear readers) have prayed for him and for our family [In Need of Prayer]. His mood and behavior had deteriorated and we have tried anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, we have done full blood work, and had no idea what was going on. (Sorry, a lot of grammatical mistakes in this paragraph, that I don’t have the clarity to fix)

One of the behaviors he developed was walking around with his eyes closed. We attributed this to sensory issues, typical of his autism. However, around 3 weeks ago, we discovered that his left eye was bright red and severely inflamed. We took him to the emergency room where they diagnosed him with conjunctivitis. We treated him for that but the eye did not improve. For a couple of weeks we’ve been praying for him, worried sick because his eye was not getting better. Last week he saw the specialist who guessed he could have iritis (an irritation of the iris) and treated him with steroids and antibiotics. Yesterday, for the first time, we saw improvement. And we breathed. Today, in his follow-up visit, the doctor confirmed his eye seems to be on its way to healing. Gabriel needs to continue steroid treatment for 3 weeks. The recovery process can be anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks.

And I’m in tears: Tears from guilt, for all those times when I forced him to open his eyes and turned on the light thinking he was exhibiting difficult behavior when he was probably in PAIN; Tears from worry, knowing that iritis can be a symptom of something much deeper and bigger (or not); Tears from relief, knowing that at least we have some sort of an explanation for his behavior, and that his eye is getting better (the fear of blindness has been gripping me); Tears from frustration in my awareness that he doesn’t communicate when things hurt or bother him. How are we supposed to know what he goes through and seek help when we have no clue he is in pain? I’m kind of sort of beside myself right now.

My dear friends, if you feel burdened to pray, please ask the Lord 1. To heal his eye completely, 2. To help him find his way back to peace and contentment, 3. For us to find the appropriate place for him, such as a day program where he can develop work and independent work skills, and 4. For God to supernaturally help him communicate and express his needs effectively (this is a big one)

So here’s what I’m thinking: Things look hopeless, yet I KNOW I have hope. This hope is not in circumstances, diagnoses, wishful thinking, or unrealistic expectations. Real hope happens in spite of and in the midst of pain and difficulties. So here is where I hang my hope today:

The Lord is loving toward all he has made

The Lord upholds all those who fall

And lifts up all who are bowed down

The Lord is is righteous in all his ways

The Lord is near to all who call on him

He fulfills the desires of those who fear him

He hears their cry and saves them

The Lord watches over all who love him

(From Psalm 145)

Gabriel posing with his new sunglasses to shield him from painful light

Gabriel posing with his new sunglasses to shield him from painful light

In Need of Prayer

I’m not gonna lie. I’m feeling very discouraged today. Gabriel is not doing well. Not sure what the issue is but it seems to me he is drowning in anxiety. He has regressed years, to the point where simple tasks like putting on a pair of flip-flops takes 15 minutes and the activities he used to do independently, he can no longer handle. It’s been a steady decline for the past 3 years or so.

He’s slipping away.

Today I was ready to head to church. My family had left already in a separate car and I stayed behind trying to get Gabriel to finish getting ready. But it became impossible to leave the house. He was upset because, apparently, he did want to go to church. I was crying on the inside, filled with frustration, self-pity, empathy, worry, and a whole other list of feelings.

So today I could use prayers from my friends. Don’t need suggestions, really, or opinions on what I should do next. Just prayer. Juan and I need discernment on how to help our son. Gabriel needs a touch from God. The whole family needs peace and wisdom and buckets of love.

Image

 

Gabrieland: Eating Through the Middle

Gabriel has decided that food tastes better when eaten through the middle.

Picture a sandwich, a square sandwich. He will take his first bite in the middle of one side and continue forging through until he has divided the sandwich in two. In the process, he has smeared the inner contents of such sandwich, all over his cheeks. When he eats through a slice of pizza, he will end up with bright red tomato sauce up his nose and even to his ears. If we’re eating out, I’ll need to use at least 13 napkins per slice of pizza, and maybe, perhaps, if we’re lucky, he will look clean upon exiting the restaurant.

I don’t know why he thinks this is the proper way to eat, but to each his own, I guess.

I love this kid with all my heart.