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My Autistic Super Hero and a Crunchy Granola Recipe

My Autistic Super Hero and a Crunchy Granola Recipe
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Ken and Andrew at Speaker Meeting for the Serra Center

Today I’m inspired to write about our families struggles with #Autism. Last week, my husband Ken and son Andrew spoke at the City of Fremont’s Youth and Family Services Bldg to support the Serra Center a non profit located in Union City. Ken’s cousin Leslie Mc Gary asked if they would speak to the community to bring #AutismAwareness since March is #IntellectualDisabilityMonth.

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Curtis and Andrew sitting together during special night out at Mua Restaurant celebrating Curtis’ 34th birthday

Let me start by saying that both my boys Curtis and Andrew are my everything. I’m very proud of the men they have become. This blog is about Andrew’s disability even though Curtis struggles with ADHD. They are both remarkable and have achieved a lot.

Andrew is particular has achieved unbelieveable feats in his 26 years and he’s like my super hero. He is a 4th degree Master of Taekwondo and currently teaches part time. He’s an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America which says a lot about his leadership skills. Andrew recently earned a Performing Arts Degree in music from St. Mary’s College in Moraga California, and occasionally sings as a Tenor at Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.  But there are still struggles that get in his way on a daily basis, even though he has overcome a lot. He accepts himself and who he is and isn’t afraid to share his message about autism. He’s passionate about giving back and educating what he has learned throughout his life.

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Levels of Severity for Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

Here’s a little bit of back history to our story. When Andrew was three and a half he was diagnosed with Autism. At his check up he began swinging his socks in front of his face (called stemming). Dr. Randall Bergen his doctor suggested he might have pervasive development disorder, but because Andrew’s language was good he didn’t think so. Then two weeks later, I began to worry that Andrew had a hearing problem because he didn’t respond to my questions. It was that day that I decided to take him back to Kaiser and have him seen again. Our pediatrician referred us to a neurologist Dr. Candida Brown and to an audiologist. Dr. Brown did a variety of tests and Ken and I had to fill out  questionnaires. Andrew’s hearing was fine. He passed the test with flying colors.

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Levels describing Autism Disorder

 

We learned that Andrew barely fit the criteria for autism, his symptoms were mild and were more similar to Asperger’s but the doctor would give us the autism diagnosis so we could qualify for services. Eventually, we moved to the San Ramon Valley School District since Concord schools didn’t offer the services we needed. Andrew would need speech, since he repeated sayings over and over again (called echolalia). He would need to go to preschool that had teachers that were equipped to deal with kids on the autistic spectrum. At three and a half, he got on a little yellow bus every weekday morning to San Ramon where he attended Twin Creeks Elementary. It was so hard to see my little guy get on a bus and leave his mama. But I knew that Alyse his teacher and also a speech pathologist would help Andrew communicate better, and I got a well deserved break.

 

Andrew also had behavioral therapy services paid through the Regional Center which helped him with potty training and outbursts. You see, he had a difficult time transitioning from one activity to another and would have meltdowns. At four Andrew would go poop in his diaper/pants after walking up the tree in the backyard on the hill. The behaviorist taught him to go poop in the toilet, which helped tremendously. Regional Center also paid for a babysitter so Ken and I could get a night out. We were lucky that Andrew’s grandma Nilda wanted to watch him on Friday night’s and that money that we would have spent on a caregiver went into a special account for Andrew. For this we are eternally grateful because it saved our marriage.

 

Of course there is so much more to this story and you can access that if you want to read Ken’s book that he self published “Andrewtism- a Personal Transformation While Parenting an Autistic Child”. Ken wrote this when Andrew was fourteen, hoping to help other parents raise their kids on the spectrum. Or you could read my previous blog from a few years back.

During the talk last Tuesday Andrew sang Louie Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” which surprised us all. He described his autism journey and how music influenced him. “He found his voice” he said and even wrote about his journey in his essay when applying to St. Mary’s College. Many of the guests that attended the meeting thanked Andrew and Ken for sharing their story. Ken spoke about how raising a son with autism changed him, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew told stories about the bullies that he encountered, how he was mistakenly left at a swimming pool for hours unattended at the age of 8 by a neighbor, and how he survived his 1st degree black belt testing. He answered questions eloquently trying to stick to the hour allowed for the meeting.

Over the years Andrew has collected Superman memorabilia, I think because it resonates with him. He has Superman posters, coffee mugs (although he only likes hot water), slippers and more. He and his old girlfriend Mary even dressed up like Clark Kent and Lois Lane one Halloween.

Leslie continues to share the thank you emails that she has received from many of the parents who related to and were inspired by our story.

An attendee named Renee commented “I am so intrigued by that young man, and he left me with so much positivity and information to help two of my nephews who also are on the autism spectrum.”

Here’s a YouTube Video of Andrew Smyth of one of Andrew’s vocal performances at St. Mary’s College a few years ago. And here is his singing the Star Spangled Banner at his Taekwondo studio where he works.

Side note: Andrew asked his long time friend Josh who is also afflicted with autism about his thoughts about living with Autism.  Here is what Josh eloquently wrote:

“I guess, if it comes down to it, the most important thing I had to learn when dealing with being on the Spectrum is how to accept that I am still OK as person. I had to learn, and had to become confident, in that fact that I am who I am, and that if anyone should be happy with who I am, it should be myself. Autism (especially high functioning autism) is not a weakness, it is just an aspect of who I am. I am the one who decides how people define me, not my diagnosis.”
– Josh Downes

I guess I’m still trying to help Andrew in any way I can. I communicate with buisnesses like SAP on Linked In and Twitter that hire individuals with intellectual disabilities (or abilities) and I’m hoping he will get noticed. Maybe someone out there is interested in hearing us speak again. Ultimately, I know things will work out in the long run for Andrew and our family. Maybe it’s time for him to put on his super hero cape!

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Andrew Smyth and me his Mom after he obtained his 4th Degree Master’s Belt in Taekwondo

Thank you for reading my blog. It means the world to me. Commenting helps Google believe this is an actual legitimate site, so if you feel inclined, I would be ever so grateful.

Here is my recipe for Maple Nut Granola that my niece Keri has been asking for which you won’t want to live without. Serve with your favorite organic yogurt and berries. And if you like coffee, I wrote a blog on Kanen Coffee in Berkeley who so graciously repaired my espresso machine.

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Teri’s Maple Nut Granola: The most delicious granola you’ve ever eaten

Teri’s Maple Nut Granola

Ingredients:

3 Cups Organic Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

1 C Shredded or Flaked Bakers Coconut

½ C Grapeseed, Canola or Avocado Oil

⅛ C Unprocessed Raw Honey

¼ C Maple Syrup

3 T Light Brown Sugar

1/2 C Raw Pumpkin Seeds (Shelled)

1/4 C Chopped Raw Walnuts

½ C Whole Toasted Almonds

1/2 t Penzey’s Ground Cinnamon

1/2 t Penzey’s Ground Ginger

1/2 t Penzey’s Ground Cloves

1 t Kosher Salt

 

½ C Dried Cherries

½ C Dried chopped Apricot

1/4 C Dried Cranberries

1/4C Candied Ginger Chopped

1/8 C Chia Seeds

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Yummy #granola

Instructions:

Preheat Oven to 250 degrees and place rack from oven in middle of oven. In a large mixing bowl put everything from the above list in the bowl, except dried fruit. Mix thoroughly.

 

Spread mixture onto two sheet pans lined with parchment paper or silpat baking mats. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes or more depending on your oven. Remove pans from oven and cool. Mix in dried fruit and chia seeds. Place in airtight container for 1 month or freeze. Makes  9 1/2 Cups

 

Here’s my latest trip during the Covid Crisis. We visited our friends in El Dorado Hills and went wine tasting in the Shenandoah Valley. It was a nice get away when we have been stuck at home for four months.

 

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Be sure to subscribe and put your email in so you can receive more recipes and stories.

 

Teri

 

 

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The Biggest Challenge: Raising a Son with Autism

The Biggest Challenge: Raising a Son with Autism

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I rarely mix my recipe blogging with parenting, but today I’m feeling inspired to tell my story about raising a son with autism. It’s something my family and close friends know about me, but rarely anyone else. I’ve never publicized this information because I wanted to protect my son and family from any repercussions and stay private.I’m not ashamed or anything about our situation, but it is a sensitive subject especially when things aren’t going well.

Lately, Andrew the son I’m speaking of is struggling with college. Although I am proud that he has come this far, I’m worried about his chances of graduating. Here is a little glimpse of his story.

Andrew is currently 23 years old and one of the sweetest men you will ever meet. He is well spoken, articulate and handsome. He is athletic in the sense that he has earned his third degree black belt in Taekwondo and had been teaching students at a local studio for the last five years or so. Andrew also achieved his Eagle in scouting when he was in high school. He worked hard to gain this honor by learning leadership, completing many badges, hiking for days in the wilderness, and completing a project that helped the Monument Crisis Center in Concord. He is also a very talented musician. Andrew’s choice of instrument is his voice. He is a tenor and received much of his training from director Ken Abrams and the award winning San Ramon Valley High School and was lucky enough to travel to Costa Rica. My husband and I were chaperons for most of his tours and enjoyed supporting the organization. Andrew got a partial scholarship to go to college at St. Mary’s College of Moraga California and joined the Chamber Singers Choir with the famous Dr Julie Ford. In the past year they performed at Carnegie Hall and in Latvia the summer before. St.Mary’s Choir is traveling to Russia this Spring to compete in the World Choir Games and our son is hoping to rejoin the choir next semester and perform with them. At a the young age of 7 we sought out piano lessons for him and he continued his studies in music for ten years. As of last summer, Andrew taught piano and voice lessons to students in the East Bay area and hopes to continue to share his passion for music in the future.

But even after all this success, our son seems lost. He had to cut back his school schedule because of finances and is currently a part time student at St Mary’s College and Diablo Valley College. He chose not to sing this semester and I believe it was the worst decision of his life. He is now more quiet and withdrawn than ever. He goes to school, comes home and goes directly to his room. Most of his college friends have graduated and moved on. He doesn’t have the social life like he did since he now lives at home instead of on campus.

As you can see, Andrew has had tons of success in his life. He has so much potential to be a great musician, composer or teacher someday, yet something is getting in his way. As a parent, it is hard to know how involved I should be. When he was young, it was easy. It was my job to make sure he got the best teachers, disability counselors, etc. Now things aren’t as clear.

I realize I’m not the only mom raising a son with disabilities. And I know there are many kids/adults with autism that haven’t had these successes or opportunities like my son has had.  Being a parent is hard. I have to trust that Andrew knows whats best for him. I have to believe that one day he will overcome these struggles. I don’t know what it is like to be him. I haven’t walked in his shoes. I’m only the mom who cares for him and loves him and wants the best for him.

This is what I know. I know I will be there for him through the good times and the bad. I will support him and his decisions while he is learning the ways of the world. I’m grateful for being given the chance to raise a son with autism. He is going to do big things and go places someday. I am confident I can look at the big picture, take a step back and be happy with my parenting so far.

Here are two recipes that I have made recently that my family loves. You will never go back to making a plain cornbread ever again. Toss in some blueberries and see how these warm berries burst in your mouth. Adding a pad of butter to the warm slice always brings a smile to Andrew’s face.

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Here is the best Blueberry Corn Bread recipe.

Ingredients:

1 ½ C All Purpose Flour

2/3 C Granulated Sugar

½ C White or Yellow Corn Meal

½ tsp Kosher Salt

1 T. Baking Powder

2 Large Eggs

1 ¼ C. 2% Milk

1/3 C. Canola Oil

3 T Butter melted

¾ C Fresh Blueberries

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350degrees. Butter or grease 9” round pan.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.

In another medium size bowl combine milk, eggs, oil, and melted butter and mix well. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir with a wire whisk until blended. Toss blueberries in last and stir. Pour into a round baking dish and place in center of preheated oven. Bake for 30-35 min or until tooth pick comes out clean.

Need a healthy alternative to either a plain bowl of cereal or a hard boiled egg for breakfast? Try these delicious moist muffins. They freeze well and delight even the pickiest eater. If you like them extra sweet, top with a cream cheese frosting for a little extra tangy flavor.

Blueberry Cranberry Muffins

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Blueberry Cranberry Muffin ingredients:

2 C. King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour

1 C. All Purpose Flour

2/3 C. Granulated Sugar

2 1/2t Double acting Baking Powder

1 ½ t Baking soda

¼ t. Kosher Salt

1 t cinnamon

1 t ginger

1 C. Plain Nonfat Yogurt

½ C. Canola Oil

1/3 C. Thawed Frozen Orange Juice Concentrate

2 Eggs

1 ½ C Fresh Blueberries

1 C. Dried Cranberries

24 Dried Apricot halves, chopped (Soak in ½ C Brandy) Heat Brandy in microwave first. Add apricots and let them get plump before removing from liquid and chopping.

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Use Paper liners and line 2 muffin tins to bake 24 muffins.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and spices.

In a large bowl combine oil, yogurt, orange juice, and eggs. Mix well. Add dry ingredients ½ cup at a time just until combined. Gently stir in blueberries, cranberries and soaked apricots.

Spoon batter equally into muffin tins. Bake until tooth pick comes clean when removed about 15-20 minutes.

Cream cheese frosting: 8 oz room temperature cream cheese, 1/2 C softened butter, 1 1/2 C confectioners sugar, 1 t vanilla. Mix until combined.

Enjoy!

If you like this blog please follow me. If you have any questions about the recipe please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share on social media to your family and friends.

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Teri:)

Choir Article

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2015 in Dessert

 

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