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A Day in the Life of Shelley Neustupa

Shelley Neustupa worksfrom home in HighlandVillage and runs thenational mentor programfor Camden PropertyTrust. She is the mother oftwo boys — Cody, 4, whohas autism, and Cameron,15 — and wife of 19 years toher high school sweetheart,Brad, a senior regionaldistribution manager forAnvil International. Sheblogs about her journeyto better understandautism through the eyesof her nonverbal son andhis neurotypical olderbrother at autismawarenesseveryday.wordpress.com.

1AM I wake to laughter — thisgoes on for 38 minutes. I justsmile, watching and listeningto Cody through the monitoruntil he falls back to sleep. Thisis when I get the most vocals frommy son, as he carries on a full-blownconversation of random jibber-jabbersto himself. Oddly, I love hearing it,even at 1am.

6AM I haven’t had an alarm clockin four years. I don’t need one — Ihave Cody. Today he’s up at 6am.Sometimes it’s 5am.

6:20AM Mornings are a delicatedance, and every minute counts in gettingout the door on time. Groomingand dressing is a high-anxiety time forus. We recently started a picture schedulein our home and it’s hard to predictthe time needed to do this effectively.I keep trying to remind myself thatanxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact,the right dose of anxiety is just whatwe parents of kids with autism need tohelp us encourage our children’s independenceinstead of enabling them toalways rely on us.

6:30AM The race is on, and my husbandand I divide and conquer. I feedour four-legged girls, Molly and Lily,and let them out. At the same time, Iopen the hen house door for our sevenchickens and FaceTime my oldest son,Cameron, who’s still asleep upstairs, totell him it’s time to wake up.

6:45AM I start preparing Cody’s breakfastand take my first sip of coffee. Heis my no-meat, very picky yet pretty healthy eater who has some textureissues, so we get pretty creative. Hetakes his multivitamin and OmegaComplete in Greek yogurt — yogurt istypically part of all his meals.

7AM Cody is my multitasker and likesto be doing a few things while he iseating. I take advantage of this andrun a few ABA programs with him between bites. I enjoy my now semiwarmcoffee and assist Cody withreceptive and expressive labeling. Iask him questions or give him directions, and he responds by signing theanswer or pointing to the object I askhim to identify.

7:15AM My husband takes Cody tocommunications class, while I brush myteeth, throw some clothes on and takeCameron to school.

7:30AM Back at home, I conduct conferencecalls for work before leaving topick up Cody.

10:45AM I arrive at Cody’s school, discusssuccesses and work areas with histeachers, and rush back home for Codyto start ABA.

11AM While I work, Cody cyclesthrough 2–3 therapists over a six-hourtime period.

3:30PM I have another pause in workto go pick up Cameron from school.

5PM I get back to my desk, finish uploose ends and relieve Cody from therapy.This is when I put my multitaskingskills to work: I juggle laundry, dinner,and running to the grocery, cleanersand bank all while meeting Cody’sneeds. I like to think I am as powerfulas Wonder Woman.

6PM Cody’s iPad is his communicationdevice. He requests to go outside.Both our kids love the outdoors. Welive near Lake Lewisville, so Camerongoes off to fish, and Cody and I headout for a walk. This is his time with lessstructure, so I let him take the lead.

6:45PM We sit down for dinner as afamily. Cody stays for most of our mealthen goes to play. We don’t fight itbecause this gives us time with Cameronto discuss his highs and lows for the day.

7:30PM Visualize a La-Z-Boy chair —that would be me. Cody loves to lie onme with his arms crossed behind hishead and his legs draped down mine.I love this snuggle time with him sincehe is not a very affectionate child.

7:45PM Bathtime! This is Daddy andCody time. This kid loves the water!Cameron heads upstairs for the eveningto finish up homework and playvideo games with his friends. I finishcleaning up the kitchen and get lunchesready for tomorrow.

8PM Off we go upstairs for Cody’sbedtime. First, he grabs his loveyfrom his room. Then he runs to hisbrother’s room, stands at the doorand waits for the prompt from hisbrother before throwing himself onCameron for a hug and kisses goodnight.Cody then runs and jumpsinto his bed for me to tuck him in.We sing bedtime songs (or shouldI say, I sing bedtime songs). I amstill looking for opportunities forhim to vocalize, so I embed sometherapy while singing and pause sohe can say the next word. We sayour prayers, and I tuck all his stuffedfriends around him and turn on hisMozart and his nightlight.

9PM I get excited because I think ofthis time as “me” time. But in reality,I get snuggled into bed to watcha show on my DVR and boom! I fallasleep in 10 minutes flat.

Diaries are penned by moms (and dads) inthe Dallas-Fort Worth area. The authors volunteerto share a day of their choosing andare not paid or endorsed by Thrive. Sendyour diary to editorial@dfwchild.com. Allsubmissions are subject to editing and maybe cut for space.