Shelley Neustupa works from home in Highland Village and runs the national mentor program for Camden Property Trust. She is the mother of two boys — Cody, 4, who has autism, and Cameron, 15 — and wife of 19 years to her high school sweetheart, Brad, a senior regional distribution manager for Anvil International. She blogs about her journey to better understand autism through the eyes of her nonverbal son and his neurotypical older brother at autismawarenesseveryday.wordpress.com.
1AM I wake to laughter — this goes on for 38 minutes. I just smile, watching and listening to Cody through the monitor until he falls back to sleep. This is when I get the most vocals from my son, as he carries on a full-blown conversation of random jibber-jabbers to himself. Oddly, I love hearing it, even at 1am.
6AM I haven’t had an alarm clock in four years. I don’t need one — I have Cody. Today he’s up at 6am. Sometimes it’s 5am.
6:20AM Mornings are a delicate dance, and every minute counts in getting out the door on time. Grooming and dressing is a high-anxiety time for us. We recently started a picture schedule in our home and it’s hard to predict the time needed to do this effectively. I keep trying to remind myself that anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, the right dose of anxiety is just what we parents of kids with autism need to help us encourage our children’s independence instead of enabling them to always rely on us.
6:30AM The race is on, and my husband and I divide and conquer. I feed our four-legged girls, Molly and Lily, and let them out. At the same time, I open the hen house door for our seven chickens and FaceTime my oldest son, Cameron, who’s still asleep upstairs, to tell him it’s time to wake up.
6:45AM I start preparing Cody’s breakfast and take my first sip of coffee. He is my no-meat, very picky yet pretty healthy eater who has some texture issues, so we get pretty creative. He takes his multivitamin and Omega Complete in Greek yogurt — yogurt is typically part of all his meals.
7AM Cody is my multitasker and likes to be doing a few things while he is eating. I take advantage of this and run a few ABA programs with him between bites. I enjoy my now semiwarm coffee and assist Cody with receptive and expressive labeling. I ask him questions or give him directions, and he responds by signing the answer or pointing to the object I ask him to identify.
7:15AM My husband takes Cody to communications class, while I brush my teeth, throw some clothes on and take Cameron to school.
7:30AM Back at home, I conduct conference calls for work before leaving to pick up Cody.
10:45AM I arrive at Cody’s school, discuss successes and work areas with his teachers, and rush back home for Cody to start ABA.
11AM While I work, Cody cycles through 2–3 therapists over a six-hour time period.
3:30PM I have another pause in work to go pick up Cameron from school.
5PM I get back to my desk, finish up loose ends and relieve Cody from therapy. This is when I put my multitasking skills to work: I juggle laundry, dinner, and running to the grocery, cleaners and bank all while meeting Cody’s needs. I like to think I am as powerful as Wonder Woman.
6PM Cody’s iPad is his communication device. He requests to go outside. Both our kids love the outdoors. We live near Lake Lewisville, so Cameron goes off to fish, and Cody and I head out for a walk. This is his time with less structure, so I let him take the lead.
6:45PM We sit down for dinner as a family. Cody stays for most of our meal then goes to play. We don’t fight it because this gives us time with Cameron to discuss his highs and lows for the day.
7:30PM Visualize a La-Z-Boy chair — that would be me. Cody loves to lie on me with his arms crossed behind his head and his legs draped down mine. I love this snuggle time with him since he is not a very affectionate child.
7:45PM Bathtime! This is Daddy and Cody time. This kid loves the water! Cameron heads upstairs for the evening to finish up homework and play video games with his friends. I finish cleaning up the kitchen and get lunches ready for tomorrow.
8PM Off we go upstairs for Cody’s bedtime. First, he grabs his lovey from his room. Then he runs to his brother’s room, stands at the door and waits for the prompt from his brother before throwing himself on Cameron for a hug and kisses goodnight. Cody then runs and jumps into his bed for me to tuck him in. We sing bedtime songs (or should I say, I sing bedtime songs). I am still looking for opportunities for him to vocalize, so I embed some therapy while singing and pause so he can say the next word. We say our prayers, and I tuck all his stuffed friends around him and turn on his Mozart and his nightlight.
9PM I get excited because I think of this time as “me” time. But in reality, I get snuggled into bed to watch a show on my DVR and boom! I fall asleep in 10 minutes flat.
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