Sunday, 11 May 2014

In the Spotlight: Jessica Ollis

First off, Happy Mothers Day!! This month for our In the Spotlight, in honor of Mother's Day, we wanted to spotlight a Midwestern stay at home mom. Please read along to hear Jessica's heartfelt words as she shares with us her joys and struggles of being a stay at home mom.



In the Spotlight: Jessica Ollis
This Mother’s Day, we're featuring Jessica Ollis.  Jessica is mother to two young and adorable high-energy boys, wife to a devoted husband Chris who wears many hats, and a voice for Autism to her community in Springfield, Missouri.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Chris and Jessica Ollis’ household looks like many others. On an average weekday morning, Chris and youngest son Campbell (the designated early birds) are in the kitchen eating breakfast and preparing lunches. Meanwhile, on the other side of the house Jessica and oldest son Fletcher are cuddling and are more content to stay put. Nevertheless they do make their way to the kitchen, where Jessica puts her hope in the miracle of caffeine to give her the boost to begin a new day.

While Chris will often come home from work to eat lunch, prep dinner, and accomplish a few other chores (which Jessica is very grateful for) he often has professional and civic obligations which compete for his time. By contrast, Jessica’s day revolves around her children, particularly Fletcher, who was recently diagnosed with Autism. Autism is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. There is often nothing about how people with Autism look that sets them apart from other people, but they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most.

CHARTING THE WATERS

According to The Centers for Disease Control andPrevention (CDCP), in the United States 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism. Autism is almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than girls (1 in 189). There are many challenges and burdens that families like the Ollises face every day. Some of those trials are economic costs like health care, education, Autism-related therapy, family-coordinated services, and caregiver time. Much of Jessica’s attention is given to Autism research. There are phone calls to make, appointments to set-up, mounds of  paperwork to fill out, and endless follow-up. All of this effort is simply to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks of any particular system. And somehow before each day fades, she still finds the time to give attention and care to Campbell. “Chris and I believe that our children should be treated with the same respect and dignity that he and I offer each other, and anyone else in our lives. Yes, they are younger and smaller than us; and they speak a language that is foreign to us. All of these things make it easy and inviting for us to dismiss them or assert our power and authority over them. But I don’t believe that will accomplish the goal of raising mature, contributing members to an adult society.”

(Photograph of Fletcher Ollis)

FLETCHER ED

Chris and Jessica enrolled Fletcher in the Discovery Garden Montessori School. The school’s philosophy is that children learn best by interacting with their environment. Children like Fletcher are given the room to develop their own strengths and talents in a carefully prepared space.

Fletcher had been enrolled for a little over a month when his teachers presented a detailed report to the Ollises about concerns they had for Fletcher’s development and possible Autism diagnosis. They recommended additional evaluations and early intervention. Some of these early signs were: 1) His refusal to sit down and participate in group activities, 2) his inability to “self-regulate,” referring to a physical response to being overwhelmed, 3) his tendency to play with toys in unintended ways, 4) his inability to communicate his needs.  “I am so thankful his teachers stepped out on a limb for him and for us.” Jessica said. “It wasn’t a pleasant meeting, but they were diligent, firm, and kind. If Fletcher was still at home with me full time, we likely would have not known  for years, and would have missed an opportunity for early intervention.”

Autism Speaks Inc. indicates that The Combating Autism Act of 2006 and Reauthorization of 2011 exceeded $1.7 billion for Autism research, services, training, and monitoring. Families like the Ollises are grateful to receive this funding for early intervention therapy, even though the approval process can be a nightmare. They are currently still in the waiting period just to begin Fletcher’s therapy, with no end in sight.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY

By comparison, Jessica believes they have it easier than most. “I have read blog posts and articles that break my heart. Families exhausting their resources for treatments, just to manage their children at home; mothers who haven’t slept in days because of the insomnia associated with the disorder; and people living in a community with virtually no support. I don’t know how they do it. I’m not even sure I’m strong enough to walk this road on certain days, in certain moments; and Fletcher is much closer to ‘mainstream’ than most other children with Autism.”  

She goes on to say she can relate to some similarities. “Taking my child out in public can cause me panic. I long for a time when I can go to the grocery store with my son, and not be afraid he will spontaneously run into traffic and be hurt, or worse. In some ways, life is a constant battle. Most parents of children with Autism are on high alert all the time. It can be exhausting. When I consider our limitations, there are things like: He can’t have his hair cut; or we don’t take professional photos because it’s not worth the stress or money for something that will begin and end in a meltdown; or we cannot sing ‘Happy Birthday’ because of his sensory issues; or there is no free time at the end of the day because it’s a fight to get him to sleep before 10 o’clock each night. On the flip side, there is a lot of celebration that happens when a new language concept is recognized and utilized correctly. His application of visual concepts is impeccable; and somehow he’s teaching himself to play the guitar by watching Curious George. The limitations we experience as a family do cause stress, but they pale in comparison and really are not worth much of our time and energy.”



(Left to Right: Jessica Ollis, Campbell Ollis, Chris Ollis, Fletcher Ollis)

STEPPING INTO THE LIGHT


“We are all both blessed and suffering with the human condition. It is often in the midst of our struggles and pain, that we have the greatest opportunity to connect with one another.”


Through it all, they have found tremendous support among family and friends. “Story after story we have people reaching out to offer support, often in unexpected ways. My mother-in-law is always available to lend me a hand, or an ear, when I’m having a rough time. My parents have stepped in to offer us respite when things get overwhelming. I’ve had people from high school and college, with whom I haven’t spoken in years, reach out to me because they too have children with Autism. A very close friend of ours was among the very first person to offer help and professional knowledge of local resources. She almost literally held my hand throughout the process. We would not be where we are today without her. All of this has reminded me of one simple truth: We are all both blessed and suffering with the human condition. It is often in the midst of our struggles and pain, that we have the greatest opportunity to connect with one another.”

By opening up conversations and sharing their story in different formats, like Midwest Girls Society, the Ollises are raising awareness for Autism. Through it they have found healing in the opportunity to accomplish something much bigger than themselves. By remaining open and present to questions or discussions, they encourage compassion and understanding of the issue. “I hope to shed some light on this subject and assure people that we are much like any other family that struggles. Through it all however, I believe our hopes and dreams for our family are being realized daily. I know someday I will be heavily involved in advocacy, but today, and in the foreseeable future, my priority is Fletcher and his world. So when you hear my child or any child screaming at the top of his or her lungs, or running away giggling from his distraught mother; consider that there is probably more going on there than a misbehaving toddler. That mom may have been cooped up in her house with her child who has special needs for several days, and decided to take a risk just so they could get some fresh air. We don’t necessarily need to be ‘aware’ to be kind, but sometimes it helps to try stepping into the other person’s shoes. “

Many thanks to Jessica Ollis for her contribution. 


HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

How can YOU make a difference and share your story just like Ms. Ollis? Consider using resources from major organizations, like these links below, information, legal research, fliers, strategy suggestions, and mentoring. Create networks or liaisons with existing activist organizations. Avoid reinventing the wheel. There is strength in numbers! Don't see it as an enormous task of huge proportions. Instead, break it down into small pieces, and aim to get other like-minded people on board. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

The National Autism Association has put together a kit for families with autism, that outlines a plan of action to prevent wandering, and/or being able to locate someone quickly. Donate to help cover the cost of providing a life-saving toolkit at no charge to a family in need: www.nationalautismassociation.org/big-red-safety-box

Find the most comprehensive resources for Autism at National Autism Resources: www.nationalautismresources.com  

The National Autism Center is May Institute’s center for the promotion of evidence-based practice. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by providing reliable information, promoting best practices, and offering comprehensive resources for families, practitioners, and communities: www.nationalautismcenter.org  

The Autism Society, exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism. By increasing public awareness about the day-to-day issues faced by people on the spectrum, advocating for appropriate services for individuals, and providing the latest information regarding treatment, education, research and advocacy: www.autism-society.org

Each month, Southwest Missouri Autism Network (SWAN), explores and discusses different topics related to parenting and caring for our children and loved ones on the Autism Spectrum. www.swmoautismnetwork.org. Those who live in Southwest Missouri may also find community resources through their website: www.swmoautismnetwork.org/community-resources.

From Women-in-Action

Christina L. Wiksell 

3 comments:

  1. Well done, Christina. I especially appreciate the appeal for understanding of children and their needs and parents who are struggling, like the Ollis family, to do their very best. I am reminded not to judge others but to support others. The world needs love, not judgment. I think Jesus said something about that topic.

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  2. This is a wonderful write-up. I feel blessed to know the Ollis family, and now, to know them a little better!

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  3. Thanks to both of you for reading, and for your encouraging comments!

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