By Kim Stagliano
My Facebook friends know that I train in Karate and Kobudo (weapons) five or six days a week. On Saturday I had completed a one hour kickboxing class in the morning and a ninety minute weapons class in the afternoon. Feeling tired, and ready to go home, I was chit chatting with a few other students and the dojo owner when I heard a keening cry outside. A sound all too recognizable having heard my own daughters cry out the same way. An "autism cry." "That's my next student, my private lesson," said Kyoshi Danilo Torri, a 6th Dan black belt instructor who has trained since the age of seven and owns Hanko Ryu Martial Arts in Trumbull, CT.
I had met an autism Mom at a meeting with our mutual Department of Disability Services case manager last Fall. We had much in common. She is a writer, and is looking at all options to help her son. She's a Warrior Mom. I told her about the dojo's private classes for children with special needs. My own daughters train every week in simple exercises suitable to their abilities.
Sure enough, a few moments later, the beautiful blonde woman I had met opened the door and cajoled her crying son to enter the dojo. She gently guided him to a seat to take off his shoes. He was crying out, as if in pain. "It's his gut," Mom said in her elegant Israeli accent. "He is often in pain." Ah, called that one. Wish I hadn't. She did her best to ease his discomfort as he squatted on the bench, posturing and holding his head. We greeted each other and I continued to gather my belongings before leaving.
As she was explaining to Kyoshi about her son's needs and behaviors, the child lashed out as quick as Bruce Lee himself, smashing his mother in the face. Kyoshi instantly stopped the attack with very firm but resp---- well, I could explain what happened, but I think Mom can do a better job. This is what she wrote on her FB wall later in the day. And what I wrote as well.
Please meet attorney and author of Autism Mom Shirley Blaier-Stein.
Today at karate class I had a very special surprise.
Dan has been crying and whining all day today. Abdominal pain, as usual. When it was time to go to his new karate class (we’ve only been to one – absolutely amazing – class), he was whining, but still managed to get ready and come with me to the car. When we got there, even though he was in pain, when I gave him the option to go in or go home, he chose to come inside with me. Just after I helped him take off his shoes and explain to Kyoshi, the teacher, and Kim Rossi Stagliano, a fellow autism mom and a phenomenal writer, who also recommended this teacher to us, about what’s going on with my boy, Dan smacked me in the face really hard.
It was his way of saying ‘I feel terrible and I don’t want you to talk about me with these people while I’m present,’ and he had a point, but it really hurt.
What happened seconds after that smack, was so surprising and touching. Kyoshi grabbed Dan’s arm and told him to never hit his mother again and to say sorry (which Dan did!), and soon after that he took Dan inside the studio to start karate practice. Within seconds Dan started to cooperate with him.
Kim wrapped her arms around me and let me cry in her hug. When I felt a little better she ran to grab tissue paper and sat really close to me until I was OK. She did not leave until Dan’s practice was over and until she convinced me to join her and a group of other autism moms in karate practice and kickboxing, which I’m going to do starting next week.
I felt so lucky that Dan and I got to be supported by these two wonderful people today. Kim’s wonderful book is called All I Can Handle: I’m no Mother Teresa. Kim, I’ll never forget this day.
Today you were a mother to me.
I want to share this - I am not much of a crybaby - or cry woman. I don't SOB at the drop of a hat. But today I witnessed something pretty amazing during a private lesson that followed my weapons class in the Karate dojo where I train. And I did cry. I wrote this on the dojo wall:
"Kyoshi Torri worked with a new student today, a boy with severe autism. The child went from frustrated, in pain and lashing out physically at his Mom - to laughing on the mats with Kyoshi and participating in some exercises. It was a miraculous transformation. A true teacher is patient, kind, firm and can work with any student - not just the best and brightest. A nod of appreciation to Kyoshi - who made the boy and his mother feel welcome and better yet - successful, despite a rough start. Enjoy the weekend. We're open Monday."
I stayed and gave Mom a hug - the boy really hauled off and smashed her face - and for those of us who have had that happen it's humiliating, painful and as sad as anything you can experience. We chatted for the half hour. She's a terrific Mom - working hard for her son. This is what we do autism peeps - we reach out and grab the hand when we need to - and sometimes we throw our hand out hoping for the same.
Later, I asked Kyoshi how he seems to have an instinct for training our children on the spectrum, jokingly calling him
"The Dojo Whisperer." His answer was as streamlined and direct as his karate: "I do this from my heart, to help the kids. And the parents. I'm kind when I need to be kind. And firm when I need to be firm. I told him to stop and never to hit his mother again. And I apply the same rules as I would for a typical kid."
That's an important message for all of us. We are often surrounded by "autism experts" who frankly, don't really help our kids any better than anyone else. Our kids are kids first - humans - not some new species, not some separate version of children, even though they have differences. I've always said, "My girls are not autistic, they have autism. They are young women with autism."
Bottom line? We can help each other in tiny ways that mean the world at the time. Has anyone reached out to you when you needed it most? Have you done the reaching out yourself? We've had a lot of angst in the community. I've told you I am over that crap - "Finito!" as my Gianna says 3,465 times a day. It's her favorite word. Bring comfort, move people forward or step aside.
If you want to find a dojo where your child can train, log onto DojoLocator.com. Our dojo offers Shito Ryu Traditional karate, which means "Half hard, half soft style," because of the techniques used. That also describes the best teachers and parents - half hard, half soft - which is how we teach our children to grow up and help them to navigate the world.
Please check out Shirley's book, AUTISM MOM on Amazon, I think you'll like it,
At age 33, it seemed that Shirley Blaier-Stein had it all. She lived in New York City with her loving husband and beautiful boy and was well into a successful legal career. When her son Dan was diagnosed with autism at age three, her world falls apart. Lonely, isolated, and with no answers or hope from doctors, she realizes that she has to pave her own road to Dan’s healing.
Determined to not leave a rock unturned, Shirley dives into learning everything she can about autism and treatments. She comes across the amazing story of Joseph, a spiritual healer who was severely autistic as a child. Joseph explains to her that autism is a language that most people don’t understand, and that parents are the autistic child’s primary healers and channels to the world.
Autism Mom unfolds a riveting story on how to understand autism, speak its language, and truly communicate with the autistic child. Getting into her son’s head leads Shirley to realize how much he understands and how hard he was fighting to make his way to her and to our world. This realization empowered her in her mission.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and inspiration, Autism Mom powerfully captures the struggles and joys of a mother creating a new life against all odds on a journey that shook her, strengthened her, and taught her that anything is possible.
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her novel, House of Cards; A Kat Cavicchio romantic suspense is available from Amazon in all e-formats now. Her memoir, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.