We see signs around us all the time, every day in fact. I’m not talking about street signs and stop signs; I am talking about spiritual signs – the messages that we hear if we are listening and paying attention. N. Dunham’s signs came to her in the form of the Red Tailed Hawk and she was listening. She was guided to write stories that included the bird in a prominent way as it was the basis of her inspiration. She works part-time, is a busy mom and a wife and in the midst of that she found the time to write and to create. N. Dunham tells us about getting started with the first in a series that she is writing.
Tell us about the story “Visionary.”
Visionary- Unleashed is the first story in a young adult fantasy series. It’s centered around sixteen-year-old Aislinn Lee Murphy, who mistakenly unleashes her hidden ability to see things before they happen. Little does she know that she’s part of a bigger system, she’s a visionary. A visionary is someone who not only can see things before they happen, but they also have individual spirit animals based on their zodiac signs. These spirit animals can provide visionaries with many skills and astounding abilities.
There are also three rare spirit animals, including the red-tailed hawk, and Aislinn may happen to have that as her spirit animal. If she does in fact have the red-tailed hawk as her spirit animal, her future is unknown.
There is also a secret agency, whose soul mission is to terminate all visionaries and Aislinn has become their next target. Luckily, Aislinn meets fellow visionary, Sebastian Martinelli, who saves her from precarious situations and introduces her to fellow visionaries.
Tell us about your Red Tailed Hawk experiences.
I love red tailed hawks. It’s amazing to spot them soaring in the sky. During the writing process of this book, I must have seen a red-tailed hawk almost once or twice daily. I found it comforting to look up from driving and spot one with its white underbelly and hues of red shining in the sunlight. Because of my fascination with red tailed hawks, I chose to make that specific animal one of the three rare spirit animals in the book.
This is the first book of a series. How many will there be?
There are three books in the series. I chose to do a trilogy so that the story can unravel more with each book.
Where did you get the whole visionary idea from?
The idea just came to me as I put the pen to paper. I originally had another name for the story – The Gift – but “Visionary” seemed to fit better.
Who is the book designed for and what do you expect people to get from reading it?
This book is a young adult fictional novel. I would say that ages twelve and up would be suitable for this story. I would hope that this story would encourage young adults to want to read more, as well as inspire one to dream and be creative. I also share a love for nature and animals and hopefully this book may encourage others to respect nature and marvel at its beauty.
How long did it take you to write the first book?
It took roughly 7-8 months from start to finish.
When will the second one be released?
I hope to have the second book released by September 2013.
How did you decide that self publishing was for you?
I tried traditional publishing in the beginning and realized that it was much more difficult than I had originally anticipated. At first I was against self-publishing, but after I started researching it, I decided that it sounded achievable. The idea of being able to be creative with my book such as cover picture, layout, etc. was also a huge selling point for me.
Have you always had the thought to write in the back of your mind? What let you know that the time was right?
As a teen, I didn’t read much at all. I started to read a lot more when I had children and discovered that I love books, all kinds of books. This led me to think about what kinds of books I might enjoy. I started having many ideas, but never had enough time to put the pen to paper. Last year, when I started writing, the time just worked out. I started writing late at night when the house was quiet and my ideas were able to flow.
Your website allows people to find their own “spirit” animal based on the stories that you have written. Where do the definitions and descriptions come from?
Some of the descriptions come from fact based on the specific animal’s traits and some of the descriptions are purely fiction to entertain and drive the story. I wanted to enhance the traits from the spirit animals to provide each visionary with unique abilities.
Do you personally believe in “visionaries” or psychics?
I believe that some people have psychic or strong intuitional abilities, but the idea of visionaries, in regards to my book, are purely fictional and for entertainment purposes.
What are your expectations or plans/dreams for your future career?
I would love to be able to continue writing full time. I have other story ideas that I would love to put together if the future allows me to do so.
The book is available on sale on Amazon, IndieGo and other sites. To get a link to purchase the book or to find out more information, visit N. Dunham’s Website: http://www.ndunham.com/
Life’s journey is all about following the calling in hearts and our souls. Ellen Huntington and her husband responded to a child in need. They welcomed him into their home and cared for him as if he was one of their own. The challenges they faced were heavy and extensive, but did not come without rewards. But, it took time for rewards to come. Meet Ellen Huntington and hear her story. You will come to know how by opening her heart to a young man, God escorted her on a broader path of love, knowledge and understanding.
“Who Cried for the Little Boy?” is the brutally honest chronicle of Ellen Huntington’s six-year journey to change the life of a troubled teen named Josh. From her initial excitement as she envisions being the instrument of change in a young life, through all the highs and lows, Ellen openly shares their hopes, setbacks, and discouragement. Ellen Huntington is a happily married mother of two when seventeen-year-old Josh enters her life. When she learns of the mistreatment that Josh suffered as a child, Ellen is appalled; she throws herself into making a difference in his life and the lives of the other students at the alternative school he attends. As Ellen addresses Josh’s past issues of abandonment, abuse, and dysfunction, she digs deep into her faith to survive in an unfamiliar world. She struggles to understand God’s plan as she discovers Josh’s needs. Josh moves into her home, and she and her husband Grant become Mom and Dad to the boy in addition to their own two sons. While other families may have collapsed due to the stress and strain that Josh’s issues and presence placed on the family structure, Ellen’s family held strong. After all the heart-wrenching struggles Ellen and Josh endure, will Ellen’s unconditional love be enough to help Josh find and sustain his new life, or will he forfeit it all?
Ellen, this is more than a book that you wrote, this was your actual experience. What prompted you and your husband to bring this young man into your family?
I was a mentor at an alternative school and Josh was one of the boys in that group. As my husband Grant and I got to know Josh he was very interested in spending time with us. He never had a mom and dad. I honestly never intended to move a student into our home, but after Josh’s grandpa hit him one evening, my husband told Josh he could stay with us as long as he needed to. We weren’t prepared for how our life was about to change!
You talk about the stress and strain on you and your family because of Josh’s issues. What gave you the strength to keep in the family and to help him?
When God calls me to do something I am determined to follow his lead and in the past have seen Him bless my efforts – I knew God had a plan with Josh as well. Looking back I am so thankful that Matt and Seth were supportive and had such understanding of what their parents were doing!
Did your sons see him as an “outsider” and a problem, or were they accepting of him?
Because I was a youth director, my boys were used to kids being at our house for Bible studies or to hang out. Both boys enjoyed being part of such a large youth group. Matt was in his first year of college when Josh moved in. At first he didn’t care so much for Josh being in his space when he returned home for college visits. Seth was in his junior year of high school and a very independent young man. At first I do believe it was an adjustment for both Matt and Seth. As time passed they accepted Josh but mainly supported what their parents were doing.
You said that throughout this process, you kept asking for God’s acknowledgement that you were doing the right thing. What were some of the ways you received his acknowledgement?
The book covers the first six years. In the fourth year I began to see our influence on Josh not being as successful. Josh’s behavior made life very tough at times. I was making sure this was where God wanted me and of course was praying for help!! The first time I asked for confirmation – a word from God but not through anyone in my family – it came through a friend. She had been doing a Bible study that week, made notes of things she learned and shared that with me. God couldn’t have been more clear with confirming I needed to be in Josh’s life.
If you could go back, would have taken this young man into your family and gone through what you went through?
I’ve been asked that a lot! At this point in my life I’d say yes because Josh needed help going through some extremely rough events in his life. We helped him begin the process of healing. I’m not sure how I’d answered this question in the midst of the worst parts though.
The years that you spent with this young man prompted you to write a book about it. Why did you feel compelled to write this book?
I knew I had an unbelievable story to tell. One that many people would be able to relate to and be relived to know they weren’t alone. Also, it is a story that would prompt others to make a difference by stepping out of their comfort zone. I believe God will use this book to comfort and challenge people as well as to answer questions we are asking him.
The book was written and sat on a shelf (so to speak) for about four years. Why did it sit and what made you decide to get it out there when you did?
Where do you publish? What does it take? I knew zero about getting a book published. I wanted to take pride in the finished product! It has been a learning experience and now I’m ready to help others if needed. I’m still learning the marketing side.
A side note on the book – my son Matt designed the book cover and he did a great job! I love it!
People have found this book to be extremely helpful in dealing with children. What is some of the specific feedback that you’ve gotten and from what kind of people?
There’s been so many comments it’s hard to pick the ones to talk about:
The things I hear consistently are:
When’s the next book, I want to hear what happens next.
People feel the emotions I’m feeling – my voice is strong. It is like they are sitting across from me and I am telling them my story!
Readers have a understanding of abuse through scriptures I studied.
The book gives hopes and encouragement.
What a story of unconditional love!
Can you describe or explain what you’ve learned about yourself, your own life and your connection to God from this entire experience?
I learned I’m determined to follow God, even when things are extremely hard! When I asked God for answers I always followed it up with “no matter what I will trust you!” Strong faith is a must in times of trial! Mine was put to the test! Bible study and prayer help us to know God! I’m thankful I had that foundation.
Even though I’d worked with hundreds of students I had a very limited knowledge of child abuse and its effects. One in four girls and one in five boys are abused before the age of 18. That is a large group of people! They are looking for answers and help!
God will qualify the ones he calls if we follow and trust him. I’ve never been let down!
And, finally, what’s next? I know that people have asked you to get more involved in a larger way to help guide others. Is that part of the plan?
Good Question – what’s next! I’m trying to get my book into the hands of those who need it and hope to reach many with its message.
Retirement wasn’t in the cards for Brenda Wilson. When her family realized there was a serious lack of services for children, teens and adults on the autism spectrum, and her grandson, Ryan, was not getting the help he needed, Brenda sprang into action. She has devoted the past decade of her life to founding and maintaining the Ryan Woods Autism Foundation and two years of the 10 to after-school program to give these children a place to come and just be kids without the therapy, clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists. They all may require these services but RWAF is a safe and warm environment where they can come after school and JUST BE KIDS!
You mentioned that you saw signs in your grandson very early on that indicated something was a little different about him. What did you see?
My grandson, Ryan, who turns 12 years old on January 17, 2013 used to stare blankly into my eyes as if he was looking straight through me when I hold him on my lap face to face. He rocked back and forth hitting his head on the walls of my home and his parents’ home until we stopped him. His apetitite was picky and we thought he would never eat a balanced meal and yet he did not look deprived of food. His sleeping patterns were somewhat off which made it hard for mom who had to go to work early and travel one hour to Pfizer in Groton, CT and an hour back and Dad who shared in the parenting quite dangerous not getting enough of sleep because of the requirements of climbing electricity poles to repair cable wires in the heat and cold. I always held, cuddled him, squeezed him, kissed him (things some children on the spectrum absolutely will not allow). I did and still do this because I wanted to no matter what establish effection and the feelings that he could always count on being loved. There has never been enough of Ryan to go around. He is my only grandchild and my joy!
Why try to set up a foundation versus just taking care of your grandson? Why was the need to incorporate helping others children important to you?
I have been told that I am the most selfless person in my family. I never save any for myself. I believe that when you give good karma you receive good karma (directly or indirectly). And, helping others has always been very important to me. How else would I be able to help Ryan in this case if I never opened up to others going through what we were just beginning to go through? I googled and found that there was no autism foundation in the state of Connecticut anywhere that provided the after-school services for teens or day care for the little ones. Yes, we are working on a day care licensed to close the gap of 6-12 year olds and even the pre-kindergarteners.
When I started the stats were 1:166; they are 1:77 and 1:54 boys on the autism spectrum and growing. These stats are put out by the Center for Disease Control. However, it boils my blood to hear someone refer to this disability as a disease because it is not a disease. You cannot catch it. It is my belief that it is genetic and environmental.
Brenda, what kind of unique services does your organization provide for autistic children?
We provide social/life skills; communication; recreational therapy; music therapy; boundaries; personal hygiene; building relationships that we hope last forever in our after school program that runs from 2-6pm. We also offer our families a monthly support every third Saturday of each month.
This month January 19, 2013 from 10:00 – 12:00 noon we will host the Commissioner’s office – State Department of Education. There will be experts available to answer questions of our parents regarding services and the lack of services needed inside and outside the classroom setting to help make their children successful as they transition either with an IEP diploma or general education diploma into work life, college life or vocational life.
Aren’t there government requirements that schools have to provide certain services for children who have a need?
There are federally-mandated requirements that schools must adhere to (some schools do and others do not). When they do, the majority of schools minimally provide these services unless they are met with families who know their rights and fight for them and/or due process to get their children more occupational therapy, more language therapy, more physical therapy and so on. With the budget cuts, unfortunately, it appears education seems to be the on the top 10 list in USA when children in other countries have longer days and years of study and are tearing us up in the math and sciences.
Why are these specific needs not being met in regular schools?
I may have answered your question above. However, again budgetary cuts with respect to the “right” educators, highly-trained educators who can teach children with autism, Asperger’s and other special needs children and the child not even be aware they are being taught differently — but they get it and they succeed and become the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, engineer, architect, musician, artist, poet, screenwriter.
There is a big difference between the needs of young children and the needs of teens. Your program is designed to help the autistic child at a variety of ages. Can you talk about the needs of the teenagers?
Teens on the autism spectrum oftentimes are alone at home, in group-home environments; residential treatment settings where behaviors of isolation form and grow. I was that teen and was neotypical, raised by a grandmother, no neighboring friends and pretty bullied and isolated at school. I was extremely mature and pretty much a scholastic geek while others were involved in cheerleading, attending school dances — these were things my grandparents did not allow. I pretended I had a classroom at home and played school with my imaginary friends.
When my grandson was diagnosed very late (age 3 years), his behaviors told me a lot and here he was a child with a disability in addition to what I went through. I have never to this day had a friend. My daughter is my best friend and the cycle continues. I wanted to create a playhouse for children on the spectrum so they can have fun (structured activities) but enjoy and build relationships and friendships. It brings me joy to see them enter the door of our foundation every day looking for that friend even before they help themselves to a healthy snack. :)
When you decided to start a foundation and create services for autistic children, what was the first thing that you did?
I wrote my “bones” (business plan) and sought out the schools and community to determine the need. We opened inside of the high school in two of the special education classrooms to get some idea of the climate and what the teachers and students go through on a day-to-day basis. We lasted one full school year and finally had two kids who enrolled. I applied for my 501(c)(3) and started to inquire about funding through state agencies and local government. It was very dark and many days I felt as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders (and still do) but with the help of my son, now Program Director and father of his nearly 12 year old son with autism, kept pushing together. We formed a Board of Directors (planning committee initially called) and started holding monthly meetings. I have since discovered that discovering special people to work and give of their time to be active on your Board of Directors is a job in itself.
Is it challenging raising funds to stay in operation?
YES! I thought I would have to close our doors in October of last year. But our landlord lowered the rent and it has helped us to stay. I apply for local grants. We just received a national grant of $10K from Autism Speaks. This made the news and newspapers and we are hoping that Wal-Mart and other private donors will continue to repeat their gifts of love and kindness.
We charge tuition but families in central Connecticut are either unemployed or underemployed and cannot pay out of pocket. So, we rely on therapists and clinicians to convince the state case managers and if a parent gets lucky with a school PPT meeting to pay for their child to attend we are able to use this as revenue to keep the operational expenses, snacks, equipment upgrades, supplies the kids need along with two part-time staff members paid in order to keep the doors open. We have always “bridged the gap” as a foundation to keep the kids we have managed to bring in.
What has been your greatest obstacle in all of this?
Funding to keep the kids coming, staff paid and the doors open.
What needs to change in terms of medical insurance companies’ and the state’s attitude and interest?
Autism is a disability. Insurance companies and the state / national politicians MUST understand that socialization / life skills are two common denominators for children on the spectrum and without these two components our children will be disabled forever, thus relying on taxpayers to enable them. This disability is developmental. These kids can learn with the right supports. They are not mentally retarded. They are gifted in so many ways. RWAF was approved by Medicaid for Husky and they erred and took our provider credentials in the summer of 2012. We had accepted many students into our program who we had to pay for and keep because how do you explain to students who have been told they are approved to attend your summer program and all of the frills that go with it and take it away? Thanks to people in the community who called in to sponsor a child and some sponsored two. We pulled it off but it was $52K that RWAF had to eat and was a major error on the part of DSS (Department of Social Services – Commissioner Roderick Bremby and his staff). After WFSB televising it, many letters and e-mails, we received an apology from Bremby.
Are other areas of the country more advanced in providing services for these unique
Yes, New York, California and Boston.
What kind of work did you do during your working years and were the skills that you developed easily transferable to what you are doing now?
I worked 46 years in the private sector as a human resources administrator and supported fortune 500 companies at the senior-level administratively. The business, marketing and sales helped me a great deal to write and meet with community leaders.
What is the ultimate goal? Where is the Ryan Woods Foundation in ten years?
I would like to be one of the State of Connecticut state-approved private schools for autism and other developmental disabilities (i.e., Ben Haven, Wallingford, The Gengras Center). We have the space where we are. I need the staff, funding and the rest will follow.
For more information, contact:
Founder Ryan Woods Autism Foundation (Autism Speaks collaborative resource) www.ryanwoodsautismfoundation.org
860.788.7277 or 860.346.8777 The only limit put on humans with autismare the ones WE put on them. Let’s change our perspective.
I have heard many teens speak of their parents’ over-inflated expectations cast upon them. Be better than average. Make straight “A”s. Don’t just be on the football team, be the team captain and quarterback. Don’t settle for being just another cheerleader, be the squad leader. Shoot for the stars, and don’t miss. The list goes on and on.
For most parents, they are doing it out of concern for their child. They aren’t trying to set the child up for failure, but attempting to give them greatness. Often, however, this backfires. Instead of working harder and being happy, the teen becomes a bitter nervous wreck. This is not what we want for our children, is it? As mothers we of want them to be successful, of course, but we also want them to be happy.
I personally have dealt with not meeting a person’s expectations and it hurts deeply. I have recently come to realize that does not make me a failure in any sense of the word. It means someone wanted me to be someone I wasn’t. It wasn’t my problem, but his.
“Don’t expect too much from me – you will be deeply disappointed. I will let you down and I will resent you. Don’t expect too little of me – you will get what you expect and I will never grow, learn, or reach higher. Expect me to be myself, to do my best, even when that is mediocre, and expect me to find my own happiness even if it isn’t what you would plan for me, and you have a friend for life.” ~Tina Toler-Keel
If I had the guts to say that to this particular person, I would. All my life, I have either been expected to be a failure from some or expected to change my whole being for others. I have never been allowed to be me, nor have I ever been able to express myself. My thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and dreams have remained locked away so deeply I often can’t find them. But, I am working hard to change that. I am finding my own voice and speaking out for myself. It is a soft voice and more often than not, I am the only one hearing it, but it’s a start.
So Moms, let’s all start today and change our expectations of our children. If your child isn’t great at math, don’t expect straight “A”s. If they work hard and do their best, sometimes a “C” is something to celebrate. If they hate yard work but love cleaning house, don’t expect the hedges to be trimmed to perfection and all the edging done. On the other end of the spectrum, if they are awesome pianists, expect them to perform gracefully. If they are grammar perfectionist, expect “A” papers. But most importantly, just expect them to be themselves.
My ex-husband wanted our son to grow up to be a doctor. He has no desire to do that. He hates blood and gore and would be miserable. He does, however, love doing hair and theater, two things his father doesn’t understand. Through several talks and understanding, his dad has accepted Eric for who he is and is encouraging a career in something he loves. This is the epitome of acceptance, encouragement, and appropriate expectations.
If we expect our children to be perfect prodigies and be someone they aren’t, we all miss out. Our teens will resent us and either push us from our lives or go along with our expectations and be miserable. None of us want either to happen. We will be miserable because we will be sorely disappointed and feel like a failure. We will wonder what we did wrong, how our child ended up so far off the path, and blame ourselves for their failures, even though their lives may be rich and full. It’s a no-win situation.
Expect your child to do their best and to be happy. That’s what it’s all about after all – getting through life doing what we love, with those we love by our side.
All my life I have heard, “You can not be friends with your children. You must be the leader, the alpha, the boss.” It makes sense. Being best friends with your children, especially daughters, is risky business. Best friends do not want to make one another angry and go along with crazy, harebrained ideas just for the sake of friendship – I know this is true because, well, that’s a story for another time. It’s all too easy to say, “Oh no, that skirt you love isn’t too short. It makes your legs look long and lean,” when you really do not want your child going out of the house looking as if they are headed to a strip club. It’s also easy to want your child’s approval so badly you make irresponsible decisions, such as allowing them to go to a party hosted by the hottest cheerleader in town, even though you know there will be drinking involved and the parents are out of town. This behavior does not make for good parenting.
You began the writing process by writing stories about your grandfather for yourself as a way to cherish your memories of him. Tell us how that evolved into writing books for teens.
Through writing, I was able to express and deal with emotional issues that were locked deep inside of me – some I wasn’t even aware of. The stories about my grandfather get to the heart of the issues as well as tell a story that hopefully will be passed down throughout generations in our family. Teens always have a story. Sometimes they are great and happy ones, but often they are deeply disturbing. They go through so much and often adults fail to recognize that. Through stories and books, they can find comfort, help, guidance, and entertainment, and know they aren’t alone. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I am going to write for teens.” It just evolved into that. In fact, my first novel is an adult thriller. I am still revising that, and although I love the story line, my heart belongs with my teen books so they get top priority.
How is it that you can connect with teen-aged minds so well?
1. I am a parent of three teens. I have seen first hand their struggles and fears. My kids and I talk a lot and they trust me, so I know a great deal of their pain and difficulties. I feel very blessed my kids turn to me. Now, that doesn’t mean I know everything about teens, or about them. I am sure there is plenty I don’t know, and probably don’t want to know.
2. My kids have a lot of friends and they tend to migrate to our house. Often we are sitting around on the porch at two in the morning and they are telling me very personal things about their lives. I have heard about their family troubles, issues with self-harm and suicidal thoughts, molestation, rape, drug abuse, etc. Their stories range from the everyday drama that all teens seem to go through to the really horrid things life sometimes brings. They are very open with me. I have also had friends my kids have gotten to know from other states through Facebook who text me out of the blue asking me for advice on serious issues. Not long ago, a girl I barely talked to on Facebook wrote me asking for help to stop cutting. I think it helps I am willing to stay up all night talking to them if I need to. I don’t talk down to them, nor do I minimize their problems. For teens, something adults think is trivial and something not to worry about, such as a break up, is a huge deal to them and can hurt them to the core. It is important adults really listen to them, and above all, care for them.
3. I was a teen and I remember what it was like. I think this is the most important one. Although my life was relatively good, and even great in many ways, it wasn’t perfect. I remember feeling alone, unloved, lost, confused, scared, and even suicidal at times. I had family issues. I was raped at seventeen. After high school I dabbled in alcohol and drugs. I went through a spell where I was somewhat promiscuous. I’ve been there, and I remember it. I remember simple, unimportant things could drive me over the edge. I remember thinking there was no way I could have a good future and I remember feeling like a horrible person. I also remember during those times I had good friends and I had fun. One did not always exclude the other.