My daughter Arizona has minimal experience participating in team athletics but expressed an interest in various sports: soccer and volleyball, to name a few.
When she started middle school this past Fall, we learned of an after school program called Prime Time Sports located on campus and engaging students in myriad activities. Initially, I discounted this offering as an option for us: Arizona would require too much assistance, a 1:1 aide and special guidance to participate in any after school program that required following directions, staying with a group and focusing on specific activities. **The aide we currently have (through a private agency but funded by LAUSD) can only be with her during school instruction and her hours are maxed out, accordingly.
All of that to say, I decided to have a conversation with the staff. Would there be a way for Arizona to “try” the program – maybe an hour after school, one day a week?
Turns out, I was presented with even more exciting news! I was told there would be a special athletic league, geared toward students with special needs – an inclusion soccer team that would consist of “player coaches” (neuro-typical students) and kids who needed help (like Arizona). This would take place on Wednesdays after school for a few weeks, including games against 2 other inclusion teams in the area and culminating in a championship day with a tournament, medals and recognition. I was IN! (And more importantly – so was Arizona).
Fast forward to February 2020 and we just wrapped up the season with a festive championship celebration! Arizona felt proud and excited that she got a “little medal.” Thank you, Prime Time Sports, for creating a platform for kids with all abilities to participate on a sports team.
Inclusion MATTERS — and here’s why:
*Integration into community!
*Development of a sense of belonging!
*Preparation for life – and real life, with all of its diversity and flavor!
*Provides ALL people with opportunities to develop friendships with each other!
I would love to hear the ways in which you are able to practice inclusion in your own lives. What are the specific programs you’ve joined / found helpful and what has been your experience? Thank you for sharing!
(A Joyful DAY!)
What a beautiful conversation w/ Mom Talk Network and The Powder Room SHOW: sharing with intention — raising a child with special needs.
Join us for a very transparent and real conversation about my experience in raising a daughter on the spectrum: the good, the bad, the uncomfortable moments and ultimately, the very amazing and ENDLESS blessings!
I am honored to represent single mamas out there – and equally so grateful and honored to share the co-parenting responsibility with my former husband. We have come a long way: much love!
ENJOY the conversation xoxo
**And, as always, join me in my classroom for my new ONLINE COURSE: Life Management for Special Needs Families: An Ultimate Resource Guide for Creating a Thriving Life!
(My new online course is open for enrollment! Join me in my classroom!)
Life Management for Special Needs Families: An Ultimate Resource Guide for Creating a Thriving Life, is now open for enrollment and will dive deep into the following topics:
Class # 1: Redefine Your Plan for Meeting Your Child’s Special Needs
Class # 2: Be the Best Advocate You Can Be for You and Your Child
Class # 3: Build and Manage Your Dream Team
Class # 4: My Top 7 Tips for Self-Care as a Special Needs Parent
This course will take special needs parents on a journey in rediscovering joy and balance. As we advocate for and support our children to lead fuller and richer lives, it is also possible for us as parents to experience this same richness for ourselves. In finding the best help for our children, we can recognize that we are worthy recipients of a thriving life, too!
Please join me on this journey as we learn + laugh + cry + celebrate together. Whether you have been a special needs family for many years or have just received a diagnosis for your child, this class is for you!
Frequently Asked Questions:
When does the course start and finish?
Life Management for Special Needs Families: An Ultimate Resource Guide for Creating a Thriving Life is open for enrollment. You can start or stop the class whenever you would like as it is 100% self-paced! We will dive deep into the following topics: Class # 1: Redefine Your Plan for Meeting Your Child’s Special Needs Class # 2: Be the Best Advocate You Can Be for You and Your Child Class # 3: Build and Manage Your Dream Team Class # 4: My Top 7 Tips for Self-Care as a Special Needs Parent
The entire course is available within a self-paced online classroom environment. All content is pre-recorded and will be accessible for life. Lectures, powerpoint, PDF files, homework questions; all included.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like – across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 10 days and we will give you a full refund.
How do I enroll?
The class is available for purchase here.
How much does the course cost?
I am currently running an introductory promotion for $149 (regular price: $249). You also have the option to make monthly payments if that is easier.
Looking forward to having you in my classroom! Feel free to send me an email with any questions you might have.
(Experiencing my life reborn anew and transformed!)
It was my honor to sit down with Jenny Lind, host of the hit podcast “Greatness Adjacent.” She wanted to hear my story and I was happy to share it. Before the interview, she asked if any questions were off limits – and I said, “No.” If I’m going to tell my story, I would like to be transparent about it. And now I would like to share it with you all (link below)!
From Greatness Adjacent:
This woman is grace personified. She had a master plan for her life. Everything went according to her plan until she had her daughter, Arizona, thirteen years ago. Arizona is on the Autism spectrum. At first, the diagnosis felt dark and hopeless. She was lost, she and her husband got divorced. For the past eleven years, Susanna has devoted herself to helping Arizona. In the process, she learned basically everything there is to know about Autism and the resources that are available. She started advising families as she went, to share the wealth of knowledge she was gaining. She is now a certified life coach for families of children with special needs, an Autism advocate, and she recently launched an online program to offer the resource guide she wishes she had in the beginning. In addition, she is a reiki healer who offers women’s retreats throughout the year. She says today, as a single mama to a child with special needs and a life coach to families of children with special needs, she’s the happiest she’s ever been in her life. Her transformation is extraordinary.
Link below to listen or read the transcription:
(Life Coach At Your Service!)
I am often asked how I got into the business and practice of being a life coach and specifically a life coach for special needs families. My answer is simply this: the PAIN in my own life (and experiences as a mother to a child with myriad special needs and challenges) pushed me until a very specific VISION started pulling me toward it.
When this journey started, I had to coach myself daily (and sometimes multiple times a day during the most challenging times) to simply: keep moving, stay hopeful, find joy (in even the simplest things) and continue choosing a life of service as a vessel made to fulfill a greater purpose.
I used to be so desperate during those dark days – asking why I was chosen to be a mother of a child who needed so much attention. I used to think that the most I could ever accomplish was to make it to the next day. I was not aware that I could actually participate in a life of joy and deep happiness, ever again. I did not know that this was available to me.
Today I still coach myself even though my experiences are for more vibrantly joyous than dark and hopeless. And when I have the really good days, I take time to express my gratitude for having a good day.
I know how much time and effort and intention I have put into my own life to get me to a place of peace and acceptance. I wish for all of my special needs families to get to that same place and it is my life’s work to reach as many of you as possible, to be a guiding light to you and to find power and strength from your experiences as well.
Thank you for allowing me a platform and audience to tell my story, speak my truth and share my toolbox of resources.
As always, let me know what you’d like me to share more about. I am at your service!
With Much Love,
Susanna Peace Lovell
(The first day of Middle School for my GIRL)
Arizona started middle school this fall and her responsibilities have increased drastically from her days in elementary school.
Because there are more things to organize and remember (read: executive functioning and recall practice in full effect), we have put together a few tools / habits that help reduce chaos and disorganization throughout the school year.
A big part of Arizona’s therapeutic program is investing in more activities that will assist with her overall life skills. What I have found is a few things:
- I tend to underestimate what my child can do on her own
- I need to allow my child more opportunities to do things independently (this requires much patience on my end)
- Once my child has demonstrated that she CAN do something on her own, there is much acknowledgement (non-celebratory / more matter-of-fact delivery) that she CAN do it.
- It is usually my limited belief system that gets in the way of what my child can do on her own (she is always blowing me away with her progress and independence)
- I need to LET GO of trying to control everything for my child and see what happens (again: I am usually blown away by all that she CAN do)
- Visuals can help tremendously!
As always, I share our goals and practices with Arizona’s team (her school behaviorist / aide, her occupational therapist, her social skills group leader and her support team at school), so that we are all on the same page. (Remember: team work makes the dream work!)
Here’s an example of a visual that has been helpful for us to review each evening before school and that is posted on the wall by the garage door before we leave for school in the mornings. I give Arizona the responsibility of making sure she has everything on her checklist.
Arizona’s Morning Checklist: SCHOOL DAYS
Communication Notebook (for behaviorist and mom)
Binder for History / English
Binder for Math / Science
HOMEWORK that’s DUE!
Every Monday: PE CLOTHES
*Any field trip slips or forms that need to be signed by Mom
*MAKE SURE FOLDERS ARE STOCKED WITH: loose leaf paper, colored pencils, erasers, pencils, black + blue pen, highlighters, red pen, folders w/ dividers!
So far, the list of words has been helpful enough for Arizona, but adding pictures (either hand drawn or images from online) can be even more effective. You know your child and what will work best for them at this stage.
I would love to hear about your best school practices with your children. What are your tools for successful school days? What have you learned about your child that you were pleasantly surprised about? Feel free to comment below or email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
In the meantime, I am wishing you all a very happy school year!
(Birthday cake for celebration #1)
Arizona doesn’t officially turn 13 until tomorrow (June 18) but we’ve already had a few birthday celebrations for her. Because cake is obviously an important aspect of birthday FUN, I am so grateful for companies like Cherrybrook Kitchen who make my life so much easier during times like this! I can easily make their allergy free cake mixes in the comfort of my own home rather than having to drive big distances and pay big dollars for bakeries that service my child’s specific dietary needs.
Most Gluten Free cake / baking mixes call for egg and milk. Milk alternatives are easy to find, but egg replacers can sometimes be complex.
For treats that are easier to pass out (for example, at summer camp tomorrow), I use Enjoy Life Foods brownie mix.
(Cake for celebration #2)
More about them:
“At Cherrybrook Kitchen, we provide delicious all natural baking mixes for millions of people who are affected by food allergies. Our mixes are free from the most common food allergens; milk, eggs, peanuts, treenuts. We provide wheat free/gluten free baking mixes for cakes, frostings, cookies, brownies, pancakes and waffles as well as a full line up of allergen free mixes. Because our mixes are allergen free they are suitable for vegans to enjoy also. For over 15 years we have been perfecting our recipes to make them so good they can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of dietary restrictions. Our ingredients are sourced with the highest standards that result in a product that is truly extraordinary. They are easy to prepare with classic flavor profiles. Whether your family is gluten free or you just want to switch up your diet, bringing Cherrybrook to your kitchen is a delicious choice for everyone.”
“Millions of people in the USA and across the globe face a dilemma every time they eat: is this food safe for me? Will eating this food make me sick or put my life at risk? Enjoy Life Foods started with a vision to make delicious foods that are free from gluten and common food allergens. Today we maintain North America’s largest allergy-friendly bakery and all of our products are free of gluten and 14 allergens.
All Enjoy Life Foods products are free from gluten and 14 common food allergens – wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, casein, soy, egg, sesame, sulfites, lupin, mustard, fish, shellfish and crustaceans. In addition, most of our products are made in our very own allergy-friendly facility, built from the ground up to meet these high standards.”
Would love to hear about other companies that offer allergy friendly options for kiddos like mine!
(A Big Change)
A few months ago, the adult decision was made to sell our home. Brian (former husband, confidante + co-parent) and I made this decision together.
At the forefront of our decision making was: what would be best for our family, and especially for our 12 year old daughter, Arizona.
Here’s a fact: when you have a child with autism, the most miniscule change in a daily routine can be highly traumatic. A big life transition like selling our family home surely needed BONUS time and energy to prepare for. It wasn’t smooth or easy, but our investment in the process has made such a difference, for all of us.
To that end, here’s what worked for us and consequently are my top 5 tips for prepping your child for a big transition:
1. Discuss: If there are other people involved (outside of your child) talk about how you want to present the news or talk about the upcoming change. Write down or discuss what you anticipate your child’s worries to be. *Note: big transitions for your child can also be big transitions for you. This step allows you to start the processing for yourself!
2. Share the News: In our case, Brian and I decided to share the news as a united front. We simply said (without extra drama or emotion): “Arizona, we have news.” Of course this triggered an immediate worry, which she was able to express verbally: “What? What’s wrong? Why? What happened? When is it happening?” We stated the facts: “We have made the adult decision to put our house on the market. We have discussed the different options and this is what we have decided to be best for our family.” *Note: always talk about what you know for sure. What we DID know for sure is that we were putting our house on the market. What we didn’t know for sure was if it would sell and when. Focus on what the facts are, in the present moment. “Arizona, our house will be on the market starting February 4.” This allows for processing to take place in steps.
3. Let’s Talk / Write / Sing About it! If you know me by now, you know how much I advocate for everyone to express their feelings. I learned the importance of outward expression during our family’s therapeutic time at Cheerful Helpers Child & Family Study Center. I think we often brush our children’s feelings under the rug: “Oh they’re okay, it’s not a big deal.” And we push them through, at a pace they are not quite ready for. After discussing the news with Arizona (above), there were A LOT of big feelings that needed to emerge. “NO, you can’t sell this home, this was supposed to be my forever home!” she wailed and cried. We listened (a lot) and then bit by bit started dissecting the worries. We also talked about all of the things that would be present no matter “where” we lived. But mostly, we sat and listened to Arizona and let her express, over many days and weeks. The first night after we shared the news, I took out a piece of paper, sat down with Arizona and said, “Okay. What’s important for us to have in a new home?” She took her time to think about it. “Toilets without automatic flushers” (check). “Space for me to do my art.” (check). “Oh and most importantly, we need to have Netflix.” (Gotcha, baby girl – check).
4. Rally the troops!: Also in our case, it was important to share how WE shared and processed with Arizona to our immediate outside world. Certainly, Arizona’s 1:1 behavioral aide at school got the low down right away. But we also shared updates with our close friends, family members and our amazing realtor (who also happens to be one of my besties). All of this was purposeful in helping Arizona process the big unknowns with a supportive community around us. A family friend’s daughter, age 14, shared with Arizona how hard it was for her to move a few years prior. It definitely takes a village, so if you HAVE one, utilize them! Everything helped.
5. Invest in the Process: Lastly, but most importantly, just know that as autism parents our consistency and patience is key. There were many moments when I wanted to snap at Arizona and say, “This is just the way it is!! Everything will be fine! Stop complaining! You have an amazing life!” But I also knew that her transition would never reach completion if she couldn’t get all of her feelings out. Commit to investing this time and energy up front. It will be worth every. single. second.
I write this as I am sitting in our new rental, about a 15 minute drive from our family home that was sold last month. It is our 5th night sleeping here and so far, Arizona has transitioned as smoothly as we could have hoped for.
We were lucky enough to have spent some time in the new home before we moved in; slowly bringing toys and other prized possessions in steps.
On moving day, Brian picked up Arizona from school and brought her to the new house. She and I had our first “sleep” here that night.
“Mama, it really already feels like home, mama. I’m a little nervous tonight because it’s something new, but it’s our home, mama. Right, mama?”
I spent some extra time in her room that night, on her bottom bunk. “Home is wherever we are,” I told her. And, I think she finally understood that.
Transitions (big and small) can be so tricky! I would love to hear what your tips are for helping your child with special needs process change. How do you help your child get through their worries and the unknowns? How has this changed your perception for your own needs around change?
(Telling our story)
A girlfriend of mine, who is chapter chair, started talking to me over a year ago about how amazing it would be if I could present about autism awareness, acceptance and understanding to families in her group. I thought April would be the best month for it as “Autism Awareness” is at its height.
I put together an interactive agenda with slides to tell my story, activities and various talking points around autism.
As I was prepping for the event, I talked to Arizona about my plan. I didn’t expect her to be a part of it, but I asked her if she would like to tell her story. She said she would think about it.
The day of the event came. That morning, I walked through the few slides I had prepared and talked to Arizona about what I would be sharing with the group of families. Arizona said, “Mama, I might have some things to say.” I said, “Sure. You’re welcome to say whatever you want.”
And, turns out she did. We had an amazing group of 8-13 year old children and their Mothers at our home. They were thoughtful, curious and genuinely interested in our story and experiences as an Autism family. Arizona talked about a typical “day in the life” for herself and some of the things that are hard: going to school and worried about the fire alarm going off, what it’s like going into public restrooms for fear of automatic toilets and hand dryers going off unexpectedly, and wanting to do her own idea but not being allowed to all the time. She also talked about her super powers: her ability to create stories and draw Anime figures. She talked about her awesome one to one aide she has at school with her, Ms. Adi, and how she likes to joke around with her. She talked about her three best friends at school. She also brought out props to share with the kids: squishies and slimes to help her calm her body.
We talked as a group about how we are all made differently; no one is the same. And, how cool is that?
I had prepared the following talking points, that we entered into a discussion about:
- It’s okay to be curious about people different from you!
- Our brains let us understand everything we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste and that the brain of a person with Autism works differently, which might make it hard to talk, listen, understand, play and learn in the same way that others do.
- Everyone with autism is different, the same way all children have differences. I introduced the term “Autism Spectrum” to discuss what a spectrum means.
- There are other ways to communicate besides talking verbally to tell us what people with autism know and want: maybe your friend is flapping their hands or rocking or repeating noises; they might be trying to tell you something or trying to calm down.
Over all, it was an inspirational day of discussion and learning. During the Q&A period at the end, one of the boys asked Arizona, “If you could be born with or without autism, which would you choose?” She responded, “Well, I don’t know because I love myself exactly the way I am.”
And even though I enjoyed every minute in participation with my 12-year-old daughter who has come so FAR on this journey, I will never expect or force her into talking about autism (or anything else about her life, for that matter) if she doesn’t want to.
My wish for Arizona is to continue on her journey of self-awareness, self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love. However that presents itself to the outside world is fine with me. I am so proud to be her mother and I vow to keep her best interests at heart, ALWAYS.
It is my passion to share my lived experience as an autism mama with other families; and part of my understanding and awareness around my child is that she moves to the beat of her own drum. And, I will always honor that!