Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Story of Giving and Compassion

I received this story in an email to our account.


The Folded Napkin

I try not to be biased, but I had my doubts about hiring Stevie. His placement counselor assured me that he would be a good, reliable busboy. But I had never had a mentally handicapped employee and wasn't sure I wanted one. I wasn't sure how my customers would react to Stevie. He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and thick-tongued speech of Down’s Syndrome. I wasn't worried about most of my trucker customers because truckers don't generally care who buses tables as long as the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade. The four-wheeler drivers were the ones who concerned me; the mouthy college kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish their silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded "truck stop germ", the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense accounts who think every truck stop waitress wants to be flirted with. I knew those people would be uncomfortable around Stevie so I closely watched him for the first few weeks.

I shouldn't have worried. After the first week, Stevie had my staff wrapped around his stubby little finger, and within a month my truck regulars had adopted him as their official truck stop mascot. After that, I really didn't care what the rest of the customers thought of him. He was like a 21-year-old in blue jeans and Nike's, eager to laugh and eager to please, but fierce in his attention to his duties. Every salt and pepper shaker was exactly in its place, not a bread crumb or coffee spill was visible when Stevie got done with the table.

Our only problem was persuading him to wait to clean a table until after the customers were finished. He would hover in the background, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, scanning the dining room until a table was empty. Then he would scurry to the empty table and carefully bus dishes and glasses onto the cart and meticulously wipe the table up with a practiced flourish of his rag. If he thought a customer was watching, his brow would pucker with added concentration. He took pride in doing his job exactly right, and you had to love how hard he tried to please each and every person he met.

Over time, we learned that he lived with his mother, a widow who was disabled after repeated surgeries for cancer. They lived on their Social Security benefits in public housing two miles from the truck stop. Their social worker, who stopped to check on him every so often, admitted they had fallen between the cracks. Money was tight, and what I paid him was probably the difference between them being able to live together and Stevie being sent to a group home. That's why the restaurant was a gloomy place that morning last August, the first morning in three years that Stevie missed work.

He was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester getting a new valve or something, put in his heart. His social worker said that people with Down’s Syndrome often have heart problems at an early age so this wasn't unexpected, and there was a good chance he would come through the surgery in good shape and be back at work in a few months.

A ripple of excitement ran through the staff later that morning when word came that he was out of surgery, in recovery, and doing fine. Frannie, the head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little dance in the aisle when she heard the good news. Belle Ringer, one of our regular trucker customers, stared at the sight of this 50-year-old grandmother of four doing a victory shimmy beside his table. Frannie blushed, smoothed her apron and shot Belle Ringer a withering look.

He grinned. "OK, Frannie, what was that all about?" he asked.

"We just got word that Stevie is out of surgery and going to be okay."

"I was wondering where he was. I had a new joke to tell him. What was the surgery about?"

Frannie quickly told Belle Ringer and the other two drivers sitting at his booth about Stevie's surgery, then sighed: "Yeah, I'm glad he is going to be OK," she said. "But I don't know how he and his Mom are going to handle all the bills. From what I hear, they're barely getting by as it is." Belle Ringer nodded thoughtfully, and Frannie hurried off to wait on the rest of her tables.

Since I hadn't had time to round up a busboy to replace Stevie and really didn't want to replace him, the girls were busing their own tables that day until we decided what to do. After the morning rush, Frannie walked into my office. She had a couple of paper napkins in her hand and a funny look on her face.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I didn't get that table where Belle Ringer and his friends were sitting cleared off after they left, and Pony Pete and Tony Tipper were sitting there when I got back to clean it off," she said. "This was folded and tucked under a coffee cup." She handed the napkin to me, and three $20 bills fell onto my desk when I opened it. On the outside, in big, bold letters, was printed "Something For Stevie". Pony Pete asked me what that was all about," she said, "so I told him about Stevie and his Mom and everything, and Pete looked at Tony and Tony looked at Pete, and they ended up giving me this" She handed me another paper napkin that had "Something For Stevie" scrawled on its outside. Two $50 bills were tucked within its folds. Frannie looked at me with wet, shiny eyes, shook her head and said simply: "truckers."

That was three months ago. Today is Thanksgiving, the first day Stevie is supposed to be back to work. His placement worker said he's been counting the days until the doctor said he could work, and it didn't matter at all that it was a holiday. He called 10 times in the past week, making sure we knew he was coming, fearful that we had forgotten him or that his job was in jeopardy. I arranged to have his mother bring him to work. I then met them in the parking lot and invited them both to celebrate his day back. Stevie was thinner and paler, but couldn't stop grinning as he pushed through the doors and headed for the back room where his apron and busing cart were waiting.

"Hold up there, Stevie, not so fast," I said. I took him and his mother by their arms. "Work can wait for a minute. To celebrate you coming back, breakfast for you and your mother is on me!"

I led them toward a large corner booth at the rear of the room. I could feel and hear the rest of the staff following behind as we marched through the dining room. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw booth after booth of grinning truckers empty and join the procession. We stopped in front of the big table. Its surface was covered with coffee cups, saucers and dinner plates, all sitting slightly crooked on dozens of folded paper napkins.

"First thing you have to do, Stevie, is clean up this mess," I said. I tried to sound stern. Stevie looked at me, and then at his mother, then pulled out one of the napkins. It had "Something for Stevie" printed on the outside. As he picked it up, two $10 bills fell onto the table.

Stevie stared at the money, then at all the napkins peeking from beneath the tableware, each with his name printed or scrawled on it. I turned to his mother. "There's more than $10,000 in cash and checks on the table, all from truckers and trucking companies that heard about your problems. "Happy Thanksgiving."

Well, it got real noisy about that time, with everybody hollering and shouting, and there were a few tears, as well. But you know what's funny? While everybody else was busy shaking hands and hugging each other, Stevie, with a big, big smile on his face, was busy clearing all the cups and dishes from the table. Best worker I ever hired.

If you shed a tear, hug yourself, because you are a compassionate person.


We’re not in as dire straits as this young man was, however, we continuously receive emails from ‘Parents of Autism’ that tell of stories similar to this one. Sure we’ve had a bit of struggles with our six and because of that we understand the need for the ‘AutismBites Foundation’ we have been attempting to create.

Please visit our website again, Read about what our hopes are for the Foundation on its page. Then if YOU are able, click the donate PayPal button. If you are not able, send the information to someone who may be able to help with a donation.

P.S. We've just started a family business where you will learn how to be rewarded for every online purchase you make:


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Discovery Health Profiles the Inspiring Kirton Family in Autism x6

This is the press release from Discovery Health about our documentary.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Autism T-Shirt Contest Winner

I know... I know... the contest has been over for a week. AND, I've been wanting to put out a new post. But, that little thing called LIFE has been getting in the way. I'm still working on my 'business at home' website. Besides it being a new creation to earn us the moola for me to continue to stay at home; it will also be a vehicle to help Parents of Autism stay home if they choose. More about that later...

Anyway here is the winning story. There were some really good ones, sorry we couldn't send you all a shirt.

The story:

Wasn't sure where to send this, or even if this is a valid entry or not, but here goes.

We don't have an autism bites t-shirt, but GOODNESS I wish we did, so instead of telling you a story about when our t-shirt helped or hurt us the most, I will tell you about when we Wished to heaven we hadn't put it off to buy one.

My Name is Nicole ..., and I have 4 wonderful children, all of them special needs, but at this point only one has been diagnosed with an ASD, she is currently diagnosed with PDD NOS, with secondary OCD, but my sister who works in a school with autistic children every day says "get a second opinion" and so, slowly we are.

My Three year old, my angel, Keira is our youngest, and also our autistic child. given that she is also developmentally delayed, she is JUST hitting what for her are the terrible twos, which means (you guessed it) an increase in the meltdown tantrums that we have become so accustomed to. You know the ones, they sound like her world is coming to an end, that you just told her that her puppy was dead, and that her favourite blanky had been thrown in the trash, and that her favourite "baby" had been kidnapped by dingos, and that IF she could understand these statements coming from you, this is how you would expect her to react... Head thrown back, mouth open wide, starting with a heart wrenching cry that escalates into an ear piercing screech that would scare the dog away... if you hadn't just told her he was dead... then the body hits the floor, or anything in arms reach gets thrown, THEN she hits the floor... I am sure you know the meltdowns I am talking about.

So here we are, travelling from point A to point B, and we hear from Keira, who was non verbal 6 months ago, but who has made leaps and bounds in the past few months "I honry" (translation I'm Hungry) so we pull into a restaurant from one of those big chains, that are usually noisy enough as it is, so as not to be concerned that her excessive noise will disrupt other patrons. we walk in and you can hear the crickets chirping outside and down the block... there are three tables with people in them, and the bar upstairs sounds empty. UH OH, I think I hope we get fast service... when Keira wants something she is rarely patient about it, and it has gotten so, we know before we walk in what we are ordering her, so that we can order it WITH the drink order and have it there before anything else... welllllllll

the hostess seats us, and we put Keira into the highchair, and HERE starts meltdown number one, she yells she screams, the crayons fly, the coloring page goes the way of the wind her cutlery gets thrown and knocks over the salt and pepper, we offer her a dessert menu to have something to look at, and she throws it and beans my 5 year old in the head with it, who then starts crying of her own right because it hurt. the couple two tables down gets up and leaves after quickly receiving their bill for drinks only, and gives us a disgusted look on the way out...
This carries on for about 5 minutes, till Dad gets frustrated and goes outside with Keira until we at least have drinks, and maybe appetizers, something to keep her busy...

Another 5 minutes, still no waitress, no acknowledgement from ANY of the servers that we are even there. two more minutes thinks I as I ready myself to pack up my 5 year old and 10 year old and leave with dad to find a golden arches (the 16 year old wasn't with us that day)

Just as I give up, and tell the kids lets go, this fresh faced MAYBE 20 year old waitress comes rushing to the table...

"I'm so sorry" says she, "no one told me they sat my table" (again three other tables of patrons, we were hard to miss) " are we waiting for two more? or should I start with the drink orders?" she says indicating dad and Keiras chairs

"no," I reply calmly "my three year old autistic daughter (we don't bother trying to explain PDD NOS to people, they don't get it) was screaming and scaring away the customers so my husband decided to take her outside until we had food or something on the table, so she wouldn't disturb anyone else"

and the reply, TOTALLY baffling to my ears... "OH I heard the screaming, thought it was just some kid being bad, we get those ALL the time, I didn't realize it was my table though..." (it would help if you looked at your tables, I think but I don't say it out loud, because the statement would be wasted, so Instead I say)

"we're ready to order," and I order for all of us at once, SPECIFYING that the children's meals should come out first, so that dad and Keira can come back inside... but just as I say this, they come back in anyways...

10 minutes later, mine and dads meals come out, followed by the other two kids meals a few minutes later, with Keiras coming dead last (and all we ordered her was sliders) but somewhere in the middle of all the food orders, our waitress finds the time to come over and say to us, trying hard to be heard over the tantrumming child "awwww whats wrong sweetie? you look so sad!" and when Keira "ignores" her, she looks dad square in the face and says "is there any way to quite her down? the other customers keep looking over here, like she's bothering them"

"HOT DOG WE HAVE A WEINER" I think knowing full well that anything I say at this point will mean nothing to miss university, because she has no idea what autism is, or that the best we could do is just what we are doing, deep pressure stimulation, and talking to her calmly until she relaxes, so dad says instead (quite sarcastically I might add) "she cant cry and eat at the same time" (ok we all know she can, but I think he made his point) so she hurried away, and yet another couple walks by, looking disgustedly at us as our daughter screams her head off) and the waitress FINALLY returns with Keiras dinner... suddenly... silence

Dad and I finally turn to our cold dinners, and all I can think of is... wish I had one of those shirts
we will be ordering three as soon as possible... and we won't be going back to this particular outlet of this restaurant



We too have been in the same type of situation as Nicole. I'm sure that MANY of you have had similar fun outings. And that is the reason we came up with the AutismBites t-shirts in the first place. Life is sooooooooo much easier when they wear them.

Nicole will have one less t-shirt to buy now.