Hello, and thank you for reading our story!
While on a recent business trip I (Nathan) was talking with a co-worker from Ypsilanti, Michigan about my son, Isaiah, painting and playing golf with Awakening Minds. I was telling him how much he loves it and how it has helped him grow. How he is learning so much more than painting skills. How he has improved in so many areas. My co-worker’s response;
“That is wonderful you have such place in your community.” My sentiments exactly.
Isaiah was born on August 19, 2009. His due date was originally the 24th of August but he was induced early due to his size. Originally he was schedule to be induced on the August 17th but the hospital was full so he had to wait. When I first saw him, my thought was 'wow that’s a big baby!' He tipped the scales at 9 lbs 15 oz.
As Isaiah grew he was hitting all his milestones and we were overjoyed. He crawled and walked right on schedule. He smiled and interacted with friends and family, people were always telling us what a content little boy he was. From early on, he showed a strong interest in numbers and letters. My wife Sarah begin working with him at his interest level. By 2 years old he was recognizing words, big words like Australia and Aquamarine, counting beyond 20, and knew all his upper and lowercase letters. Isaiah also was very drawn to music. He loved to listen to music on videos and he would very quickly learn to sing the songs sung to him. After we were told there were some concerns, I couldn’t help but look back to a few occurrences: Christmas when he was 2 years old when he played unprompted with a puzzle that had 6 different numbered door latches for an hour and a half straight. I thought back to watching Isaiah play with blocks and how he would line them up very precisely over and over again. How no matter where we went, he would find the numbers and letters in the room and want only to play in that area.
In looking for confirmation that these occurrences were “just a phase”, I asked a friend who I knew had and child on the Autism spectrum what he thought and he said, “Ya maybe, does he play with other kids?” “Sure” I said but I didn’t really know for sure. I asked other friends from work who had older children but made sure to pose the questions in such a way that they would agree that He’s Typical. I didn’t want to think anything but he’s just like any other kid.
A word from Mom, Sarah
With Isaiah being our first kid, like Nathan said, we can look back now through pictures and memories and see signs, but for those first two years we saw nothing but milestones met, a generally content little boy, a little guy who delighted everyone around him and astonished us daily with how quickly he could learn new things. We were convinced on the way to his 2-year appointment that the doctor would be amazed. Instead the doctor expressed concern over the lack of vocalization Isaiah had and suggested we allow Help Me Grow to work with him. We thought surely this is just a small technicality, that he would start communicating well soon. And like Nathan said, we looked for reassurance from family and friends we spoke with that this was just a small hiccup. For the next several months, therapist came to our home to play and imagine and pretend. I didn’t see the value at the time in the pretend play and was still sure that this would be a silly story we would look back and laugh about later.
And then the spring before Isaiah turned three, his Help Me Grow therapists said the word …Autism. She pointed out signs and data based on the evaluations we had filled out and data they collected from working with him. My first thought was No…No, not my baby.
Jumping ahead a bit, a couple months ago I attending a training for parents of kids on the autism spectrum. There I met a woman who spoke of her recently diagnosis non-verbal 4-year-old daughter. This woman was angry. She was hurting and still a little in denial. I remember those days. I remember the days when I flat out refused to believe Isaiah had autism…I didn’t care how much data or how many signs were pointed out. No, not my child. I remember being angry. Angry at the doctor for suggesting I bring these people into my home for them just to find something wrong with my baby. Angry at the world that I thought would never accept my child with a label. Just incredibly angry. I remember times thinking I would fix it myself. I was his mom and I was the only person that could do it alone. I remember being jealous the first time his preschool teacher helped him overcome a task that he struggled with. I remember days when I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to run into family or friends. I didn’t want them to ask me how things were because I just didn’t want to talk about it. There are still days when that section of my momma heart doesn’t want to open up and share my precious special guy. But most days now are me openly accepting Isaiah has Autism. It’s not who he is and it’s not going to decide who he will become because God’s already got this.
So What Does Autism Look Like for Isaiah?
Thinking back to that woman I met at the training, I realized we will all face struggles in our lives and for us having faith in Christ, a peace and joy that is only from beyond ourselves is how we have been able to move thru that grief of hopes dashed, of dreams not fulfilled and to a place of peace and even finding joy in our struggle. For those of you looking for a way to understand families who have special kids, this is what I would say, think of a time when something so incredibly dear, a dream so close to your heart, was ripped away and of your own emotional journey through that.
As much as Autism is a struggle for Isaiah and our family there are some positives about Isaiah that will never cease to amaze me: Because of autism, Isaiah doesn’t lie. He lives in a black and white literal world. We are thankful because Isaiah does eat some vegetables and for the most part is a great sleeper. Isaiah also has Perfect Pitch. He hears the world in the music tones the sounds around him make. And Isaiah can sing and hearing him sing will be a dead-stop to my day because he sings like an angel and brings me so much joy to hear his voice.
With each passing day, with each time we press him to step out of his comfort zone, which each therapy session with Ms. Amy, Ms. Megan, Ms. Sarah, Ms. Kayla, with each hour spent with caring teachers like Ms. Dawn, Mrs. Weigand, Mrs. Brim, Mrs. Bunn, with each passing moment - Isaiah becomes a little bit less rigid, a little bit more flexible and accepting of our crazy demanding world.
A word from Dad, Nathan.
I have a theory: I know God does not make mistakes and many of these special people, while having delays in some areas, are gifted in others. They are specialists! At work I am titled a Welding Specialist. Isaiah is a Math, Reading, and Music Specialist. However, we need places like AMA to bring out those special gifts. Our family thanks AMA and all of you who support such a valuable organization.
Thank you and God bless.
The Story Behind the Director
First, let me introduce myself. (OK- I do recognize this entire blog post is about me introducing myself.) My name is Sarah Crisp, I am the founding director of Awakening Minds Art. I was 22 years old when I started this program (in 2009) and I have never considered changing paths in my life since. I have found my calling. I have found what I desire most, luckily enough for me, it's in my job, and it's changing lives.
I am a firm believer in understanding someone's past, before understanding their actions. I believe this is also true with understanding someone's passions and beliefs as well. Like the saying goes, don't judge a book by it's cover... with that being said, that is what this first AMA blog is about.
Before you begin reading my little (quite lengthy) autobiography, I want to make it clear that I loved my childhood. I was happy, I had lots of friends, a great family that loved me and I was oblivious to the world that would eventually break me.
My brother, Michael, and I grew up in a small farm town in Northwest Ohio, called Spencerville, where my step-dad was raised. It's one of those towns that has a stoplight and a pop machine. OK, it had a restaurant called The Villager, a bar called My Place and four options to order a greasy pizza. If we wanted entertainment we had to go find it! My step dads family all lived on the same corner where we were raised on a farm that had a few horses.
On the flip side of that life, I spent my childhood summers at my grandma and grandpa's house in "the ghetto" of Lima, where if you wanted entertainment, all you had to do was sit on the front porch! Now when I say ghetto... it wasn't a REAL ghetto, but according to Grandma and her best impersonation of beat boxing (mocking the bass in the cars going by), it was close enough.
My grandma babysat several other kids for a living and we all grew up believing we were 'cousins'. My grandparents nicknamed me "A-C", which stood for Arts & Crafts. Anything that resembled junk was turned into art supplies for me. I loved creating, but mostly, I loved the way people would complement me on my creations.
My parents, Bev & Mike, were divorced and that's all I ever knew. I was an infant, my brother was three when the divorce occurred. My mom, who nicknamed me 'Bean', remarried when I was four (according to my mother, I believe everything happened "when I was four") to a man, with a pretty easy name to remember, MIKE (add em up, my dad, my brother, and now my step-dad all named MIKE! Talk about confusion.) My dad remarried to a woman named Laura and she welcomed us into her life with open arms and we felt her love every other weekend. She nicknamed me 'Princess', I loved that! They had two children before their divorce occurred- Anna & Sam.
Life with my dad was fun, when he was around. My dad was not very active in our lives, he came and went, a lot... sometimes years between visits. He played the bass guitar in a band my entire childhood. Most weekends he slept most of the day and was out playing most of the night. Once Anna & Sam were born, those visits with my dad grew few and far between. I grew up believing I wasn't good enough and that I wasn't important enough to love. The man who was supposed to teach me how to be loved, taught me the complete opposite. My mom made very valid efforts of loving me and making me feel of value, but there is nothing that can replace those thoughts that seem to be ingrained in my brain. I envy my mother for her strength in this situation, she is a godsend.
My school was, well, nothing spectacular. My brother and I went to Spenceville school our entire lives. The school was simple, We had your core classes and that was it. We had the basics to get us that diploma into the free world. We each had roughly 75 other kids in our graduating class and diversity among those kids was next to nothing. Maybe you will better understand my school when I say that our most looked forward to day of school was 'drive your tractor to school' day. I remember when someone different than the typical white farm family would show up, they were definitely the outcast and the community made no efforts of hiding it. Those kids ended up being the troubled kids and were the kids who your parents told you to stay away from. Looking back, I realize that our community made those kids into that- if that's what you expect out of a child, that is what they will become. Hindsight is 20/20.
I remember in elementary school there being two children who were very different than the rest of us... but not because of their skin color or their dress... it was because they were pulled out of a classroom majority of the day to the classroom across the hall, that as third graders we just knew as, Mrs. B's room. At that age, we didn't know why they were so different, but they were. Many kids made fun of them or just ignored them, but I loved those kids, I identified with them, I felt their emotions and I frequently found myself advocating for them. Those students didn't last long in our school, I'm not sure when they left, but they definitely didn't make it to our high school. Looking back, both of those kids were on the Autism Spectrum.
My family had a lot of rough patches within, and we still do. Being in a small town, the community knew of those rough patches. I frequently found myself at the butt of jokes, for whatever reason I still do not understand. I did everything I could to do things right. I got decent grades, I was a homecoming attendant, a cheerleader and I ran track. I took every art class possible, I felt accepted there.
I chose to go to college, majoring in Psychology, at The University of Findlay. I was the first in my family to go to college, which I was very proud of. I wasn't familiar with the town at all, and to be honest, I wasn't even familiar with my chosen major. I knew I had a big heart for helping people, and I felt like I understood people pretty well, but I didn't really know what else to do. I thought I wanted to be a therapist.
College was wild and fun. I made a lot of friends and made a lot of mistakes. I experienced the ultimate disrespect to a woman as a sophomore in college, I was raped. I never even fully admitted it to myself, or to anyone else, until many years later. In fact, I have never had the courage to tell anyone in my family, not even my mother (until right now, when she's reading this along with you!) I told myself for 6 years that "I didn't try hard enough to stop it" and "I could have tried harder". I questioned for 6 years, "was it really rape?" I do not know his name, I couldn't even tell you what he looked like. My roommate had a friend over and this man was with him, I was asleep in my own bed when this person welcomed himself in to have his way with me.
Shorty before graduating college, I had settled down in the most wild relationship I can imagine. I fell head over heals with a bar owner who played in a band and had a three year old boy. We were absolutely crazy about each other and I loved the feeling of having a family. He moved in with me right away and we got pregnant after one year of being together. Unfortunately, we miscarried after 7 weeks of pregnancy. Everything I had ever wanted was just taken away from me. My grandparents, who had a huge hand in raising me, had just passed away, unexpectedly, less than two months apart (a Johnny and June kind of love!) and I still was not speaking to my father. I would say this was the part of my life where I began to truly feel empty. I felt like everything at this point was so far out of my control that I couldn't even see the light. I found myself making any effort possible to gain control of my life, years later, I would say I became obsessed with it.
We all know the saying- "where there's darkness there's light"- that quote has practically become my life. I had just started grad school at Heidelberg in Tiffin Ohio. I was depressed and had just started a new job in preparation for paying towards my student loans. I decided, after only a couple months that I couldn't do grad school anymore. I dropped out of grad school and stumbled across Art Without Boundaries, a nationwide program that trains individuals to do therapeutic art programming with special needs. I trained, for 8 months, with a friend (who introduced me to the program) and we, independently, started doing art programming in nursing homes and with special needs children. This is how Awakening Minds Art was born.
I knew I wanted to HELP PEOPLE- but I couldn't do the 6+ years of schooling to become a therapist, I just knew I didn't have it in me. Awakening Minds Art became that and so much more for me. I was helping people through art, but selfishly, I was helping myself more. I found a sense of happiness and belonging again.
That fulfilled feeling from my job didn't carry over into my personal life like it did in the very beginning. I was unhappy in my relationship, wanting more out of life. I wanted marriage, I wanted children, I wanted a husband who was home every night with his family. I wanted the American Dream. The ghosts in my closet, of feeling unlovable and not good enough, followed me everywhere I went. I was allowing those fears to become my reality. My boyfriend didn't understand me and my past, and his family never made any efforts to. I felt shunned, our entire relationship was a constant battle. I was an outcast. The more I allowed my fears to control my life, the more I pushed people out of it. I adopted the mentality of 'leave before you're left'- I felt this need to control every relationship I was in- if I could control WHEN they would push me away, I didn't have to wonder when it would eventually happen on it's own. I always believed it wasn't a matter of IF they leave me, rather WHEN they'll leave me. My boyfriend, of six years, and I got engaged and life seemed perfect again. I saw the potential for family, for children. But... those fears kicked in at a level that I cannot even describe. I pushed him away and right into the arms of another woman, er, girl. I allowed my fears of not being good enough become my reality. I allowed my fears of being left become reality. I pushed and pushed and pushed and until I couldn't push any further. The one man I had given my entire heart to had ripped it out of my chest and I gave him the knife to do it.
I spent a solid three months on the floor. No, literally, on the floor. My co-worker and friend, Ally, was literally picking me up. I cried and cried and didn't see life beyond the current darkness. THIS was the darkest moment of my life... because I allowed it to be. I had not only lost the man I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but I lost my best friend of 22 years during this very long, drawn out break up. She too, had left me, abandoned me, gave up on me. My ex and I found each other to be like toxic drugs. While we knew the relationship was over, we weren't ready to say goodbye. We went on our scheduled honeymoon together. We went to either save the relationship or realize there's no hope. By day 6 of the trip, we realized the latter. We made lots of friends during our trip, one just so happened to be the one who saved me. He taught me to embrace the darkness. I fell in love with him and his faith in me. I visited him, and the island, a second time where I believe my heart began beating again.
Today, I still struggle with the same fears of abandonment and insecurities in my current relationship. It has been exactly two years since that darkness crept in, but I believe the darkness made me realize more about myself than ever. I confronted myself and I was terrified of what I was finding. I learned to embrace who I was and use those traits to grow something that needed my attention; AMA.
AMA is everything that it is today because of my darkness. Awakening Minds Art is my true passion, it is my life. It continues to breathe life into my soul and bring joy to my heart on a daily basis. I pour every ounce of energy I have into this organization because I see the lives that it changes every day. Those individuals who are in their own darkness, or need to feel loved and welcomed, we give them that. Everyone, the students, volunteers, the staff, everyone feels loved and accepted at AMA, including myself.