2013 Retreat Wrap Up


Photo Gallery Under Construction – send your photos from the Retreat to christina wester @ mac.com (without spaces) or post them to the Radiant Living & Learning Facebook Group – Thanks!

Dear Radiant Friends,

It didn’t really register for me exactly HOW soon Thanksgiving was going to be after the Retreat was over!  I barely recovered before the holiday whirlwind began . . . so now here I am FINALLY posting a long overdue THANK YOU to all of you who attended and helped make the first Radiant Living & Learning Retreat a success!

The good news is that we raised $3,201 toward the $13,500 we need for Tristan’s Service Dog and the better news is that many of you are so gung-ho about doing this again that we’ve already started planning the next one!

We’d be here all day if I tried to thank every single person here who gave of their time and energy to make the Retreat happen.  You each hold a special place in my heart and I will be forever greatful for all of the love and support you showed our family and our Unschooling community by helping to make the Retreat possible. 

I knew that doing this fundraiser would stretch me and my comfort zone regarding “asking for help” and “receiving,” but I had NO idea just how deeply I would be touched by the generosity and kindness of each and every person who attended, donated, and worked hard to help me create this amazing event.  My heart is filled with Love every time I think about this amazing community.

I do want to mention a few special people that made such huge contributions, I just have to share:

Lisa Ruiz worked her a$$ off planning, cooking and feeding us at the Retreat.  She gave so generously of her time and resources for this event, it could never have happened without her!

Jen and Derek Palmeri facilitated a donation through Derek’s employer, Fresh Point Produce, of almost all of the produce we served at the meals and at the Smoothie Bar.

Scott Gaylon of K Bar K Ranch donated the chicken and deeply discounted the burgers we served.  He raises the cleanest meat I have found locally and sells at various DFW area farmer’s markets as well as making deliveries to the Plano and McKinney areas.  Find Scott on facebook here or at http://www.kbark.com/.

The work and donations from these folks accounts for OVER HALF of the total funds we were able to raise!

I’ve already heard from some of you on your experience with the Retreat but would love to hear any feedback (including “constructive criticism” 🙂 ) that you’d still like to share.  I’m gathering testamonials and also in the process of planning future Radiant events so your feedback is valuable!  Here’s a link to email me.

Speaking of future events – we don’t have exact dates yet, but want you to know we’re planning another RL&L Retreat around Halloween of 2014
and a RL&L Unschooling Conference in early 2015.

Hope you can join us – stay tuned for updates!

Heaps of Love,
Christina, Peter, Houston, Juliana and Tristan

What does an Autism Service Dog Do?

Many people are very excited about helping us get an Autism Service Dog for Tristan, and the most common question I’m asked is, “What exactly do service dogs DO for Autistic kids?”

I recently wrote a post about the biggest reason we are applying for an Autism Service Dog and how the Retreat as a fundraising event came to be.  But I wanted to fully answer this question many of you are asking as well as provide information that you can share with others when you are talking up the Retreat and inviting friends to join us in November! 🙂

So here are some of the things that a Service Dog can help Tristan and our family with:

Tethering – We can tether Tristan to the service dog so he will not run away.  (Click here to read about the problem of “elopement” in kids with Autism.)   Tethering will enable us to leave the house and enjoy “normal” activities as a family.  We currently don’t take Tristan many places, and when we do, we have to remain super vigilant and stay very close to him to make sure he stays safe.  Often we just choose to stay home because of the stress of keeping track of him, or the exhaustion that results from having to chase him all over the place each time he takes off running.  Parking lots are especially stressful!  With the dog we can run errands and enjoy fun family outings with less stress and fear.  When the child is tethered, adults can give commands to the dog depending on whether you need the child to stop and wait or walk calmly with the rest of the family.

Tracking & Searching – Whether we are at home or out and about, there is always the fear that Tristan will run off and we won’t see which direction he went.  We have extra locks on our doors, but Tristan has still gotten out a few times and has also “disappeared” for short periods when we were away from home.  It gets harder and harder to “contain” him the older he has gotten.  Autism Dogs are trained to track and search for your child if they wander away from safety.  Every minute counts when searching for a lost child – especially if there is water nearby!

Help with Sleep – Tristan has a sleep disorder which is a condition often co-morbid with  Autism.  He often wakes in the middle of the night and stays awake for HOURS.  It’s common that sleeping with their service dogs helps kids stay asleep throughout the night.  We are hoping an Autism Dog will help Tristan sleep!

Seizure Alert – Autism is often accompanied by seizures.  Tristan has had one seizure (that we know of).  A dog can alert us to an oncoming seizure even in the middle of the night.

Increase Social Skills – Tristan has many challenges making social connections with others.  The Autism Dogs create a kind of “bridge” to others and lengthens interactions so that kids with Autism get more time and more practice “being social.”

Calming Meltdowns – Service dogs can help soothe kids during meltdowns often associated with sensory processing difficulties.  They can even sometimes anticipate the meltdown (or respond before it gets out of hand) and offer pressure or other soothing sensory input to help the child cope.

Comfort During Medical Procedures – Autism is now known to be a “whole body” disorder affecting (or some say stemming from) problems in the immune system, digestive system, respiratory system, endocrine system and elsewhere in the body.  Treatment for Autism and medical comorbidities often require frequent blood draws and other uncomfortable procedures and dogs can offer calming comfort during doctor’s visits and procedures.

So as you can see there are many ways that these Angels-Disguised-As-Dogs can help kids with Autism and their families deal with the challenges that Autism presents.
If you’d like to help Tristan get his Service Dog you can:

  1. Join us at the Radiant Living & Learning Retreat November 15-18
    (single day tickets are also available)
    The proceeds from this event will got toward Tristan’s Service Dog Fund.
  2. Invite your friends to the Retreat and invite them to join our Facebook Group.
  3. If you can’t come to the Retreat, please visit and share our FundRazr page.
    I am continually humbled by the generosity of friends and strangers who have contributed online.  Thanks for spreading the word!

Autism, Elopement and the Power of Community

I’ve already talked about this a bit in the About section of the website, but last night as I was lying in bed (not sleeping because I’m so excited about this retreat) I started thinking about WHY I’m even doing the retreat in the first place and figured I should share.

As you may have seen, this event is a fundraiser for an Autism Service Dog for my son Tristan.

I love this kid SO much.

I know all of you parents can relate to that, but what’s unique about being Tristan’s mom is the overwhelming fear that Autism brings to the table.  I know all parents worry for their kids’ safety or their future at some point (or all the time!) but imagine the “normal” amount of worry and multiply that times a hundred . . . or maybe a thousand.

I actually vacillate between feeling hopeful about Tristan’s recovery and confident in my ability to care for his “extra needs,” and feeling pretty deep despair concerning his future and the day-to-day challenges Autism presents for our family.  I’m learning how to focus on the hope and magnify that in my life, but those nagging fears often tap me on the shoulder.
Or smack me in the face.

One of my biggest fears is that Tristan will run off and get hurt . . . or worse.  I’ve known for a while that 1/2 of individuals with Autism are “elopers,” meaning they easily wander or run away from safety.

Tristan definitely fits into this category.   And he is a runner.

The older he gets the harder it is to “corral” him, especially when we leave the house.  Imagine what it would be like if your kid never grew out of that “toddler phase” where they just run indiscriminately in any direction.

Tristan’s 6 so we’ve been in the “toddler phase” for 5 years now.  And he’s fast.

Another complication to this elopement issue is that many individuals with Autism are drawn to water.  (It’s a sensory thing in Tristan’s case at least.)  So things like our neighbor’s pool, which is often left unlocked, 🙁  creates even more concern.

Just to add to my anxiety around this whole issue, I recently read that wandering off is thought by some to be the leading cause of death for children with Autism!  We have “lost” Tristan for very short times in the past and that has been enough to convince us that we need some extra help in keeping him safe.  Service Dogs are trained in Search & Rescue functions as well as a tethering function where the child and the dog are connected so that Tristan can’t run away when we are out and about.  For a while we have wanted to get a Service Dog, but they are very expensive and the idea of fundraising was just too overwhelming on top of everything else that Autism brings to our daily lives.

During one of my most recent bouts of “Autism-induced depression,” some of my wonderful Home Educating friends rallied around me and offered to help raise money so we can get Tristan a Service Dog.  I cannot begin to tell you how much it means to me that these wonderful women have offered to support Tristan and our family in this way.

It’s true that “it takes a village,” but I often joke that in the case of severe Autism, it takes three.

Since we announced the retreat, even more amazing Unschooling friends have stepped forward to help in some way.  I am truly overwhelmed and touched beyond words.

So together we are putting on the Radiant Living & Learning Retreat both to serve our Home Education community and to hopefully chip away at the $13,000 we have to raise to get a dog with the skills necessary to help keep Tristan safe and enable our family to leave the house without the fear that it could end in tragedy.
(Sounds dramatic doesn’t it?!?  But that’s just one of the things we “Autism Moms” worry about on a daily basis 🙂 )

There are also many other ways that these service dogs help individuals with the various challenges of Autism and you can read more about that here.

So that’s my story (part of it anyway).
That’s why you will probably see a zillion posts between now and November reminding you to sign up and share the retreat info.

I love this kid.
And rather than letting the despair take over, I am (with the help of so many fabulous friends) focusing on what I can do to help my baby while creating a fun event to support families who are living (or considering) this amazing life of Unschooling.  I am SO excited to be combining these two passions in my life – Autism Recovery and Unschooling, and I feel SO energized by the excitement that many of you have expressed about the retreat AND Tristan’s dog.

Hope you can join us!!!

3 ways you can stay in touch regarding the event or Tristan’s dog:

  1. click on the “follow” link at the top right of the page to receive email updates
  2. join our Radiant Living & Learning Facebook group here
  3. RSVP to the Retreat Event on Facebook here

If you just want to donate toward Tristan’s Service Dog or
share our fundraising efforts with your friends on facebook
here’s the link to the fundraising page.

You can also share this post using the links below.

Heaps of Love to you All!