Like Mother, Like Daughter

Good morning, Austen Authors Land!

This morning I wanted to share something special to me on the eve of Halloween, a real treat in my life, and that is my daughter, Catelynn Samantha. This month has been a very major milestone month in our journey as mother and daughter. For one, Catelynn is really beginning to understand what it is that Mommy does when she says she is working. And not only that, she is fascinated and supportive of what I do in a way only a precocious 6-year-old can be. There’s not a day that goes by she is not putting a smile on my face from her observations about the world and my books.

This month, I went to the amazing AGM in Louisville, KY. What you don’t know is that trip is the first time I have left my daughter for multiple days. It astounded me as a mother that truly, in six and a half years, I had not had a single night to myself of NOT being able to be the one who’s there when she has a nightmare. Or be the one to sing our morning song (yes, we sing every morning “Good morning, good morning, it’s such a happy day”). And I was panicked in many ways that she would be angry or upset that I left her for that trip. I explained to her what I was doing, and to my surprise, Catelynn was 110% supportive! The first night I called her she started right off with “Hi, Mommy, how is your writer conference? Do they all love your book?”

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Catelynn helped me unpack all of my books and sort them for AGM. When I tried to help, she told me “No, no, Mommy, this is my job. I can do it.”


My daughter Catelynn is autistic. There were years of her toddlerhood that I struggled with deep feelings of failure as a mother and frustration that my child was just not like everyone else’s and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. We were asked to not come back to library programs because Catelynn couldn’t sit through the story and only wanted to do the craft and it was like no one else was in the room, she was oblivious. We struggled to get her to talk, by age 3, she was still only using one or two words for communication, with maybe about 30 different words she could say. We had moved, so hubby and I chalked up a lot of the strangeness to that. If you spoke to her, she looked right through you, and if you displeased her, she just screamed. But, at three and a half I took her to her pediatrician who said there were things that flag Catelynn and next we worked with the school district and Catelynn completed a full-year of special education pre-K.

It worked wonders! I still have a child that can’t button buttons, or handle changes in schedule well, or modulate her voice, but we now live in a way that Catelynn is blossoming and growing. As a mother, I feel like I am getting some parts of those years BACK because I am learning about all of the thoughts and ideas my daughter has in that mind of hers that thankfully, she can now express in a variety of ways. Oh, she talks just fine now, LOL, but she is also using art and writing to express her ideas. Her new hobby is writing books.

Catelynn will pre-determine how many pages her stories will be. Eight pages, ten pages, etc. And she will sit down and not stop until all of the pages are finished. Then we will staple them together and that’s her book. She makes two or three of these a week, and her teacher says it’s great to encourage her to help increase her stamina for the school day (we still have some challenges there). I am biased because I am her parent, but I am finding her rich details that she puts into these creatively spelled stories just fascinating. Yesterday, she wrote a story about Arthur, DW, and Buster, characters she watched on TV. And they had a sleep over, and Arthur “goed to sleep” but DW is “like a prncss and cud not sleep at all.” Then they had this disagreement over video games and who likes to play which kind and had to play apart. She’s sharing with me these pages and the author in me is thinking: “My goodness, she already is putting conflict in her story and developing characteristics for each character!” (Again, I’m her mother, I’m a bit biased).

While I was gone, Catelynn kept a journal for each day so she could share it with me when I got back. It was so adorable, and I am sharing this with you and hope it reminds you of cute times with your own children or grandchildren. 🙂

Very likely, Catelynn will be joining me during the day and we will be doing home schooling by next year. It’s not the school’s fault, they are trying to accommodate her, but it’s the very environment of a larger classroom that triggers Catelynn’s meltdowns and loss of control. She doesn’t process peer interactions well, she can’t handle stimulation past a specific threshold and she just falls apart. As a mother, I don’t want my daughter taking herself to the bathroom everyday to cry, which is what is happening right now. She is very self-aware of her quirks and actively participates in mitigating the symptoms. Point blank, she WANTS to be normal. If she homeschooled, we can do planned peer activities and give her a good space to stay academically appropriate. Right now, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place because as long as she is able to do some of her school work, the school system will not give her an aide or additional assistance for the sensory and social issues. And I understand, they have 25 kids to worry about in that classroom, I only need to worry about one. 🙂

I know this isn’t related much to Jane Austen, but it was something on my heart that I wanted to share. Catelynn is a bright sun in my life and a big reason why I do what I do. There is no greater motivation than your children telling you “Good job, Mommy, you have so many books!” Our family has many challenges and obstacles, but at the end of the day, we have love, support, and safety and are very blessed.

So this Halloween weekend, the trick is to find your treat, and I would love to hear about it in the comments!


Elizabeth Ann West

32 Responses to Like Mother, Like Daughter

  1. Thanks for sharing this heart-warming post, Elizabeth! Catelynn and you have such a wonderful relationship! As I said before, I’m in absolute awe of people like you, who achieve so much and keep so many things spinning. You’re doing a fantastic job as a mum and you’re a great role model for your lovely daughter, and that’s an inspiration for all of us!

  2. I have one very dear friend who has a 13 year old girl with autism and another dear friend with a 3 year old girl with Down Syndrome. I watch the things they go through (and the fights they have to endure) with amazement. Way to go momma! She’s on the right track! The 13 year old is still a daily challenge for her mom, but she tells me that the streaks of brilliance in her daughter make the hard days not as frustrating. She jokes about writing a book of only the things that her daughter says, it would be a best seller on the humor list right away.

    Homeschooling is a fabulous thing. I’m 42 and was homeschooled for more than half of my education. The resources now are so much better than they were then. You can do it!! Keep on keeping on, you’re building a star.

  3. Your little Catelynn is beautiful. I both have a child with learning and health disabilities and each. It is so frustrating when you recommend services your student needs and the school district says since it won’t help academically we can’t provide it….or the parents, when the school district offers them the moon, turn it down. My son was diagnosed, at 4, with sensory integration disorder and at 7, with ADD. At the age of 17 he had an EEG and they found he has a section of his brain that stays asleep all the time affecting all 4 lobes. There is no diagnosis or prognosis for this. I wanted to home school, but couldn’t have given him the support he needed. Since you move so much, it would be pointless to fight it at this point. Early intervention is so very important. We fought every step of the way starting when he was 6 months. He was diagnosed with hemi-hypertrophy and helmet therapy was recommended. The insurance company refused to pay for this, but said that when he was older they would pay for a surgical procedure to correct it which would’ve included cutting through the skull. We fought it and won coverage, but had to initially pay out of pocket. He also has asthma, food allergies, Shuenerman’s Kyphosis (spelling) &, can’t regulate his body temperature. He may also have Marphan Syndrome, but that is inconclusive. With all of this he found a field he loves…electronics and is studying avionics on academic and residential scholarship and is an honor student. With all his problems we never thought he’d go to college. So, with all the support you give your daughter she has a bright future ahead of her.

    In elementary school he had one teacher who couldn’t deal with him. He couldn’t sit still and couldn’t focus. She refused to listen when I said he needed extra help remembering things and in math. I finally met with his learning facilitator, and he was allowed to stand to do his work and could take the bathroom pass without permission so he could take a walk to be able to refocus.upon return. Fortunately we had support. He did complain about not having friends and lost recess time so he could get the extra help he needed. These are painful for a parent to hear. I fully understand your situation with your daughter. Sorry for rambling on so.

    Your daughter’s book is beautiful and I love her invented spelling. It is so readable which is wonderful for the beginning of first grade. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi Elizabeth Ann, Thanks for sharing. Your daughter sounds like a very special little girl and I love the books! They are really quite good for someone that age. Be sure to save them. My kids (12 and 15) love to look at things they created when they were younger. I don’t have any experience with homeschooling, but both my kids have disabilities and accommodations. Even though neither has anything as severe as autism, it’s a daily struggle in public school to make sure they get what they need– constantly working with teachers and administrators (and getting doctors to talk to the school). And the burden mostly falls on the mom, so homeschooling will save you some of that annoyance. I’m guessing homeschooling is easier when they’re younger too. So now is a good time to try it out. Good luck!

  5. Catelynn DOES sound just like her mother! Beautiful inside and out! We’ll have to let our kiddos meet up some day. Teddy asked about writing a book and then making it into a movie the other day. Stand strong, Mama!

  6. Beautiful post and I loved all of the interaction and comments from the readers. When I lived in Evanston, Illinois I had a very good friend who ran the center for the gifted out of National Lewis University. Then I knew another woman who started school not one but two schools. One for the gifted and another for the trouble gifted. In all three of these programs it was amazing to see what was being accomplished. Classes were small and the individual attention the students got from creative teachers was awesome. Your daughter’s books remind me of the ones that my first DH and son would make. Each picture would evolve into an interactive story that they would both tell, very creative. Best wishes with fulfilling your daughter’s needs. Your family is blessed. Jen

    • Thanks Jennifer! 🙂 Yeah now hubby is 90% on homeschooling, so I think unless something catastrophic happens, I will just do my original plan of get through first grade, start homeschooling this summer and see how it goes. If it works, then we will just roll right into that.

  7. To Elizabeth who is an AMAZING mom,

    Your article is wonderful! As you know, we walk this road daily. It isn’t an easy road. Unfortunately, sometimes the only people who get it are parents just like us. 🙂 I am so glad that we have become friends and I applaud you for all that you are doing for Catelynn! You are her cheerleader, her advocate, but most importantly, her mom! Way to go!

    Our days aren’t always easy, but when the sun shines, it is BEAUTIFUL! My day consisted of a display at the local Kroger being demolished by one little guy…but, the sun was SHINING when we visited his new school and let me just say….IT WAS GLORIOUS! Each day is a new step.

    I once had a family that I worked with (former Sped Teacher) tell me (when we began our journey with Alex) that if we EMBRACED Autism and all the things that come with it, it would be the MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE of our lives. I truly believe this! They show us a world that we may not have seen but for their eyes! 🙂

    Please tell Catelynn that we LOVE her pictures! She is such an amazing and sweet little girl!

    Much love from GA,
    Julianne (Alex sends hugs and kisses, too!)

  8. Elizabeth Ann, you are an amazing mother and Catelynn will thrive from your love and support. Between her Autism and the inability to feel pain, many people would think she should be wrapped in a cocoon, safe and sound. But you are giving her a special world, allowing her to spread her wings and grow into an awesome person. Be proud and keep writing.

  9. This is so sweet. I love her books. I have kids who are not traditional learners. Plus my sister is autistic. So I understand the struggle. I was on the brink of homeschooling when we discovered a wonderful charter school. That was nine years ago, and my kids are all so much better off because I made the change.

    • I think as she gets older, the music and arts will be viable ways to help her learn more advanced subjects. I was a book learner, give me a book I memorize it all I can regurgitate. Before the days of standardized testing, we would have projects where you could like “make a movie poster of the novel” or “make a propaganda poster for the time period” type activities and I always found them pointless as a student. As an adult, I am realizing now that for some kids, that’s HOW they learned their facts, through a visual aid. And I did too, I literally SEE the page I learned a fact on in my head, like which paragraph it was in the textbook.

  10. Thank you for sharing. It helps so many others who ate gping through their own worries and trials. Catelyn is truly amazing, as is her mother.

    • I am very vocal about how important early intervention is. I do not know where we would be without that year of special education at age 4. It’s sooooo hard as a parent to hear your child has significant delays and issues, but the younger they are, the easier it is to start catching them up. And we go day by day. Somedays are good, some are a struggle. Some are “FINE, wear your pajama pants to school I’m not fighting you anymore about changing your clothes.”

  11. Nothing–no review or ranking or kind words of a peer–ever feels as good as when your kid is proud of you and takes interest in your work. Your enthusiasm for each others successes is something special. Feeling proud for you, Mama.

    • Thanks Pamela Lynne, last summer she would add numbers to my sticky notes of word counts to hit. 🙂 I have a new idea come next year to involve her even more in my writing. . . . I have an idea to send out physical swag to readers who sign up each quarter and have her help me stuff the envelopes and put the labels on, she will LOVE IT.

  12. Thanks for the great post! As a mom of 5 kids myself, I agree that every one is an absolutely unique individual. I have a son who struggles with ADHD issues. Although he is very bright, the impulsivity that comes with ADHD can be a tremendous challenge, and I completely understand about social situations causing stress. My son is now 11 and in the 5th grade. Although he still struggles with being in a social environment, his school and teachers have been wonderful to try to understand him and help him overcome his specific challenges. I have also found a school that is a hybrid between a traditional school and a homeschool, where he will only have to attend 4 hours a day, then can do most of his work at home with parental support. We are planning to move him there for the really difficult 6-8 grade years, and I have great hopes that we will be able to help him! Good luck with all that you do, and know that many of us recognize what amazing children these are who struggle with some of the challenges.

    • The big sucky part is my husband is active duty Navy and while there are programs to homestead us somewhere, those are never a guarantee and wouldn’t work very well with his job. What I am hoping to do is create what you describe, a hybrid learning environment where Catelynn HAS to learn how to function around other people, but give her exits and other breaks that a public school just can’t offer an individual student. IDEA is great and there should be an appropriate education for every child, but as a parent, I am interested in the BEST education. More and more I am thinking at home, with me, doing school work with motor breaks in between, might be the best education for her with additional social interactions with her peers.

  13. So glad that you shared Elizabeth. There are more and more children with learning disabilities now and it is amazing how some mothers are handling the situations. I shall pray for you and your daughter that God gives you the tools to unlock all of her gifts. And she is gifted! That is evident in her books. Not every child follows the same path to adulthood and it is time that society and the educational system admits it.

    • Through my daughter, I am learning much about myself, as well. I was labeled “gifted” in school and realize I also never coped well with a regular classroom. I had a standing pass to go to the library anytime I wanted in elementary school and go sit in the quiet and read. This was in the days before standardized testing for every grade and a much more flexible curriculum. I think in many ways though children are being identified that in my generation would have slipped through the cracks, which for a time will increase the number of kids with disabilities. For the most part, stuff has improved greatly since I was a kid.

  14. Lovely post, Elizabeth! As a (biased!) homeschooling mama myself, I think that’s fabulous a fabulous plan for you and your sweet girl. Drop me a line if you have any questions AT ALL. It can be so overwhelming right in the beginning, but it is SO worth it in the end. The time you share together learning and figuring out the world is just so precious.

    • I will Anna!! I am nervous about my own commitment. And hubby and I still have to decide if this is what’s best. But he is starting to come around on the idea. No idea how it would impact me working from home, but probably we will be fine. I wrote in the summer when I have them, and just work around it. But it would be nice to travel with the kids and not have to worry about attendance records.

      • Truly, I am happy to chat any time at all! Please, don’t hesitate. I don’t know where I’d be without my homeschooling mama/gurus that I had to ask for advice! I would really, really encourage you to view the whole of next year as a ‘see how it goes’ kind of a thing instead of just the summer. The first few months you’re really just getting your feet wet and finding your sea legs (to horribly mix metaphors!) My DH and I knew we wanted to homeschool even before we had kids– from the time we were 18/19 years old– and I absolutely could not love it more and don’t have a single doubt that it’s best for our family. But that first year when my oldest (now 8/third grade) was kindergarten was so overwhelming! I knew it was what I WANTED and needed to do, but some days it just didn’t feel like I COULD. I don’t say that to scare you– hopefully you will have a fabulous, smooth transition. I just wanted to let you know that if the summer goes by and you’re feeling like you’re drowning and can’t even see the surface any more, hang in there! It really just gets better and better, I promise!


  15. I am thrilled at the progress Carelynn has made and thankful to have had your shoulder to lean on as a mother and a friend. I support your ideas about how to best provide an education for both your children. I know you can do it!
    My treat is discussing plots with my eight year old and listening to his ideas about how the story should go.

  16. Dear Elizabeth Ann, I don’t have any children of my own, nor grandchildren (but they are very young still) who have any diagnosis such as your daughter’s. But I have spent many years working with children, as a Kindergarten teacher in a private school, as a substitute teacher in public schools and as a caseworker in Children, Youth and Families and in Mental Retardation/Developmental Programs. Each child is different, whether it be your own or someone else’s. Yes, there are many who home school here in the States and our local community of home-schoolers has their own newspaper and organization to keep them in touch with each other and to offer support and advice. Finding other parents with similar problems can be such a God send. I know it is very hard for any of us who have not had experience up close and personal to understand what you (and others) are going through. My hat is off to you for taking that step to have a few days away and it does sound like you prepared her very well. I love her books. As a kindergarten teacher I had my students making their own books often. Plus we had a “journal” which students took home and filled in as our class mascot went to visit over a weekend at each home. The student then read the adventure to us and explained the pictures they put in the book.

    We also have a legal resource and legal organization to advice and act for parents if they do not believe that their child’s needs are being met. But that can be an arduous process.

    BTW: your daughter is a cutie. Love her smile. And great that she wanted to help and that it was “her job”!

    As for my treat: with four grandchildren, just seeing them in costume is so precious for me. Maybe baking my first apple and pumpkin pies of the season will come about.

    • For me, a big positive is how homeschooling could allow me to keep her curriculum consistent. We have at least 2 more moves ahead of us.

      Right now we really are in a position of she’d have to be doing poorly to get more assistance. Both her teacher and I see the warning signs of how if we don’t fix this now, it’s going to have lasting consequences. But the committee felt since there is no academic delay, there is no justification for an aid. And we’ve had some dangerous situations happen late last year and already this school year.

      I know in my heart the best place for my high-functioning little girl is at home with private tutoring. If something is challenging, we can take a frustration break and get right back to it. She is VERY social for a child with autism, she just doesn’t read social cues other than academically. In other words, the concept stranger means nothing to her. She will run up to someone she’s never met and hug and kiss them or grab their earrings, etc. She asks me and her father for hugs and kisses. She likes affection, but it’s very transactional. I am asked daily, multiple times, for a hug.

      The school is within the letter of the law, sometimes the letter of the law doesn’t work for an individual student. And we move so often, it’s not worth fighting one school district just to do it all over again in two years. 🙁

  17. Elizabeth, my heart goes out to you. We’ve been there, done that and got the teeshirts!

    Our son was diagnosed at age 7 and we had such a lot of trouble with the first school he attended. They just kept on treating him as a naughty boy, even after diagnosis. Every week we’d get pulled into the headteacher’s office. ‘He’s done this, what are YOU going to do about it?’ was not an uncommon comment from them. No suggestion of working together at all. Eventually, when they threatened exclusion, we moved him to another school. Should have done it much earlier. The new school was so supportive, it was hard to compare the difference. Here in the UK, home schooling is virtually impossible to arrange but it seems relatively common in the USA. Am I correct in thinking that?

    Now, he’s 23, graduated from University last year and living with his girlfriend. I’d love to meet the headteacher from that first school again and tell her what’s happened to the little boy she gave up on.

    Obviously every autistic person is different and though our experience eventually turned out well, no one can guarantee that for everyone.

    Your daughter sounds like a total treasure and I just love the idea of her books.

    I realise this comment has nothing to do with what you asked for but just wanted you to know that there are other people in our JAFF world who know what you’re going through. Sending you lots of hugs.

    • Hi Anji!

      Yes the support I have had from friends in JAFF and online has been incredible! Homeschooling is very popular in the United States. The program I am looking at will be about $2,000 a year for the curriculum and supplies, then probably another $1500 for things I would add on to enrich her curriculum. I don’t regret putting her in public schools, she had therapies and assistance from age 4-5 that I cannot provide.

      However, now that she is communicative, and interested in learning, I think we would do amazing things together. Before I just “yank” her out of school, I want to try it out first over summer break. I want to put together a full schedule of breaks, days we do school, and field trips. We live just a 2.5 hour train ride from NYC, so for example, one thing we could do to supplement her art education is to do a study on the paintings at the Met and then GO there.

      • I just wanted to comment that my favorite part of homeschooling was being able to GO to see the things I was learning about and not just have to imagine the reality. That alone made a serious impact on me. We went to see art, hear music, see monuments, investigate bugs, watch a building being built, held sea creatures at an aquarium, we went to a farm (I think that was to see the structure of horses), etc. Truly broadened my mind and I’m not autistic. I can only imagine the seeds it will plant in her mind!! Awesome idea.

Your thoughts are precious!