Road Trippin’

We hit the road at 5:30 last Friday morning to head to Austin for Camden’s doctor appointment. The stretch from Dallas to Austin is a lot of stop and go, fast and slow, so leaving at this time was perfect. We stopped in Waco for breakfast and had plenty of time to spare for our 10AM appointment. At the doctor visit: IMG_5795After that, we grabbed lunch and then checked in to our hotel. Camden doesn’t ask for much. He points out hotels around town and remarks, “hotel.” I loved staying at hotels as a kid, and apparently he does too. IMG_5940The boys were thrilled. The hotel had an indoor pool that the guys made good use of. Brian said this swim time was his favorite part of the trip because they had a blast and both of the boys are tall enough now that there is a lot less stress involved for the parents. Camden felt more secure since he was able to touch the bottom. IMG_5813IMG_5848We got cleaned up and headed to In & Out for dinner. Camden was stoked to be sitting close to the train tracks. IMG_5878IMG_5880We’ve been in Austin several times, but this was the first time we took the boys to the Capitol building. We didn’t arrive until after 6PM, but the doors were still open to check out the inside. IMG_5884IMG_5886IMG_5894IMG_5896IMG_5914Saturday morning we took the Austin Steam Train from Cedar Park to Burnet. Here’s the blurb from the website:

This 66 mile round trip excursion journeys through the Texas Hill Country, crossing the wooden trestle bridge over the South San Gabriel River and Short Creek Canyon. During the two hour layover in Burnet you can enjoy lunch on your own, a leisurely stroll around the historic town square and the Wild West Gunfight (weather permitting). Finally, relax and enjoy our historic cars as the train returns to Cedar Park in the afternoon. All cars are pulled by our 1960 Alco diesel locomotive. Parties of two may be seated at shared tables. This ride is 6 hours round trip with a 2 hour layover. SCHEDULE: Departs 10:00 AM, Returns 4:00 PM.

Cost is around $28-40 each. If it’s your birthday month,  you get a free ticket so I made use of that! Camden is very interested in trains (Thomas the train, model train layouts, I Love Toy Train dvds, etc). He struggles with gravitational insecurity and doesn’t like the feel of elevators, escalators, planes, etc. I’d heard this train was pretty smooth, so we were hoping it’d go well. He was uncertain when we arrived, and once the train departed it took him about 15 minutes to relax. After that, he was fine. Camden’s iPad is often utilized to help with tough transitions or new and uncertain experiences like this one. I decided it was going to be a no iPad excursion. The ride was 2 hours one-way. He did great! Once we arrived in “beautiful Burnet” it was time for lunch. The locals recommended a certain restaurant, and once we got there I saw that it was buffet. I’m not a fan of most buffets, so I passed. Thirty minutes before departing back to Austin/Cedar Park, there was a short play with an old western back drop. I had forgotten to pack Camden’s noise-cancelling headphones, so when the first gunshot was fired, he was done. I don’t see us doing this train excursion again, but I certainly enjoyed trying something different. IMG_5944IMG_5947IMG_5949IMG_5970IMG_5977IMG_5980IMG_6040After the train ride, we headed to New Braunfels to stay the night with some of our dear friends. Camden and Carson LOVE going to their house. When we were at the hotel, Carson told me, “Mom, I love hotel-ing, but I mostly love staying at Ms. Danielle’s house.” =) They have two teenage boys who are amazing role models for my boys. We were fed, loved on, and encouraged. Our friends headed out for church Sunday morning and we packed up. I peeked in the play room/man cave to see the boys having a jam session. Totally cracked me up!IMG_6075.JPGWe loaded up our stuff and headed to Morgan’s Wonderland, an all-abilities park in San Antonio. The weather was overcast and pretty pleasant. The park had gotten a Ferris wheel last month and we were excited to try it out! Camden had me in a choke hold the entire time.IMG_6088IMG_6122IMG_6127IMG_6136IMG_6174IMG_6202IMG_6216IMG_6232IMG_6241IMG_6248IMG_6272IMG_6285IMG_6337IMG_6339IMG_6340We logged four hours at the park, and then started the journey back home. It was a short but fun trip!

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Talking to Camden’s Classmates About Autism

In the spirit of Autism Awareness Month, I was hoping to visit Camden’s class to educate the kids about autism. I searched the internet for sample letters or ideas on how other parents had navigated this. Not much luck.

Today I had the opportunity to talk with Camden’s general education class about autism. I think it went well, and I’d like share in case it benefits other parents. Camden’s teacher and I spoke about expectations. I composed the letter below, and it was sent home to the parents last week:
autism letter for parents
I had 30 minutes with the class. Not a ton of time to cover such a big topic, but it helped me focus on what was most important. I introduced myself and jumped right in to “What is Autism?” We talked about autism being a neurological and biological disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and exhibits repetitive behaviors. While people with autism have those three characteristics, autism is a spectrum disorder and there are varying degrees. I emphasized that quote we’ve all heard numerous times, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” reading to Camdens classWe went over the CDC’s autism statistics. 1 in 68 in the US have autism. 1 in 42 boys. I made sure they knew that unlike Strep or a cold, that autism is not contagious. I showed them a picture of a child with Down Syndrome, and talked about various special needs, like Downs, that people could see from the outside. Autism is different. When people look at Camden, or other people with autism, they look like everyone else. That can be tricky since Camden looks neurotypical, people often expect him to act a certain way. 12891488_10154091992909283_1672379358648847446_o.pngI made the graphic below that went home with the kids to point out some of the ways Camden is similar to his peers and some ways he is different. I wore my Different Not Less tee and drove home the point that Camden is different than them in several ways, but that doesn’t mean he is any less of a person.
same and different from peers
I went over Camden’s list of similarities to see how many of his classmates had those things in common. Most of them did. Then we went over Camden’s differences. Some things they were already aware of, and some things they learned about Camden today. I was glad to be able to talk about common ground and to also discuss some of the challenges/differences of kids with autism. Camden’s classmates were incredible! They were such an amazing audience, listening and participating and tracking with me.

We read the picture book My Brother Charlie. The pages are colorful and it’s an easy read-aloud that covered everything I wanted to get across. The book reiterated the aspects of autism I had gone over, and it talked about how these siblings were similar and different. Ultimately, it is a story of love.
my-brother-charlie-book
Then I addressed the various questions that the students had submitted: How many teeth has Camden lost? What is autism? What does Camden do for fun at home? What causes autism? Do adults have autism? Have we tried sign language or a communication app with Camden? Good questions! They are a sharp group!

We talked about how that just because a kid with autism may not be able to communicate, it doesn’t mean that child doesn’t know what is being said. It’s important to be kind with our words to everyone. I told the students how sometimes people assume that just because a person can’t talk or talks differently, that people may think they aren’t smart. That’s so not true! I have an uncle who is deaf. He has his doctorate and was recently honored Teacher of the Year for his district. Super smart guy. I explained how some people with autism use letter boards or their iPads to communicate. We watched this powerful two-minute video about Dillan, a young man who is non-verbal but communicates with his iPad. Amazing! 1412255_10153852862719283_5283849152844647883_oI looked into their sweet eyes and told them from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciated their kindness toward Camden. I see them high-five Camden, race with him on the playground, slide, help him in class, etc. kindness-matterns

I sent them home with Camden’s picture and this colorful and easy-to-understand pamphlet: http://www.bridges4kids.org/pdf/Growing_Up_Booklet.pdf

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to talk with Camden’s classmates about autism.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. If you done this before, I’d love to hear how it went.

February Fun: Medieval Times, Texas Legends, Date Night

It’s been a fun February, despite the boys’ disappointment over not having snow.

I shared recently that my uber-talented friend, Emily, took pictures for our newest Autism Awareness tee. You can see more them here.
Brian Candace Green Tee


Thanks to the folks from the nonPareil Institute (who received complimentary tickets from the Texas Legends), we attended our first Legends Basketball game. We SO appreciated the opportunity to give this a try. We didn’t know how Camden would do, but since it didn’t cost us anything, it was certainly worth a shot! We were allowed to bring in snacks for Camden that fit his dietary restrictions. Of course, being a sporting event, it was loud. He did great with his headphones and seemed to enjoy himself. Before the game, this small blimp thing was flying around throwing out coupons. The boys got a kick out of it! Looking at my pics, you probably wouldn’t know that we were at a basketball game unless I told you. You can see where my focus and heart are! =) On the way in, we passed the hockey arena. The boys were super interested, so we’ll have to keep that in mind for another time.
ice hockey
Before the game:
pre game pic
Mesmerized by the blimp thing:
blimp
Daddy and Carson and Little Dog:
Dad Carson Legends
Carson and I went down to check out the kid area. They had a big blow up slide, climbing wall, baseball toss, and basketball throw. It was crowded and there was lots of cutting and such, which makes me slightly cray cray.
Legends Kid Area
He rocked the baseball throw. The tee-ball coach last year had the boys point to where they intended to throw the ball. Carson does so every single time. =)
IMG_3271
We sat near some families whose adult children attend the nonPareil Institute. Autism parents are kind of a fraternity of sorts. We connect almost instantly, and it was good to hear stories from those who are farther down the road than us. Here’s the mission of nonPareil in case you aren’t familiar with the organization: “nonPareil Institute is dedicated to providing technical training, employment and housing to individuals who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. We hope to one day be partially self-sustaining from the products our Crew build and market.”


Camden continues to school himself by using the closed caption feature on his iPad. Here he is learning to spell the names of the characters on Blaze and the Monster Machines.
Blaze closed caption

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The little guy has loved Face-Timing with his cousin, Kaila, on Monday evenings! Here he is with helmet-head reading to her. So special! Kaila is so patient. They talk about everything under the sun! And yes, that is a bathroom right next to where we eat. Odd, I know.
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Carson Face-Timing Kaila


Valentine’s was nice. I received a beautiful bouquet of roses from a super special Baba. Brian spoke to my love language of chocolate-covered strawberries…YUM! The boys made Valetine crafts at school that I so LOVE! One of the couples in Carson’s class made them for the craft at the party. I was practically drooling over them. Super cute and something I’d proudly display every year. They had extras and were so kind to let me take four of them for Camden’s class. I think it’s a great craft for all abilities.
Valetine goodies


Brian picked up the Home Depot workshop Valentine kits for the boys to complete at home. It gets noisy with all the hammering, and since Camden doesn’t need to breathing in all the fertilizer and chemicals, it’s just easier to complete the projects at home.
Home Depot Valentine Project


The Fitness Pal app has been my side-kick this month. Things had gotten pretty out of hand with my health, so the accountability has been helpful.
myfitnesspal


Since the kids were out of school for Presidents’ Day, we made good use of the nice weather: Top Golf, In & Out Burger, weekly grocery shopping trip, and since I had my groceries on ice in my insulated bags, we were able to stop by a local park to ride bikes. It was pretty busy at the park, and Carson’s chain broke off about half-way around the trail. I was pushing his bike while he was helping Camden up the hills. I’m pushing Carson’s bike and trying to keep up while Camden is heading down a hill kamikaze-style. I raised my voice at Carson that I really needed his help and he wasn’t being very helpful. He was, actually. I was just a grouch. I apologized later for raising my voice and being unkind. Now, when I get remotely ugly, Carson will gently comment, “Mom, remember the hill.” =) Indeed. Here’s a collage of some of the events from the day:
PresDay Collage
That picture on the top left of Carson walking beside Camden while he rides his bike gets me. Sweetness. Two weeks ago, my Facebook “On This Day” feature brought up these memories:

Those were tough days. Camden was a very fussy little guy. Cried a lot. Slept very little. GI issues. Carson was fussy, clingy, and was showing a lot of red flags for developmental delays. We had therapists in our home for hours each day. My biggest migraine trigger is sleep deprivation, and my oh my how the trigger was pulled. I remember several times when I’d be nursing Carson while I was holding a vomit bucket for myself. I was a hot mess. I tried to treasure the moments, and laugh, and enjoy my boys. I remember holding them a lot and swaying to You’re Gonna Miss This, and willing myself to stop and soak in the here and now. Long hard days. I’m so thankful for pictures that I can look back on now and smile. Brian’s Aunt Lynn shared a thought on my post that has really stuck with me: “It does go by fast. Be grateful for the years when a hug, kiss, or a Band-Aid could make it all better.” Wow! While the baby/toddler days are long and hard, she’s right. A lot of the tears can be dried up by a hug. It won’t always be that way.
That day at the park Carson also conquered something he’s been working on for over a year…the monkey bars. I didn’t get the whole thing on video b/c I didn’t know he was gonna nail it. My favorite part is his excitement at the end. =)

Sorry, but I have to repost to capture the joy!! 😍

A video posted by Candace (@countingonhope) on Feb 15, 2016 at 2:18pm PST

//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js
Thanks to the peeps at Hunter’s Autism Specials, we procured some tickets to Medieval Times for a reasonable price. The show was on a Thursday and didn’t start until 7:30. We are typically winding down at 7:30PM, so I suspected Camden might have some struggles. Most days we sit down for dinner between 5-5:30. Camden isn’t a big fan of car rides. We had some obstacles, but I really thought and hoped that once the show started, it’d all be worth it. We headed out, and he wasn’t thrilled about the hour car ride in traffic. Since he hadn’t been before, I didn’t really know how to prepare him. I just kept telling him that we were looking for the castle and I’d update him on time and distance. We went through the line and were each crowned so that we knew where to sit and which knight to cheer for.
Medieval Times crowning
Then they took our picture, which they’d later try to sell to us for $20. We were ushered in to a large, crowded, dark area with the booze and over-priced toys and such. The boys were less than impressed with the evening at this point. Here they are yawning and not thrilled:
Medieval Times Unimpressed
Medieval Times hooked us up with preferred seating, so we didn’t wait long. Here’s some of our group before we went in:
group peeps
And here is what the arena looked like:
Group Shot
A shot of my guys getting ready to cheer on the black and white knight:
3 guys at Medieval Times
Once everyone came into the arena, the noise level was high. We couldn’t really understand what our server was saying and could only hear the person right next to us. Camden wore his headphones the whole time and was fine. I made sure they had gfcf options for Camden before we signed up for the event. I told our server twice about dietary restrictions, so we are hoping that was well received. The non gfcf members of our family ate garlic bread, tomato veggie soup, 1/2 a baked chicken, 1/2 of an herb-roasted baked potato, and a “dragon turd” (chocolate and vanilla swirled treat) for dessert. Camden had the chicken and potato. They don’t offer eating utensils, so we brought our own for Camden. We were allowed to bring in a drink and fruit and such for Camden. Only stinky thing about the dining was the seating. Your seat and your table are far from one another. The seat is low and the table is high. Not the end of the world. Just awkward, uncomfy, and not ideal for kids trying to eat and see the entertainment. This picture gives you a little idea of the seating situation:
Medieval Times seating
The entertainment revolves around these various knights completing various equestrian events and duals to see who is crowned the best. As soon as the first horse came out, Camden rotated between a HUGE grin plastered all over his face to a jaw-dropping wow face. IMG_3689 Medieval Times big smile

 
The entertainment included equestrian relay-type races, falconry (super cool), some skits and story line, sword fighting (which won over my youngest), etc. I had been twice before, but seeing my boys so excited was THE BEST! Here’s Carson all giddy about the fighting:
Carson Fighting Medieval Times
When they came around at the end to show us our photos, I really liked both of them but just couldn’t justify spending $40 on a high-glass 8X10. On our way out the door, we had a guy snap a family picture for us. Not quite as fancy, but it captures a special memory:
Medieval Times Family Shot
The boys had their 6-month checkup at the dentist this month. Carson loves going. Camden is making strides each time we go.

Carson LOVES going to see Dr. Schaack and his crew! Despite Camden's racing heart and shakiness, he did great!! I so appreciate how McKinney Pediatric Dentistry cares for my boys!

Posted by Counting on Hope on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Brian and I were thrilled to end the month with a date night. Our church has a respite ministry for special needs families. They provide free childcare once a month for three hours. We went to a yummy burger joint that has grass-fed beef. It was so good! Then we shopped some sales for clothes for our guys, because we’re romantic like that. 😉

Date night thanks to our church's respite ministry!! ❤️

Posted by Counting on Hope on Friday, February 26, 2016

We’ve got family coming in town this weekend, Spring Break just around the corner, and my little guy will be turning SIX. WAAAHHH!!! Here’s to an awesome March!

2016 Autism Awareness Tees

World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd. Last week I shared my thoughts about autism awareness, what awareness in action means to me, and our newest t-shirt design.

Counting on Hope began as a way to help with our family’s expenses. My husband and I desire to do all that we can within our means to help our son, Camden, be as healthy as possible. We adore him just as he is, while continually raising the bar to help him be his very best. Especially when the boys were younger, I wore a lot of autism tees. I wasn’t willing to stop getting out and about, and the shirts were an attempt to wave my white flag for understanding when Camden was struggling. Instead of buying other people’s shirts, I decided to put my own together. Up until now, I’ve kept a surplus of inventory. This approach hasn’t really benefited our family in the fund-raising department, which is why I am moving over to a pre-order format (think Sevenly).

We are offering FOUR designs for our Autism Awareness pre-order. And guess what??? They are available all the way from youth small to an adult 3XL!! The deadline to order is 11:59PM on Sunday, March 13. Orders will ship on March 23. preoder final


This green V-neck is our newest design. Click here to find it on Etsy.
Green AU teeI’ve had lots of requests for a V-neck design, and I finally listened. This tee honors both of my boys. Autism shows a glimpse into Camden, and the green reflects my little guy, Carson, who was born on St. Paddy’s Day. Green is his favorite color. =) This shirt runs true to size. It’s 50% polyester and 50% cotton jersey knit. In this picture, my husband is wearing the large and I am wearing the medium:
Brian Candace Green TeeHere’s my friend, Leslie, in the small:

**While most people find the shirt true to size, it’s important that you check the size chart to see what would be best for you.
ADULT SIZE CHART:
Green Adult Size Specs
YOUTH SIZE CHART (The youth shirt is a dark heather grey and is a 50/50 cotton/poly blend):
Kid Green spec cropped


Here’s our Different Not Less tee. I first heard that phrase from Temple Grandin, and liked it. Click here to see it on Etsy.
Puzzle_final mock-upThis shirt runs true to size and is quite forgiving. You’ll want to do your queso eating in this design. It’s 65% polyester and 35% cotton. It’s a soft-style and super comfy. The color is called Heathered navy, but everyone calls it grey. Here are some folks in the Different Not Less tee:
DNL tees
**While most people find the shirt true to size, it’s important that you check the size chart to see what would be best for you.
ADULT SIZE CHART:
DNL Adult Specs
YOUTH SIZE CHART:
DNL youth specs


Next is our Autism flag tee. Click here to find it on Etsy.

It’s not really the autism flag, but it should be. It has the traditional colors depicted for autism as well as the puzzle piece. This tee runs true to size and is 90% cotton and 10% polyester.
Autism Flag TeeHere I am wearing the medium:
Candace Flag Tee
And Brian in the large:
Brian large flag tee
**While most people find the fit true to size, please check the sizing chart to be sure.
ADULT SIZE CHART:
DNL Adult Specs
YOUTH SIZE CHART:
DNL youth specs


The last design available for pre-order is our Autism Awareness short-sleeved baseball tee. Click here to find it on Etsy.

This baseball design was the first we released. It’s currently available in the short-sleeve raglan and the short-sleeve 2-button baseball jersey. Click here to find the short-sleeve raglan on Etsy and here for the 2-button jersey.
BBall SS RaglanIt’s 100% ring-spun cotton. Light-weight shirt with a grey torso and navy sleeves. Please note that this shirt tends to run a size large on women. I am typically a medium, but wear a small in this. Most women find this to be true, but it’s up to you to check the size chart to see what would work for you.
ADULT SIZE CHART:
Adult Bball specs
YOUTH SIZE CHART:
Kid Size BBall specs
The baseball tee also comes in this 2-button baseball jersey. Click here to find it on Etsy.
HenleyThe 2-button baseball jersey is Heathered-grey. It’s a 50/50 cotton/poly blend.
It runs true to size, but please check your measurements in the chart below:

ADULT SIZE CHART:
Henley Adult Specs
YOUTH SIZE CHART:
Henley Youth Specs
THANKS A TON for stopping by to see what we have to offer! Hope you find something for yourself, a teacher/therapist, or a loved one!

Autism Awareness in Action

We are getting ready to launch our new shirt design for Autism Awareness Month in April. This is our second design that has the Awareness in Action tagline. I’m thinking it’s fairly obvious, but just in case, here’s what I mean…

Awareness is simply the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact. Action is the doing. I was aware that my pants were getting tighter. I was aware that the amount of soda I was consuming was ridiculous. Before I decided to make some changes, join a gym, track my exercise and food intake with My Fitness Pal, it was merely awareness. Working out, cutting out the sodas, watching my food intake, drinking more water, utilizing My Fitness Pal is the ACTION. So embarrassed to admit this, but over the past year I allowed myself to get up to my highest pregnancy weight! UGH! I was AWARE of what the scales and my pants revealed, but I wasn’t ready for the ACTION until recently. This Saturday will be two weeks since I made a few changes, and I’m already down 5 pounds. Whoop! Whoop!

So what does that mean in regards to Autism awareness in action? Most people have heard of autism. Many have seen Rain Man. Probably have caught news clips here and there about what does and doesn’t cause autism as well as the rates of autism.

April 2011 was our first year to acknowledge Autism Awareness Month. Brian made some yard art. This photo reflects the CDC statistics from 2011.

Autism Awareness Yard Art 2011

Here’s Camden’s cuteness the following year, in April of 2012:

Autism Awareness yard art 2012

And here’s Camden in April of 2013, reflecting the CDC’s newest numbers:

Autism Awareness Yard Art 2013

My husband made new art last year that reflects hope.

Second yard art AA

As jaw-dropping as it is to see, I hope Brian updates the original yard art. The numbers the CDC released in 2015 are 1 in 42 boys. The way the numbers are rising, it is going to hit very close to home to many of you very soon. But that’s just awareness. What would action look like? Here are just a few examples:

  • Ditch the “R” word for good. I wrote about it here.
  • Consider volunteering in the special needs class at your place of worship. I wrote about our experience here.
  • If you are a grandparent to a kiddo with autism and that child is on a special diet, support the parents and child. It won’t kill a child not to have ice cream or candy. And remember that the parents are living it 24/7.
  • Autism can be very isolating. If you are a guy and are friends with an autism dad, consider inviting him to lunch or Top Golf or the movies. Maybe he’d like to share about his autism world, and maybe he’d just like the reprieve.
  • If you are a parent that gets easily frustrated that you can’t bring nuts or junk food or food with dyes or whatever to your kid’s school, please try to extend some grace and compassion.
  • Maybe check out some picture books from the library to help your younger kids understand what autism is, although as a spectrum disorder it looks different from person to person. Main things are: struggles with communication, struggles with social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. I think My Brother Charlie is a good book with nice illustrations. Read it with your child, talk about autism, and maybe role play how to be a friend to someone with autism.
  • Many kids with autism struggle with detoxification. Consider ditching your toxic pesticides and fertilizers for a non-toxic option. Or if you won’t give up up the toxic options, consider spraying/treating when your ASD neighbor is on vacation.

Many autism parents can feel frustrated with all the awareness. All the talk. The numbers are rising and we need more doing. I shared more about that last year.


We have our new Autism Awareness t-shirt design all ready to go. It’ll be available for pre-order next week.

I love the shirt. It’s simple. It’s V-neck, which many of you have asked for. It honors Camden, who has autism. And it honors, my little guy, Carson. Carson is an AMAZING autism sibling!! He has been hands down, the best therapist for Camden, b/c really it just comes down to the fact that he loves Camden and is his friend. Carson is a St. Paddy’s baby, so the green is for him!! =) I absolutely LOVE seeing both of my boys in this design.

My graphic gal and friend, Sheila, over at Simple Piece Designs put the shirt together. My beautiful, talented, big-hearted friend, Emily, offered to take pictures of Brian and I in our newest t-shirt design. You can check out Emily’s talent here. You’ll be glad you did. =)

Brian and I met up with Emily in our downtown area. She worked her magic.

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For size reference, I am wearing a medium and Brian is wearing a large. I had my friend and fellow autism mom, Leslie, try on the small and take some bathroom mirror selfies. Leslie has an action plan for her health and is a kick-boxing queen. Super proud of her for all of her hard in getting to a size small and looking amazing! She’s gorgeous!

We will have some give-aways next week when the new shirts are ready for pre-order. Be on the look out!