Real Moms Share: Charlotte Chapman
Charlotte Chapman “Baking” a Difference
Charlotte Chapman is a special mother who contributed to this issue’s “Real Moms Share” section. We asked her to give us an insight into herself, as well as into her life raising her daughter Allix. We asked her a series of questions; some serious and some “just for fun”. See what she said…
PARENTING SPECIAL NEEDS: Tell us a little bit about yourself and family.
Charlotte Chapman: I am a retired 8th grade math teacher and my husband, Mitch, works for Chevron overseas. He works for 28 days and then is home for 28 days. My husband and I both grew up, and still live, in Cajun Country. We have a son, Bryce, who is 16 months older than Allix. When they were younger, he thought they were twins. He has always loved and accepted his sister just the way she is.
Allix, 21, works part time with the chef at Indulge desserts. She loves to work out and we go to exercise classes at a small gym where she has stolen the hearts of the people she works out with. She loves to travel and is always planning our next vacation. She loves her iPad and iPod and ANYTHING Disney… especially if it has to do with Frozen.
PSN: Tell us a little bit more about your child’s diagnosis and personality.
CC: When Allix was about 15 months old we knew that “something was wrong”. Most times she didn’t respond to language. If I was in the room and you asked “where’s mom”, not only would she not point to me, she wouldn’t even look at me. Initially, we thought she might have been hard of hearing. We brought her to a hearing specialist and found that she had fluid in her ears. The fluid, when present, caused 40% hearing loss. But, it wasn’t there all the time. So, we thought, “that’s the problem, put tubes in her ears and her hearing returned to normal”. After a few months even though her hearing was normal nothing improved.
At 24 months we started speech therapy and about that time the temper tantrums started. The older she got the more frustrated she became. She would bang her head on concrete floors. This could happen anywhere: home, friend’s houses, or the grocery store. Allix also began flapping. She would rock back and forth, flap her hands, shake her head from side to side, and say “eeeeee” all at the same time. All the research I had read said that if children weren’t talking by age 5, they would probably remain nonverbal. As her 5th birthday approached it seemed like a terrible deadline. But, not long after her fifth birthday, she finally started talking. Her speech continues to improve and at 21 she still goes to speech therapy.
Allix attended a parochial school, St. Leo Seton, for elementary and middle school and attended a parochial high school, St. Thomas More. After a couple of weeks, I picked Allix up from school and she said to me, “Mom I like STM but unfortunately I’m in the wrong class”. That’s when I realized she had no idea that she had special needs. We had to sit down with her and talk about autism.
She is very strong willed and when she makes a decision she is determined to follow through. She wanted to make cooking videos so she taught herself to use Windows Movie Maker and made those cooking videos and many others.
PSN: Share with us something YOU, personally, had to overcome by being a mother to a child with special needs?
CC: I had to overcome my need for perfection. Or, maybe I should say, I had to change my idea of what perfect really is because I truly believe my family is perfect just the way it is.
PSN: Will you share with us some life lessons you’ve learned on your journey raising your child with special needs?
CC: When she was first diagnosed I was devastated. I realized my life was not going to be the one I had imagined. I think the most important lesson I learned was that even though my life is different than I imagined it would be, that doesn’t mean worse; it just means different. We also learned humility, patience, and understanding.
PSN: What was graduation/transition/work like for your daughter?
CC: Allix enjoyed school, but like most kids, she was ready to graduate her senior year. The transition from school to work was really easy for her because she was hired by the bakery where she had done her job training. The chef she works with has been wonderful and has taught Allix so much.
PSN: How did you help Allix to soar and become her own person? What were the specific challenges?
CC: When she was younger, I read everything I could about autism and tried to do it all. But, one day, I realized that I just couldn’t do it. I also knew that I couldn’t live in her world and she was just going to have to learn to live in our world. Our mission statement was to have as “normal” a life as possible especially since we had another child only 16 months older. We decided that autism was not going to define our lives. We took her everywhere we went and expected her to behave appropriately. At first it was a struggle. She would get upset and people would stare. But, slowly she did learn to behave appropriately in public. Now, until she starts talking, people can’t tell that she’s autistic.
PSN: How did you discover Allix had a talent/gift/passion for cake decorating?
Allix’s senior year of school they did job training. Her teacher sent home a questionnaire for the parents to fill out asking what we thought they should do. Allix has always been good with computers so I said “she should work in an office”. Allix told me she wanted to be a baker. Now, I’m not much of a cook and rarely baked at home, so, baking wasn’t something she knew how to do. I told her that office work would be better for her. When she got to school she told her teacher that she didn’t want to do what I had written on the form, she wanted to be a baker. I’m happy to say that her teacher listened to her instead of me and found a bakery that allowed her to train there.
When I realized that she had a talent for baking, I put her in as many cake decorating classes as I could. I attended the classes with her, but didn’t excel like she did. At home she wanted to bake and decorate cakes all the time. We don’t eat sweets much so we didn’t know what to do with the cakes. That’s when we got involved with the My Special Day project.
PSN: What do you most want for your child?
CC: Most of all I want Allix to be happy. I want her to have a purpose in life and I want her to feel special and important.
PSN: Can you share with us about Allix’s compassionate side, and how she gives back?
CC: The My Special Day Project is a nonprofit organization that puts on birthday parties for children living in homeless shelters and for under privileged children. They put on 2 – 3 parties each month and Allix bakes the birthday cakes. The shelters provide information on the children that are celebrating birthdays. Allix then plans, bakes, and decorates a special cake for each child. She also attends the parties as well as cutting and serving her cakes.
She loves going to a local diner that serves the homeless. She tries to go at least once a week for breakfast. She helps cook and serve the breakfast.
Recently, she baked a cake to be auctioned at an event benefiting Special Olympics. Her caked raised $607.
PSN: What do you know now that you wished you had known earlier?
CC: I wish I had known the person that Allix would become. If I had known that, I would have worried a lot less. I hope her story will show other families that there really is hope for a wonderful, full life for children with autism.
PSN: Do you have a proud moment about your child that you would like to share?
CC: When she graduated from high school she walked across the stage, got her certificate of achievement and turned to the audience and blew them a kiss.
PSN: In conclusion, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
CC: We have had so many wonderful people (friends, teachers, assistants and therapists) in our lives that have helped so much. Our extended family has been incredible. People tell me that God doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle. I think in my case he did give me something that I couldn’t handle alone but he sent me everyone that I needed.
PSN: Charlotte, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and for inspiring us with the lessons you have learned raising Allix.
We look forward to seeing and hearing more about Allix in the future.
Parties with a Purpose
The My Special Day Project was started in July, 2013, by Emily Hamner. After seeing a national news story about a lady having birthday parties in homeless shelters in New England, something spoke to Emily. She contacted her, but at that time, she was only interested in selling her business model. So, while at the beach with a group of friends, they came up with the name, a logo, a mission statement and a general idea of what they wanted to do. As the Executive Director of her family’s private foundation, Emily reached out to her local children’s shelters to see if this was a need in the community. It Was!!!! They began hosting parties at two local women and children’s shelters and one after school program for “at risk” kids in September of 2013. To date they have had parties for over 60 kids in their community. There are 11 members in the group and they each have jobs: shopping for the presents, baking the cakes, attending the parties, PR or donations. Each party is set up with decorations, goodie bags and balloons. Emily says “we color, play games, have cake and open presents. The kids and adults have a great time”.
Emily was introduced to Allix and “Ms. Charlotte” (mom) at the end of last year. Emily continues, “They are such a blessing. Allix is so talented. She gets the information about each birthday child and makes a cake for that child. The kids love that they have a cake just for them with their name on it and it’s something they like, for example: Princess, Spiderman, dinosaurs, etc… Allix takes ownership in her cakes and explains the cake’s theme and then cuts and serves them to the party guests. I couldn’t do what we do for these kids without the tremendous work that Allix and Ms. Charlotte do”.
Read More: Real Moms Share
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- 8 Ways to be a Great Advocate For Your Family Member With Special Needs
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This post originally appeared on our July/August 2014 Magazine