Today we’d like to introduce you to Wendy Garafalo.
Wendy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As I’ve already done a featured story, this is a follow up to my previous story…
This is a story about life, change, autism, and love. If you didn’t catch our first interview, here is how our story begins. Luca was diagnosed with autism just after turning 4. As most parents would do, we immediately immersed ourselves in research and trying to find the best therapy possible for our son. Which involved a lot of waiting… for results, for insurance, for approval, for the right therapy/therapist. And in that time, all I wanted to do was ‘fix him.’
But Luca was different. At the time of his diagnosis, he was obsessed with letters and fonts. He taught himself to read and wanted to know every font that existed. Luca had no interest in toys or other kids. He would spend about 6-8 hours each day drawing, coloring and writing. And part of autism involves an OCD type behavior, getting fixated on one thing.
When I would take him places, he was especially curious/frustrated with words that were written on glass windows and doors. It frustrated him because when he’d walk to the other side, the words would flip and be in reverse. He simply couldn’t grasp why this was happening. It took us about a month of talking it over for it to finally sink in.
Shortly after, Luca was in our backyard writing the word LOVE on our garden boxes. But it wasn’t LOVE, instead, it was completely in reverse… EVOL. I came out to ‘fix it’, to help him write it the “right” way. He quickly stopped me and said, “No Mama. I wrote it that way so the plants could read it from the inside.”
At that moment, EVOL was born. Yes, Luca is different, but he sees the world from a unique perspective. Here I was trying to ‘fix’ everything. That day he taught me to let go of my expectations and see him for who he really is. He showed me that what I think is “right”, is only right because of my perceptions and preconceived notions. His “right” is different and is a reminder to not get locked into one way of thinking. LOVE is all that matters. And LOVE is about giving one another space to be who we are meant to be. LOVE is not changing someone or living up to another’s expectations. Experiencing life’s changes and an autism diagnosis has taught me more about LOVE than anything else in my life.
Has it been a smooth road?
Getting a diagnosis of any kind is not easy. When Luca was diagnosed, we were devastated. But only because we lacked knowledge and understanding of what autism is. So, even though getting a diagnosis is hard, it does make things easier, because it gives you a jumping off point. It gives you a place to start to research. The diagnosis does not define you or your child, it simply gives you a guide for connecting and growing.
Some of our biggest struggles have involved understanding and working thru emotions. Since our first article, Luca has now started 1st grade. Which means he’s now at school all day. We’ve had lots of bumps in the road these first few weeks. But I’m giving myself, the teachers and especially Luca space to figure this out. Just like starting a business or anything new, there will be bumps. What I’m hoping to teach Luca and all of you who are starting out, is that it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to not meet someone else’s expectations. As we all navigate new obstacles, keep these tips in mind.
1. Take ownership of your actions. For example, when the teacher tells me a new bump in the road, I talk to Luca about it. And I ask him what he thinks we should do. And sometimes I have to simplify the language for his understanding. But I’m hoping he’s starting to think and navigate life himself. Because as much as I want to be there and take on all the responsibility for him, I also want him to be a successful independent adult someday. And that journey starts now.
2. Stress and emotions are okay. Stress gets a bad wrap. It’s in moments of stress that you focus, and do what needs to be done. I try to teach Luca every day that it’s okay to visit different emotions. The key is to not let them overwhelm you. So, we greet them as old friends… “Hello, fear, it’s nice to see you today. It’s been a while. Thanks for visiting, but I am going to continue on because there are more things that need to be done.” I use this myself in my business ventures.
3. Every journey is different. In today’s world of social media, we see the edited version of people. We see them happy, traveling, having fun together. So, we are hard on ourselves. We feel like we have to live up to the expectations we see on a daily basis. I remind Luca every day not to compare himself to his classmates. And now I remind you… your journey is different, and different is what we need. Don’t be afraid to share your differences. Don’t be afraid to post the ‘un-edited’ stuff. Be real, Be YOU.
We’d love to hear more about EVOL.
As a brand, we want to shift perspective and bring more REAL back into society, social media and life. We raise awareness and money to help kids with autism. They are a growing population of kids (1 in 58) who need to know that we value their opinions and the way they see the world. There are lots of stories about adults with autism who have created incredible detail-oriented things that have helped businesses thrive. We want to continue to promote the amazing way that people with autism see the world and how they can help make our world better. Neurodiversity… Google it.
Everything we make has a message written in reverse, to honor Luca’s story and how our brand was created. The message is for you, not for anyone else.
We are hosting our first ever golf tournament, Aces For Autism on September 29 at The Crossings in Carlsbad. It’s sure to be a fun day with lots of prizes, a silent auction, and dinner. Our goal is to spread awareness and raise money for a local charity we believe in Autism Tree Project Foundation.
Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
Lately, I’ve been loving The Sensory Project podcast. It’s two occupational therapists who specialize in helping kids with autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorders. It’s fascinating how much our sensory input can change our behavior. They always have great ideas to try with your kids to get thru a variety of things… like eating challenges, holding still in the classroom, sleep, etc.
- Aces For Autism Golf Tournament and dinner $50-$150
- Shirts, hats, jewelry $10-$75
- Website: iam-love.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/evol.evolution/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IAMLOVEEVOLUTION/?ref=bookmarks