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    Jen & Rob write about living life 'Upside Downer'. Follow us through our honest, whimsical, and real observations as we raise two kids (one w/autism)
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Easter Weekend – Saturday Edition


Welcome to our family blog (those of you coming to us from Spectrums Magazine)

It’s warm here today! The first time we’ll surpass 70°F this year (and we haven’t done that since mid-October of last year).

Here’s where we stand today:

  • 3 of the 4 of us are suffering from allergies
  • The premiere issue of Spectrums Magazine is out this weekend! Look who’s on the cover!
  • We’re going to dye Easter eggs later this afternoon (that should be an adventure)

We’ll have more posts up beginning tomorrow. We hope to have lots of new visitors to the family blog as the amazing magazine makes its rounds.

Until then, the ‘McDowner’s’ are wishing you much happiness on this sun-kissed weekend (if you’re in the Pacific Northwest).

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Holy smokes! It’s March!

As each day passes we collectively desire to make more and more posts. Then life happens. Then we find that weeks go by and turn to months and now it’s 5 months from our last post. We’re approaching the birthdays season (Jen, Zoë, Sam, and Rob) beginning this Thursday and ending in the beginning of June.

Lots of things have happened.

We were able to buy Sam the iPad Mini.
Sam broke his arm.
Rob is suffering from the effects of vertigo (and we suspect he has Meniere’s Disease).
We traveled to California unexpectedly recently.
We’re excited for spring and eventually summer’s arrival!

We just keep moving forward.

We’ll have more updates this week as we’ve recently unearthed some old videos and it should be very interesting to look back and be amazed by how things have progressed.

We’re all wishing you a happy spring!

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Halloween success…

Well it’s really a relief to say that this year went much better!

Sam has really been excited about the aspects of Halloween that we have tried to emphasize this year. Things like pumpkins, autumn, harvest, going to the pumpkin patch, wearing a costume, and going trick-or-treating.

This has been a month-long process which means that it has been exhausting! We worked tirelessly to communicate with Sam and to give him the tools and confidence to communicate with us on things like:

  • Merchandising: scary places in stores (asking if he can walk past them and not look, or if he wants to walk around them – or completely avoid them)
  • Scary houses: whether he wants to cover his eyes or not as we approach houses with visually gory decorations
  • Television: whether certain images on TV are scary or not
  • When he DOES see scary things: reassuring him that ALL these things he is seeing are NOT real

Sam decided at the beginning of October that he wanted to be a Doctor for Halloween. His first intention was to be an American Girl Doctor so that he can possibly make sure his American Girl dolls were healthy and safe. When Halloween arrived yesterday,  Zoë took the initiative on getting Sam dressed in a costume.

He had the lab coat, a name tag that his sister made, and decided to wear a wig (our Afro wig) and his Frankenstein gloves. Sam deemed himself  The ‘Silly Doctor’.

Zoë (Katniss) & Sam (Silly Doctor) photo by Jen Downer of She Saw Things Photography

Sam, The Silly Doctor, hiding from Mom’s iPhone – photo by Jen Downer of She Saw Things Photography

We filled the month with trips to pumpkin patches and little activities to celebrate Fall. Jenny worked with the kids this past weekend to make painted pumpkins and funky Halloween wreaths. They loved it!

Pumpkin painting & Halloween wreath making – photo by Jen Downer of She Saw Things Photography

Artists at work – photo by Jen Downer of She Saw Things Photography

When October 31st arrived Sam was really excited. He kept saying things like “Weh deh coh-tume! YES!” and “Go to tick o teet! YES!” his special education class at school was having a party too (this has been a HUGE help to make same feel more comfortable with Halloween) and Sam had a blast there too!

We got home from school yesterday and did some last minute pumpkin carving (well, to be honest, it was me gutting them and then asking the kiddos to draw faces on them. I then carved them out and set them on the porch. We had time constraints and needed to make this pastime happen lickety split!)

Quick Dash to carve pumpkins before Trick Or Treating – photo by Jen Downer of She Saw Things Photography

Our trio of pumpkins

Jenny took Zoë across town so that she could go trick-or-treating with her good friends. Sam was so confused as to why he wasn’t heading out with Mama and Ki Ki (he calls Zoë KiKi because he cannot pronounce ‘Sissy’). I reassured him that he and I would be going out together just after they left. He understood and we finally made our way out into the neighborhood just before sunset.

Sam, The Silly Doctor out in the ‘hood doing the Trick Or Treat thing!

Sam did a wonderful job. He communicated with me on which homes were ‘Too Carey’ and which ones he wanted to ‘Go to tick oh teet dis house, YES!’

He knocked on doors, he said ‘Tick oh teet’ and ‘thank you’ and the all important ‘Happy Halloween!’

One thing that really struck me was Sam’s enthusiasm. He kept saying “Meet mo people! People in coh-tume!’ which meant that he was really wanting to meet more people in costume. He happily greeted fellow costumed kiddos and recounted the different ones he thought were so fun.

When a girl walked by with a Katniss costume (the same thing that his sister was dressed as) he went nuts! “Wook at dat, pappa, pappa, pappa! Kat-neh, KiKi coh-tume too! YES! YES!”

This is a huge leap for Sam. To be able to relate that to me was just so intense. Keep in mind that we are talking about a kid who had maybe 10 words he could say a year ago. Now he is formulating sentences and getting more and more complex feelings, observations and thoughts out there every week that passes.

When we got back to the house, Sam burst in the door and stripped off his costume. He said “Papa! Count dah candy! YES!” I made a deal with him that we would count the candy and play with the glow bracelets in the dark AFTER his pajamas were on. Before that happened, I interviewed Sam:

The Recap: Sam’s First Trick Or Treating Experience from Rob Downer on Vimeo.

So, the experience was great. It certainly hasn’t been without moments of terror and anxiety – but- the difference here being that we really worked hard to talk and communicate about these things using a variety of methods. This seemed to work well and I am just thrilled at all the possibilities!

Now we can focus on Thanksgiving, Solstice, and Christmas time (and that is EASY!)


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BOO! Its happening again…


This time of year is NOT our favorite.

photo by She Saw Things Photography


This is heartbreaking because we’re an autumn loving crew. The harvest time, pumpkin patches, soups & stews, sweaters, pants, boots… This is a time that the McDowner’s would love to celebrate fully and without challenges!

Not so fast… There’s this big, scary, gory, horrifying, disturbing, ghastly trend that seems to be getting more extreme as each year passes.

It’s called Halloween and in 2012 they seem to be ‘turning it up a notch’.

September arrived and it seemed to start out pretty positive. Zoë started getting her Halloween costume ready a month ago and Sam has been talking about ‘Haddoweenuh’ since the catalogs have arrived.

It was October 1st when it all came to a screeching halt.

The newest line-up of disemboweled, dismembered, decomposing, compound fractures, blood drenched, blood soaked crap in the name of ‘Halloween’ has arrived.

We have, as you know, a daughter who is a neuro-typical 9 year old. We also have a 7 year old boy with ASD and Executive Function challenges. BOTH kids are terrified.

So, both Jen and I are ‘gearing up’ for another exhausting October. It’s filled with things like:

  • Having to find different streets to take that don’t have as many horrifying decorations
  • Choosing what stores to enter, where to enter them, and which parts of the store to avoid
  • Providing new tools to Sam so that he can shield his eyes, recover from a panic, or feel safe
  • Creating a new set of ‘safe’ Halloween celebrations in an attempt to redirect Sam’s fears

These are just the challenges that we face. These are similar to the challenges many families face with kids who have special needs and kids who don’t have them.

I’ve written about this before. It seems like my 3rd annual ‘curmudgeon’ post regarding Halloween. If I step back, I find humor in how much I sound like an old man who’s shaking his cane at the young whipper snappers on my lawn. But then I step back further and see that I’m more rational than I think.

At what point did we decide that the glorification of these things is ‘cool’? When was it that demonic baby dolls covered in blood, or dismembered torsos became the new ‘it’ thing? How about the commercials in prime time that show the scary imagery at the local haunted houses? Thankfully we’re still in the process of weaning all of us off the TV.

There’s a lot of great information and help out there if you’re experiencing the same things. Here’s a shameless plug for Jen’s recent contribution to NW Kids magazine (a free publication here in the Portland Metro Area). Jen talks about these things and gets advice from Barbara Avila of Synergy Autism Center.

photography by She Saw Things Photography

We’ll keep you updated on the things we do to make the next few weeks better!



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October 5, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Katherine Mortenson Weller - I can SO relate. We used to have neighbors that made their yard more gory each year. Our poor Matthew didn’t even want to go outside. We were grateful when they moved. I will be interested in what you do over the next few weeks. Good luck!

Observations & Reflections As We Move Into Fall

Now that we’re at October’s doorstep, I have been taking more time to reflect on so many things. I’ve been interacting with more folks than ever before; in public, online websites, forums, etc… Much of the conversation is centered around Autism Spectrum Disorder and the passion I have for neurodiversity. It has been eye-opening to say the least, and I have to have a lot of patience and understanding (thank you Sociology and Communication Skills college courses for giving me such phenomenal tools).

I’ve been thinking a lot about our summer, about how great it was – but – how unsustainable it was for Jen and I to put work on the back burner and focus on the kids for 90 days!  There’s NO regrets here, just a determination to figure out how we CAN make it sustainable next summer!

It always seems to take a month or two for us to get into routines that work. Here’s a quick rundown of things that are working:

  • Jen has made some changes to the kitchen that have been well received by Zoë, Sam and myself
  • We’re eating dinner and breakfast at the kitchen table
  • We’re gradually weaning the kids off Television
  • We put the music on more often and have sudden random dance parties
  • Jen makes the kids a ‘green’ smoothie at least 5 mornings each week (Sam calls it Miih Piggee Joooce – Miss Piggy Juice) it’s packed with amazingness (kale, almond milk, chia seed, pineapple, mango, and pro-biotic)
  • I’m trying to make as many ‘fun’ foods as possible
  • We’re doing art, dressing up, playing with dolls, creating, making, staying busy

We had our annual beginning of school meeting with Sam’s teachers. It’s always interesting to meet the new teacher for the mainstream class. We get to describe our amazing boy and it’s a lot of fun. This year, Sam sat at the table with us during the meeting. He stayed, present, and listened intently. Sam even inserted his corny laughter when we said something funny. The challenge this year is that his inclusion time in the mainstream classroom drops dramatically because of the increased emphasis on academics.

Jen and I are still seeing a family counselor. It is such an important component to keeping our heads from exploding. We’re turning our focus toward helping our family cope with stress and anxiety now (specifically) and I’ve determined that I need to see a separate counselor to help me address many of the things I have placed ‘on a shelf’; my father’s death, my biological mother’s death, the ever-growing pile of important jobs around the house that I cannot complete, etc.

Halloween is around the corner. It’s very much on our minds given Sam’s relationship with the holiday. This year Sam seems to be having a positive attitude about it but it’s early… The most vile and disturbing imagery will inevitably emerge; mannequin-like bodies hanging from trees or eaves, dismembered bodies and their parts, blood, guts… you know, all that amazing imagery that has nothing to do with Halloween’s roots or of the season where we celebrate harvest and the coming winter.

We’re looking forward to getting back into the swing of things! We’re going to make a new push to keep this blog active. It’s just so challenging, but it is very much worth the effort!

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