Spreading Awareness.....ONE WEEK At A Time!

This past week, the Kids & Dreams Foundation had a week that may go down as a very important stepping stone for the organization as it continues to spread awareness about autism and anti-bullying! Below is the week in review…..

Sunday-My family went and had supper with a great family that is sending their daughter to “Operation Shine”. It was so nice to meet her and the entire family! Our kids had a blast as they rode a tractor, fed goats, made s’mores and other fun activities!

Monday-The foundation prepared for the next two days of visiting schools by organizing information and printing off marketing material for the camp.

Tuesday-The pace picked up for the week. We started our journey with Rick Shaw from Awareity!

10:45 am-We had an interview with Josh Moody from the Kearney Hub about the foundation and our upcoming camp!

1:45 pm-The foundation and Rick Shaw speaks with the 4-8 grades at Shelton Public Schools about bullying and doing the right thing. The “Friend of the Foundation” Award was presented to the 4th grade. Great group of kids!

2:45 pm-Our talk continues with Shelton Public as we spoke with the 9-12 grades. Another award was presented to Nadia Pinon for her incredible act of kindness and character at a track meet earlier this year.

4:15 pm-We had another interview with John from the Hasting Tribune about the foundation and our upcoming camp! Starting to get some great publicity about the camp!!!

Wednesday-The foundation and Rick headed to Superior and Sandy Creek Public Schools for the day!                

10:15 am-We spoke with Rick to the 4-8 grades at Superior Public Schools. We are                honored to  present another “Friend of the Foundation” Award to Taran Zoltenko. He made an impression on us at our outing in February. Continuing to recognize kids doing the right thing and having a positive attitude!

11:00 am-We surprise Rick by having his parents show up and listen to him speak for the FIRST time. It was so great to see his reaction and we were honored to line that up for both him and his parents!

11:15 am-We continue our talk at Superior by speaking with the 9-12 grades. We were very impressed with the questions and interaction with all the Superior students. Plus, we handed out a large number of volunteer forms for our camp. Excellent morning!

12:15 pm-The caravan loads up and heads to Sandy Creek Public Schools.

1:00 pm-We continue our presentations by talking with the Sandy Creek 9-12 grades.

2:00 pm-Our second session of the afternoon is with the 2-5 grades. They were very interactive with great questions. We loved their reaction to a short highlight video on Jason McElwain that we were able to show at the school with their video board. They loved it!!

3:00 pm-The last session was with the 6-8 grades. It was a great way to cap off our two day, three school tour about bullying. We hope the schools and the students took away some valuable information from the presentations. We want to thank Rick Shaw so much for his time and help with this. The foundation was proud of our first efforts getting into the schools and spreading our mission! Hope to continue that next school year.

Thursday-After being on the road all day Tuesday and Wednesday, it was time for the foundation to have another “Operation Shine” Camp Committee meeting and board meeting starting at 6:00 pm. We got a ton accomplished and feel we are putting the right things in place to have a camp that will be an incredible experience for the kids and volunteers.

Friday-The foundation gets some air time! Joan Schwan, Camp Director, and I go on NTV’s Good Life to talk about the foundation and our upcoming camp at about 9:30 am. We want to thank Carol Staab and NTV for having us! We were so happy to be able to spread the word!

  10:05 am-As I am walking out of the NTV studios after our interview, we receive a call                     from a parent that wants to send their child to the camp! She had just seen us on television. Mission accomplished!

1:00 pm-We meet with a possible donor for the camp and our Autism Conference in October!

6:00 pm-Team Bly loads up and heads to Omaha for the annual Autism Walk on Saturday!

Saturday-The Kearney Hub publishes an article about the foundation and our camp! We receive a few emails about individuals wanting to volunteer! Again, getting some great publicity and people responding to help us at the camp. Mission accomplished!

That same day, Team Bly attends the Omaha Autism Walk and has a blast. We are rocking the “Knock’Em Down for Trae” Bowling shirts in honor of my son! Over the past several months he has wanted to wear only long sleeve shirts because he feels more relaxed and calm in them. Well, today, he only needs his bowling shirt! He loves it and we are so happy. He did AMAZING all day long. To celebrate the walk, we went to The Amazing Pizza Machine, went to the hotel and went swimming for a few hours and even went out to eat as a family! A huge day of events and sensory overload for Trae, BUT he handled it great and had a blast!

The trip to Omaha was an AWESOME way to cap off a week I will always remember for the foundation as we continued to spread awareness about autism and anti-bullying! The job is in no way close to being done…..bring on this week!

Due to our busy week, I have not had a chance to post about any more individuals with autism that have done great things. Today, I want to introduce you to James Durbin! He was a finalist on Season 10 of American Idol.

James released a single called “Parachute” and was first diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and Tourette syndrome at the age of 10. James states “Right around the time when I was diagnosed, I got a hand-me-down guitar with a chord book and a cheap busted tuner. I think music is like medicine and can be a benefit for anyone no matter what genre. There’s just so much you can learn. It’s all about focus and for me, not only on the Autism spectrum but also the Tourette’s spectrum, focus was something I needed help with. Music is my focus.”

Music was also a way for him to deal with bullying growing up. He said “Throughout this process, I figured out that no matter how bad of a day I had at school, I could come home and create my own world within the music. I could make the music as happy or sad as I wanted it to be. I used the pain from being bullied to transform me into who I was meant to be.”

What a great story about working on being focused and passionate about something and then going for it! Our goal at the foundation continues to be to help children and families find that focus and help each child reach their full potential in life! Just like James did, we continue to “DREAM BIG!”

Links used for the story above include:

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #500forautism



"If you've met one individual with Autism....You've met ONE individual with Autism!

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning. You know the saying..."If you have met one, you have met them all"....well, with kids on the spectrum that is not the case at all!

The children with Autism Spectrum Disorder develop at completely different rates in different areas. They may have delays in language, social, and learning skills, while their ability to do other things such as walk and run around are similar to other kids their age. They might be above average with putting puzzles together or working on computer problems, but they could struggle with social activities like speaking or even making friends. Kids on the spectrum might even learn a hard skill before they master an easy one. For example, a child will read long words, but struggle to tell you what sound a "d" makes.

Children develop each at their own rate, but there are some age-specific developmental milestones used to help measure a child's progress during their first few years. The link below talks more about those social and emotional milestones. In our experiences with Trae and others on the spectrum the saying is true..."If you've met one individual with Autism, you've met ONE individual with Autism". 

Learn the Signs. Act Early(

Today, we want to introduce you to Alexis Wineman. She became the first Miss America contestant (Miss Montana) with autism to compete in the pageant. Alexis was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder. She said "My path may not be one that another person would choose, but I challenged myself to enter the Miss America competition because it seemed like the peak to my own personal Everest. It also seemed kind of ironic: a girl who was told she was different and considered an outcast by many, in the nation's biggest beauty pageant".

So AWESOME!! I would say that she set her goals high and made sure to "DREAM BIG! Alexis reached the top 15 in the competition, and won the America's Choice Award for garnering the most online viewer votes.  She stated "So many people expect autistic people to all be the same--that it's a brain disorder so we can't function in society. I want people to realize there's a whole spectrum of people who live with autism. There are high-functioning people and low-functioning people". 

Another great example that anything is possible. Set you goals high and "Dream Big"!

Links used for the story...

#autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #500forautism




Shopping While Autistic...The Sensory Experience!

Today, I wanted to make sure and post this article about the sensory experience of a shopping trip! The things that a lot of us take for granted are extremely overwhelming for kids on the spectrum. The link below also has a video that was put together by an adult with autism that simulates a visit to places like Walmart and other big box retailer place and what that feels like with sensory overload. I hope this will help people realize what the kids on the spectrum are feeling and going through when they are at the store with their parents. There are ways to help the child handle these situations and ones that we have implemented with Trae over the past few years that work. Please be mindful of this issue the next time you see a child having a meltdown in the store. Haven't we all been overwhelmed at one time or another. Again, we hope to continue to raise awareness about these issues and let people see a glimpse of how the kids on the spectrum view different situations. Below is the link to that story and video...

I am also honored to introduce to you today a gentlemen who wrote the New York Times bestseller "Look Me in the Eye" that was published in 2007. John Elder Robison writes about what it was like growing up with Asperger syndrome, but not being diagnosed until he was 40 years old. He has helped with autism research and has published two more books called "Be Different" and "Raising Cubby". WOW!! A New York Times BESTSELLER! 

These stories about individuals that have went on to do incredible things continues to drive the Kids & Dreams Foundation to do whatever we can to help kids on the spectrum progress and reach their full potential in life.  I know I mention our motto "Dream Big" often, but stories like these are one of the reasons we truly believe in that saying! Anything is possible, please come along side us and let's DREAM BIG together. 

Together we WILL make a difference!

#autism #dreambig #kidsanddreams #awareness #500forautism




Temple Grandin.......

As the Kids & Dreams Foundation continues to spread awareness during April and Autism Awareness Month, we have wanted to introduce you all to some well-known individuals that are on the spectrum. Well, one of the most notable individuals with autism is Temple Grandin. She was diagnosed with autism in 1949 at two years old. According to her website, she did not speak until she was three and a half years old. With the help of great teachers and family members, she was able to graduate from a school for gifted children and went on to get a bachelors degree in psychology. Temple also received a doctorate degree in animal science. 

She is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. The university calls her "the most accomplished and well-known adult with autism in the world." In 2010, a movie called "Temple Grandin" was produced about her life starring Claire Danes. If you haven't seen this is a MUST watch!  She has went on to write numerous books about autism and has spent her life working to improve the treatment of animals and brining awareness to autism. The foundation hopes to get Temple to attend one of our Autism Conferences in the near future as our keynote speaker. She has done so much to bring awareness to autism.......I hope my foundation can do half of what she has contributed to help the children and families experiencing autism.

She wrote in her book, Emergence: Labeled Autistic: "I have read enough to know that there are still many parents, and yes, professionals too, who believe that 'once autistic, always autistic.' This dictum has meant sad and sorry lives for many children diagnosed, as I was in early life, as autistic. To these people, it is incomprehensible that the characteristics of autism can be modified and controlled. However, I feel strongly that I am living proof that they can."

Thank you Temple for all you have done for Autism Awareness! We truly appreciate it.

Some individuals with ASD have other symptoms that may include:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity (acting without thinking)
  • Short attention span
  • Aggression
  • Causing self injury
  • Temper tantrums
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
  • Unusual mood and emotional reactions
  • Lack of fear or more fear than expected
  • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel

Again, our goal this month is to continue to spread awareness with facts, symptoms, behaviors and let everyone know that there is hope as seen in these incredible individuals that we have posted about so far in April. Together we WILL make a difference! That is why our Autism Conference in October is so important to us as we hope to provide a variety of options and resources to families in hopes that one of those will help their child progress and do great things! Continue to DREAM BIG!

#autism #500forautism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams



Dreams Do Come DREAM BIG!

The story of Jason McElwain was one of the first I can remember dealing with autism awareness and sports that went nationwide. It was covered by ESPN and news outlets everywhere! Jason, nicknamed "J-Mac" has autism. His life changed forever in February 2006 as he helped tear down some stereotypes that come with autism.

Jason was appointed as the manager of the Greece Athena High School by his basketball coach, Jim Johnson. On February 15, 2006, Jason played in a high school basketball game against a team for a division title. His high school got a big lead, so his coach decided to let Jason play in the last four minutes and nineteen seconds of the game! What happened next was awesome............

Jason started off slow missing his first two shots, but then caught fire making six three point shots and another two pointer. He finished the game with 20 points in just over four minutes!!! After the final buzzer sounded, the crowd rushed the court in celebration with Jason on their shoulders. What a great feeling it must of been for Jason to have so many people celebrating this with him!

Asked years later what he learned most from the game, Jason replied "I learned that no matter what you put your mind to, if you set goals and put forth the effort, you CAN accomplish them. That season, I would put up 500 shots a day. I didn't know I was ever going to play until three days before the game, but I still shot 500 times a day. So I hope other people know that you CAN accomplish anything. Just don't give up." WOW! This is a part of the story I never knew. He shot 500 times a day just in hopes of possibly playing at some point, with NO guarantees. That is a dedication and desire we all should strive for! No matter what the circumstances are. We should set our goals high, work hard and DREAM BIG!

Through all of this, Jason has been able to do so many things. He met President Bush, Peyton Manning and many others. He even won an ESPY award from ESPN for the "Best Moment in Sports" that year. More importantly, it opened many doors for him to raise awareness about autism through his speaking engagements, appearances on TV and his book, "The Game of My Life".  

Jason was asked how important it was to him to bring more awareness to autism. He replied, "It's very important. People with disabilities deserve a chance to succeed. My advice, like Magic Johnson once said, "If you don't dream it, you can't become it." It's like trying to play perfect in basketball. You have to shake off all the mistakes and move on the next possession because the  most important play is always the next one. In life, you're going to go through challenges and adversity, but you can't dwell on the sad times. You've got to focus on the next task and work hard at doing your best. "

Again, I am just blown away by Jason...."If you don't dream it, you can't become it". I love that! Our goal as a foundation is to help children and families experiencing autism and bullying to be able to set their goals high and reach those dreams! No matter if they are small goals or large dreams, anything is possible!

Together we WILL make a difference! Help us spread the story about Jason and come along side us to help other children and families reach their goals! Great things are ahead! I have attached the link to the article from about that unforgettable day on February 15, 2006. What an inspiring story and one that I am posting on the day of the NCAA Final Four!

#500forautism #autism #awareness #dreambig #kidsanddreams #operationshine



Autism.....DId You Know? Part II

It is estimated to cost at least $17,000 more per year to care for a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) compared to a child without ASD. Costs include health care, education, ASD-related therapy, family-coordinated services and caregiver time. For a child with more severe ASD, costs per year can increase to over $21,000. In addition to medical costs, intensive behavioral interventions for children with ASD can cost $40,000 to $60,000 per child per year! 

Another well-known individual, Susan Boyle, known for surprising the judges and viewers with her incredible vocal skills on "Britian's Got Talent" in 2009 has released five albums, been nominated for two Grammy Awards, and won the Radio Forth Award in 2013 was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in 2012. As a child, she was diagnosed with brain damage, but she sought out a better diagnosis as an adult. She had said the diagnosis was a relief because she now has a "clearer understanding of what's wrong."

The Kids & Dreams Foundation hopes to get to a point soon where we can help children and their families with grants/scholarships to go towards therapies and behavioral interventions. The costs can be overwhelming and we hope to ease that burden on families in the future. Our mission continues to be to provide resources and options for families! We hope you will join with us in spreading the word and helping these families! 

Together we WILL make a difference. Continue to DREAM BIG with us! Also, help us reach 500 "likes" on Facebook during our #500forautism campaign this month!

#kidsanddreams #autism #awareness #kidsanddreams #dreambig



Autism.....Did You Know???

A person with Autism Spectrum Disorder might.....

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
  • Not point at objects to show interest by 14 months
  • Not play "pretend" games by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body or spin in circles

Did you know....that Daryl Hannah was diagnosed with autism as a child and felt isolated from others her age. This isolation helped drive her love of old movies and interest in acting. Hannah's acting career has spanned more than three decades. She has starred in dozens of movies, including "Wall Street", "Grumpy Old Men" and the "Kill Bill" movies. She is also an environmental activist. During an interview with People magazine, a friend commented that when Hannah "feels passionate about something, she loses all her fears". 

Even with the red flags, symptoms and other behaviors, there is always hope that children experiencing autism can progress and lead a successful life as Daryl Hannah has. As a parent of a child with autism, my goal (and dreams) for Trae is that he would find the areas he is most passionate about and use his incredible mind to accomplish great things. His possibilities are endless.....skies the limit! Continue to DREAM BIG!

#dreambig #awareness #autism #500forautism #kidsanddreams



Bringing more AWARENESS to Autism

Did you know that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Individuals with autism might have problems showing or talking about their feelings. They might also have trouble understanding other people's feelings. Many individuals with ASD are very sensitive to being touched and might not want to be held or cuddled. Self-stimulatory behaviors (flapping arms over & over) are common among individuals with ASD.

Well known actor, Dan Aykroyd, who starred in "Blue Brothers", "Great Outdoors" and "Ghost Busters" was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in the early 1980's after his wife convinced him to see a doctor. He's said that he has an obsession with ghosts and law enforcement, which led to the creation of "Ghost Busters". Aykroyd's career as an actor, writer and producer has spanned over 40 years.

The Kids & Dreams Foundation is focused on bringing more awareness to autism. This month we will be continuing to post about facts, stats, well known individuals with autism and other information to help spread the word! We hope you will take time to learn more about autism and remember that anything is possible so.......DREAM BIG!

Please share this with your family and friends! Help us reach 500 "likes" this month. #500forautism #kidsanddreams #dreambig



A True Friend....Nicknames & All!

        “I have been Trae’s friend for 4 years.   We even have special nicknames for each other, TraeBo and WillBo. 

         We like to play cone bowling, tag and on the slides outside.  Outside we like to make funny potions that explode.  We put banana peels in it.  One time we made a fruit punch potion.  Trae has a good imagination.

         I like to be Trae’s partner in PE, especially when we bowl.  We do circle of friends together.  In circle of friends, me and TraeBo are partners.

         Once I had my birthday party in Cairo at the bowling alley.  We both got strikes.   We also chased the party lights on the floor.   After the party, we rode back to Trae’s house in my dad’s loud truck.  Trae yelled, “Roar it!” 

         Trae is one of my best friends!”




Hillsdale Baptist - Player Interview

I had the pleasure of interviewing Hillsdale Baptist basketball player, Phil Carey, about his team's goals this year & what it means to him to wear our "Dream Big" shirts. The Saints have wore them all season to help spread awareness about autism & bullying! Dream Big!



Sandy Creek Awareness Outing

This video was made by Sandy Creek High School for our "Awareness Outing" there in January 2015. They surprised us with this video. We were very touched! Together we will make a difference! Dream Big!!



Being a Coach's Son-Lessons I've learned to help deal with my autistic son!

Growing up, I was pretty easy to find. I was either at my house (which was rare), my two best friend’s houses, or the best options - either in the gym or on a ball field.  You see, I was blessed to have a dad that was also a coach.  That’s right, I am a coach’s son!  Let me tell you, there is a lot of pressure growing up as a coach’s kid, but you also get to experience so much being around the sports that you love!!  I grew up helping my dad as a student manager during basketball and football seasons and in the summer as he coached baseball.  I LOVED IT and wouldn’t have changed it for anything!

Back to the part about there being some pressure....most of that was put on by myself.  I knew for a fact that I needed to work extremely hard to be successful at all the sports I participated in, and I needed to work even harder to prove that I DESERVED to be playing in the games as I got older.  I knew there would be people saying I was only playing because “my dad was the coach”.  I wanted to prove them wrong, BIGTIME!

I felt that I worked as hard as I could growing up, especially on the two sports I loved the most, basketball and baseball.  The trouble I ran into was that I became overly competitive.  I remember my dad getting on me after a game in high school. He told me, “you are the most competitive person I have ever been around, but you have to learn to let the things you can’t control or things in the past that are finished GO!”  At the time, I heard what he was saying, but I wanted to WIN so bad and be the best player I could that I did not understand completely what he was saying until years later.

Move forward to January 2005 and the birth of our son, Trae.  Man, were we excited and thrilled to finally become parents!  We had tried and waited so long to have a family, and we were finally going to experience the joy of parenthood through our adoption.  We were blessed to be a part of his birth and be in the delivery room. From the minute he was born with a club foot, oxygen levels that were low, and being severely developmentally delayed which kept him in the hospital for two weeks, I knew my life had changed forever.  We didn’t care about any of those issues; we just wanted to make sure he was getting healthier and would be able to go home with us soon.

As time passed, we knew there were still some developmental delays with Trae, as he did not walk or talk until he was two and a half years old.  He had sensory and social issues.  We were told early on with him that autism may be playing a part with some of these symptoms.  At the age of three, Trae was diagnosed with autism.  During this entire process, I kept remembering what my dad had told me years earlier about “not worrying about the past and things I couldn’t control”.  I took that to HEART in a major way! I wasn’t going to sit back and be upset that my son was autistic.  We knew deep in our hearts that Trae was a very special child and unique in his own way like we all are.  We knew that we wanted to focus on the things we could control and help improve his progress and development.  We started him in all the therapies (physical, OT, speech, horseback, swimming, etc.) we could afford.  Once he was involved in those, we became aware of what role the diet might be playing with his autism.  We became proactive in removing a few things from his diet and began to see (along with all the therapies) a HUGE improvement in his development especially with his speech and social interaction.

We were once told that Trae “was the way he was and that he would never change”. We could have gone down that road, but that was NEVER an option for Kerri and I. We knew there were other options out there that could help our son and that we would see him blossom into a special young man.  There are still areas that we are working on with him, but he has come so far.  We are so proud of him and the progress he has made.  He makes us smile every day, and we are so thankful to be his parents!  He sees the world from a different angle, and it is truly refreshing!

The Kids & Dreams Foundation wants to give that same hope and encouragement to other children and families dealing with autism. I want families to know they are not alone, and there are options out there to help their child progress and develop. Looking back, I was being groomed by my father at an early age to prepare me to be a “dad of an autistic child”.  Sure, I was being taught all the things I needed to know and do to be successful in sports and try to win games, but my dad was also preparing me on how to be successful off the court/field!  I am so thankful for my parents and all the support they have given me over the years.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still very competitive and love sports, but my main passion now is my family and the Kids  & Dreams Foundation.  We have big dreams for our kids as they grow up and for this new adventure we are on.  We believe our story can help others as they start down this road.  #DREAM BIG!



Why not "Dream Big"!!!

“DREAM BIG” is the motto that encompasses our entire mission, goals and foundation. It also works for its Executive Director. A few years ago, I started feeling led to begin a journey that included the development of this foundation. It seemed like and still is a big undertaking, but one that I am extremely passionate about. “Dream Big” to me means that anything is possible, not only for me and my children, but for the children and families in our community and throughout the world that are affected by autism, bullying and other challenges faced by today’s youth. If you aren’t able to dream and have goals in life, you may not be able to reach your full potential. We want to help provide the support and options for families to give dreams to their children and themselves.