Caregiver Spotlight: Lylah Alphonse

swLMA-headshot3-240x300SafetyNet is pleased to feature Lylah Alphonse, a busy mom and step-mom to five children, who works at the Boston Globe and blogs about parenting, autism and other topics for boston.com and other sites. Her personal blog is Write Edit Repeat.com.

What is your name & how many children do you have?

My name is Lylah M. Alphonse, and I have five children — three by marriage, and two more “from scratch.” They’re 16, 14, 11 (almost 12), 5, and 3. Our about-to-turn 12-year-old boy has Asperger’s Syndrome.

What’s the name of your blog and the inspiration behind it? How did it come to be?

My personal blog is called Write Edit Repeat, and it started out as my on-line clips file. I’m a journalist who works fulltime at the Boston Globe and part-time as a freelance editor and writer for several other places, and in August 2007 I realized that much of my work was simply floating around on the internet. I wanted to gather it — or at least links to it — in one place. Now, I post there about the more personal angles and the background to the stories I write professionally. I try to be a resource to parents while still respecting my kids’ privacy.

Within a couple of months of establishing Write Edit Repeat, I was asked to blog about what it’s like to juggle career and parenthood at Workitmom.com — my blog there is called The 36-Hour Day.  Soon after that, I became the managing editor at Work It, Mom!, which is a great online community for women. I also started writing about career and finance for Yahoo!’s Shine.

In January 2009, I started writing about parenting news and advice at Boston.com, reviving the Child Caring blog there. Just this month, the Globe spun me off as my own brand, with a blog and a print column called “In the Parenthood.” I write about parenting news, tips, and trends, and I like to use the platform to raise awareness about autism.

What advice would you give to caregivers of children with autism?

Breathe. Remember that each child is different, and that it’s called a spectrum for a reason. What treatments, exercises, and coping methods work for one child may not work for yours, so find the tools that you need to help your own child, and don’t worry about whether you’re doing it “right” or not. If it works for you, and your child is doing well, it’s right.

I found it very helpful to try to see things through our boy’s eyes. Ellen Notbohm wrote a great essay a few years ago, called “10 Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew”; I interviewed her last year as part of my month-long Autism Awareness series. You can read the interview and her essay here.

What do you find you need most help with as a caregiver?

Remembering to take care of myself, too. A burned-out Mama does not a happy family make.

What is your biggest challenge as a caregiver?

Communication. In a blended family, communication is more important than ever, especially when you’re dealing with autism.

What is your favorite book or website? Why?

In general? There are so many! Personally: My favorite books are the “Anne of Green Gables” series, probably because Anne is a quirky, smart, independent character with an amazing imagination. In terms of coping with autism, I think my favorite website is AutismSpot.com — a supportive community with incredibly helpful (and free) resources. It was founded by Kent Potter, who has a son on the spectrum.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the idea that it’s amazing what you can do if you don’t know that you can’t do it. Too often, we assume we’ll fail at something, so we don’t bother to try it at all. My parents inspire me. My brothers inspire me. My husband inspires me. My children inspire me — all five of them. When I think things are too hard, I ask myself what I’d want them to do in my situation.

Who is one of your idols? Why?

This may sound silly, but when I was a child, “Mighty Mouse” was my idol. I loved the idea that the tiniest of creatures could be the one who saved the day.

I’m not sure I have an idol now, as much as I just have ideals.

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