We’ve Got Pac-Man Fever Now And Forever

This is a post that has been in the making since last March, at this point I could probably write a book about how special the people are that work at Level 257. I tried my best to capture just how special they are to my family.


Griffin’s birthday dinner, it was Nom, Nom good! That huge glass of wine wasn’t bad either!

Griffin’s had a fever for as long as I can remember. It came on so quickly and hasn’t gone away. Then Tom and I got the fever the beginning of this year. Yes, now we all have Pac-Man fever. Our temperatures were at the highest when we discovered that a Pac-Man inspired restaurant and arcade was being built just outside of Chicago. If you’ve ever had a conversation with our son Griffin, you soon discover how much he LOVES Pac-man and many other retro video games. We have even dressed as the Pac-Family for Halloween. So when we started hearing about the restaurant I decided to reach out to the marketing manager, Natalie, to see if we could be part of the grand opening. Part of my letter read:

“I’m writing on behalf of my 11 year old son, Griffin. He is on the Autism spectrum with an Aspergers diagnosis. With this comes passion for many things including Pac-man and other classic arcade games. We just found out about the Pac-man inspired restaurant opening next month in Schaumburg, IL and wanted to know if there was any way he could be part of the grand opening. He is a great kid and I know that we will be visiting often, but we would like to surprise him with his first visit. He has actually talked about having his own Pac-man restaurant and he strives to be a video game designer when he grows up.”

I immediately received a reply from the restaurant’s marketing manager, Natalie saying that although they weren’t having an official grand opening they would love to make Griffin a VIP when he came for his first visit.

We planned to take him for his birthday in April. Admittedly, it was tough to keep it secret from Griffin for so long. At one point my mom actually slipped but I was able to cover. Not being able to take it any longer we moved up the surprise visit to the end of March.

This is video we shot of the big surprise!

When they said VIP, they meant it! I had asked if there was any way we could have an earlier reservation to avoid it being too crowded and noisy for Griffin, and they happily took care of it. There was even a surprise visit from Pac-Man himself and they had special Pac-Man treats just for Griffin. But the most special moment for me was when David, Executive Vice President of Namco, came over and spent time talking to Griffin about all things Pac-Man. To see Griffin talking to someone in the industry was so special and Griffin surprised David with just how much he knew about Pac-Man.


Griffin and The Pacster!

After that first visit we knew we had found a home away from home. Each time we went back we were always greeted with a smile, and the staff would go out of their way to make sure Griffin felt special and had a great time. I really can’t explain how much the care and attention meant to us. The three of us are just so grateful every time we get to visit Level 257.

On our way to Pac-Man’s Birthday Party

Fast forward to May of this year, where we were able to attend the 35th Anniversary/Birthday of the creation of Pac-Man. It was really exciting and Griffin got to meet the lead creator of the game, Professor Toru Iwatoni. He was so in his element once again and he even decided to wear his Pac-Man Jr costume. He was almost as popular as Pac-Man himself that night! Griffin was able to meet more people in the industry, including a game designer named Ben from Namco. Ben encouraged us to email him so he could stay connected and has since suggested video game design books and programs for Griffin to look into. He also shared with me that he has family members that are also on the autism spectrum.


Griffin meeting Professor Toru Iwatoni while wearing his Pac-Man Jr costume. If you’ve seen the movie “Pixels” you’ll recognize that there is a similar scene where the Professor’s character has a similar interaction with Pac-Man.

We continue to visit Level 257, it’s become a great reward for Griffin to work towards. Each time we go my heart is filled with love and appreciation for the staff, especially Natalie and David. I always send them an email letting them know we’re coming in hopes that we can see them. This last visit David stayed late just so he could visit with Griffin. I was once again overcome with emotion and non-eloquently tried to tell him how much it all meant to me. David just smiled and told me to stop it, that it was nothing. He wanted to make sure he got to visit with us since he wasn’t able to the last time we’d been there.

With permission from both Natalie and David I wanted to share these emails they sent me. It gives you insight into how great they are. I received these email responses from them after we had planned on going for a visit but couldn’t because Griffin had been having a hard time. In my email explaining this, I added that I never wanted either of them to feel obligated to come by if they couldn’t, especially since we try to go as often as we can.

This is what David wrote:

“We don’t feel “obligated” – honestly, Griffin has been a special part of our working on Level 257, and I feel like he’s now a part of our project development! We’ve always enjoyed speaking with him, and (admittedly on a selfish level), Griffin reminds me of WHY we do the things we do; his honest and sincere appreciation makes all the work and effort worthwhile! Griffin is a great guy (and he has some pretty special parents!)”


 Griffin and his buddy David

Natalie wrote :

“Selfishly, I’m glad that I didn’t miss you guys! David and I just adore Griffin – he is one of the family here! I feel incredibly blessed to have come to know Griffin, and you, and just love that he enjoys coming to 257 so much. So, to echo David, it’s never an ‘obligation’ for us.”


Griffin with the lovely Natalie

I want David, Natalie, and the entire staff of Level 257 to know that visiting the restaurant is so much more then a family outing. It’s become a reminder that people care and an opportunity for Griffin and us to connect with others. It’s proof that even though autism can be confusing there are people waiting with open arms to learn more about it, welcome you, and support you.


Random Acts Of Kindness

I wanted to share this special moment Griffin had with our friend Chuck from the “Y” last month. It’s especially important because of all the things going on in our world and a reminder that even small acts of kindness can bring about big change. We have been very blessed to have so many random and not so random acts of kindness come our way. I love that Griffin is getting the chance to experience the impact his kindness can bring to others.


                                   First assignment: Give people at the “Y” a high five and a smile

20151002_122100Next offer a smile, a wave, along with random acts of kindness suggestions to people passing by 


                          Chuck talking more to Griffin about what random acts of kindness is all about

20151002_123834And the final act of kindness, paying for someone’s coffee. This was funny because the person they paid for also works at the “Y” and was planning on doing the same thing!  

                                                          Free coffee for everyone!

He Flipped Out And It Was Great!!

Since this is Thanksgiving week I thought I’d share a new skill Griffin learned last Friday. What makes it extra special is that he learned it from Tiffany, one of the lifeguards at our “Y.” She was on break and took the time to show and encourage Griffin. I continue to be so thankful for everyone at the “Y” that takes the time to connect with Griffin. When we went back to the “Y” this past Monday I was able to record him flipping out, in a good way! When I see him doing something physical like this, it brings me back to when he was over two years old and still not walking. How much we worried and then finally getting the hypotonia diagnosis. Hypotonia is low muscle tone often involving reduced muscle strength. To see his joy and confidence grow is another gift I’m truly thankful for!


Why We Love The Disney Store

Every few months Griffin has an appointment downtown. From the very beginning we would make a day of it, going to the local playground and stopping by the Disney Store nearby. On our first visit to the store we met Lena, a cast member who we just instantly connected with. She took her time talking to Griffin and really seemed to get him. Lena made an impression on both of us and we think she’s the best! I always text Lena to let her know when Griffin’s next appointment is so we can make a point to see each other if possible. We’ve been friends now for about a year and seeing her always makes our day.


Lena and Griffin

Today Griffin had another appointment downtown. He was having a hard time on our way to the appointment and I wasn’t sure if things would get better. But we stuck to our plans and made our usual visit to the Disney Store. As soon as we walked into the store we were greeted by Lena and her beautiful smile.

As I was talking to Lena, Griffin asked if he could go look at the Frozen toys. There is a book there that he likes to read every time we are there.  I caught him out of the corner of my eye asking one of the cast members for help when he couldn’t find the book. The fact that he was being independent and asking for help alone was pretty cool but then when I got to him I was really blown away.

Jess, the woman that was helping Griffin, was on the floor reading to him. She had helped him find the book he was looking for and then offered to read to him while he read silently from the same book.  Jess was so sweet and spent a good amount of time with him. With her permission I captured the moment and wanted to share it with all of you. I told her that, in my opinion, we need to see and share more moments like these. My family has been very fortunate to have moments like this to cherish and share.

Our new friend Jess reading to Griffin

Thank you Lena and Jess for making our day better and brighter!


Our Visit To The Monica Potter Home Store

I have felt a connection to Monica Potter from the first moment I saw her portray Kristina Braverman on the television show Parenthood. I could easily identify with her character, a mother who has a child with special needs, and more specifically a child with an Aspergers diagnosis. That storyline was a lifeline for my family. As my son gets older and watches the scenes with Max, the character that has the Aspergers diagnosis, it has also become a way for Griffin to know he is not alone.

When the show ended we, like so many, felt the loss. Here our family was being represented by wonderful writing and an amazingly talented group of actors. This show helped start a conversation about what life was like for us and it showed us what was possible for Griffin. I had already become a fan of Monica’s Facebook page which helped me continue to feel connected to her. It was great to see how wonderful she was in real life and to find out about her up-coming projects . One of those projects was opening a retail store near her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. She wanted to offer her customers quality home goods that were made by local artisans and craftspeople.

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Here I am with one of my Monica Potter Home candles, a very sad face, and a huge glass of wine watching one of the final episodes of “Parenthood.”

As soon as I heard about the opening of the store I mentioned it to my husband. “You know we have to visit.” I became like a child in a car who asks “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” only my repeated phrase was “When can we go? When can we go?” Finally this past summer we planned a road trip to Cleveland so we could visit the store and go hiking at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The day we went to the store was pretty exciting for me but it quickly turned into worry. You see, Griffin was hoping that we would actually get a chance to meet Monica. I prepared him by telling him that she wouldn’t be there this time but that it was still really cool that we were getting to go to the store. As we started to get out of the car, I again reminded him that she wouldn’t be there. His response: “Mom, don’t jinx it!” He wasn’t getting it and I was really worried. I then explained to him by saying, “Listen, this is really important to me. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. If you think this is going to be too much, you should stay in the car with your dad.” I mentioned that the store sold candles and that we could check them out if he wanted to. “Ok mom. I want to come with you,” he called out.

As soon as we walked into the store he was calm. We went around and smelled the different candles and spotted some items that had owls on them. One of our close family friends loves owls so seeing the owls provided a good distraction. Thank you owls!


The three of us sitting on the store’s front porch.

When we got to the register and started checking out, Griffin mentioned the candles we had seen and smelled. Stephanie, who actually makes the candles for Monica, offered to show him where and how the candles were made. As the two of them started to walk away, Christine (another employee) asked me if I was ok with him going with her and if I wanted to go too. I joked, “I’m ok if she’s ok. This is like a little break for me.” I mentioned that Griffin was on the autism spectrum and that he has an Aspergers diagnosis. Before I knew it, I started to feel tears in my eyes. I started crying partly because I felt bad about making a joke and because I had been so worried Griffin would have a hard time not being able to see Monica. The next thing I knew Christine came from behind the counter and gave me a hug and said a blessing. I was so overwhelmed by how emotional I got and by this complete stranger’s kindness. I turned back to the other customers in line behind me to apologize for holding up the line and they were all so sweet too.

Griffin came back just as we were finishing up. He mentioned our friend and how she loves owls and that the owl items we were buying were for her. That’s when Stephanie gifted him this beautiful wooden owl postcard. It was really beautiful. Griffin was so grateful and asked excitedly, “You’re giving this to me for free?” I honestly couldn’t have imagined the visit being any more perfect, except of course if Monica had been there!


Griffin and I standing in front of the Monica Potter Home store sign. We’re wearing his “Pick 2 Flowers with 1 Hand” shirt that he designed.

When we got home Griffin made thank-you cards for Christine and Stephanie. To our surprise a couple of weeks later, Stephanie replied back suggesting they become pen-pals. Griffin is really enjoying writing to Stephanie and her letters put a smile on both of our faces.

We just returned from our second visit to the store and it was even better than the first, if that’s even possible! Stephanie and Griffin were so happy to see each other. He even brought her a painting he made for her. It was nice for Tom and I too. We got to get to know Stephanie a little more and meet two other wonderful staff members, Brian and Jennifer. Griffin was feeling more comfortable and expressed himself in a way only he can, and Stephanie didn’t seemed phased at all. When he asked if he could put the bracelets that were on display in rainbow color order, she encouraged it and completely understood. That meant so much to Griffin and to me and Tom.


This is Griffin and Stephanie on our most recent visit to the store. They were both so happy to see each other!

Monica, we look forward to many more visits to your store and we can not wait to meet you in person! We think the world of you and the community that you have created with Monica Potter Home. Thank you for giving us wonderful memories and for being an example of how kind and loving the world really is. We wish you and your entire staff continued success.

xo, Missy, Tom, and Griffin

Thank You, MineCraft!

The other day at the playground Griffin looked over at a group of boys who were playing and said “I think I want to go over to those boys and see what they’re doing.” Even though Griffin is generally very social, when it comes to talking to kids he doesn’t know he’ll often times just keep to himself.

As I watched Griffin walk over to them, I hoped that the boys would be friendly and that Griffin would continue to feel confident approaching them. All of the sudden he stopped and hid behind a lamp post. I watched as he peeked out from behind the post and then come back over to me. I thought Oh no, Ok, he just needs a minute. He’ll be alright, maybe he wants me to go over with him. To my surprise he said “Mom can I have my sunglasses? One of the kids likes MineCraft because he has a MineCraft shirt on. I think since my glasses are MineCraft it might help with starting a conversation.” WOW, is all I could think, WOW!

Griffin is constantly reminding us just how much he is learning in regards to social situations. It’s moments like this that offer so much encouragement and show that his hard work is paying off.


Oh and the boys were very nice! We even stayed longer than we planned!

An Ode To Being Different

This morning we were reading about being different and all of the sudden Griffin said “I just came up with this poem.” He’s come up with some amazing things but I wanted to make sure he wasn’t remembering it after reading it somewhere. He told me he was 99.9% sure he just came up with it and after doing some research I didn’t find anything like what he wrote. I love moments like these, where I get more insight into the amazing person he is and is becoming. He teaches me so much and I just love his words of wisdom. Here’s my sweet boy reciting his poem “An Ode To Being Different”

I’m Brave And Self Confident

Here’s Griffin speaking major truths. He is so wise and I love watching him grow into this amazing person, who I know will change the world for the better. We work so hard on his social skills and helping him express his feelings in more appropriate ways. To watch him think and speak this way is a true gift. He is a great teacher, who is constantly teaching me and reminding me to be brave and self confident!

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Why Did Robin Williams Have To Die???

This is a piece I’ve been working on since Robin Williams’ passing. His death touched so many people, including my Griffin who continues to bring him up.

August 2014

I can tell something is bothering Griffin and so I ask him if there is anything he wants to talk about. Before I know it, he’s crying uncontrollably in my lap “Why did Robin Williams have to die, why?” I’m caught off guard, which seemed to be happening more and more when it comes to Griffin. He’s asking me questions I don’t know how to answer. Griffin is the type of kid that will keep asking questions until he gets answers.

My husband and I are always trying to balance teaching Griffin life lessons in a way that he can understand. Depending on the situation, developmentally he can be younger than his age, at his age, or even older. I wasn’t prepared for the impact Robin Williams’ death would have on Griffin. Before Robin’s death, we had watched “Aladdin” and Griffin had heard us talk about “Mork and Mindy” and just how much we loved Robin Williams. When the news about his death was announced we were deeply saddened and didn’t really give it much thought in regards to telling Griffin right away. But even with us limiting how much news coverage was on, he eventually found out. His reaction caught me off guard, although it didn’t quite surprise me. Because it was a suicide I really wanted to make sure I gave him the truth in a way he could understand and process. I was hoping to have more time but once he found out Robin had died, the questions along with the tears came fast.


Griffin: “Why did Robin Williams have to die?

Me: “Honey, I don’t know.”

Griffin: “But why? Was he old? Did someone kill him?

Me: “He was in his 60’s and no, no one killed him.”

Griffin: “So what happened?”

Me: “It’s hard for me to explain something I don’t understand very well.”

Griffin:” Mom, I want to know, what happened?”

At this point I know I have to do my best to help him understand a topic that is so hard for even adults to grasp. I really am worried I’m going to mess this up.

Me: “Well, Robin was sad and he went to sleep.”

Griffin: ” He was sad, why?”

Me: “I can’t say for sure. He made so many people happy but sometimes people are really sad and need help.”

I suggest we take a break from the conversation. Griffin is still so upset and decides to rest on the couch. I start to notice him trembling and ask if he’s ok. His answer: “Mom, I’m scared if I fall asleep I might die.”

“Crap, I really messed this up” was all I could think. What else could I do to help him?

I assure him that he won’t die if he sleeps and that we can keep talking about this later. I tell him that we need to think of Robin’s children and all the wonderful things Robin accomplished. I suggested we could find out more about him.

Before long we found out that Robin loved video games and that he named his daughter Zelda after the game “Legend of Zelda.” This sealed the deal of how awesome Robin was. I told him how he helped children that were sick and read him stories from people that knew him and who shared how kind and humble he was. Griffin started saying how he wanted to meet Robin, how unfair it was that he never got a chance to. Not understanding fully the concept of death he said “I want to die so I can meet him.” I knew he wouldn’t do anything to hurt himself. I didn’t however want to just dismiss it either by saying ” Oh, don’t say that or you don’t mean that.” So instead I improvised and tried to speak his language.


Here’s what I said to him. “Griffin, think of it like a video game. The first level is when you’re born. The second level is when you’re a kid. The third level is when you become an adult and so on… The last level is when you go to heaven. You just keep trying to get to the next level. Some people don’t make it to being a grandparent or a person that has lived a long time like Betty White. But you want to play the game for as long as you can.” This helped but it didn’t take away the sadness or the confusion he still had.

We continued to talk about Robin Williams. I tried to explain mental illness and depression to him in a way that would help him have compassion and awareness for others. I explained that Robin was very sad, so sad that he thought not being here would be better, that kind of sadness is called depression. That sometimes people with mental illness have depression.

He then asked “Do I have mental illness because I have Aspergers?” I once again thought, “Crap, I really messed this up!” I explained to him the difference between autism and mental illness. “No, you don’t have mental illness. Aspergers is a neurological disorder. (As I write this I really don’t agree that it is a “disorder”. I believe it’s just a different way of thinking, period.) Which means you think and see the world differently. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with having a mental illness and, just like you, people that have a mental illness are amazing. They just need love and understanding, like we all do.”

One of the things Griffin wanted to do to feel better was to reach out to Robin’s daughter, Zelda. We haven’t done it yet, but he actually made her a beautiful drawing. I think now might be a good time to send it to her. He still brings Robin up and even though we’ve talked about it and he has been able to find some peace around it, he still will say “I should have met Robin Williams. He would have liked me. We could have played video games together. I really love him.”

I couldn’t agree more. Robin not only entertained the world, he continues to make a lasting impression on those that discover him. I wish I could have discovered Griffin’s love for Robin another way. Like Griffin and millions of others, I wish Robin was still here. I have a feeling Griffin and Robin would have been great buddies if they had met. Just two kind hearted, quirky, out-of-the-box thinkers and gamer dudes making the world a better place.

If You Must Look, First Look Into The Child’s Eyes…

I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to comment on a recent story that made the news. It’s the one about the owner of a diner who yells at a child who has been crying for a long time. I didn’t want to comment because I wasn’t there. I don’t know all the details, just the ones each side gave. I changed my mind after watching a “What Would You Do?” that involved a child actor who was acting out of control. Another actor was playing her mom and at one point just leaves. There is also an actor who plays the restaurant manager who starts yelling at the child. Some people in the restaurant start whispering under their breath about how horrible the child is and what they would do, while two others come to the little girl’s defense. I want to comment now in hopes of bringing some understanding on what might possibly be going on at times in situations where a child is “acting up.”

If you’ve been reading my blog or are close to my family you know that I have a son on the Autism spectrum. I wish that just by simply telling people that, it would bring immediate understanding, an instant wave of compassion, and out-of-the box thinking, especially when Griffin is having a challenging time. I want to mention that we have amazing friends and family that have seen it all and are part of our journey because they know what an amazing person Griffin is and because they are amazing too. There also have been complete strangers that seem to just get it and have offered kindness and patience when we’ve needed it.


I’m not writing as a parent that doesn’t care what my child does, or as a parent of a spoiled child. I’m writing as a parent who works constantly to be better and whose child works hours each week on things like expressing his emotions appropriately and picking up on social cues.

I’m writing in hopes that by sharing some of our life, it might make someone look at a situation where a child is acting up and not be so quick to judge or think “that kid is a brat and those parents don’t care.” Yes, there are children that are spoiled. Yes, there are parents that choose to not discipline and allow their child to do whatever they want in public. I know what it’s like to finally be out having a nice dinner with your significant other only to have it interrupted by loud crying and yelling from a child or sometimes even an adult. I understand that there are people that haven’t been around children much or have had no experience interacting with a child that has special needs. I know that there are people that don’t like to be around children at all, and I honestly get it. What I’m asking for is the same understanding and an open mind when it comes to families like mine.


My son is a child you might not recognize right away as having special needs until all of the sudden he’s yelling in anger that there’s no soap in the public bathrooms, or is so consumed with sadness upon hearing someone or some animal has died that he can’t stop cursing, or talks non-stop about retro video games and doesn’t pick-up on the fact that you want to change the subject. These are just a few scenarios, there are more but I think you get the point.

I know first hand what it feels like to have your child treated in a harmful way. My son has had unacceptable encounters with various adults, including teachers that we trusted. He was put in a closet, threatened to be hit with a shoe, told he wasn’t liked by a school security guard, and grabbed by the face by a church volunteer. All of these incidents happened years ago but Griffin still talks about them. I mention the above situations not to get sympathy or to vent but as a way of sharing why I feel the way I do. No child should ever have these things happen to them, or be yelled at by a stranger. The child having the behaviors should not be approached by someone who is not in control of their own emotions. If someone has a problem with how a child is behaving or doesn’t understand why a child is acting the way they are, they should talk to the parents first.

My son has challenges that may come across to some as him just being a spoiled brat, one who has parents that are lazy. I want those people who are quick to get angry and judge my son’s meltdowns to know a few things. Griffin works hours each week to learn to express himself appropriately, to pick up on social cues, to be flexible when plans change and things don’t go the way he wanted them to. He has consequences for certain behaviors that are tailored to his specific needs. He is not given free reign to do whatever he wants. We have expectations that we work with professionals to help him reach. I wonder if more people would benefit from working on these things too? I know I have and I’m still working on these things, thanks to being Griffin’s mom.

One of the things children like Griffin are asked to work on is looking someone in the eyes when they speak or are spoken to. I would ask the same of anyone that is about to judge or be unkind to a child that is having a hard time in public. If you must look, first look into the child’s eyes. What you might see is fear, confusion due to sensory overload, a longing to understand and express themselves and be understood. If you look into their parents eyes you might see despair, undying love for their child, hope that they will be able to comfort and calm their child, vulnerability, and fear that they and their child are being judged and that they will be mistreated.

I know that many times we have decided not to go somewhere for fear it will make us vulnerable should Griffin present with a challenging behavior. It’s smart to think about what might trigger a behavior and have a plan but I realize that by not going out into the world we are making ourselves prisoners and we are denying the world a chance to know our amazing son. Griffin needs to be in situations where he can practice the skills he’s been learning, that requires him to be out in the world. I also believe that it is an opportunity for others to practice compassion and non-judgment. It’s really simple: be nice. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. Look the person in the eyes and offer a smile first. If it doesn’t help or you’re just not feeling it, then walk away.