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Last week, we celebrated a very special sweet sixteen birthday for my daughter Gracie. 

What she wanted for her birthday was in some ways the same as with most sixteen-year-olds – a birthday celebration and gifts. However, there were some differences. Gracie is autistic and if you have any experience with individuals with autism, it isn’t always easy to predict what they will like, or dislike. 

So, when I asked Gracie what she wanted for her birthday, she said, “I want to go to the Cheesecake Factory” and have mac-n-cheese (from the kid’s menu) and plain cheesecake, which is exactly what we did. 

For her gifts, she had been carrying around a list of what she wanted and would show it to anyone who asked, including siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The list included items such as Hello Kitty plushes (stuffed animals), Sharpie markers, paper, panda plushes, and My Little Pony comic books. 

Living with Gracie is a lot like living with a pre-teen in regards to where her interests lie. Her child-like manner makes it hard to believe that physically, she is now 16.

She did receive a jade bracelet that we had bought for her years ago when we were in China to adopt her. It’s the only piece of jewelry that she has ever wanted to wear, and she had been waiting years to be old enough to receive it. So, it was somewhat unusual to see her wearing a ‘grown-up’ piece of jewelry while wearing her Hello Kitty t-shirt and playing with her newest panda plush.

I’d be lying if I said that life with Gracie was easy – it’s not. But, despite her unique view of the world and limitations, she embraces the things that bring her joy and reminds us all of the simple pleasures that life can bring.

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you a very special day that we spent with our youngest daughter, Gracie.


For those of you who have followed me for a while, you will have read about Gracie’s story and how we adopted her from China back in 2003.


She was one and a half years old when she was adopted and had a sweet smile and a club foot.


Gracie brought instant joy into our lives and despite having a clunky cast on her foot and leg as her foot was being straightened, she always had a smile ready for us.  She rejoiced at belonging to a family for the very first time her short little life.


Three months after flying home from China, Gracie underwent surgery to repair her club foot.  

While her foot healed quickly, we soon came to realize that Gracie was suffering some delays in her development.  At first, we thought it was from her time spent in an orphanage.  However, later we learned that she had autism, or more specifically, Asperger’s, which is a high-functioning form of autism.

Gracie is now 14 years old and as you can imagine, life hasn’t always been easy for Gracie (or us), but on most days, she brings us joy and a smile.

This past weekend, we were able to take part in a special event in Gracie’s life.

She was set to participate in a Special Olympics event representing her school.


The day was set to be a hot one with record-breaking temperatures, but it was still lovely outside while sitting in the stands waiting for the events to begin.  


Only in Arizona are you equally as likely to bring an umbrella for a hot, sunny day as you are for a wet and rainy one 😉


The kids were all gathered off to the side of the field, enjoying the shade of the trees while awaiting their turn.  Gracie’s teachers were there along with other classmates who were to participate in the event.

There were also ‘typical’ kids who were there representing their teams as well and we waited while they competed until it was time for the Special Olympics portion of the event to take place.


Of course, waiting can also make you more nervous and Gracie wasn’t sure if she could do it.  Her events were scheduled to be the 100-meter dash and the long jump.  The problem was, she didn’t want to do the long jump.

Those of you who are parents of teenagers know that it can be hard to reason with your teen, but when they have autism, it is even harder as the regular arguments and persuasions don’t work. 

I wish that her dad and I could take credit for figuring out a way to inspire her to do the long jump but Gracie figured out a way for us to motivate her – promise to buy her a box of ‘Cookie Crisp’ cereal afterward.

At this point, I should mention that we rarely give our kids what we call ‘sugar cereals’, which are filled with empty calories and don’t fill you up.  But, I happily promised to drive to the store and buy her a box right after the race if she was brave enough to do the long jump – her school team was depending on her.

She also wanted a medal very badly.  So, I said that if she didn’t get a medal, I would make her one, to which Gracie said, “But you’ll have to buy spray paint, a circle-piece of wood and ribbon.”  At this point, I told her that I would be happy to make her the coolest medal I was capable of for her to wear.


Our son, Kai, also came to cheer Gracie on.  I love this photo that I was able to get of them – they rarely stand this close to teach other – ha, ha.

If you’ve ever spent time with people with autism, you may have noticed the blunt and honest ways they phrase things.  One of Gracie’s classmates noticed Kai standing next to Gracie and exclaimed excitedly, “Gracie, your brother, Kai, is here.”  To which Gracie replied, “Uh, I know…. he’s standing right next to me.”

The first event that Gracie was to participate in wasn’t the 100-meter dash as previously scheduled.  That event was cancelled and her team needed her to fill in the space of a missing team member for the 400-meter relay race.  Since that would entail Gracie running 100-meters, that would work.


She was nervous about dropping the baton, but she grabbed it and began running.


So far, so good. 


Go, Gracie!


Almost ready for the hand-off!


The hand-off went off without a hitch except that Gracie got a stomachache from all the excitement and running as she walked with her math teacher and coach to toward the rest of her team. 

After the race was over, the teams were asked to gather around the medal podium.


Guess who got a medal for helping her team come in second place?


Yeah!  That’s my girl!

All the kids who participated in the Special Olympics relay race received medals, but Gracie’s team did get second place, which made her feel extra special.


I guess I won’t have to make her a wooden medal now.

Next, it was off to the long jump, and hopefully, a box of ‘Cookie Crisp’ cereal afterward.


Gracie waited patiently for her turn and then pumped her arms very fast (for extra energy, she said) before taking off running.


And she takes off…


This is Gracie’s favorite photo since it looks like she is flying.


Nice landing!


As you can see, this was a very memorable day for both Gracie and us.  Being a teenager is hard enough without having autism.  When you pair that with the challenges that they face everyday trying to fit into a world whose rules and social norms don’t make sense, then you get an idea of what a momentous occasion this was for her.
Gracie wore her medal to church yesterday and it warmed my heart to see members of our congregation come up to hug and congratulate her.

**Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read Gracie’s story.  It is an honor being her mom and sharing her story with you!

If you would like to see Gracie’s long jump video, I’ve posted it below.  You can read Gracie’s adoption story, here.