July 29, 2011

What’s Your Point?

Posted in If You Need a Good Laugh, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:28 am by autismmommytherapist

I noisily slurp my deceptively delicious frozen strawberry lemonade, a new concoction from McDonald’s (who knew the golden arches could corner the market on this summer’s most fabulous non-alcoholic beverage?), and take in the scene before me. It’s a familiar seasonal tableau, as my family of four often comes here to “dine” when on a Great Adventure outing, and I think the familiarity of the routine keeps everyone peaceful and calm. Zach is ignoring the ham we brought with us in deference to his GF/CF diet, and is playing seriously with Justin’s happy meal toy. My husband is scarfing down what actually looks like a fairly edible chicken sandwich, and Justin is contentedly watching Cars on his CD player while eating the fries I’m surreptitiously stealing from him. All is right, and “normal” for us, in the kingdom.

And then, my oldest boy points.

There was a time when my heart would have leapt into my throat with joy, along with the alluring thread of hope that this common way to communicate needs was leading up to a “breakthrough” for my son, a transition from his world, to mine. When he was diagnosed with autism at seventeen months, and had barely made the switch from infancy to the realm of toddlerhood, the necessity of teaching him how to point was drummed into me over and over by the vast majority of the professionals comprising Justin’s therapy team. Again and again I would hold his tiny hand, elongate his sweet pointer finger, carefully fold the remaining four into a gentle fist, and aim. He was supposed to be demonstrating this integral skill not only to convey his needs, but in order to share something of interest to his parents, his grandma, or just his babysitter.

The latter concept was called “joint attention”, a pivotal requirement for typical development in early childhood. I shaped those five digits frequently during those first years in the hope the desire to show us anything would “catch on”, but honestly, it rarely did. I do have one such encounter relegated forever to the digital world. It is a slightly shaky few minutes of film in which I recorded Justin sitting on Jeff’s lap pointing to the vibrantly portrayed animals in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my son laughing gleefully as my husband recited each mammal’s name no matter how many times Justin referred to said animal in a row. Soon, even the desire to engage in that game dissipated too, and my son began to rectify his needs through PECS, his Springboard, and ultimately, his iPad. He found a way to engage us in his joy as well by simply using his eyes, not his finger, to showcase his discoveries. All in all, these methods have worked for him, and for us.

But today, he is pointing. It is a gesture preceded by a downward glance of disgust at his chicken nuggets, followed by a look of undeniable longing toward my husband’s poultry selection, and capped off with a “finger chaser” in case there are any doubts as to his desires. His emotions are so unusually readable on his face that Jeff and I have to laugh, as there is no confusion as to what he desires, and I know my spouse will be heading back to that frenzied food counter momentarily to repurchase his own lunch. In good father form he breaks off a bite-size piece, and my son is eager in his acquisition, almost inhaling the slice before Jeff can change his mind. He swallows, and we watch the mere hint of a smile cross his face as he imperiously extends that pointer finger again.

And I have to laugh once more, because this interchange is just so damn “normal”.

There have been a number of these moments in the last few weeks as I’ve entertained the two kids on their summer school/camp hiatus, and they are wonderful to see. One morning, well before my other two boys surfaced from slumber, me and my eldest constructed an Elmo fire station from Legos, mommy pointing at the photo on the box, and son locating the plastic piece and constructing the building from scratch. Two evenings later, Justin grabbed my youngest as he enacted his nightly bedtime ritual of hugging his big brother goodnight, pulled both boy and book into his bed, and regarded me with a look that left no doubt they’d be receiving their bedtime story together.

Fortunately, Velveteen Rabbit was a crowd-pleaser.

To tell you the truth, I’m pretty exhausted on this “time-out” from routine, and I’m only two-thirds of the way through. But I’m glad I’m witness to these fleeting moments, happy to participate in this minute foray into typical. Justin’s truly beginning to interact more with the world, his teachers, his sibling, even strangers who grace his path. It’s not earth-shattering progress, but it makes life so much easier for us all.

And that’s a concept I’ll take with me until that glorious first day of summer school.

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February 6, 2011

I Want a Happy Meal

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments tagged at 2:02 pm by autismmommytherapist

It’s 6:00 PM on a Tuesday night, sixty minutes into the “witching hour” at my house. This is the time of day where Justin generally becomes delightful, and Zach begins his rapid descent into mild pre-school histrionics. Tonight however, my progeny seem to have joined forces, are united in their disdain for absolutely any food item I have to offer them. They are secured into their dinner seats, Zach for his safety as we worry he’ll wiggle his way to a concussion one day, and Justin is in his special chair simply because it comforts him. My husband is seated at the far end of the table, rolling his eyes at the boys’ numerous demands. I am silently cursing those studies indicating family meals are conducive to family health.

At this moment, they are certainly not conducive to MY mental health.

It all started out so well. I had liberated my crock pot from its isolated perch above unmatched mounds of Tupperware, and had decided to try out a new recipe for beef burgundy. I knew this meal would only entice me and my husband, as it would not fall under the umbrella of pizza/hot dogs/pork/chicken that generally sustains my picky eaters. As I watch my husband’s face I am aware that this new variation on a theme has fallen far short of delectable, even though Jeff is attempting to be polite and is actually ingesting it, albeit gingerly.

Why I have yet to be tapped to appear on “Worst Cooks in America” is still a mystery to me.

I had higher hopes for the boys tonight, but clearly they are not enthralled with my menu choices for them either. I typically end up creating three different meals each night, one for the adults, one adhering to the gluten-free, casein-free diet of my youngest child, and one that takes into account the restricted tastes of my eldest. I’ve been trying to reintroduce vegetables, an act which so far tonight on both counts has been regarded as high treason. Justin has removed the offending carrots he used to wolf down with, if not glee, at least resigned defeat, and has created a tenuous tower of orange in the center of the table. Zach has taken his disgust for legumes to a new level and has thrown his string beans on the floor, protesting vociferously as I tell him he’ll have to retrieve them after dinner. He then turns to Jeff with sad eyes, and asks his father in a voice filled with indignation if he’ll “save him from mean mommy”.

Frankly, I’d like someone to save mean mommy.

Over the course of the next ten minutes Justin makes three breaks for dessert and liquids, all after rejecting the organic, BMW-priced chicken nuggets he happily consumes at least three to four nights per week. Zach has informed me with gusto that he “hates potatoes”, reviles the cousin of the spud he successfully consumed the night prior. He requests juice, napkins and toys at least sixteen times (even though the dinner is a disaster, I console myself that at least I’m getting a work-out). My husband is still wearing an air of resignation as he relentlessly chews his meal, and I’m certain he’s hoping his dessert for actually eating it will come later.

I can assure you, it won’t.

I tough out my rendition of wine-drenched cow, stifle my annoyance, and inwardly laugh. It turns out, since we had more than a few bumps on the road to fertility, that I had my children much later than most of my friends. As I regard the unhappy tableau before me I recall numerous conversations in the past with these women, all revolving around the irritation of making multiple meals, as well as the annoyance of unappreciative husbands and offspring. They would recall their own experiences with that insidious “meal-time malaise”, which would particularly infuriate them after their heroic attempts to appease multiple palates. If I could speak to my friends right now they’d reassure me they’d “been there, done that”, their final salve being that sometime in the glorious future, I might one day be fortunate enough to concoct a meal that might satisfy one and all. Let’s just say, for the record, I’m not holding my breath.

Mommy wants a happy meal.