April 8, 2012

“Raising Autism”- a POAC Autism Services Fundraiser

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:50 pm by autismmommytherapist

Last week some staggering statistics were made public in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a report that discussed findings regarding the prevalence of autism in fourteen states, as well as nationally. The national reports showed an increase in autism diagnosis of 78% when comparing a 2012 study to one conducted just five years before in 2007, a fact which is overwhelming in and of itself. What concerned me even more however, were the statistics for the Garden State.

According to the data, one in forty-nine children are affected in New Jersey.

For girls, one in one hundred and seventy-two are on the spectrum.

For boys, it’s one in twenty-nine.

Yes, I said one in twenty-nine.

There are a myriad of debates raging in the autism community, ranging from such topics as causes and treatments, to whether or not this increase is real, or just a result of pediatricians having access to better diagnostic tools. It may take decades to solve the more complicated puzzles. Some questions regarding the disorder may never be solved at all. But to me, one issue is perfectly clear.

All of us who love someone with an autism spectrum disorder have to do our part to help if we can.

There are hundreds of autism organizations now in existence, all of which contribute to the community at large, many with their own special niche. One that happens to be in our backyard, and has made an indelible difference in the lives of teachers, law enforcement officers, and so many Garden State families (including my own), is POAC Autism Services. POAC is located in Brick, but offers free trainings and workshops all over the state, educating those who love and/or work with individuals with autism on how best to serve them. They’re a phenomenal organization headed up by Gary Weitzen, Executive Director, and for over a decade have been responsible for improving the lives of many children and adults with autism.

Two of those lives include my own kids.

In a few weeks I will be producing my play, “Raising Autism”, which will act as a fundraiser for this wonderful agency (yes, this is a shameless plug to get my readers to buy tickets, but they’re only $10, it’s a cheap evening out). For the past few months I’ve been harassing relatives and friends, and come close to approaching strangers on the street (I’ve stopped short of that) in order to get a good turn-out. I’m hoping we are able to raise a couple of thousand dollars for POAC, enough to facilitate a few more trainings. I also hope there’s some money left over to create those all-important weekend activities for families, activities which function as a safe haven for our kids, a place where they can be who they are with beautiful abandon.

Those events are a haven where their parents can feel free to be who they are as well.

The play chronicles the lives of three very different women raising four children with autism between them, kids who fall on every part of the spectrum themselves. At times (at least I’m told), it’s a humorous look at some very difficult situations. I’ve also been told (with sodden tissues as evidence) that it will break your heart a bit, because it’s an honest look at the challenges many of us face with our children on a daily basis.

In other words, in “Raising Autism”, I say it like it is.

While I hope the play brings in a lovely chunk of money for POAC, I also hope it delivers more than just a nice bundle of funding for their endeavors. Of course I also wish it will act as a vehicle through which awareness is raised, which to me is just as important as soliciting donations. Last, I have one final wish for the play as well. To all of those attending, I hope hearing these women’s words will be both cathartic, and serve as validation for our children’s struggles, as well as our own.

It was definitely cathartic for the woman who wrote it.

“Raising Autism” debuts April 21st at Brick Township High School, and on April 28th at the Jersey Shore Arts Center. For more information please see POAC’s website at:  www.poac.net

Thank you for reading this, and hope to see you there!

October 31, 2011

Washington Revisited

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:22 am by autismmommytherapist

My annual “leave the husband and kids behind” trip back to Washington, DC transpired this past week, a ritual I plan never to abandon as long as I continue to draw breath. This tradition consists of three nights and three days of consuming the Indian and Thai food I can’t get in this part of Jersey; the palpable absence of potty training; and seeing old friends who knew me before I was old enough to rent a car. Through the grace of my husband and mother, each fall since we relocated to the Garden State I’ve been granted the temporary reprieve of being someone’s mommy, or someone’s wife. Amidst the backdrop of our splendid nation’s capital I had the pleasure of finishing complete sentences, recalling why I walked into a room, and simply reconnecting with myself.

As always, it was fabulous.

This was probably the first year I pulled out of my driveway without crushing guilt as a companion, and I have to say I quite prefer things this way. It’s not that I haven’t thought I deserved the time away, or had the right to preserve relationships I’d built over the course of the fifteen years I lived in DC. It’s just that in the past, the boys have been so difficult I’d hesitated to leave my working husband with an additional job. I’ve persisted in planning this trip however because I’ve always been of a mind that one of the best things we can do as parents is to take care of our own needs, not just those of our children. For me, that seems to include ethnic food and the chance to sleep past 5:30 AM a few days a year, if my body will permit. I’m a much better mother when I get my annual fix.

And according to my husband, much more pleasant to be around as well.

I’d originally had big plans of trying to cram in everyone I’d ever met during my youth into one seventy-two hour visit, a goal I’ve tried to attain every year, but in the past had been too exhausted from the travails of autism to bring to fruition. This time, with things being what I like to refer to as “as Disneyesque as it gets” chez McCafferty, I’d thought I’d expand upon my usual reunions, get ambitious, and try to visit with several people I’d not seen in years.

In Maryland and Virginia reside several school administrators from my teaching days, individuals I’d hoped to chat with about a project I’m developing for the public schools. There was a lovely girl from high school with whom I’ve developed a friendship on Facebook (which leads me to believe that while Ms. Betty White is correct about, well, almost everything, perhaps the social medium isn’t a TOTAL waste of time). I could have chosen to spend an afternoon with an educator friend, one who’d contracted pneumonia the week before and couldn’t make what I’ve long dubbed my annual “teacher dinner”. But two weeks before I left for the beltway I strolled into my allergist’s office to renew my inhaler scrip, and walked out for an unscheduled emergency visit to my GP with a blood pressure reading of 170/100.

I’ve decided that middle age sucketh.

This wasn’t a complete surprise, as my BP has been slightly elevated for years, an inherited gift from my mother (whom, since she gave me life, I’ve subsequently decided to forgive). I’m fond of saying “everything is cumulative”, and although our little family of four has shed so many of the daily pressures that plagued us for more than half a decade, I can feel that stress still, view it as a permanent resident within the confines of my physique. My heart working overtime is probably the reason I’ve continued to have those pesky, albeit now infrequent, dizzy spells. This is a condition I chalked up to the pinched nerves my neurologist discovered this summer through the miracle of MRI, unsettling events that were radically reduced when I stopped picking up my seventy-five pound child, and began hugging him with our four feet on the floor. I thought I’d been thorough in my medical approach, and figured I’d just have to live with reality, along with forgetting my children’s names and having to pee every five minutes. I didn’t continue to put my health first.

And the consequences could have been terrible.

There may not be many universal truths, but one that is incontrovertible is that I need to be on this earth as long as humanly possible for my boys. My goal remains to make it until Justin is seventy (which is a bit unrealistic as that would make me 106, but I can try), because unlike other offspring who will exchange dependence for independence with partners and spouses, he will always need help. I plan on remaining one of those people as long as I’m able, pushing him always to do for himself, to anticipate and execute his own needs.

And I need to remember to do the same for me.

So this trip, I kicked back and relaxed more than I am generally wont to do, and forced myself to slow down a bit. There was still quality time with dear friends, the kind whom you can interrupt mid-thought with a name from twenty-five years ago and they not only recognize it, but completely comprehend the segueway. I managed to infiltrate Georgetown Cupcake this year after the employees unceremoniously prevented our access to carbohydrate heaven last October (the fact that we arrived one minute past closing and I hailed from New Jersey apparently moved nobody). I even managed to pull off three glorious hours alone navigating the cobblestoned streets from Georgetown to Dupont, a languorous walk in which I managed not to think about children, or autism, or anything remotely important for the better part of an afternoon. I took it easy. I didn’t rush, and purposefully slowed my pace. For once, I simply lived in the moment, and that moment was fine.

And that, my friends, is “good times”.

April 7, 2011

Get the Picture

Posted in If You Need a Good Laugh, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:59 pm by autismmommytherapist

Dearest Picture People,

My name is Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, and I have been a loyal patron for almost eight years now, a customer who has spanned two states to buy your particular photos. My family’s relationship with your establishment began a few months after the birth of my eldest son in northern Virginia, where I would faithfully schlep him to our local mall at least three or four times a year to capture his cuteness on camera. We’ve since relocated to New Jersey, where I make a longer schlep to take my two sons, both of whom have autism, to your shop. Between Halloween, Christmas, and birthdays, during the last decade my family has frequented Picture People on many, many, many occasions.

Trust me, I could wallpaper an entire room (we’re talking family room, not bath) with the amount of product I’ve purchased from you.

I know this may sound like a nutty obsession on the part of a woman who clearly has her hands full (there was a time I could barely get my first child into a car, much less get him to smile for a photo shoot), but I am a self-professed shutterbug. After my passion for writing (okay, and perhaps scrapbooking, I am THAT cool), I admit I adore photography, and have used up almost every square inch of wall space we possess to project the images of my little boys. Frankly, it’s just one giant photo shoot chez McCafferty.

The truth is there are a multitude of things I could be doing with my children other than running maniacally around a portrait studio as I attempt to make them smile, but I enjoy having those formal photos around the house, and it’s worth the effort to me. Having two children on the autism spectrum has forced me to give up any number of things I took for granted I’d experience when I reproduced (you know, like the eventual return of a full night’s sleep, and a chance at retirement), but having gussied up pictures of my kids is one slice of “normal” I refuse to relinquish.

I’m just that stubborn.

So when I heard from one of my favorite photographers yesterday that not only have you discontinued the practice of emailing these digital memories to customers to peruse at their convenience (a Portrait Club Member perk I adored, since my husband is even pickier than I am), I will share that I did turn my head faintly in the direction of JC Penney’s for a moment. When I was further informed that your store would only be keeping my kids’ photos on file for twenty-four hours now despite my “elite” customer status, I admit I pondered whether my GPS would work indoors to help me find your competitor.

Immediately.

So, I simply have this to say to those in charge. I am one of those annoying people who always says they’re going to write a letter of complaint and never does (the discontinuation of McDonald’s fried apple pie and my desire to abolish “skinny jeans” both come to mind), but today, well, today, I’m venting my wrath in prose. I’m not asking you to light up your studios blue (although I’d appreciate the attempt at added autism awareness, I understand those cerulean filaments might not make for a prime photo opportunity for everyone). I’m not requesting an exception for those of us with children who might not be capable of waiting an hour-and-a half post-shoot to bring home our pictures (hell, I’ve been there when it’s taken thirty minutes just to upload and view our take on a computer screen). Truly, I’m not vying for special treatment.

You’d know it if I was.

I also understand the economy sucks. I completely comprehend the principle of “once they leave the sale is lost”, or whatever far zippier phrase those marketing geniuses have concocted to raise revenue. I get the bottom line here. Despite the furry Easter props, and the admonition to “make special AND unique memories AND have a great day” every time I place a call to your company, the ultimate goal is to make money.

It’s always about money. Sadly, it’s no longer about me.

But I am asking you to consider this. I’ve been at that mall, walked by your store and recognized a customer, then seen her hours later on that same swivel chair with her sobbing infant after I’ve completed half my Christmas shopping and had a manicure. There are plenty of children who do not reside on the autism spectrum who can’t wait around for mommy to bring home their preciousness, “normal” children who risk slipping into a total meltdown that can be heard from the outer limits of the parking lot (trust me, I’ve heard the faint cries as far away as Macy’s). And given that economy I mentioned before, I’m willing to bet any number of those stressed-out moms might actually have jobs they can’t boycott to return the next day and claim those images, particularly within your draconian twenty-four hour limitations.

It was suggested to me I partake of this option. Since we’re usually five minutes from the Apocalypse at my house on any given day, I “politely” declined.

So please, dear Picture People executive-types, kindly consider what I’ve penned. Bring back the opportunity for the “slide show of joy” I can view with my spouse in the relative comfort of my bedroom. Have respect for the fact that our (and I mean the global, Kumbayah, “our”) children might not tolerate the wait/screaming babies/overwhelming crowds/PMS-state mothers every single time they mug for the camera. Take pity on families trying to forge memories of what their kids looked like in this crazy world, and grant them some options.

Give us back the gift of time.

Because I’ll tell you, there are days in my household where the random sight of those grinning cherubs is the only thing saving my sanity, as I deal with the sometimes tragic, and often profoundly irritating consequences of living with autism. Honestly, just glancing at their photos, in those silver frames I’ll never get around to polishing, simply makes me happy. So come on Picture People, have a heart, and make a Jersey girl smile.

I’ll even let you capture it on film.

April 6, 2011

POAC Walk- World Autism Awareness Day

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , at 9:16 am by autismmommytherapist

“Elmo should go back to Sesame Street, Mommy” says my youngest child as he hunches down in his stroller, in part to avoid the wind whipping mercilessly around the stadium on this early April morning, and in part because Elmo is clearly lost, and therefore should leave immediately. Buster, the Lakewood BlueClaws mascot is here as well, but today Zach is not impressed, wants solely to traverse the gusts making it difficult for me and my mother to even gain entrance into the park. It’s World Autism Awareness Day, and not coincidentally the first of four walk-a-thons to be held around the state of New Jersey for POAC Autism Services, and it feels more like early March than spring. I am confident a breeze will not prevent anyone from participating in today’s event however, am excited that thousands of people from around the state will be donating and walking for a cause that perhaps has completely enveloped their lives, and their hearts.

I know it has done so with mine.

As we wheel Zachary through the gates I allow myself a moment of self-congratulation, because we’re here without Justin, and for the first time, perhaps ever, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. He would have been upset long before we reached our destination, confused by a trajectory of roads that lead him to an open building with nothing inside that would interest him, although there will be plenty here to captivate Zach. So, I’ve left my oldest with his father to attend this month’s autism movie (Jeff later reported almost nobody was there for this showing, I’m hopeful they all attended the walk). Although Zach has autism as well, the progress he has made has been so stunning I am confident he will one day be able to harness the anxieties and impulsivities that herald his brand of the disorder, in a way in which his older sibling will never be able to do. While I walk for all children on the spectrum, my primary motivation will always be for Justin. I’m sad he won’t be participating with us today, but I know he’s in a happier place.

Hopefully, Jeff is too.

As my little family of three wends its way through the crowds I spend a few moments taking it all in, the people ensconced in boldly colored t-shirts proclaiming their love for someone on the spectrum, the vendors and sponsors with their brochures and enticing crafts for little hands. I can only imagine how much planning it took to create this day, what combined effort and expertise went into an event of such magnitude. Every face I walk by seems cheerful, from those hawking autism “accessories”, to those preventing an unhappy child from a meltdown in the stands. There is a palpable aura of peace here, of parents stripping away the confines of an often harrowing existence, and simply reveling in a day, worldwide, about us.

And with all due respect, I kindly assert we deserve it.

In what seems no time at all Zach conquers three moon bounces, a playground, and a multitude of crafts, and it’s time for the exercise portion of the day to commence. Gary Weitzen, executive director of POAC, descends to the bottom of the stadium to address the crowds, and it seems as if even those children and adults who are vocally stimming quiet a little, are loathe to miss a word. He speaks of his gratitude to everyone who contributed both physically and financially today, to those who continue to underwrite an organization which is the largest provider of free autism trainings in the entire state. Reference was made to an impressive figure raised that almost hit the six figure mark, and may yet do so before the month is through. Gary cheerfully reminds the crowds of all POAC does for families who might otherwise have limited recourse to recreational activities, always for no cost. And after a stunning rendition of Christina Aguillera’s “Beautiful”, we are free to walk, to continue to take steps in the right direction to heal our children, our community, and our hearts.

I pause for a moment before we begin the sole loop my family will participate in today (a four-year-old has his limits with philanthropy), and as the sun slips over an awning that previously provided shade I am required to squint to take it all in, to view the masses moving in quiet solidarity around the circumference of the field. There are spaces of course, but as I remain still, I notice that slowly, steadily, they are being filled, as some teams lag behind, and others proceed at a quicker pace. I know if I stood here long enough I’d behold one great, cohesive circle of commitment, seamless in its synchronicity of volunteers, parents, children, teachers and therapists, all striving mightily to fill the gaps.

And filling the gaps is exactly what POAC has done so beautifully for well over a decade now, and I’m certain will continue to do so for many more to come.

Zach looks up at me impatiently, imploring me to return to the relative warmth of my car and take him home for lunch, and I concede to his desires. I take one last look back from the threshold of the stadium, and am rewarded by a thinning of space, of the blankness between what has been offered to our children, and what should be provided to them. I am so grateful this organization has stepped up to help erase those voids, so appreciative of all those who made it possible to be here today. Once again, we find ourselves a part of a community who cares. And I am reminded anew of what Gary so eloquently communicated to us all at the POAC Gala, mere weeks ago, in his welcoming speech.

We are family, indeed.

POAC walk-a-thons 2011

March 23, 2011

POAC Walks for Autism

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , at 10:34 am by autismmommytherapist

Well, I’ve managed to avoid doing this for an entire year, but here I go. Now I’m just another blogger hitting people up for money.

Yes, it’s for a good cause. And yes, you’ve heard me speak about this organization many, many times, in particular with the piece I wrote about the POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) gala (here) a few weeks back. It’s true, there are numerous wonderful autism agencies and organizations out there, many of whom are located right here in New Jersey. They all do great works, and a number of them Jeff and I open our wallets for (okay, Jeff does, I’m not exactly a “big earner” these days). I am grateful for all they accomplish, both to those who are local, and to those who are nationwide.

But I admit, POAC has my heart.

It’s not just that every dollar raised for them stays right here in the Garden State. It’s not simply that they’ve trained thousands of law enforcement personnel, and on the off chance I might need one some day, I’d be grateful if they comprehended why my oldest son might not be answering their questions verbally. I don’t just have a crush on them because all of their seminars and programs are free of charge, nor do I like them solely because they are the largest provider of free autism trainings for educators in the entire state (once a teacher, always a teacher).

The real reason I love them is because for the last five years, they’ve given me and Justin something to do on the weekends for free. Yes, I am that easily pleased.

The lion’s share of POAC’s funding comes from four walk-a-thons they hold in the spring, conducted in as many different regions of the state. You can read about the events (here), and if you’re so inclined, it’s really easy to make a donation. Creating an entire team for a walk isn’t necessary.

But if you want to, we’ll cheer you on. And if you just want to come out and join us with your presence, we’ll gladly take that support as well.

On behalf of my boys, and all children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey, the volunteers of POAC thank you!

March 18, 2011

Darren Fitzgerald: Book Review

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:18 am by autismmommytherapist

In the past year I’ve become a volunteer for POAC, Parents of Autistic Children in Brick, NJ, primarily in the area of fundraising (strangely, I find I deeply enjoy asking people to part with money for a good cause).  Recently, a prominent member of the organization emailed me and requested I promote a close local friend of his, Darren Fitzgerald, on my blog.  It seems that Mr. Fitzgerald, although having no connection to autism other than his relationship to this POAC member, has decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from his published book to our organization.  Since I’ll promote anyone who wants to add to POAC’s coffers other than possibly Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen (and even they’re negotiable), I was happy to comply.  So, I googled him (yes, I know how to do that all by myself), found his website, (here),and began to delve into both his personal and professional story.

I quickly learned his book is about the supernatural.  Bonus.

For those of you not aware I won second prize in the seventh grade science fair for my innovative interpretations of the inner workings of ESP, I will have you know I am a bona fide fan of all things unworldly.  My love for the genre embraced both “straight” sci-fi and horror, with my predilection for the former being mostly satisfied by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, and my penchant for the latter being fulfilled by the master himself, Stephen King.  I spent more than a few nights during my childhood immersed in my covers with my tiny flashlight reading these works way past my bedtime (I suspect now my mother was aware of my transgressions), scaring myself silly, and rendering myself exhausted for the next school day.  Suffice it to say, I am well-versed in the literary aspect of the supernatural.

I know.  I was such a cool kid.

After perusing Darren’s website, I was happy to discover a link that took me to an excerpt of his story (I got to click the pages of a fake book to read the first chapter, is there nothing this new-fangled technology can’t do?).  I admit I was immediately drawn in, his writing style engrossing me enough to even make me forget my favorite show on the Food Network was about to broadcast.  His work chronicles the story of a “truly menacing and malevolent force that could cause serious harm and wanton destruction at a moment’s notice”, and of course, I was immediately hooked after reading both that gripping description, and the first page of his book.  I whipped through the first chapter provided to me, captivated by compelling characters, a well-developed plot line, and most importantly to me, the story’s inherent credibility, as it took place during his childhood in his own central Jersey home.  Long story short, I’ll be purchasing this author’s literary debut with glee, and not just because he’s contributing part of the proceeds to POAC.

Here’s some more great news.  There’s even an upcoming sequel.

So, if you’re in the mood for what appears to be an edge-of-your-seat  supernatural thriller, please visit Darren Fitzgerald’s website at:   http://hurleypond.com/bios.html and show him some love.

While you’re at it, you’ll be “showing the money” to POAC as well.  To you, readers, a most heartfelt thank you in advance!

October 8, 2010

Treats

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , at 6:20 am by autismmommytherapist

This year, my husband decided to buy our Halloween candy in September, and not the crappy kind, mind you. No dots, licorice, or Smarties are gracing our dining room table, hiding in plain sight. No, my husband has opted this year to select the good stuff, the Kit Kats, the Milky Ways, and of course, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, which I believe with all my heart are the “chosen” candy. He has done this, instead of waiting until two days before the holiday to get it “fresh” like he usually does, because apparently there was a good sale. He has purchased this chocolate with quite blatant disregard, knowing that in October I have to fit into three separate outfits to attend a Bar Mitzvah, my twenty-fifth high school reunion, and my annual “get away from the boys” girls’ weekend in DC.

I believe in divorce court this would constitute a stellar example of extreme mental cruelty.

I suppose I’ll eventually forgive him, as he has promised to hide the offenders somewhere in the house that I’ll never look for them (they will probably make their home in one of the thirty boxes labeled “KIM’S STUFF” residing in our garage, the ones I was supposed to unpack when we relocated four years ago). I guess I’ll have to move on, because he took the time this weekend to fill our house with “Halloween spookies”, weeks earlier than I generally would have had to harass him to do it. He redecorated because he knows I adore the holiday, the ghosts and goblins who will take up residence throughout our home, the ten thousand times Zach will change his mind about what costume he’s going to wear, the promise of infiltrating the afterlife.

And of course, there’s always the time-honored tradition of post-Halloween candy stealing when my boys aren’t looking.

It’s a little insane for us to keep decorating every year. My youngest has developed a number of anxieties over the past several months that include the supernatural, and my oldest’s OCD will ensure that the flying witch on our piano and its neighbor, the moving mummy, will never have a moment’s rest. We’ll have to be on constant patrol, reassuring Zach that everything he sees is make-believe, and preventing Justin from spinning every pumpkin we have, whether they’re plugged into a socket or not. My husband and I will have to be more vigilant than usual, which is saying a lot, but the truth is it’s worth it, for one gigantic reason.

Halloween makes me happy.

I’ve loved All Saint’s day since I was a kid, back in the pre-global warming days when I’d fight with my mom about wearing a coat over my costume, those pre-historic times when trick-or-treating lasted about four hours and was not necessarily transacted with an accompanying adult. Much like my birthday, I felt Halloween was simply too big a concept to be contained in one day, so I granted it a month. When I was little, I celebrated by reading everything about the occult that I could get my hands on, and I often bribed my friends to play “Ouiji board” with me (connections to the immortal world are clearly stronger in October). Now that I’m a mom, October 1st includes the purchase of new spooky stories, crafts galore from A.C. Moore, and the profound hope that my children won’t mind wearing their respective Halloween shirts at least three times a week between now and November.

We all go crazy differently.

The truth is, I’ll let Halloween go head-to-head with Christmas any day, regard it as a far more low-maintenance holiday which thrills me to no end. I’ve decided that even if I have to Velcro Justin to my side for a month every fall we’re going to keep doing this, because the sight of their faces when they first see the  living room in the dark, Justin inserting his loud “eeeeeeeeeee” into the equation, Zach gripping me so tightly with his legs and arms that any boa would be proud, brings me joy. And within this life, this crazy life with two boys on the autism spectrum, I’ve realized in order to parent these children the way they need to be parented, mommy had better find herself some more joy.

When my friends ask me how things are going I usually respond that they’re going well, that it’s “kids, chores, and writing”. I tell them that we’ve reached a sort of détente with autism in this house, that we are generally happy. Most of the time it’s the truth, and part of that is because I manage to carve out time for myself now, precious hours that are solely about me, not laundry, errands, or Pap smears.

There was a time back in VA that my entire existence literally centered around Justin, that our days were composed of simply chores and therapy, and of course tears, both his and mine. I made my son and his autism my entire world, and nearly lost myself in the process. I learned the hard way, six months into our twenty-five hour a week therapeutic regime, after I had reached rock bottom, that I had better start taking care of myself if I wanted to take care of him. Jeff was at work, my family was in NJ, and short of video-conferencing, there was no way I was getting out of my home for therapy. If I wanted to be whole, healthy and happy again, nobody was going to do it for me. I had to do it for myself.

Hell, I just had to get out of the house.

And I did. I slowly began to carve out time for friends again, relinquished ABA hours on weekends and let Jeff and Justin watch football instead of teaching him how to clap again. I went shopping. I saw bad matinees. Sometimes I just went to Michael’s and bought craft kits I knew I’d never use. It didn’t matter what I did, as long as there was a bit of escape involved, and access to an activity that didn’t require six consecutive hours of pinching.

Clearly, I’m a converted behaviorist.

And for anyone out there with a child who’s just been diagnosed, please learn from my example. Do whatever it takes to keep some pieces of your pre-child life intact, even if it annoys your husband or occasionally frightens a babysitter. A few hours away from your child will not make the difference between whether or not he speaks, is potty-trained, or drives you insane with his text-messaging bills. Take care of yourself. Find your joy again. And I promise, as I dim the lights once more this evening for our seventh consecutive showing of “spookies”, I’ll continue to heed my own counsel.

Because nobody likes mean mommy.