May 17, 2012

Mother’s Day Bounty

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , at 10:13 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s Mother’s Day, or what I like to call around here “a sacred 24-hour-period of Mommy-thanking”, which as usual, will commence before dawn. Justin is particularly happy and affectionate this morning which is a wonderful thing, because I realized the night before that I’ve finally succumbed to the virus Zach just had, one which knocked him out for a week.

While I’m a bit disappointed to be out of it on this day of all days, the situation’s not tragic. My own mother is away, so there’s no meal to prepare later in the day. My kids will still give me their beautiful homemade cards and we’ll do something together as a family, because even though it’s technically “my day”, Justin still needs to get out of the house. Most importantly, the nasty bug that has claimed my body waited until after I’d concluded my shopping spree last night with my sister-in-law and niece, permitting me to have my girl-time with them AND acquire the perfect dress for my brother’s wedding.

I still have my priorities straight.

So, today will commence as most Sundays do, although my husband is graciously taking over the early morning shift because I can’t quite stop coughing, and just can’t seem to leave those warm covers. He’ll make my son breakfast and entertain him for two hours until my second child is conscious, at which point I’ll rally and get myself downstairs to help him with the controlled chaos.

Those two hours will rank up there as one of the best gifts I’ll get all day.

We won’t attempt a Mother’s Day brunch out, in part because Zach is still on the gluten-free casein-free diet which seriously restricts what he can eat, and in part because Justin will want to eat and get out of there in about half an hour, which kind of defeats the concept of a meal that’s supposed to be leisurely. We won’t be ordering in either, because I can neither smell nor taste anything at the moment, so meals prepared by someone other than me aren’t really on my agenda. No, except for my annoying cough, today will end up proceeding pretty much as any Sunday does around here, lazy, reasonably quiet, with lots of together time.

That is, except for one glorious, exceptional, “make-my-mother’s-day” moment.

I’ve written many times on this blog how important it is to me and my husband that our boys have a true connection, that each one respects the other, and hopefully finds true joy in their relationship as well. Justin and Zach do have a number of moments together, but I admit that many of them are contrived by me in an effort to foster that bond. There are games of tag around the house, and books from Justin’s early childhood that still bring a huge grin to his face, and a smile to his younger sibling’s too. Zach often tells us what Justin is “saying”, which is generally amusing, as his “communication” is frequently to Zach’s benefit.

Zach is not a kid to willingly miss any opportunity that benefits his own life.

But the key thing here is that while they do connect, almost all of their interaction is initiated by Zach, or by his parents. It’s not that Justin isn’t interested in his younger sibling, or doesn’t love him. Zach has surprised Justin at school several times for various functions, and each time his older brother’s face has absolutely radiated joy, and his excitement at Zach’s presence was palpable. They love each other in their own fashion, but to date, my firstborn has never started the proverbial “brother ball” rolling.

But today, he did. And he even gave up something he loves to do it.

I didn’t get to witness it, will have to live vicariously through my husband’s report of what transpired. I was washing breakfast dishes when in the middle of my task I heard a resounding “That was SO nice Justin, great job!”, and I abandoned my chores to rush upstairs. I took in a typical tableau- Zach sitting in the computer chair, Justin hovering happily next to him with eyes glued to the screen, and my spouse on a bench nearby monitoring the situation.

Jeff turned to me with a huge smile on his face, and said “Without any prompting, our eldest just got out of the chair, grabbed Zach’s hands, plopped him into his seat, and gave him a chance at this game.”  I smiled in return and asked him how Zach responded, and he said “he looked at Justin and said, ‘you’re a great big brother’, then sort of pushed him out of the way so he could have a better look at the computer screen.”

That’s my boy.

It sounds like such a little thing, but inwardly I’m thrilled, because I hope it won’t be a one-time event, a glitch in their usual brother-to-brother relationship. I know that sometimes Zach longs for more from Justin. My youngest asks lots of questions about what his elder sibling will be like when he grows up (ones I wish I could answer more precisely), and every few months tells me he’s built a machine that will make Justin talk and play with him.

I’d take out several mortgages just to acquire that bit of technology.

I don’t know if a moment of this magnitude will re-occur for them. So often little pieces of “typical” surface on the turbulent waters of our family’s autism, then they recede, never to be seen again. I’m not sure Zach will once more be the recipient of such a generous offer, a true act of generosity on the part of his older brother. I can wish for it though, and I will.

But no matter what, it happened once. It was their moment, but now it’s mine too. It made my Mother’s Day.

And I sincerely hope this past Sunday, that all of you moms out there had your amazing maternal moment too.

August 19, 2011

Oh Brother

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , at 11:10 am by autismmommytherapist

I feel the soft weight of a juice box bounce off my shoulder, and as I slow down to adhere to the rules of the red hexagon before me, I turn around to confront the offender. I am quickly rewarded with a “Sorry, Mom” and a sweet smile that dissipates the rush of annoyance I’d felt upon contact, and I remind myself that Zach’s four, and not yet the most accurate shot. I look him in the eyes and say “Zach, Mommy’s said a thousand (million?) times that when you’re done with your juice, just put it down next to you, don’t hurl it at Mommy’s head”.

He looks sheepish again and responds “I know Mommy, it’s so hard to remember”, and I think to myself ‘no kidding hon’, as I turn back around to ease into the intersection. It’s quiet for a few moments as I search for songs on Sirius, then the peace is broken by a small voice from the back asking “Mom, is ‘David’ like Justin?”, and I grip the wheel tighter, because this is the first time he’s ever asked me anything specifically about his brother.

Apparently, the question and answer portion of his childhood has begun.

We’d just finished a playdate at my friend’s house, a lovely woman who also has two boys on the spectrum (we’re just all autism, all the time). One of her sons presents much like Zach, and one mirrors Justin somewhat in the trajectory of his development. So far we’ve  always gotten together when both of our older, and more affected offspring, are still in school.

But it’s summer now. While I have Justin gratefully ensconced in his eight week program (oh, the happy dance conducted when I discovered the miraculous length of this agency’s summer school would have gone viral on YouTube), my friend’s older son is now home for the duration. This is the first time Zach or I has ever met her eldest, her firstborn who is as sweet as she has claimed him to be. He spends some time with us for a while, participating on the edge of the crowd, uttering the occasional familiar vowel sound that replicates Justin’s repertoire, causing Zach to look at him in surprise.

And I admit on occasion, despite knowing my son was safely in his school, that this elongated “e” made me question Justin’s whereabouts as well.

I bring myself back to Zach’s query, because I want to answer this casually, but carefully. I look into the rearview mirror, take a deep breath and say “’David’ is a lot like Justin. ‘David’ and Justin both have autism, and they both say “eee” often”. I wait for his reply, and I know it will be a few moments as he processes, because he always takes his time with these sorts of conversations.

“Mommy, what is autism?” he asks, a question he’s put to me many times, and one I hope I answer in a manner which he can comprehend.

I trot out “Autism is what makes it hard for Justin and some kids to talk and to play with each other”, which has been my pat response each time. When I taught, I always tried to get inside my students’ heads with the big questions, tailor my answers specifically to information I thought was appropriate, and relevant to them. I’ve adopted this strategy with Zach as well, and I feel so far it’s worked. At least there’s never been a follow- up question before, so in the past I believe I’ve satiated that inquisitive little mind, because his next interrogative has usually revolved around dinosaurs. This time however we’ve moved on to deeper waters, because I hear him say softly “Will Justin ever play or talk with me?”

When my heart resumes beating, I know I’ll have to respond.

I remind him that Justin does “talk” with him sometimes, that his favorite letter of the alphabet often signifies excitement over a new toy he’s showing to Zach, or mere happiness that they’re in each other’s presence. I recall for my last born how we often have “book club” together in the family room, an event in which Justin usually permits Zach to splay at least half of his body across his older brother as long as they’re both cocooned in our “reading blanket”. I continue my narrative with reminders that all four of us now play “chase” at night, a game in which Zach usually wins due to those supernatural speedy legs. I summon these examples as offerings, hoping they placate and sooth, and seemingly, they do. I regard him once more in the rearview, and watch him settle back into his seat and comment, “Justin is my best friend, can you buy me another Transformer?”, which mirrors the split nature of much of our dialogue these days. He appears satisfied with my responses.

At least, for now.

I have friends who are entering the more challenging portion of the inevitable “Q and A”, and I let them regale me with their stories when I can. It seems siblings’ responses represent a wide spectrum in and of themselves, with some very distressed upon learning their teen-aged brother will probably never talk, and others seeming to take their siblings’ differences, and potential life outcomes, in stride. For most families there appears to be a see-saw reaction, one which demonstrates tolerance, irritation, indifference, or sadness, often all in the same day. Not for the first time, I wonder how things will play out here.

And yes, the sibling bond is not the only thing I wonder about either.

Zach asks for pretzels even though he knows I’m driving, and digresses to yet another discussion of the merits of Diplodocus and his favorite, Tyrannosaurus Rex. I relax, knowing once again we’ve returned to safer territory. For the millionth time I wish once more for a guide to help me with the answers to these questions, because I know the tougher ones are coming, a reality as inevitable as the fact that both boys are growing up faster than I’d like. I also have a sneaking suspicion that one day, many of my youngest’s queries will start with “why”.

And your guess is as good as mine as to what I’ll say then.