July 17, 2011

Soothing to the Sole

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , at 10:58 am by autismmommytherapist

Yesterday, I went to the shoe store with Zachary, and bought him new sneakers. It’s something mothers across America are required to do on a fairly frequent basis, nothing miraculous about it at all.

Except, it was.

We pulled into the parking lot, my youngest thrilled beyond all expectation to be acquiring new footwear. With only the slightest of hesitations, he held my hand as we crossed the busy parking lot, avoiding puddles and oil spills in equal measure. Amidst the cramped aisles of the store, Zach waited patiently (!) while the sales clerk concluded a business call. There were no protestations, no complaints when he was told to place his foot in the cold, metallic clutches of the measuring instrument, was excited to see he would indeed merit a half-size upgrade. Together, we looked for shoes which would “represent” his style, nothing too flashy, just simple canvas devoid of pink. He sat calmly while I shimmied several different shoes onto his tiny feet. Although he wandered away once, he returned immediately upon my summons. Greetings were exchanged with our helpful shopkeeper, as were names. The entire errand was nothing short of delightful.

Trust me, my shoe-shopping expeditions have not always been so peaceful. The one that readily comes to mind is a fairly recent trip to our local mall, an excursion in which I took my oldest child. Zach needed new shoes then too, and at that point in his life due to his busy schedule with Early Intervention, it was simpler just to measure his feet, and convince the employees that we could figure out his shoe size and purchase them in his absence. I’d conducted this errand many times in the past with Justin, with my boy happily ensconsced in his souped-up stroller, playing a succession of DVDs, unconcerned about my purchases.

Unfortunately, he took an interest that day.

After quickly locating my prize but subsequently waiting on a line at the register remininscent of the DMV on the last day of the month, I thought we were home free, and began to carefully maneuver Justin toward the exit. Halfway there, I felt the familiar resistance that signifies my son had planted his feet on the ground in protest. I looked down at his angst-ridden face for clues, prepared to offer him juice, snacks, or just about any legal bribe to get him to leave the premises, when he grabbed my hand and shoved it toward the underseat compartment of the stroller. I felt my heart clench, and a mild sweat envelop me.

Crap. He wants to wear his little brother’s shoes.

For years I’d been taking this child to purchase sneakers for his sibling, and never once had he protested when I hadn’t done the same for him. I (foolishly) tried to reason with my moderately autistic child, telling Justin we were on the way to get a treat, that the shoes were for Zach, and would barely encompass his toes. He regarded me with utter annoyance, and again shoved my hand, less gently this time.

I was in for it now.

I briefly contemplated returning to the cluttered shelves and placating him with a new pair, but I’d just bought him new duds mere weeks before, and I neither wanted to spend the money, nor give in to his demands. Instead, I propelled that stroller toward the main corridor of the mall, and pushed for dear life. There were several stops and starts, accompanied by the ever-escalating protests of my royally pissed-off son, but eventually I was able to angle his ride back so that it rested on two wheels, my purse and hard-won prize dangling precariously off the handles, praying I’d make it to Sears and our car without dropping him.

I had to stop at least three times, because my boy is big now, and he literally wasn’t taking this boycott of his demands lying down. We eventually made it to our SUV, surviving the surprised stares of the mall patrons and the semi-glare of a mall cop, whom I was certain was going to detain me. I was drenched in sweat and tears, but once I maneuvered my son into his seat and gave him a new DVD, he simply smiled at me, all woes vanquished, the salty tracks of his own tears lying forgotten on his flushed cheeks.

It took me a little longer to forget that episode.

Thankfully, this errand with one of my children is devoid of angst. There is just the simple balance of request and demand, greetings exchanged, instructions followed. Since Zach has progressed so far with his therapy, some of my times with Justin have been put into sharp contrast. My encounters with him have made me ache that life couldn’t be simpler for my oldest, but grateful for the ease in which most transactions are completed with my youngest. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to reconcile the yin and yang of my respective experiences with my sons.

But today, I ran an errand with my youngest child that was actually fun. And in my world, that constitutes a miracle.

January 28, 2011

The Boys Are Alright

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , at 9:55 am by autismmommytherapist

The phone rings, and I run to it, dripping wet from the shower I snuck upstairs to take. I know without even looking at the caller ID who will be on the other end of the line, and so I dramatically begin my mental preparations to stave off my impending despair. I press “talk”, and sadly I am validated, as it is indeed our Sunday morning therapist calling to cancel. She has an extremely valid excuse, and of course, being the magnanimous person that I am, I’ve already forgiven her before we’ve even severed our connection. I am conscious however that this change of plans will slightly derail our day, and that Justin will regret not having his weekly session with her, may actually “protest” her defection. I’ve been filling in occasionally for his other therapist who’s currently on maternity leave, and since he’s missed so much school lately due to the fact we seem to have acquired New England’s weather system, I know I should run a session with him today so he doesn’t lose mastered skills. I sigh, thinking of the glorious hour I would have had while Zach played with his father and I wrote inane witticisms on Facebook, then dry and dress myself and walk downstairs.

All is fairly calm in the kingdom at the moment, and as Jeff guesses who our mystery caller was I tell him I’ll tutor Justin myself, and that he should maneuver Zach upstairs. I know that Justin will be fine with his substitute teacher, although he prefers the novelty of a fresh face, and I’m confident we can get through at least the majority of his most crucial goals without a meltdown. I move through the kitchen to get the boys’ snacks ready, and as I do so I casually mention to Zach that he will be going upstairs to play with Daddy so Mommy can teach Justin. He screams, plants his feet firmly in what I like to call his “no way” stance, and says “No! I want to go to school too, and I want Daddy to teach me!”  Jeff and I both burst out laughing, and I know we are recalling the last time Jeff tried to instruct one of our children (it ended with Justin strapped into his chair “watching football”, my husband insisting upon my return home that it was an educational opportunity, since he was teaching him colors, letters and numbers from our big screen). Patience, and instructing small children, are not my husband’s forte.

Once we can both breathe again I look at my spouse and say, “Sure, why not, at least it will be entertaining”, and I turn to Zach and tell him he can go to mommy’s school with Justin as long as he’s a good boy. Tears immediately arrest on his face, and he runs over to the art/therapy table and promptly takes Justin’s seat. I know this won’t fly with my eldest, so I cajole Zach over to the empty chair next to him, and deposit the snacks on the floor. I call Justin over to join us, and he quickly runs to the table once he sees his favorite popcorn lying in wait for him, then stops dead in his tracks as he registers Zachary’s presence. He’s usually pretty great where his little brother is concerned (unless they’re fighting over the attentions of our attractive teen-aged babysitter), and fortunately this time he remains true to form. I see the flash of white teeth as his grin spreads across his face, and he slides into his seat happily, grabbing my shoulders and pulling me toward him to bestow a big kiss on my forehead.

Yes, my child is thanking me for making him learn something. This is why I (sometimes) forego reality tv shows for plotting how to make his life better. He’s just that sweet.

I ready my materials as Jeff comes around the corner and slides his 6’4” frame awkwardly into the remaining plastic chair, and decide to handle spelling first, as this is something Zach can participate in as well. I fan the letters out in an asymmetrical array before us, and just for kicks, as this noun is well beneath my son’s word repertoire, I ask him to spell “cat”. Zach pipes up “I’ll do it!”, and promptly adheres the letters “z”, “b”, “d”, and “t” to the waiting Velcro strip lying bare before us. Jeff raises his eyebrows at me (I’m thinking it’s time to put a little extra effort into phonics with the younger one), and I tell him “good try”, making tiger mothers everywhere shudder with contempt. My eldest indicates his mastery over such simplicity rapidly and with an air of boredom, and I know I’ve got to ramp things up a bit or I’ll lose my students’ attention. We attempt “boat” next in my thinly veiled attempt to go to a more fun place, and Justin quickly nails it. I barely have time to return the embrace he seeks for reward along with his coveted kernels when Zach turns toward me, sticks his feet up on the table and says, “Are we done yet?”

Guess this is why I never won “teacher of the year”.

Now that I’ve bored him to death (after all, he has legos waiting for him upstairs, spelling is so “yesterday”), Jeff walks him upstairs, and Justin and I are able to resume our interrupted lesson. I hear the slamming of doors and screams of glee as my husband chases Zach around our second floor, and I am grateful once again that the sensory diversion of sound no longer upsets my eldest. We weave our way through the lesson, bickering occasionally over how many pieces of popcorn are commensurate with a correct response, but all in all, our session is smooth sailing. Justin is learning. Zachary is happy.

The boys are alright.

March 2, 2010

Not Famous Enough

Posted in Our Background tagged , , at 2:50 pm by autismmommytherapist

My name is Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, and I am the mother of two wonderful boys, ages three and six, both of whom have autism. Six years ago I was a resident of the great state of Virginia, living twenty minutes from the White House and reveling in the fact that after two years of fertility treatments and several miscarriages, I finally had a kid. Six months into my parenthood journey I had mild concerns about my infant’s behaviors that were not shared by my pediatric group; a year later they finally were. My oldest son Justin was diagnosed at seventeen months with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a label followed half-a-year later by the one we’re all so much more familiar with, autism.


To say this wasn’t a pleasant time for our family would be quite the understatement.  I quickly realized the services for children in Virginia through the state’s Early Intervention program were almost non-existent, and if we wanted him to have a comprehensive home program without entering bankruptcy, the job would fall upon me. I quit my teaching job, got trained in the core therapies for autism, and was his primary therapist for the next fifteen months. Since massive amounts of quality therapy at an early age is about the ONLY thing the myriad factions of the autism community agrees is a good thing for autistic children, I dove in and worked at least six hours a day with my son for over a year. When I eventually realized our school district’s program would not be right for him when he became of age, we decided to relocate back to my former state of New Jersey. There, Justin would not only have a one-on-one aide, but would actually receive Early Intervention services not conducted by his exhausted and perpetually cranky mother. It was a win-win.


We quickly settled into our new home. A few months later my husband Jeff and I were pleasantly surprised to discover we had forgotten to claim something at customs upon our return trip from Aruba, a little something who eventually ended up being our second son, Zachary. Other than a slight speech delay during his second year, Zachary’s development was completely different than his brother’s. Not only did he hit every milestone on time which Justin also had done, but he displayed none of the “extras” which had so concerned me during the first few years of my older son’s life. Unfortunately when Zach was twenty-months-old he was taken ill twice in one month, and within weeks began displaying the classic symptoms of autism. These were not good times chez McCafferty.


I quickly realized my life was not exactly going in accord with my extravagant plan of marrying a good guy, having two healthy kids, being an educator, and cultivating a healthy attachment to a fruity pinot grigio and being in bed by 10. It was pretty obvious the career had to stay in the crapper so I could continue to don the mantle of “mommy-therapist”, and heavy drinking was out if I wanted to be any good at it.  Since I am the suckiest martyr ever I decided I had to have something for me, something more than the satisfaction of seeing that sixth load of laundry get folded AND put away.


So I decided to write a book, even though I hadn’t written anything longer than an email since grad school in the early 90’s. Creative writing was the only course I’d gotten an A in during college, so I figured what the hell, and went for it. I thought I’d just whip it out in a few months. It took two years.


Part of the reason it took so long was my inability to function after 7:30 PM, and in part it was those damn kids getting in the way of my writing. They are just SO time-consuming! Eventually I did finish it, and now have turned my attention to becoming (just slightly) famous through my blog, so I can get my manuscript published and achieve my goals of opening as many doors as possible for my sons, and helping other families struggling with autism.


So here I am in the blogosphere. Before I decided to go this route however, I felt compelled to explore other avenues to fame simultaneously.


My alternative opportunities were twofold.  Join the cast of a reality TV show (Jersey Shore is practically in my backyard), or exploit the famous people I’ve met. Since I don’t have nearly enough tattoos to qualify for the Seaside Heights venture (and there have been no casting calls for cougars), unfortunately I feel I must shun this option. Sadly, its proximity would have made it so convenient, and I do tan well. It’s a pity.


So, that leaves the shameful exploitation of celebrities I’ve encountered in my travails. There are three.


First, there’s Dirk Benedict from the original version of Battlestar Galactica, whom I tormented in the Theater in the Round in NY in the mid 80’s when I was in high school. I made him give me an autograph and blew his cover. I doubt he’s forgiven me, so he’s out.


Then there’s Bill Clinton, whom I met while chaperoning my students on a field trip to a Baltimore Orioles game. Mr. Clinton shook my hand in a completely random moment of kindness (because, clearly, I am a person of no importance), and I responded by forgetting every pithy, clever comment I’d been honing and instead greeted him with a slightly subdued and breathy “hi”. Somehow, I don’t think he’ll remember me.


Last, and most lucrative, is my little brother. He’s a death metal rock star. Yes, I can claim stardom for him since women on the street stop him to have their picture taken with him (every time it happens with me around gentle mocking ensues, it is GREAT fun). I’m certain he could make me famous at his concerts by incorporating autism into his lyrics, somewhere between the references to rotting corpses and rancid brains. Since I kept him alive on Kraft macaroni and cheese for a few years during our childhood, I figure he owes me.


After indulging in my fantasies of a quick trip to fame for some time, alas, in a moment of clarity, I have come to realize I will just have to buckle down and get my name out there the old-fashioned way, simply by writing.


So, if you’ve received an email about this blog you either know me or my mother, and despite the fact that we’re all insanely busy these days, it would be great if you would visit it from time to time, perhaps leave a relatively appropriate comment, and badger everyone you know to visit it too. Thank you, and I promise (REALLY!) to respond!