August 26, 2012

Summer’s End

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , at 7:44 am by autismmommytherapist

Zach bounds ahead of his shadow through the parking lot to my waiting car, and she quickly reigns him in to protect him from the path of any oncoming vehicles. He clambers exuberantly into the backseat of my SUV, full of stories about splash fights in the pool, art projects he can’t wait to display to me, how much snack he ate. My youngest boy tells me he LOVES camp, and wishes he could stay all day long.

Since his parents are still paying for an aide to be with him, that’s not quite financially feasible at this time.

I smile to myself however because I know that time could come, perhaps as soon as next summer. Zach’s camp has worked diligently to let his shadow fade from activities, allowing him to make more and more behavioral choices on his own. There have, of course, been a few bumps on the road, where his impulsivity has superceded rational choice and adults have had to pull him back. Again, he’s five, and that can happen to any kid. The beautiful part however is that as we talk about these incidences, he’s now not only able to articulate what went wrong, but has offered alternative paths he could have taken.

Really, what more could I ask for?

I’m hoping this newfound consciousness translates to other areas of his life, impending firsts that I am so excited to offer him. He’ll be starting karate in the fall (I’ll try anything to tire him out), and a sibling support group to discuss what it’s like to have a brother with autism. I’ve signed him up for Sunday School (given my lack of religious affiliation my husband was a bit surprised by this move, but Zach should be able to make his own choices about what he believes), so we’re giving church a go.

Then, of course, there’s kindergarten looming on the horizon, where on the very first day of school he will disembark from his bus and proceed immediately to a mainstream setting, without his own aid, and just a special education teacher he will share with seven other children. I’m excited, scared, and more than a little curious as to how all this will proceed.

Trust me, you’ll be hearing all about it soon.

I admit, as I pull out of the horseshoe-shaped parking lot I feel hopeful, because the key with Zach (and almost any child for that matter) is motivation, and this is a child who truly wants to belong, to have friends, to exchange ideas and knowledge with his peers. If kindergarten challenges and excites him, as I am confident after having met his future educators that it will, he will do fine.

Correction. I think he will soar.

And as summer wanes down to its inevitable conclusion and autumn begins to make its presence felt, I know both of us have so much to look forward to.

August 13, 2012

Grace in Growing

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 1:17 pm by autismmommytherapist

He holds his hand out to me like a gift, shaking with excitement over the treasure he’s found in the depths of a well-worn jetty from which I’ve had to extract him. Nestled comfortably in his palm is a tiny sea-star, and Zach proclaims it must be a “baby”, and looks at me eagerly as he asks if we can keep it. Since it would be cruel (and the extent of our pet situation at home is limited to fish) I tell him no, that we’ll release her when he’s ready and let her return to her family. He sighs but clearly understands, sliding his newfound friend into our bucket and joyfully running off to find someone with whom to share his loot.

A month ago, this denial of acquisition would have resulted in a tantrum of magnificent proportions.

My boy is emotional, as five-year-olds often are, and over the past year I’ve seen a great deal of these episodes stem from transitional situations. This summer has brought with it a great deal of changes, new paths forged that seem monumental even to his mother. First, there was saying goodbye to his incredible pre-school teacher of two-and-a-half years. Next was leaving his old camp behind and trying a new one better suited to him, with brand new kids and teachers to boot. Now kindergarten looms, and although we talk about it frequently and he’s already explored the facility and met his teachers, I know the transition weighs mightily on his soul.

As it does on his mother’s.

The truth is however that he has matured greatly over the span of a season, an alteration in personality for which I do not feel I can take credit. He seems able to reign himself in more easily, can contemplate options that do not necessarily lead to exactly what he wants at that exact moment. Zach is far more willing to share whatever bounty he is luxuriating in at the moment, whether it’s Phineas and Ferb books, a coveted sword, or (sometimes) his favorite veggie sticks snacks. My youngest son seems to have made his own mental shift, that to get what he wants, he needs to give of himself too.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

I watch as he inserts himself on soggy sand between two pre-teen girls, holding up his swaying bucket in such a way that his desire to share cannot be denied. They congratulate him on his find and tell him that they themselves put this sea creature amongst these rocks from a prior location, and that discovering it was meant to be. He smiles at them in wonder, pauses, and offers them back his five-legged find and mostly means it.

I am so proud.

The lovely burgeoning child-women politely decline, and I see a satisfied smile illuminate his face, as he rushes back up sloping sand to me. “We can keep her for a while mom, then we’ll give her back to the sea!” he says gleefully, and I tell him it’s a plan. In this season of sun there’s been so much growth, new potential revealed. I’ve witnessed it joyfully, can’t wait to watch it spill over to new friends and experiences in the fall. Zach switches his bucket from one hand to the next, and slides his free one into mine.

And I know for this child, good things will come.

May 18, 2011

Letting Go

Posted in AMT's Faves, If You Need a Good Cry, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 9:55 am by autismmommytherapist

Even at the tender age of eight, my son Justin has somehow managed to acquire several paramours during his short stint on earth. First, there’s the love of his life who lives around the corner, a girl for whom he would do anything. This dedication includes shoving me out of the room whenever she arrives to play with him (in a painful, bruise-in-the-small-of-the-back-kind-of-way, it’s a proud moment every single time). On a local beachside playground there was a lovely teenaged girl we continually encountered on summer afternoons, a love interest with whom Justin shared his toys, and his kisses. There have been mild flirtations along the way with the few girls in his classes (that 4:1 boys to girls ratio for autism has not been in his favor), including a young blond thing in pre-school for whom he tried to escape his classroom whenever he caught sight of her. Let’s just say, his one-on-one aide was in great shape that year.

And then, there was Kerry.

I’ve written about  Someone Special Needs You (SSNY) several times since I’ve begun this blog, not because I’ve run out of things to talk about (trust me, with autism, you never run out of things to talk about), but because it’s carved out such a unique place within Justin’s lexicon of activities, and within my heart. It’s a group which convenes eight times a year in a church in Colts Neck, NJ (nope, it’s not religious in its origins), and includes neurotypical teen-age peers and children with a range of disabilities as well. Sometimes there’s a theme, such as Christmas/Chanukah or St. Patrick’s Day. On occasion the group’s founder, Vince Scanelli, hosts a full-fledge carnival, or a graveyard Easter Egg hunt. There’s always a craft and an abundance of snacks, which Justin usually consumes as if he’s eating for three. For the most part my eldest only deigns to share his company with the group for about half an hour, but I know on some level, he enjoys his participation.

But the best part for him, hands down, has been his buddies.

Justin has never been a patron of the arts-and-crafts, and I’m pretty certain even the allure of unlimited potato chips wouldn’t convince him to get out of the car at 6:30 at night, at the end of a long week at school. No, the single most motivating factor to inspire Justin to do something other than handle toys that light up and spin, has always been women. This is a trait he seems to have inherited from both sides of his family, with the sponsors being his father and maternal great-grandfather, respectively. My son loves being fawned over (as on occasion, have said father and great-grandfather), and for at least a limited time, will do absolutely anything for a pretty, smart, kind girl who’s been his friend for four consecutive years (that includes painting a damn leprechaun).

And since he was four years old, for most of the time he’s participated in this group, Kerry has played the role of primary reinforcer.

Justin’s fabulous buddy is a senior in high school, and although I’ve had almost half a decade to prepare for her departure (come on girl, what about online learning, it’s the wave of the future), I was still unaware that our April get-together would probably be the last event my son would be able to spend time with her. I thought we had one more gig in May, during which I would have actually remembered to bring my camera and at least presented Kerry with some photos to remember Justin by, but I was informed early in the event that our sojourn to the gymnasium that evening would be our last until September.

Once I saw that Kerry had made it, and that Justin would get to say goodbye to her, I rallied (never let it be said I’m not a rock of a woman). I left the two of them to their own devices, and helped my husband keep Zachary alive, which given the height of some of the equipment and my youngest son’s refusal to fear anything, was no easy task. I admit, I was easily able to put Kerry’s imminent departure out of my mind in an effort to ascertain exactly how many exits Zach could escape from in each bouncy unit (generally, there were no less than three,  Jeff and I were outnumbered).

Eventually, after an hour of gut-queasy bouncing and multiple room changes, the evening concluded. I asked our soon-to-be-former buddy to escort Justin to the car so he, and I, could say a proper farewell to her. Jeff and I successfully strapped two hyper, over-tired young children into our SUV, I counted the twelve bags that comprise our entourage wherever we go, shoved them in the trunk, and asked Kerry to lean in and hug Justin. She did as asked, extending a full-body embrace and a kiss on the head to my boy, then she turned back to me to say goodbye and hug me too.

I opened my arms, got out “thank you for everything”, and totally lost it on the shoulders of an eighteen-year-old girl.

In my defense, just prior to completing that circle of love, Kerry shared with me that she would be studying to be a speech therapist in part because of Justin, and frankly, I’m not certain how I could have contained myself after that declaration. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve managed lately to relegate most weeping episodes to television and film, the finale of Lost and my husband’s cruel sharing of the end of Toy Story Three coming to mind. I just don’t find crying all that cathartic anymore, what with the raccoon eyes that follow with the accompanying migraine chaser from hell, so I’ve channeled my desire for release into other outlets.

No, not drugs. Reality television and the blog, people, the blog.

I immediately apologized for sobbing all over her pretty Gap t-shirt, and managed to state without a full-fledged gulp accompaniment how much her participation in the program had meant to Justin, and to me. I thanked her for her commitment to him, how she showed up during flu season and finals, in inclement weather and sunny skies. I informed her she would be an inspirational speech therapist, and that I was proud my son had influenced her decision, even if only in some small way.

I shared with her that one of the most difficult things for me to accept about the nature of my son’s disorder was that in the truest sense of the word he doesn’t have friends, is bereft of the companionship that has sustained me through some of the most difficult periods of my life, as well as provided me with some of the most hilarious moments as well. I told her that in her own way she had been Justin’s companion for the better part of four years, and that filling this gaping niche in his life had played an instrumental part in his social growth, while simultaneously filling an aching need for myself as well.

Then I took a deep breath, sniffled one last time, and managed to let her go.

After making her promise to keep in touch I slid behind the wheel of my car, accepted the proffered tissue from my somewhat confused spouse, and carefully began backing out of my microscopic parking spot. Jeff asked me if I was okay, which unleashed a second wave of weeping, as I tried to explain to him what this girl had meant to our son and me, and failed miserably (it’s hard to talk when you’re hiccupping). Eventually I got a grip, engaged my GPS so I could find my way home and not rely on my husband’s incredulous instructions (the fact that we were simply retracing our previous steps means less than nothing to my direction-addled brain), and headed for home.

I glanced back at my boy, strapped carefully into his fortress of a car restraint, rocking out to Stevie Nicks and blissfully unaware that this hug heralded the end of an era. I sent a silent plea to the universe I wouldn’t have to witness him searching for her at SSNY in September, then eased into traffic on the main thoroughfare. I filled my lungs deeply one last time, searching for solace in the comfort of air, and in that moment, finding none.

And this time, I let that be okay.