Sunday, April 25, 2010

Goodbye #23

It's been a big week. The teenager announced that he wants to go to college (hallelujah), I saw Anthony Bourdain speak (awesome) and I completed number 23 on the ol' 40 by 40 list.

Now, if you want to get technical, I originally said that I wanted to "scrapbook" my boys' childhoods through age 5 . Well, as you can maybe tell in the photo up there, after spending roughly five years painstakingly glueing their first 18 months of photos into scrapbooks, I turned to digital scrapbookery, an option that I feel is acceptable given that I neither enjoyed, nor was skilled at, real scrapbooking. (And I breezed through four entire years of photos in a matter of weeks.)

Plus, the point was to get their precious little lives documented for posterity and I did that. Thank you Kodak and Shutterfly! (In case you're wondering, Shutterfly has a ton more page layout options than Kodak.)

And so, as we begin the countdown to the big 3-3 (we've still got more than a month), I have completed my five list items for the year! As long as I keep up this pace, I will knock that 40 by 40 list off with no problem. Yay me!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Birds Flying High

It wasn't all that long ago that I was agonizing over whether or not to go back to work full-time, ultimately deciding that I wanted to hold onto being able to greet my boys as they got off the bus for as long as I could. And I'm glad I did, because it makes all the changes now afoot in my house much, much easier.

You see, my husband and I have pulled a switcharoo again: He quit his job of crazy travel and I accepted a full-time gig. I could tell you that it was all part of some grand plan we concocted before we had kids, in which we set out to tag team career and family, but the reality is that when we tried to figure out how to A) keep my husband in town so that he could resume pulling half the parenting weight, while B) maintaining health insurance, it became fairly clear that it was time for me to go back to work full time.

So yes, the decision for me to go back to being the "health insurance monkey" (as Ayun Halliday says in "The Big Rumpus") was made out of necessity. But then the most amazing thing happened: I found a job that I actually wanted! With health insurance and without a cubicle. Even better, I actually got hired!

So here we go again, a new job, a new household dynamic, and a renewed sense of excitement at being good at something other than mommyhood.

Cue the Michael Buble.

Monday, April 12, 2010

In Praise of Smart, Geeky Kids

Dr. Grandin, please find a way to turn your philosophy into an actual school my Owen can attend.

(Thank you, Jill)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

May we all evolve

The other day, Owen had a meltdown. A gigantic meltdown. The kind where his whole body shakes and his fists clench and he screams and cries and he pushes you away and then, seconds later, clings to your neck for dear life.

On the surface, it had something to do with Nerf darts. Underneath, it was his ongoing conflict between the way his brain wants things to be and the way they are.

A lot of parents of kids with autism face these meltdowns daily - hourly, even. We used to struggle with them much more often. Now they happen so infrequently that I am shaken when they occur...I'm caught off guard.

In part, this is because Owen is older and he is very high-functioning. But this is also because we have adapted in the true Darwinian sense. Whereas years ago we made a conscious effort to tell him what to expect before we went places, to give him 5-minute warnings before it was time to change activities, to try to make eye contact and ask him to repeat what we had said to ensure that he was it's unconscious. It's part of our lives. It's just how things work here.

We have fewer meltdowns because we have evolved our parenting style to head-off things that cause them - and not in a spoiled, this-kid-gets-whatever-he-wants kind of way (honestly, Owen could not have simpler wants), but mainly just through a subtle difference in how we talk to him and how we expect things to go. I suppose all parents do this is some way: you do what works.

I want to be clear here: I am not suggesting that in households where meltdowns are still a regular occurrence, it's because the parents have not suitably adapted their parenting styles. I'm not preaching that we have some superior ability to outsmart the meltdowns that come with autism. I'm saying that we're lucky because we are usually able to avoid the triggers, while I realize that for some kids with autism, unavoidable things like light, clothing, and food can all cause meltdowns.

But anyway, my point is, because we've adapted, Owen's autism doesn't feel like a big deal most days. That doesn't mean we don't notice it - it's just not a daily fight for us. The flip side of this is that whenever I send my little Owen out into the big, unadapted world, I worry.

The worry related to autism are different than the typical mom worry. Or maybe it's a magnified version of the typical mom worry: Will they be safe? Will they be happy?

I worry that people won't understand him. That they will not recognize the signs of an approaching meltdown, or that they wouldn't know what to do even if they did. That they will mistake his meltdown for disobedience. That he will be ostracized or, worse, punished for what is a visceral reaction to being overwhelmed and frustrated.

I have these worries and my son is one of the most high-functioning kids with autism I've had the pleasure to meet, so I cannot imagine the kind of anxiety I would have if this disorder affected him more severely...if communication was an even greater challenge for him.

So, in light of it being Autism Awareness Month, I guess that's near the top of my Autism Wishlist: Give everyone the knowledge and empathy to recognize how hard it can be for people with autism to interact in our neurotypical world.

It's a tall order, yes, but given that it's on my list right under "Find cause" and "Find cure," it feels appropriately aspirational. And maybe achievable on some level. I'm starting with the people in our lives - maybe you can start with the people in yours? Baby steps.

If you want to learn more about autism spectrum disorders, visit

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Candy Day!

Happy Easter! We don't celebrate any of the religious stuff over at our house, but we do revere that lovely rabbit who so kindly delivers candy - and, this year, Pokemon cards! (I guess the rabbit heard that Aidan had resorted to drawing his own Pokemon cards in a delightfully wholesome attempt to keep up with the junior Joneses.)

In my opinion, the best thing about Easter is the Cadbury Eggs. However, even I wanted to vomit when I saw this evil combination of two of my favorite foods.

Still, I appreciate the creativity with which many of my fellow sweet-lovers approach the holiday. So here, for your enjoyment, are few other ways to love your Easter candy:

And, finally, why didn't anyone tell me this existed? I might have booked a flight.

Enjoy your (hopefully) day off. Try to incorporate a fruit or vegetable between bites of that chocolate bunny.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spread some knowledge, spread some love

Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

I’ve written about autism. Many. Many. Many times. It’s part of my everyday life.

With 1 in every 110 children now being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, there’s a good chance that autism is part of your life, too – or that you at least know someone (me?) who is affected.

So how does one celebrate such a day? (Or an entire month, for that matter, since April is Autism Awareness Month.)

Well, if you’ve got a kid on the spectrum, the first thing to do is hug him (or her, but it’s four times more likely to be a him) and remind yourself how lucky you are to have this little (or big) person in your life. (This same process can be followed with typical kids even though it’s not Neurotypical Awareness Day.)

Next, you might want to consider donating to Autism Speaks or another autism-related cause. Your money could go to the brilliant scientists who are going to figure out why our kids’ brains are different and then find a cure. Or, maybe it will go toward making it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against our kids. There are lots of other worthy efforts around autism that also need funding, but those are the two biggies at the moment.

And, my final recommendation on celebrating World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month: Educate yourself and others. Understanding is the key to progress here.

Acceptance is a good start - all of our kids (and we, as their parents) deserve to be treated fairly. But the importance of cultivating understanding goes deeper than acceptance. If everyone understood the disorder better, we could have more support for people on the spectrum, more people working on treatments, and more people funding the research that will ultimately lead to its cause and its cure. It can start with you.

Just in case you need a cheat sheet, here are a few key points you might want to share:

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects every person differently. It’s called a spectrum disorder because of the wide variance in symptoms and severity among affected individuals.

More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined.

No one knows what causes autism and there is no proven link between autism and vaccines.

Children with autism have trouble relating to other people. This can mean everything from being socially awkward to being unable to speak.

Even though there is no cure for autism, early intervention with individualized therapies has been proven to treat the symptoms of the disorder, helping kids gain many of the skills they need to learn and become functional adults. Some parents would go so far as to say that their children have actually "recovered" from the disorder. For the majority of people with autism, however, it's something they will deal with their entire lives.

That's really just the beginning, but I hope that it gets you (or someone you know) thinking and interested in learning more. In addition to the Autism Speaks site, which has tons of good information, I recommend the book " Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew." I have other recommendations too, but I'll save some of them to last me through the month.