Monday, September 12, 2011


I, like many others with kids—especially kids wish special needs, am always on the look out for developmental progress. I celebrate even tiny steps, examining them with a microscope, if necessary, and use them refill my piggy bank of hope, or relieve some of my anxiety, or just generally provide reassurance that what I see overall is progress, not regression.

With my youngest, who has autism, I'm looking for indications that he's increasing his language & communication skills, in particular. Which is why I was so pleased on the way to school when he told me that he had "library time with Rose" today.

He never tells me about school, it's like pulling teeth to get any information at all. He answers my questions maybe 25% of the time, and usually then after lots of prompting and falling, in the end, to yes/no questions. So, you can forgive me for wondering if "library time with Rose" was from some book he had been read, or from an app on his iPad. But when we arrived at school, his aid confirmed that Monday is library day. He would indeed be having library time this afternoon. I was so happy I didn't even bother asking if there was someone named Rose involved.

Such a small thing, but such a big indicator of developmental progress. I was so excited I called my husband  to share the story. But it strikes me as interesting to contrast this how I react to the developmental progress of my oldest son, who just started middle school.

My big guy lost his house key, and when we went to have a new one cut he saw the specialty keys and immediately got excited about owning a house key with a skull on the top. Fine with me, if he paid the difference between a regular key and a skull key. Next, he had the idea that in order not to loose this key, he needed a chain to attach it to his belt loop. OK, he's starting to accessorize. I am actually really happy that he's developing his own style, it's developmentally appropriate to try to assert an individual identity at his age. But I had no idea where to buy such a chain.

We were at the mall yesterday to buy my eight-year old some new sneakers (Tony Hawk skater shoes with day-glo orange laces, he's definitely been watching his big bro) when we spotted Hot Topic, the store I know only from a South Park episode in which Butters is taken there by the Goth Kids (or Vampires, as he identifies them) to darken his look a little.

It was kind of a weird moment. I was cool, at least I used to be. The best I could hope for now was to be a cool enough mom to take my baby into Hot Topic and buy him a metal chain to hang from his pants. I know full well that it won't be long before my son will refuse to be seen with me at the mall, period. So I embraced the moment, and marched into the store, boldly telling the very cool and extravagantly pierced sales girl what we were looking for. Leaving later with not just an perfect chain, but also a "awesome" belt engraved with some sort of skeleton-dragon thing. (Like I said, he's accessorizing).

(Here I should mention that I utterly failed the cool mom test by repeatedly asking my son whether he wanted a Justin Beber t-shirt, which was hilariously displayed among all the goth, heavy metal and reggae shirts, in front of the cool sales girl. I couldn't help myself.)

So, when I tell you that my son spent ten precious minutes this morning looking for a particular t-shirt, and that I had to warn him that his awesomely-belted & chained pants were dangerously low, and he was not to "sag" his pants at school and we better not get a call from the principal that the top of his boxer shorts were showing, I lamented that all the the teenager stuff I've heard about is already starting. But really, you already know that secretly I was pleased. That's progress. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

And many more...

Just a quick post after a quick (2 night) trip to visit my parents in MN. It was my mom's birthday and little J impressed us all by coming into the dining room for the birthday rituals of singing, candles & cake (OK, his was gluten-free "ring-tings" which is all the store had, though I am not quite sure what they actually were!).

Most of the time he is at my parent's house he spends upstairs in grandkid's bunk room, in the TV room, or covering his ears. While we all sit and kibbitz in the adjacent dining room/ living room, he disappears, appearing only with his hands glued over his ears. We haven't been able to figure out why, we've checked the lights, my dad's hearing aid, anything we can think of—even ruled out strange smells because sometimes covering his ears is the only filter J can think of to use, regardless of what sense is being assailed.

But Thursday night my guy was a champ, singing and clapping and helping glow out the candles, then hanging around long enough to eat and ask for more.

We were so happy he included himself in the fun. The beauty of it was the ritual. He has celebrated enough birthdays in enough venues to know it's always pretty much the same, no surprises. When he knows the plan he can let go of some of the anxiety that seems to contribute to his sensory overload, and actually relax enough to interact socially.

I can only hope that that as he learns more and more rituals, the day to day challenges will become fewer. Starting with mundane ones like waiting in line for rides, taking turns at games, while we work toward more complex rituals like meeting new people and making small talk—they will all become easier for him.

I've been writing about times when the challenges I face raising a special needs child seem to come a little easier, and about how it seems like I am moving forward, even when it feels like I'm pushing against a wall. Sometimes my little guy's progress is simply sharing a happy occasion with his family, and then it's time to step off the path and smell the roses.