Saturday, November 20, 2010


We wrapped up a chapter in the book of Rooster's autism, and for us this means we come home at the end of the school day like free citizens. Yes, friends, we have graduated from ABA. For almost two years, I hightailed it from work to pick up each grumpy, noncompliant child, fought my way through LA traffic, and pulled in my driveway to find a therapist waiting for us to start part two of our work days.

When we started, we thought if we got nothing out of ABA but potty training, it would be worth it. We got a lot more than that. Roo learned to tie his shoes. To take turns. To sequence ideas. To stay on topic. To play games. To be a friend.

I can't say ABA did it all, but Friday when I picked him up from school, a little girl with pigtails abandoned her place in the jump rope line to race over and give him a hug before he left. Today we carried on a long and meaningful conversation about why he cannot quit going to his math tutor. And this afternoon he played a great monkey game with me while we got assessed for the next chapter -- AKA social skills classes. Ah, yes. We won't be slowly galavanting home every day all of a sudden. But during the holiday season, we plan to live a little freer, enjoy our newfound ease.

I remember right before we started I told the members of my autism Meet Up group that we had just been approved for 15 hours a week of ABA. "Oh!" several moms remarked. "Well! We will miss you! See you in a couple years!" I am looking forward to seeing them again. They were right. We stopped going to meetups because ABA took all our nights, and we saved weekends for chores, family time, tutoring, and horseback riding. This week, we ate dinner in a restaurant! Like regular families! Friday night I even took the kids to the holiday parade. Ah, to be a bird released from its cage...

I did not love ABA, but I have to say I feel really happy we did it. We struggled significantly more than the family on Parenthood, to be sure, and I longed for the privacy to eat dinner in my pjs once in a while, but ABA gave us some worthwhile tools, strategies and structure. For Roo, the programs did not look like the DTT programs I expected from my limited knowledge of ABA. Mostly, his ABA focused on play therapy. And while he didn't conquer every challenge, he took it as far as he could in the realm of playing with his sister, his therapist, and me every day. Now we're ready to try it with four kids in a social skills class. But get this... social skills is once a week. And. (Are you ready?!) I. Can. Drop. Him. Off.

Peaches has waited almost her whole life for some undivided mommy attention, and as Roo's behavior improved, hers fell apart completely. If she qualified for play therapy too, believe me I'd sign her little self right up pronto, but since her only diagnosis is stubbornness, I'm going to try to work some one-on-one magic with her my own ABA-trained self. I think this could be a good new chapter.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It All Adds Up

I always know when my husband has used the ATM to deposit his paycheck and any reimbursements he got from work expenses. A few days later, a letter comes from the bank. Thank you for the deposit of those checks, the letter says, and here is your corrected math...

Hey, I can't throw stones -- I took only college algebra, reveled in my B, and ran as far from the math building as I could to get my BA.

My boy, with double vision until almost 4, holding his head tilted and turned to help his brain make sense of the world, never had a real fighting chance at number sense with the DNA we gave him. Not that ADHD and autism help much, either. And, can you say, dyscalculia?

Every day, I sneak the same question into a conversation with my Rooster. It's always, in essence, 2+2. Sometimes I make it into a word problem. I've invented a character named Two Head Fred. Guess how many eyes he has? Cookies get involved. Legos. Two for you and two for me. His shoes and Peaches' shoes. Now, of course he is on to me. But in all sincerity, he looks at me daily and says, "2+2? Mom? I don't know? Five? Free?" He can't do TH sounds yet either.

Yes, yes, we have the Touch Math curriculum. Sure, sure, we've tried songs about math. Oh, of course we bought the stuff from Melissa and Doug. Absolutely I have Unifix cubes. What do you mean did we get a tutor? You betcha. YouTube? Watch it. Gotta love School House Rock. My husband bought a supply of nuts and bolts to use high interest manipulatives in patterning and sequencing practice. But so far, it ain't adding up for Roo. "Um, one? Seven?"

Sometimes I panic. Sometimes I lose patience. (Yes, me.) Sometimes I freak out. Sometimes I get lazy and let things slide.

Here is what works best, if not for Roo, then for me: I look back at the Pile. You know, the documentation. The assessments. The report cards. The lists. The bad reviews, as it were. I remind myself that we had days when we wondered if he could GO to school. You know, as in handle a day? And I thought he might be going to the prom un- potty trained for a while there. And reading, which has a LONG WAY still to go, came a long, long way in the last few months. Today my boy and his sister built a castle out of pillows and only fought about half the time that they laughed and conversed. Today Roo and his dad cooked gfcfsf corn dogs, and Roo wrote down his version of the recipe. Today I am reminding myself: all will be revealed in time. Don't go miscounting the chickens just yet. I mean, what works best for me? Keeping in mind that everything is relative. What works best for me today is this: If dyscalculia turns out to be our biggest problem, life could be worse.

It's November and I am thankful. You can take that to the bank.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Baby Talk

You are a big baby.

No, don't take it as an insult. I'm a big baby too. Proudly.

It's like Sandra Cisneros says in her wonderful book of vignettes called the House on Mango Street. "What they never tell you is that when you're eleven, you're also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two and one... Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree truck or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other."

So I for one want people to remember that sometimes I'm a baby, a teenager, a bride, a middle-aged mama, all at once; I am determined to remain more mindful that those around me are needy preschoolers, gawky tweens, ambitious college kids, even when their years outnumber mine, because it helps me remember our humanity. I am tired of my own intolerance toward people, and I am exhausted of the intolerance I witness. We tend to talk about children like they are sacred members of society but only until they become adults. What then? Yes, I see children as sacred. And the children you and I once were did not die, we simple grew our onion skins around them, some layers thicker than other; we too should respect the sacredness of one another.

I write this on election night, as I watch malicious slander turn democracy into a competition of who you most want to vote against, a contest of the lesser evils. For once I found myself almost able to imagine not using my rights and exercising my responsibility to go to the polls. Almost. (But my inner adolescent caved to the peer pressure on Facebook, the little girl in me listened to my grandma's voice inside my head, and my six-year-old self needed to wear that "I Voted" sticker to school today.)

I write this after overhearing one educator completely out of patience with a peer, disparaging their colleague in a way they would never treat a child in their classroom. If they heard their students speak in a like manner, they'd pull out some social stories and teach some important lessons!

Don't get me wrong, I espouse the idea, "You ought to be old enough to know better." Adults should act like adults - responsible, knowledgeable, reliable - and adults should face consequences for childishness. But by that same token, self-centered name calling IS childishness. Petty bickering, tug-of-war selfishness IS childishness.

All I'm saying is that, as adults, we can talk until infinity about the importance of inclusion in schools, anti-bullying measures in high schools and colleges, and friendship circles for kids, but we err when we think the cutoff for those needs comes at age 13 or 18 or 21. We (and I mean me, too) need to respect the feelings and the value of each and every person, big babies or small.

I am a big baby, and I endorse this message.