Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thinking Distortions

When Alex was younger and seemed to be contemplating the world deeply, we often wondered what he was thinking and wished that he could tell us what was on his mind. As the saying goes, we learned, “Be careful what you wish for, for you will surely get it.” Now that Alex can verbalize his thoughts and feelings, we have a better glimpse of his thought processes, but frankly, sometimes they’re really strange. Because of his tendencies to have obsessions, he often gets stuck on certain topics and can’t let go of them. This means that he needs to tell us his concerns repeatedly throughout the day, and we must patiently reassure him not to worry or remind him that the problem has already been solved. For instance, he has recently been concerned that he doesn’t have a good memory. I have read that those with savant memory skills often lose some of the phenomenal storage capabilities when their social skills improve. Since they are interacting with others instead of just focusing on memorizing details, the ability to store facts easily declines somewhat. Perhaps Alex recognizes this change in himself and feels frustrated that he can’t remember things as well as he used to be able. Nonetheless, we remind him that he memorized hundreds of digits of pi, and that fact convinces him that he does have a good memory.

Alex’s most recent obsession about his voice has about driven us crazy the past several weeks. After studying adolescence in medical books, he decided that he wanted to regain the voice he had prior to puberty. He would deliberately talk in a higher pitch voice, and he ordered a voice changer toy that altered the pitch of his voice as he spoke through this electronic speaker gadget. In addition, he purchased a sound level meter and studied the sound concepts of decibels and hertz, trying to understand the variation of voices between children and adults. Although we tried to assure him that his voice suited the size and age he is now, he insisted that his voice was “too damn deep.” Aside from some early teen rebellion, where he thought it was funny to use profanities, Alex never curses, so we knew he felt strongly about his worries about his voice. To make matters worse, he busily researched voices on the Internet and found some self-proclaimed expert [whose grammar and spelling were atrocious, adding to the lack of credibility] who wrote that surgery could be done on vocal cords to make the voice higher pitched. Despite our attempts to dissuade Alex, he was convinced that he wanted this surgery and was sure that it would cost about two thousand dollars, which he was willing to save and pay himself. Moreover, he wanted us to take him to the doctor so that he could discuss this medical procedure. Fortunately, with the retirement of his doctor and the transition to the new doctor requiring several weeks before we can see him, Alex had time to get this odd notion out of his head before he shared it with the doctor. After talking about his voice, little kids’ voices, decibels, hertz, voice changers, sound level meters, and surgery repeatedly every day for several weeks, Alex thankfully seems to have moved past this strange obsession. Perhaps it was a Christmas miracle; we haven’t heard about voices or changing them for a few days, so we’re hopeful that Alex finally has straightened out this idea in his mind.

As I mentioned in another blog entry “Stages,” every annoying phase eventually disappears and is usually replaced by an equally annoying phase. As soon as Alex stopped talking about his voice, he started another weird habit. For some reason, he has decided to eat with his eyes closed. It’s actually pretty amazing how adeptly he can wolf down food without looking at his plate, but he has managed to eat well for the past few days while keeping his eyes closed. He’s doing this with a smile on his face, so at least he’s not agitated or upset, as he was during the voice obsession, which is an improvement. The other night, we took him to a restaurant, where he ate his entire meal with his eyes closed. I suspect this bothered Ed more than it bothered me, but I was sitting next to Alex, so I didn’t have to watch him the entire time, as Ed did because he was sitting across from him. I think if he continues this trend, we’ll just have him wear sunglasses if he’s eating in public so that his unusual behavior is less obvious. While we have asked him why he’s eating with his eyes closed, Alex hasn’t yet revealed his reasoning for this behavior. Perhaps this is for the best; he probably has some distorted reasoning that makes perfect sense in his mind. In the meantime, we’re just glad he’s not eagerly waiting to have unnecessary surgery, and we know that like everything else, “This, too, shall pass.”

“How can you comfort me? All your explanations are wrong!” Job 21:34

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Twelve Days

As I mentioned in a recent blog entry “Carols,” one of Alex’s current favorite Christmas songs is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Since he likes numbered lists and that song, I have created a version especially for him, thinking of the things he’d really like for each of the dozen days.

Alex’s Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Alex found with glee

Twelve-month calendars,
Eleven almanacs,
Ten lists in notebooks,
Nine calculators,
Eight game shows to watch,
Sevens on slot machines,
Six Google searches,
NASCAR’s 5 car,
Four record temps,
Three precise clocks,
Two slip-on shoes,
And pi digits to infinity.

Merry Christmas to all, especially to those children with autism who make our lives more interesting with their unique takes on the world!

“So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.” Matthew 7:11

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Carol

Every year between Thanksgiving break and Christmas vacation, I teach an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol with my seventh grade English classes. Like my students, I am fascinated with the ghosts and the scenarios they show the main character Scrooge to help him change his ways. After the ghost of Jacob Marley, his friend and business partner, warns Scrooge of the three ghosts who will visit him, the first ghost to appear is the Ghost of Christmas Past, complete with light streaming from his head, symbolizing that he will enlighten Scrooge by showing him important memories from his past. If the Ghost of Past came to visit me, I can imagine being shown taking little Alex to every therapy I could find for him: speech, occupational, sensory integration, visual, and cranial. In these scenes from the past, when I’m not working with Alex and trying to improve his speech, fine motor, or social skills, I am hunched over a computer or a book, researching and making sure that I know everything I can about autism and how to help him. After watching these scenes of my fretting over Alex, I imagine that the ghost would suggest to me that I often wasted time worrying instead of enjoying those early years with Alex. Older and wiser, I would agree with that assessment and vow to live with less fear and more faith so that I could enjoy days instead of enduring them.

After my journeys with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the friendly giant Ghost of Christmas Present would arrive with his glowing torch and show my life as it currently exists. The little boy Alex has now grown into the six-foot-tall young man Alex, who spends a great deal of time hunched over a computer or a book, researching and making sure that he knows everything about the world. While he still struggles with speech, fine motor, and social skills, he generally functions fairly well in many day-to-day routines. I imagine that the Ghost of Present would also show scenes of Alex doing typical things: watching sports on television with Ed, enjoying dinner at a restaurant with us, playing games with me, taking out the garbage, and listening to his favorite music, among other things. Observing Alex engaged in normal activities would make me smile and remind me that he has made good strides since those early days; moreover, he continues to make progress in various ways over time.

With the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Future, I would empathize with Scrooge when he says, “Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any specter I have seen.” While the future holds many uncertainties for all, as the parent of a child with autism, I worry what Alex’s life will be as he grows older. Will he be independent? Will he be happy? Most of all, what will happen when we’re not around to take care of him and to try to make his life happy, should he still need supervision and help? When my mind goes to those dark places, I want answers, just as Scrooge does in his vision of the future: “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of the things that may be only?” Just as Scrooge has to face the future with hope, I have to reflect on the grace of God, who has led us through the past, guides us in the present, and will watch over us in the future. I need to have faith that God loves Alex even more than Ed and I do, and He will protect him if we cannot. As we step into the unknown, I know that He already has a plan, and I need to trust that the future—just as the past was and the present is—will be fine. And so, in the words of Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” Matthew 6:27

Sunday, December 19, 2010


For Alex’s birthday this week, I continued our tradition of making a special cake from scratch for him. Even though I have no artistic talent, I have tried to decorate birthday cakes that reflect his particular interests or favorites each year. For his first birthday, I copied a picture from a magazine, and the theme was teddy bears sledding, which worked well for his winter birthday since he liked teddy bears. Using a Bundt cake with white frosting to create the snowy hill, I then put icing scarves and mittens on Teddy Graham cookies. Next, I set the teddy bears on Life Savers candies and Fruit Stripe sticks of gum with rolled ends to look like inner tubes and toboggans. When he was little, his birthday cakes revolved around television characters he especially liked. One year I made an Elmo from Sesame Street cake, complete with a tangelo nose. Another year I baked a cake that looked like Arthur from the book series and the PBS cartoon show. When he was a fan of Bugs Bunny, his birthday cake was shaped like a bunny with big ears. The only less-than-successful cake during these early years was a Barney the dinosaur cake in which I dyed coconut purple to look like Barney’s fur. Although Alex was pleased with the cake, Ed remarked that Barney looked as though he’d rolled around in the lint trap of the dryer. The coconut had not dyed well, and it did look like lint. However, the cake did taste good.

Shortly before Alex’s seventh birthday, we discovered that he had sensitivities to glutens and caseins, which meant that I had to learn to bake without wheat flour and milk products. Fortunately, I discovered a fantastic recipe for yellow cake in one of Carol Fenster’s allergy cookbooks that is made with gluten-free flours and without milk products. Not only does the cake have a nice, light texture, but its flavor is delicious, enhanced by the addition of orange or lemon flavor. With Pillsbury or Duncan Hines vanilla frosting, which is gluten-free and dairy-free, the cake is easy to make and decorate. By that time, Alex was less interested in cartoon characters and more interested in vehicles, so his cakes were in the shape of a school bus or NASCAR race cars. After buying a Wilton NASCAR cake pan, I was able to make cars easily without having to cut the cake into the right shapes. One year, Alex had a Mark Martin AAA race car, and another year he had a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. AMP energy drink car. Both cars were made from the same pan; I just changed the details by making the different logos with icing.

Besides characters and cars, Alex’s birthday cakes have also reflected his favorite activities and games. Not surprisingly, with his love of math, one of his all-time favorite cakes was the calculator cake, which was one of the easiest to make since it was just a rectangle with candy numbers positioned on icing “buttons.” Another year, I took a round cake, iced it with white frosting, and drew red laces with gel icing to make a baseball cake for him. A square cake divided into sections became a Monopoly game board for a birthday cake the year he loved playing Monopoly on the computer as well as the traditional board game. Alex usually mentions the slot machine cake as one of his favorites. That year he had become interested in casino games, especially slot machines, so I decorated a rectangular cake and added a handle to make it look realistic. This year, I decided to try something different and made him cupcakes sprinkled with red sugar and placed them on a red three-tiered tray. Of course, his favorite color right now is red, so he was pleased with how this “cake” looked. As I lit all nineteen candles, I was pleased knowing that unlike when he was little and had oral motor issues, he could blow out his candles. For several years, he was unable to blow out his birthday candles; mastering this task was a big milestone for him. He is proud that he can do this seemingly simple task by himself without needing us to help him extinguish the candle flames, and we see this annual ritual as a reminder of the progress he’s made with each passing birthday, thankful for the improvements that have occurred over the years.

“Present a cake from the first of the flour you grind, and set it aside as a sacred offering, as you do with the first grain from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come, you are to present a sacred offering to the Lord each year from the first of your ground flour.” Numbers 15:20-21

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Every November, I start my shopping quest to find birthday and Christmas gifts I think Alex would like. With little guidance from him, we consider his interests, which are sometimes unusual, and try to find gifts that reflect his current preoccupations. One year, he was especially interested in astronomy, so he received books and activities about the stars and planets, along with a telescope from Ed’s brother. Another year, he was fascinated by casinos and gambling; therefore, many of his gifts were poker and blackjack video games and toy slot machines. As I mentioned in my earlier blog “Marking Time,” Alex rarely gives specific requests for gifts, but last year he asked for old calendars. Knowing that these calendars were likely to be lined up on the floor and perhaps even accompanying Alex to bed, as his favorite books often do, I decided that linen calendar towels would be the best way to fulfill Alex’s wish. Thankfully, I was able to find some linen calendar towels from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s on eBay, and after some successful bidding, purchased them for Alex for Christmas. These old calendars satisfied his request nicely, and this past year, he has studied them carefully and enjoyed looking at the patterns of how the days align in each month of each year. While I was trying to find those calendars last year, I was reminded of a story another autism mom had told of her child giving only one request for a Christmas gift: a letter S. Although she didn’t know what the significance of the letter S was, for it was neither her child’s initial, nor would the child explain why he wanted it, she found a wooden letter S for him, and he was delighted with it. Even though we don’t always understand why our kids like what they do, it’s gratifying to see them pleased when we find items for them that reflect their special interests.

When I go shopping for Alex, I usually start with the games sections of Walmart, Kmart, and Target because he really likes board and card games. In addition, he is fond of handheld electronic games and video games for his computer. When he was younger, I spent a lot of time in the educational toys sections of stores which offered electronic activity toys that engaged him. We were always especially impressed with the Leap Frog educational toys not only because Alex would play with them for hours, but also because they were remarkably durable. Those Leap Frog toys got stepped on, dropped, knocked down the stairs, and handled constantly, and yet they lasted for years. In recent years, I find myself drawn to the men’s gift displays in stores, which usually consist of interesting gadgets, such as mini binoculars, flashlights, coin counters, and magnifying glasses. All of these types of grown-up toys appeal to Alex, and they make great stocking stuffers for him. Of course, with Alex’s love of books, I spend a great deal of time at Barnes and Noble bookstore looking for books Alex might like. When I buy books for Alex on meteorology, math, or interesting facts, I often pick up a second copy as a gift for my dad. I always find it interesting that even though they are nearly fifty-five years apart in age, Alex and my dad have awfully similar tastes in nonfiction books. Sometimes when my parents come to visit, my dad picks up books of Alex’s and reads through them, which makes choosing gifts easier for him because I simply remember which books he seemed to like, and I get the same book for him that Alex already has.

What has made shopping for Alex much easier for me is the Internet. With a wide array of possibilities plus the convenience of shopping from home, online stores, such as Amazon, allow me to find unique gifts for Alex. I’m always amazed when I use Google or the search function of online stores how many items I discover that Alex would like. In addition, we receive several specialty catalogs in the mail that contain a variety of items that appeal to him, and I also order online from these catalogs, namely Hearthsong, Mindware, and Signals. Knowing Alex’s fascination with math, our siblings often discover clever gifts for him they purchase online, too. Similarly, a friend of mine who shares some of Alex’s interests recently suggested a pi shirt he’d seen online that he thought Alex would like; he had already ordered one for himself. I appreciated his thinking of Alex and for letting me in on a great deal. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered several gifts from various online sites, and last week the fruits of my labor were revealed as all of the packages started arriving on our doorstep. Fortunately, Alex shows no desire to peek at his gifts ahead of time because he likes to be surprised, so we don’t have to be particularly clever about hiding his presents. Now that my shopping is nearly complete, I just need to sort the gifts between birthday and Christmas, wrap them, and wait to see Alex’s reaction, which is what I look forward to all the while I’m shopping for those unusual gifts.

“The humble will see their God at work and be glad. Let all who seek God’s help be encouraged.” Psalm 69:32

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Recently one of my autism mom friends shared that her teenage son still writes letters to Santa Claus. She told me that she thought he didn’t still believe in Santa, but he wasn’t taking any chances. I found this endearing and could picture him thinking carefully about his wish list. As I mentioned in my recent blog entry “Request Routine,” Alex rarely asks for any specific gifts, so we have to guess what he’d like for his birthday or Christmas. Consequently, he never wrote letters to Santa, but he believed in him far longer than most kids do. We allowed him to enjoy this fallacy of childhood until he was about thirteen years old for the following reasons: A) He was homeschooled, so we didn’t have to worry about classmates making fun of him for believing or ruining the joy behind the myth of Santa Claus, as some kid did for me when I was in second grade. B) We didn’t want him telling his younger cousins that Santa doesn’t exist, spoiling their fun. C) We enjoyed watching how happy the thought of Santa’s bringing gifts to him made Alex. On a side note, we let him believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny longer than he probably should have, as well. The only problem was that we had to make sure that he understood while Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were made up, the things we had told him about Jesus and God were real. Fortunately, he seemed to understand the difference without having a crisis of faith.

While Alex liked Santa, he had no desire to see him in person. When he was about three years old, he went with his cousin to see Santa. His cousin, who was about 4 ½ years old at the time, was very outgoing and talkative sitting on Santa’s lap, but Alex wanted no part of that. Truthfully, I never had any desire to see Santa when I was a child, so I completely understood his hesitation. My parents have pictures of my siblings with Santa but none of me with Santa because I was always too shy, and they understood that, just as I empathized with Alex’s unwillingness to meet and greet Santa. Alex seemed to prefer cartoon versions of Santa rather than real people dressed as Santa anyway. One of his favorite annual Christmas cartoons is The Year without a Santa Claus. However, his favorite character in this story is not Santa; instead, he prefers Heat Miser and Snow Miser, whom he calls “The Hot and Cold Guys.” He thinks their song and dance is funny, and with his love of meteorology, he likes that they mention weather conditions in their songs, such as, “I never want to know a day that’s under sixty degrees; I’d rather have it eighty, ninety, one hundred degrees!” While he found these little guys amusing, for some reason, he had a distinct dislike for elves. Whether they’re Santa’s elves, Snap, Crackle, and Pop from Rice Krispies cereal, or the Keebler cookie elves, Alex made his displeasure with them known, saying whenever he saw an elf, “DON’T LIKE ELVES!” We had a cute cookie container that he would hide because he didn’t like the pictures of the Keebler elves on the lid. Apparently, he has gotten past that feeling because he assures me now that elves are okay with him.

One of the Santa traditions that Ed started doing with Alex when he was small was leaving cookies and milk for Santa. This was new to me, as my family had not done this on Christmas Eve when I was growing up. Ed made a point of explaining the snack and helping Alex leave it so Santa would find it on a table next to the fireplace where Santa would come down the chimney. I always found it ironic that I did most of Santa’s job—figuring out what gifts to give Alex, finding them, buying them, wrapping them, and arranging them nicely for him to open on Christmas morning—yet Ed always devoured the snack Alex had left behind for Santa, making sure to leave some crumbs and a thank you note for Alex from “Santa.” I might add that I made those cookies from scratch, so “Santa” was a smart guy to take advantage of the opportunity to eat what my in-laws praise highly and affectionately call “Aunt Pam” cookies. At least “Santa” was nice enough to leave a note of gratitude. Nonetheless, the planning, shopping, wrapping, and arranging were always rewarding because Alex showed his delight with the presents Santa had brought him, making everything worthwhile.

“Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.” Ephesians 4:14

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Around Thanksgiving, Alex apparently was not in an attitude of gratitude, for he was rather disgruntled, muttering and complaining. Since he’s usually good natured and pleasant, we tried to figure out what might have irritated him. Ed and I assessed what Alex had eaten, whether he was picking up on our pre-holiday stress, and even how weather changes affected him since he seems to be a human barometer sensing when low and high pressure systems develop. Of course, we tend to forget that he is a teenager, after all, and some of his behavior may simply be typical teen moodiness. Nonetheless, we figuratively walked on eggs for a few days, watching and waiting for muttering to magnify into meltdowns. Once again, we were thankful for the soothing effects of the sedative Ativan. Fortunately, we had not had to give him Ativan for quite a while, so we had forgotten how effective it truly is for Alex when his anxiety rages out of control. In addition, we looked for other ways to soothe him and remembered that music usually calms him. As a result, we discovered that Christmas carols make him remarkably happy and serene.

After we came home from a good session at music therapy last week, Alex sat on the couch scowling but wouldn’t tell us why he wasn’t pleased. I offered to teach him how to play “Jingle Bells” on the piano and began picking out the tune and writing the letter notes for him so that he could play the song if he wanted. Since he didn’t follow me into the room where the piano is, I assumed that he was still sitting on the couch in a foul mood. I was wrong. Ed came and told me to keep playing because Alex was acting the happiest he had in a week. Bringing my holiday songbook in for Alex to choose a song for me to play, I discovered that Alex was indeed much happier than I’d left him; he had a huge smile on his face. Returning to the piano, I played several Christmas carols for him and could hear him in the other room clapping and even doing what we call the “happy hop,” a gallop he does whenever he’s delighted. Had I known that he enjoyed listening to my piano playing—despite my limited ability, I would have played for him sooner. Since then, we’ve had Christmas music playing on the CD player or the Music Choice cable channel, and his mood has improved significantly. Instead of being Ebenezer Scrooge, he’s become more of a jolly Santa Claus, laughing and enjoying the Christmas season.

Like many children, Alex’s favorite Christmas song is “Jingle Bells,” with its repetitive lyrics and instantly recognizable melody. This year he has another Christmas carol he especially likes, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Since he likes numbers and counting, that song with all its numbered gifts holds appeal. For some reason he also currently has a fascination with the number twelve, always betting twelve chips when he plays video poker and giving “high twelves” instead of “high fives” as greetings. (He does this by giving “high fives” with both hands, and then putting one finger up on each hand and slapping those index fingers against the other person’s hands: five plus five plus one plus one, equaling twelve.) Besides the traditional “Jingle Bells” and “Twelve Days of Christmas,” Alex is quite fond of a contemporary Christmas song sung by gospel quartet Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, “Glory to God in the Highest.” Besides the beautiful four-part harmonies of this song, it has a catchy rhythm that makes Alex want to clap along to the beat as he listens to the CD. As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are thankful for the blessings God has given us and for the joy found in the carols that praise Him. In the words of Alex’s gospel favorite: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will to men. Heavenly angels announce His arrival in the little town of Bethlehem. Hallelujah to the Lord, sing holy, He was born to save the world from sin. Glory to God in the highest glory, hallelujah to the Lord. Amen.”

“The Lord is my strength and my shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Truthfully, I don’t like change; in fact, I prefer the predictability of the comfortable rut. To illustrate, I live in the town where I was raised, and for more than twenty-six years, I’ve had the same teaching job since I graduated from college. When products tout that they are “new and improved,” I tend to find them just “new.” Ironically, Alex should be the one who doesn’t like change since resistance to change is a common characteristic in people with autism, but he much more readily embraces change than I do. He views something new and different as an adventure, which is a good trait he must have inherited from his father because he certainly didn’t get it from me. When occasions arise that—as Pastor Joel Osteen describes—move me out of my “comfort zone,” it takes some time for me to overcome initial anxiety, make plans for the transition, and adjust to the new situation. This week I was suddenly pushed into one of those circumstances of change that made me uneasy.

This week a friend of mine who goes to the same beloved doctor that Alex and I do passed along the news that our doctor was closing her practice due to health issues. In my earlier blog “Doctor,” I told about how she had been such a blessing to our family, offering compassion and support as well as implementing cutting-edge therapies with Alex that improved his health and his behavior. While I knew that her increasing age and declining health made her retirement imminent, I was still jolted by the official announcement that she would no longer be our doctor after more than a dozen years. In the past few months, Alex has voiced concerns about when she would retire, and I was able to reassure him that she was not going to retire anytime soon, as she had expressed her plans to continue working. Perhaps Alex sensed something that we did not. Sometimes he seems to have an odd sixth sense about things that gives me pause for thought. Last year, he kept telling me that I needed to call or go to our doctor, but he wouldn’t tell me why. After several weeks of fretting and a few anxious meltdowns, he finally blurted out, “Mommy is having problems with menopause!” While I wasn’t having any problems, nor was I going through menopause, he had developed worries after reading his medical books. In a strange twist, however, a few months later, I began having some issues related to hormonal changes associated with pre-menopause: migraines, dizziness, and anxiety attacks. Alex was right; I did need to go to the doctor, who reassured me that these symptoms were typical and adjusted the dosage of my thyroid medicine, which alleviated the problems. Now that he has predicted these two events months in advance, I’m beginning to think we should consult him about future financial investments.

After having a few days to deal with my initial anxiety about losing the doctor I trust with Alex’s health and mine, I’ve begun making plans for the transition to a new doctor. While I’d like to find a local doctor with experience in biomedical treatments for autism, my other autism mom friends indicate there are none around here. My next best option is to find a doctor who is open to supervising and supporting the treatments we’ve been doing with Alex: gluten-free and casein-free diet, nutritional supplements, low-dose Prozac, and methyl B-12 injections. Taking the advice of people whose opinions I value, I have decided that Alex and I will go to the same family doctor Ed does, which will make the transition easier. My sister and her family also have gone to this doctor for several years, and they have complete confidence in him, too. The next step is to transfer our records and make an appointment and pray that Alex will adjust to this major change well. We went through a similar situation when his very kind and gentle pediatric dentist who had treated him from ages three to thirteen moved his practice to another town. While we could have continued going to him, the increased drive time from five minutes to more than thirty was a problem, especially since Alex’s behavior was unpredictable at that point. In addition, he was going through the phase where he’d get upset about gas prices anytime we passed a gas station, and we thought it was highly unlikely that we could avoid all gas stations to get to the new office. At first I felt trepidation about leaving a dentist I trusted and genuinely liked, but I knew that a change was necessary. We found another dentist here in town who specializes in pediatrics and who has many special needs patients. As it turned out, he was the ideal person to work with teenage Alex, just as the other dentist was perfect for younger Alex. The current dentist has a practical, take-charge personality that reassures me, and his dental hygienist is absolutely wonderful with Alex. Most importantly, Alex still really likes going to the dentist; changing dentists did not change his positive attitude. I know that God guides our steps, and just as He made the path smooth for Alex to transition from one dentist to another, I’m sure that He will help us make the change from one doctor to the new one, making certain that Alex gets the care and understanding he needs.

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Request Routine

One of the tasks I take on during the holiday season is acting as Alex’s gift coordinator. Around Thanksgiving, his aunts and my mom begin asking me for suggestions of what he would like, and over the years I’ve developed a routine to make sure that gifts won’t be duplicated and that Alex gets presents he has indicated he wants. Since Alex’s birthday falls in the middle of December, we also figure out ideas for birthday gifts along with Christmas gifts. Not surprisingly, Alex eagerly anticipates December since his favorite holiday, Christmas, as well as his birthday fall in the last month of the year. Although he arrived three and a half weeks earlier than his original due date, Alex enjoys having a birthday right before Christmas instead of in January. He likes the excitement, music, and decorations associated with Christmas, and having his birthday in the midst of all that fun is a treat for him. I sometimes think that he believes that his birthday is a season in itself, lasting from his actual birthday through Christmas to New Year’s Day.

Despite his enthusiasm for his birthday and Christmas, Alex rarely makes specific gift requests; therefore, most of his gifts are complete surprises that we have chosen for him. While we have ideas about his current topics of interest, we’re never quite sure how he’ll react to the gifts we have found relating to those favorite themes. Most of the time he seems quite pleased with his gifts, but he is sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer number of presents rolling in for his birthday and Christmas. Consequently, we often suggest gift certificates for him because then he can choose what he’d like himself. He is quite adept at shopping online, finding the best deals on items he wants, and then making selections between the various options. Moreover, he takes his time with spending these gift cards, using them gradually as various things occur to him that he’d like to have. Recently, he spent the last of the Amazon gift card that his aunt, uncle, and cousins sent him last year for Christmas; he had made various purchases of unusual electronic gadgets throughout the year and enjoyed having the chance to select these gifts on his own.

While my parents often come up with good gift ideas for Alex because they know his interests well, we have developed a routine my mom and I call “shopping out of my cart.” Since Alex has unusual interests, whenever I see special things I think he would like, I have learned to purchase them right away instead of waiting and risking their not being available later. Sometimes this leads to overbuying on my part, so my parents will graciously buy the items from me to give to Alex themselves. I help them by shopping, and they help me stay within my planned budget. My sister, who majored in math in college, understands and appreciates Alex’s love of mathematics, so she comes up with clever gifts that reflect their shared love of numbers. Similarly, Ed’s youngest sister has comparable musical tastes to Alex, so I put her on country music detail. When I suggest Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson CD’s for him, she knows exactly what I mean, which makes it easy for me. Ed’s other sister likes to give him “fun” gifts; therefore, she usually winds up getting games for him. Even though Alex thinks that books are fun, his aunt prefers to select games since she likes to play board games, too. Ed’s brother, who shares Alex’s love of books, often tracks down interesting books and other items Alex likes on the Internet for him. Of course, coordinating and discussing these various gift ideas, especially since Ed’s family lives on the East Coast in three different states, is made much simpler by using e-mail. Alex has no idea how much coordination goes on behind the scenes prior to his birthday and Christmas, but he is very blessed to have generous extended family members who love him dearly and want to make his celebrations the best they can be.

“And we will receive whatever we request because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.” I John 3:22