Wednesday, April 27, 2011


One of Alex’s first evaluations was with an audiologist to test his hearing. Even though we knew that Alex’s hearing was excellent and probably overly sensitive, his pediatrician thought we should have his hearing assessed because of his language delays. Essentially, this evaluation was worthless, as Alex apparently would not cooperate with the audiologist; she would not allow us to be present during the testing. Perhaps she lacked experience with children, especially those on the autism spectrum, but she seemed to lack an understanding of how to deal with Alex. She focused upon issues other than his hearing, which she could not test accurately because he refused to wear the headphones, due to his tactile sensitivity. Instead, she told us that he was “very immature” and had “an odd gait.” Considering he had just turned four, I’m not certain what she was expecting in terms of maturity. Moreover, his odd gait was also related to his tactile defensiveness, as he exhibited the toe walking often common in children with autism. Since she was sending a report to Alex’s pediatrician, she could have mentioned these observations to him and allowed him to pursue them in greater depth with us.

On the other hand, maybe she recognized some of the classic symptoms of autism and wanted to make certain we were not in denial about Alex’s developmental delays. When she brought up these non-hearing related concerns, I assured her that we had scheduled a full battery of testing through the school system as we suspected he had autism. Her demeanor had no sense of sympathy or compassion; she acted as though we had wasted her time. This experience, though frustrating, taught me a lesson about how to talk with parents about their children. As a middle school teacher who often works with special education students who are mainstreamed into my class, I have learned how to write reports and make comments during IEP conferences that focus on the child’s strengths and suggest ways to improve any areas of weakness. I think all parents deserve that kind of compassion when it comes to discussing their children, and I wish that audiologist had considered the impact of her words when she described Alex only in negative terms. As a parent and a teacher, I would offer the following suggestions for professionals when describing children, especially special needs children.

In the words of the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Surely, all children have some positive qualities that should be accentuated first, such as being pleasant, polite, or hard working. Professionals need to start their assessments on a positive note, finding kind words that they can say about the child.

To quote poet Emily Dickenson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant…” While certain truths may need to be revealed, choosing words carefully, even in the form of euphemisms, will make parents more receptive to hearing about any issues. For example, a child who is hyperactive could more positively be described as “energetic.” In talking about a child with attention deficit disorder, the professional could mention that the child needs to be engaged and interested to gain focus instead of accusing the child of simply not paying attention. Kind words prove more effective than harsh ones when talking about children.

Finally, a former principal in a faculty meeting once told my colleagues and me to treat our students the way we would want our own children to be treated. In this teachers’ Golden Rule, he reminded us that our students are someone’s beloved children, and our words have the power to encourage them to achieve.
If professionals remember that carefully chosen words—both positive and negative—have meaning and impact, perhaps they will consider focusing upon strengths and kindness to bring out the best in both parents and the children they love so dearly.

“Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.” Proverbs 12:25

Sunday, April 24, 2011


When I went down to the basement yesterday to get out Alex's Easter basket, I decided to pull out our photo albums to find Easter pictures of him. In many of the pictures, Alex is digging into the same Easter basket he's had every year, a gift from Ed's dad for Alex's first Easter. Among my favorite Easter photos are the ones where he's sitting on the Easter Bunny's lap. Even though Alex never wanted to sit on Santa Claus' lap, he adored the Easter Bunny and had no trouble being friendly with the giant animal with big ears [as pictured at left, the Hallmark Crayola Bunny with Alex, age fifteen months]. Perhaps Alex's early fondness for the book Peter Rabbit and the Bugs Bunny cartoons made him generalize that rabbits are funny and loveable. As with Santa, we allowed Alex to believe that the Easter Bunny was real far longer than most children do because he seemed to enjoy the idea so much.

In addition to waiting for the Easter Bunny, one of Alex's favorite Easter traditions when he was younger was coloring and decorating eggs. Using coffee cups filled with Paas egg dye, vinegar, and water, he and I worked together to color hard-boiled eggs. He also liked putting stickers that came in the dye kit on the eggs. We continued this tradition until a couple of years ago when Alex seemed to be doing the task out of obligation instead of for fun. Apparently, he had decided that he had outgrown coloring Easter eggs, which actually came as a relief to me. As the only one in our house who will eat hard-boiled eggs, I no longer had to make sure the Easter eggs got eaten before they went bad. Since Alex doesn't like hard-boiled eggs, we've had to be creative about what treats to put in his Easter basket. With his strict gluten-free and casein-free diet, he can't eat many typical Easter candies. Fortunately, he likes marshmallow Peeps candy, which he can eat on his diet. Of the various choices of chicks and bunnies in pastel colors, Alex's favorite Peeps are blue bunnies. Besides blue bunny Peeps, he also likes Kraft marshmallow bunnies that come in a mix of pastel colors. Along with the marshmallow Easter candies, he also finds jelly beans in his Easter basket every year.

Because of his great interest in calendars and numbers, Alex has a fascination with the way Easter falls on different dates, ranging from March 22nd to April 25th, depending on when the first Sunday falls after the full moon after the vernal equinox. He has studied the patterns of Easter dates in depth by reading about them online. Without missing a beat, he informed me that the earliest Easter in his lifetime was March 23, 2008, and added that early date will not happen again "in the near future." Today's late Easter date of April 24th beats his prior late Easter of April 23, 2000. Somewhere in his mind, Alex has memorized a spreadsheet of Easter dates and the years those dates fall, and he's proud that he can access that information easily. What I'm most proud of as his mother, however, is that Alex understands the true meaning of Easter. Even though we haven't been able to attend church because the crowds would overwhelm Alex, we've striven to instill religion and faith into him. When I asked him yesterday why we celebrate Easter, without hesitation, Alex responded, "Jesus was crucified and came back to life." Knowing that he understands and believes in the resurrection gives me comfort that he grasps one of the essential tenets of Christianity described in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." What greater gift could there be?!

"The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God's great blessing was upon them all." Acts 4:33

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One Hundred

Today I’m celebrating a special milestone: this marks the one hundredth blog entry I’ve written for One Autism Mom’s Notes. If someone had told me last summer when I started writing this blog that I’d be able to write one hundred entries, I would have doubted my ability to find that many topics to discuss. Coming up with a name for the blog was challenging in itself, and I wound up essentially copying the title of Ed’s blog, One Poet’s Notes. I hoped at the time he’d think that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” However, he probably knows me well enough to realize that what I lack in creativity I make up for in tenacity. Thankfully, nineteen years of parenting Alex have provided a wealth of stories, some more interesting than others, I’m sure. While I originally intended for my writing to provide Alex with a written history of his life, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that other people seem to enjoy reading what I’ve written, too.

One of the fun aspects of writing the blog has been checking the statistics to see where the blog is being read as countries light up on a world map. Shortly after I began writing the blog, I was delighted to see that my entries had been read on six of the seven continents of the world. (I’m not holding my breath for readers in Antarctica since I think they probably have greater concerns than the musings of an autism mom.) So far, the blog has been read in the following sixty-five countries around the world: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Vietnam, and Zambia. (Not being as strong in geography as Alex, I had to look up where Belize and Moldova are located.) Although I don’t actually know who’s reading my blog other than those who tell me in person or through written comments, I do know that here in the United States, my blog has been read from coast to coast: in the East on Long Island by Ed’s sister, in the West by my mom’s childhood friend and now mine in California, in the South by Ed’s youngest sister in Florida, and in the North by my aunt in Minnesota.

To all of those who have read One Autism Mom’s Notes, written nice comments, given me “Likes” on my Facebook page, and complimented me in person, I appreciate your kindness and support. I am also grateful to my mom, who lovingly encourages all of my efforts and reads my entries more than anyone and who, along with Ed, is good to catch any typos I make and point them out for me to fix. Having English teachers in the family comes in handy. In addition, Ed, who is an experienced blog writer, has patiently shown me how to format the blog while never making me feel technologically challenged. On a side note, today is also the anniversary of our first date twenty-seven years ago. I can’t imagine going through all the ups and downs of raising a child with anyone other than Ed, who is a wonderful husband and father. Of course, the blog would not exist without the inspiration of Alex, who has taught me more about life than anyone. While I would happily wish away the obstacles autism has brought to his life, I’m very proud of who he is and thankful for the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Our love for him drives us, our faith in God guides us, and our hope for the future keeps us striving to help Alex reach his full potential. In the words of my favorite poet, Robert Frost: “I always entertain great hopes.” In the meantime, I’ll keep writing Alex’s story until he can tell it himself, which will be a fascinating account, I’m certain, and one I hope he’ll be willing to share, as well.

“Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Matthew 13:8

Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Happiness

Poet T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, “April is the cruellest [sic] month,” and Alex would probably agree with that sentiment. For some reason, April is always rough on him, and as a result, difficult for Ed and me, too. We’ve never figured out whether he is bothered by spring allergies, changes in weather, or something else, but every April, he acts agitated and more easily falls into meltdown mode. This past week, Alex has been irritable at times, complaining that he doesn’t like the computer game Monopoly Junior, which he hasn’t played regularly for about five years. As a sign of his volatile nature, a bottle of the prescription sedative Ativan has been sitting on the kitchen counter all week, ready if needed to keep him from becoming aggressive. A friend of mine who also has a child on the autism spectrum shared with me that this week has been challenging in their household, as well, and we wonder if something in the air is setting off our kids and affecting their behavior.

Whenever we have these setbacks, I have to fight feelings of sadness that old behaviors have returned, even if temporarily, and instead focus on positive thoughts to regain my happiness. To realign my thinking, I remember one of my favorite quotes from Pastor Joel Osteen: “Don’t let anyone steal your joy.” A friend who also likes this line added her own twist, telling me this week, “I’m holding onto my joy with BOTH hands.” Although most of my friends did not realize that we’ve been walking around on eggshells this week with Alex, their acts of kindness lifted my spirits more than they realize. For instance, one morning this week I found on my desk at work a wax paper bag from my favorite bakery with a delicious chocolate treat inside, a thoughtful gift from a friend who always seems to sense when I need the comfort of chocolate. Another day, one of my dearest friends who did know that I was feeling overwhelmed e-mailed me a loving and encouraging note of support, reminding me that I’m stronger than I think I am. The next day, I received a kind note from my cousin, who brought out my maternal pride as she described Alex as a “handsome, sweet young man.” In addition, Alex’s speech therapist many years ago contacted me via instant messaging on Facebook yesterday morning, telling me that she still has a sampler I embroidered for her when Alex worked with her. The cross-stitch picture includes a verse from Proverbs: “A good word doth the heart good.” I was pleased to hear that she still keeps this gift I made, which reminds her of Alex, on her piano, and she went on to say that she tries to live her life according to that saying. Of course, I was touched that she valued the gift so much after all these years. Yesterday offered another pleasant diversion, breakfast with two good friends, one who calms me and another who energizes me. Despite my worries over Alex, the week turned out well because unexpected blessings came from friends who brought me joy in the midst of uncertainty. I’m sure these acts of kindness were not random; God knew I needed the help of others to find my joy.

Of course, the greatest blessing of the week came when Alex’s anxiety seemed to lessen as the week went along. He, too, knows that happiness can be found in simple things. This week he started wearing the lanyard and ticket from the NASCAR Brickyard 400 race a friend of mine gave him last summer. As he put it around his neck and studied the layout of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway printed on the back of the ticket, an ear-to-ear grin spread across his face. Another item that brought him joy was my offering to make him cinnamon toast for breakfast this week. Since he seemed to have lost interest in eating other breakfast items he previously liked, I thought he might enjoy cinnamon toast on the Udi’s gluten-free bread I had bought. The mention of cinnamon toast sent him running to the kitchen table, no matter what he was doing, and he devoured every bit happily. Perhaps out of gratitude (or boredom), he’s been very willing to help me around the house this week. Since tendonitis in my right thumb makes certain jobs difficult, I’ve had Alex helping me with laundry, vacuuming, and mopping, all of which he did with a surprisingly cheerful attitude. While the kindness of my friends has brought me joy this week, nothing has given me greater happiness than seeing Alex smile and hearing him laugh. Essentially, when Alex is happy, Ed and I are happy. Fortunately, April is more than half over, and we hope that the April showers dampening Alex’s mood are nearly over so that we can all enjoy the flowers and sunshine we know are coming in the future. In the meantime, we look for happiness and feel thankful when we find it in simple pleasures.

“Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to You.” Psalm 86:4

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Before Ed and I were married, he proudly claimed that he could fit all of his belongings in his car. Considering that he was driving a Mazda GLC (Great Little Car) at the time, this was quite a feat. Since he had been a graduate student living on a teaching assistant’s meager salary, he didn’t have a lot of worldly goods to his name. Fast forward to the present, about twenty-five years later, and now we couldn’t fit all of the items from a single room of our house in that subcompact car he used to own. While we’re not even close to needing an intervention from the reality show Hoarders, I do admit that I like to keep things and must push myself to get rid of old possessions to make room for new ones. I’m always a little nervous that if I get rid of something, sometime in the future I’ll decide I need, want, or wish I’d kept it. Poor Alex has inherited this need to save things from me; his belongings wouldn’t fit in the Mazda GLC, either.

Most of the items Alex wants to save are paper-related: books, newspapers, and lists he has scrawled in his illegible handwriting or typed so that he can read them. Because Alex likes to sleep with his favorite books, many of them have covers missing along with bent or curled pages. Nonetheless, he never wants to get rid of any of his books, no matter what their condition. Consequently, we have provided him with bookcases so that he can keep his beloved books neatly and safely stored. As for his lists, we have tried various methods through the years to organize his scattered pieces of paper that usually contain dates, statistics, and other numerical values that only seem to make sense to him. Often, he would spread out these lists on the floor, poring over them proudly as he studied the information he valued, such as prime numbers or pi digits. To limit the scattered paper, we encouraged him to type his data on the spreadsheet program of his computer so that he could save this information digitally. A few years ago, when his computer suddenly stopped working, Alex’s primary panic was not the loss of his computer but his potential loss of data, and he moaned that he’d lost all of the lists he’d so carefully typed. Thankfully, the computer only needed a new power switch, and Alex could access his beloved lists within a few days. To help him organize and save all of his lists recorded on typing paper, sheets torn from legal pads, and assorted scraps from notepads, we bought him a cardboard file box in which he could store hundreds of lists. In addition, we later convinced him to write his lists in old-fashioned composition notebooks with marbled covers that securely kept his lists intact, which the legal pads and other notepads did not. These methods allowed Alex to save his lists while keeping our house neater.

Since Alex would probably save everything that he brings into the house and never get rid of anything, we have devised tricks to get rid of items he no longer needs. Of course, if we told him we were giving away or throwing away his stuff, he would likely throw a fit. Instead, we must use a technique of shifting, which allows us to get rid of Alex’s things gradually. For example, for a while Alex wanted a copy of the The Wall Street Journal every Saturday so that he could study stock market trends. Once he had that weekly edition, he would carry it around the house, sleep with it, and generally make it a crumbled mess of shredded paper from handling it so much. However, he was reluctant to part with any of these newspapers and would have been upset had we suggested throwing them away or putting them in the recycle bin. After Alex would go to sleep, Ed or I would grab the oldest editions of the The Wall Street Journal, leaving the newer and less tattered ones where he could find them, and put them in the garage or the basement. We were afraid to get rid of them completely, for fear that Alex would be angry that we had taken his precious belongings, so we put them in a holding place where he wouldn’t see them. Had he asked for a specific one, we could still get it for him. After several weeks passed and we felt certain he no longer missed those papers, then we would hide them in the garbage to get rid of them for good. Similarly, we used the shifting technique with old toys, sending them over to my parents’ house, where the grandkids could play with them there. If Alex showed an interest in playing with his old toys there, we kept them, but if he ignored them, we would give them to Goodwill after we were certain he wouldn’t want them again. Over the years, this shifting method worked very well to help Alex sort through the possessions he thought he needed and wanted to save. Had we allowed him to save everything, we might have been candidates for Hoarders, indeed. While he doesn’t need to limit his possessions to those that would fit in a small car, keeping clutter to a minimum is something Alex will need to learn eventually.

“May Your ways be known throughout the earth, Your saving power among people everywhere.” Psalm 67:2

Sunday, April 10, 2011


One of my guilty pleasures in life is watching reality television shows. With favorites such as Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, Top Chef, The Amazing Race, and Celebrity Apprentice, I find a relaxing escape nearly every day enjoying these shows that involve competition and cooperation as people complete assigned tasks. This week my mom forwarded me a humorous e-mail proposing a new season for the reality show Survivor that entails business people being placed in an elementary school and having to complete typical teacher tasks, such as writing lesson plans, conducting safety drills, and making bulletin boards. Challenges included trying to teach students with special needs, keeping the photocopying within the monthly budget, and planning bathroom breaks around times when someone else can watch the class. While the actual proposal was much longer and more detailed, the gist of the e-mail was to illustrate that most people don’t understand how difficult teaching really is. Having taught for more than twenty-six years in a public school, I understood and appreciated the satirical tone, especially the lines, “They must maintain discipline and provide an educationally-stimulating environment to motivate students at all times. If students do not wish to cooperate, work, or learn, the teacher will be held responsible.” As I mused over the truth and the humor of this proposal, I began thinking about another possible season of Survivor.

Survivor: Autism would require participants with no experience in raising or teaching a child with autism to supervise such a child while successfully meeting the medical, educational, and social needs for that child. Armed with laptops, contestants surf the Internet, looking for the latest autism research and seeking professionals who can provide therapies that meet the child’s needs, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and biomedical interventions. With limited financial resources, contestants will spend time pleading their cases to insurance companies as to why this child needs benefits that they routinely deny. In addition, contestants must attend IEP meetings in which they will also fight to ensure the child receives the best and most appropriate educational placement and services. Special reward challenges could include “If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake,” in which contestants must bake a gluten-free and casein-free birthday cake for the child, who is on a restricted diet due to food allergies or sensitivities. The winner of this challenge would not only complete the task in the allotted time and meet the dietary requirements, but would also make a cake with a taste and texture the child would actually eat. Those who create a cake decorated to resemble the child’s current favorite cartoon character receive bonus points for this task. Another challenge might be called “Déjà vu”; contestants must sit patiently as the child watches a favorite Disney video or DVD dozens of times in a row or asks the same question repeatedly for over an hour. If the child jumps up to replay a favorite scene, the contestant may not intervene, lest risking a full-blown fit. Facing this endurance type of challenge, the winner of this task simply sits through this scenario over and over calmly and patiently until all of the other competitors have left screaming or been dragged away by the men in white coats from the challenge. Perhaps the most difficult challenge would require dealing with the child who is in complete meltdown mode. Entitled “Be Jack Bauer,” named after the hero from 24 who always remains calm, even in dire circumstances, contestants must calm, cajole, and comfort a child who is anxious, angry, and aggressive after something simple happens, such as the cable or Internet service stops working. Those who can talk the child down from this level of upset by lying, bribing, or distracting without losing their own tempers can successfully complete this challenge. Those who get through the task without getting hit, kicked, or bitten, along with nothing getting broken by being thrown, win bonus points. Of course, the irony of Survivor: Autism is that most contestants would beg to be voted off of this island and smile as Jeff Probst snuffed their torch, sending them back to freedom, no longer having to “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.”

As I consider my affinity for reality television shows, I realize that I enjoy the psychological aspects and watching how people react to difficult circumstances. Moreover, I always wonder why people would voluntarily agree to be part of something that not only tested their skills and character, but also allowed them to be scrutinized by millions of people watching them on television. In many ways, parenting a child with autism is like being on a reality television show. Daily, we face tests with unusual challenges that force us to be resourceful in limited amounts of time. Moreover, “judges” sometimes criticize our performance, whether by askance looks at our children or us or by comments that range from clueless attempts to be helpful (a la Paula Abdul) to the blatantly rude (a la Simon Cowell). In this month of Autism Awareness, I pray that those who have not played Survivor: Autism learn a tolerance and compassion for those of us who are completing our challenges the best we can, often blinded by the love we feel so deeply for the special children whose progress rewards us more than any reality show ever could.

“They will survive through hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.” Psalm 37:19

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Lately, Alex has been a little edgy, which makes life feel as though we’re walking through a minefield. Springtime frequently seems to make him somewhat irritable. We’ve never been certain as to whether he has environmental allergies in the spring that agitate him, or whether he has had enough of being cooped up inside for the winter, such that his cabin fever makes him more easily upset. In addition, the various activities Ed and I have at the end of our school year may make us more stressed, and I suspect that Alex, who is sensitive to other people’s feelings, picks up on the differences in our moods. Nonetheless, we have been on guard lately for him to launch into anxiety-driven complaint sessions that we have to defuse so that they don’t escalate into full-blown meltdowns.

The other day, Ed stopped by our local cable office on his way to work to pick up a new modem for our Internet service because our old modem, although currently working, is outdated and slow. He had planned to install the new modem when he got home. Unfortunately, without telling us, the cable company decided to cut off our Internet service through the old modem as soon as he picked up the new modem. Shortly after Ed left for work, Alex came whining to me that I needed to fix the computer, and I discovered that neither his laptop nor mine had Internet access. In a panic knowing that Alex would be an unhappy camper without the Internet, I called Ed to tell him what had happened, and we figured out what the cable company had done. Ed promised to come home from work as soon as he could to set up the new modem and restore our home Internet access. In the meantime, I called my mom and shared our dilemma, and she immediately suggested that I bring Alex over to their house, where the Internet was working fine. This solution eased Alex’s anxiety about not being able to Google Jeopardy trivia or to play his favorite You Tube videos. By the time Alex and I got home, Ed already had the new modem hooked up and running smoothly, so we had averted the crisis by defusing Alex’s anxiety over not being able to use his computer access to the Internet.

During the past couple of weeks, Alex has been obsessed about when past obsessions of his went away. He gets himself worked up telling us repeatedly about when he stopped doing certain things, such as using his graphing calculator or playing specific video games. In addition, he makes a point to tell us that he NEVER wants to do those things again. After having gone through this routine several times, I decided that writing down his complaints on a notepad might ease his anxiety, especially since he is a visual, rather than auditory, learner. I thought perhaps if he could see that we took his concerns seriously enough to write them down, and if he could see them written, he might be less upset by these obsessive thoughts. Since then, each time he starts talking about them, Ed or I pull out the notepad and start reading the details to him, which seems to calm him and prevents him from becoming aggressive or really upset. Sometimes he wants to give more precise details to the information already written, so we will add those to the current list. Specifically, Alex’s updated list of concerns includes the following items, to name but a few:

“Starting May 23, 2008—tired of playing Bosconian [video game], had a record score of about 2 ½ million, which took about 5 hours

No graphing calculator since February 2003

2008—bad year—deep voice August-December; now medium voice

Don’t want to play Monopoly Junior [computer game]—last played Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007—takes too long, up to a day, 100% boring, more boring than hockey

August 7, 2008-December 2008—tired of voices [He used to imitate other people’s voices constantly.] all the time—Retired voices January 2009—NEVER AGAIN!”

Although trying to calm Alex’s upset can be emotionally draining, we’re pleased that he seems to respond positively to using the notepad. In addition, his current concern for eliminating past obsessions seems to be a sign of progress that he doesn’t want to obsess over things anymore. Ironically, this new obsession with old obsessions seems to bother him more than the old ones ever did. Nonetheless, we know this phase, as has every other phase he’s gone through in the past, will eventually disappear, and we will feel blessed to have come through yet another stage in his development.

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

Sunday, April 3, 2011


On rare occasions, I’m not home to eat dinner with Ed and Alex because I have a meeting at school. Even more rarely, I have dinner at a restaurant with several of my friends, most of whom are retired teachers. My absence from our family dinner table sets up an honored tradition known in our house as “Boys’ Dinner,” something Alex eagerly anticipates. Ed probably looks forward to these evenings, as well, but he has enough social grace not to show his delight the way Alex does when I leave the house prior to Boys’ Dinner night. Alex practically shoves me out the door so that Boys’ Dinner night can begin; Ed just tells me a little too eagerly to have fun. While a change in routine might bother some kids with autism, Alex doesn’t seem fazed at all by our dinner routine being altered. I suppose as long as he knows that he’s going to eat, he probably doesn’t care who his dinner companions are.

Last week, Ed and Alex held one of their celebrated Boys’ Dinners while I went out to dinner with some of my friends. I suspect a big part of the enthusiasm about Boys’ Dinner lies in that they make and eat foods that I don’t. Specifically, my guys love seafood, which I detest, so seafood is usually on the Boys’ Dinner menu, especially shrimp, which is Alex’s favorite food. Another favorite meal for the boys is something Ed has dubbed “Frank Beanwiches,” which consists of hot dogs cut up in baked beans, or what I call “Cowboy Dinner.” The other night, they opted for brats and sauerkraut, another meal they love, but I despise. While I think it’s nice that they enjoy cooking and eating a meal together, their choice of pungent foods, such as shrimp or sauerkraut, leaves such a nasty smell behind in the kitchen that I feel as though I were present for the meal anyway. I might add that I’m always impressed that Ed cooks a special meal for Alex himself. When Ed has a meeting or business dinner that prevents him from eating with Alex and me, I usually make a fast food run, happy to have an excuse not to cook.

Part of the novelty of Boys’ Dinner—aside from my absence—lies in the preparation of the meal, which Ed and Alex share. Recently, Ed has been very good to include Alex in cooking, patiently teaching him various steps of the process. Perhaps this takes Alex back to his earlier years when he watched the Food Network religiously, referring to all of their chefs on a first-name basis and imitating them in his play kitchen with plastic utensils and food. Taking pride in his culinary accomplishments, Alex happily acts as Ed’s sous chef, doing whatever he asks, including setting the table. In contrast, a few weeks ago, I tried to involve Alex in baking a cake with me, thinking that he’d find that task as enjoyable as cooking with Ed. Despite the allure of using the electric mixer, Alex obviously had no interest in being a pastry chef, or at least baking with me. As he held the mixer with a clearly bored look on his face, I asked him if he was having fun. He told me, “Not really.” When I gave him an opportunity to leave the kitchen, he took off running to watch television instead, thus ending my attempt to do something together and to teach him something new. Fortunately, he’s more cooperative with Ed, and the two of them work together well, whether I’m home or not. One of the last tasks Ed gives Alex when they cook together is to tell me that dinner is ready. Actually, Ed refers to the evening meal as “supper,” which is what he tells Alex to relay to me. However, Alex has apparently learned a thing or two from me because he, like me, refers to the evening meal as “dinner,” telling me, “Dinner’s ready.” What pleases us most, however, is that Alex enjoys interacting with us, whether it be preparing or sharing a meal. Moreover, we are grateful that he actively participates in an everyday activity that brings him joy and makes us proud of his achievements.

“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted calf with hatred.” Proverbs 15:17