"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Big Push

I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air
So there
We’re on each other’s team
~ Lorde, Team

Screws in shoes

Screws in shoes

Spring is coming very slowly to Minnesota, in drips and drags, which means that soon I can begin running outdoors again. In anticipation of still snowy paths and icy patches, I modified an old pair of shoes to prevent me from slipping. To make your own, predrill holes in the soles and then insert small screws until they are about ¼” from being completely screwed into the shoe. I have found that this modification works better than boots or Yaktrax for gripping slippery places of the trail.

Last fall I promised my boyfriend that I would stop running half marathons. When I returned to his house in ice cube form after my late October one, he took me in with one glance and said, “You don’t look good.”  I told him, “I tore the bottoms of my feet on the big hill after Mile 11,” to which he grimaced and replied, “I don’t think you should run any more long races.” Upstairs in the shower, sitting with my head between my knees while the hot water warmed me up, I told myself that he was right. Why do I do things like this? Why race? Why compete? What am I trying to prove?

The point is not to compete or prove anything. I run because I love the combined mental and physical challenge. I knew the hill was coming after Mile 11, and, having run it in previous races, I knew what I was in for. The elevation increases by 100 feet within half a mile, and most of us choose to run it. I pushed myself because I knew after the hill I had less than two miles to the finish. At that point it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until the end. So close, and so tired, but nothing compares to crossing the finish line and knowing that I had accomplished my goal despite the voices in my head and the physical ache. Now spring is coming, fall is far behind me, and I am once again ready and eager to begin training.

“I’ve never had anyone do this that quickly.”

Our clinical study site.

Our clinical study site.

That statement was not made in response to my running. I’m a middle-of-the-pack kind of girl, each and every race. My son Tim recently participated in a clinical study on memory. This study is part of an ongoing research program by a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies the relationship between attention and autism. For an hour of Tim’s time once or twice a year, he earns $10 each session and enjoys being the center of attention. He does computer simulations, looks through diagrams, adds and subtracts, and recalls images and patterns. Everything is timed which helps provide statistical information. In his most recent clinical study, I overheard the doctor make the above comment when Tim was doing a number puzzle.

The clinical studies are usually done at our home or at the University. We tend to flip flop depending on our schedules. The first time our doctor came to our home for a study was approximately three years ago when Tim was in seventh grade. At the end of the study, she took a few minutes to talk to me with her recommendations. Her advice was that Tim should be taking college courses, not withering away in a middle school classroom. She stressed that intellectually he was ready for college and keeping him where he was would not be beneficial to him. I agreed but didn’t know how to start the conversation with the staff at the public school he attended.

This is an example of one of the patterns Tim had to copy using blocks.

An example of a pattern Tim copied during his clinical study using blocks. You can purchase this and other puzzles at Marbles located at the Mall of America.

Now Tim is in tenth grade and will begin taking college courses next fall in Animal Science as part of his regular school day. At our most recent IEP meeting, his teacher, staff, father, and I discussed him starting college early. We were all in agreement, and this would not be happening if we were not all on the same team. Tim’s teacher commented that she is reaching the point where she has nothing left to teach him, and it is time for him to begin transitioning to college. Tim will be taking one college course each semester, and by the time he graduates from high school he will already have four college courses in Animal Science on his transcript.

I wasn’t sure any of this would ever happen. When Tim started middle school three years ago, I participated in some workshops for parents of special needs children that his school generously set up. One moderator made this remark to our group that has since tumbled around in my head:

“Your child is not entitled to the best education possible. Rather, he or she is entitled to an education that is appropriate for his or her needs.”

As difficult as this is to hear, it is true. Reading it in writing makes me cringe. Not every person is meant to go to college, just as not every person is meant to get married, have children, travel the world, be an athlete, raise chickens, you get the point. I started to hold the thought in my heart that Tim may not go to college. Mentally I was Mile 7-8 of 13 miles, where you’ve come a long way, but you’re starting to feel tired, your feet are starting to ache, and you are well aware you still have a long way to go toward your goal.

Now we’re at Mile 11 with Tim regarding his childhood. The final part is one last push toward college, and then he enters the next phase of his life as an adult. The hill I had been fearing for years is no longer insurmountable. We just have to dig deep and run up it. Tim has come so far, and both his teacher and I have seen enormous mental and emotional maturity in him this past year. Even though Tim is nearly good to go, this is no time to rest. We have SATs and ACTs to prepare for, colleges to visit, applications to write, and choices to make. And what an exciting and delightful time it will be.

Here are some websites that may be helpful in researching colleges for students who fall on the autism spectrum:

  • AHEADD – Achieving In Higher Education (http://www.aheadd.org/): Provides coaching, mentoring, and self-advocacy for students with special needs.)
  • USCAP – US College Autism Project (http://www.usautism.org/uscap/): Provides support for students on the autism spectrum to help ensure they have both a successful college experience and a successful transition to the working world after graduation.
  • ISER – Internet Special Education Resources (www.iser.com): List of college programs to help students with the transition to college, independent living, college planning, and much more.
  • College Lists (http://collegelists.pbworks.com/): Nationwide list of colleges that have support programs for students with a former diagnosis of Asperger’s. Augsburg College (http://www.augsburg.edu/) is one of them if you live in the Twin Cities.


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Nàdarra

Don’t you worry child. ~ Swedish House Mafia

Tim with the lady of the house.

Tim with the lady of the house.

I was preparing a presentation for our cluster’s group meeting last week and used this photograph of Tim in one of my slides. I took it two summers ago when he was at horse therapy and choosing which horse he was going to ride. The horse in this picture is the dominant female of the herd, and if you look closely, you can see the other horses waiting respectfully for her to finish investigating this new, interesting, and very little human being. Her stablemates know to give this female her space and time alone with Tim, for if they so much as step one hoof out of the pecking order, they can expect to be pushed and nipped back into line where they belong.

The extraordinarily strange observation I had when I put this picture into my presentation, however, was that Tim was crouching on the ground. I remember seeing him do this, and it wasn’t out of fear. He did it out of instinct. No one told him that this female was the leader of the pack. Somehow he knew, and he, too, knelt down in front her in a gesture of companionship and submission. I also noticed that Tim’s body was at an angle to the horse’s, indicating to her that he was not confronting or challenging her by facing her straight-on. Tim did not do this with any of the other horses. His equine modus operandi is to go right up to the horse, make eye contact, and rub its nose and forehead. Somehow he bonds with the horses, and they in turn enjoy his company. The relationship feels very natural on both sides.

Tim loves animals of all sorts, shapes, and sizes. You can read about his first horse therapy session, complete with more photos of beautiful horses, by clicking here. Tim knows that he wants to work with animals as a career, and I agree with him that he should follow his heart. Tim is on a level of communication with animals amazes me, and almost all of it is nonverbal. He uses his eyes and positions his body in such a way that animals realize he is a friend and not foe. Just a friend with much less fur. The challenge for me as a parent is helping provide Tim with the support and resources he needs to meet his goal.

We recently had a routine meeting at Tim’s school to evaluate his IEP (Individualized Education Program). By law Tim’s IEP needs to be revisited and most likely revised every three years, and this is why I met with his school staff. One great benefit of Tim attending the Creative Alternatives Program at Capitol View is their relationship with Century College in White Bear Lake. When Tim is in eleventh grade, he can start taking college courses at Century as part of his school day. Pursuing a major in their Health Sciences curriculum will let Tim become an Animal Health Technician, where he can assist veterinarians with examinations, diagnostic and laboratory tests, surgeries, and managing animal facilities. If Tim enjoys working as a technician, he will also have the option to continue his education elsewhere to become a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine.

If you look at Tim’s grades and IQ, he is definitely capable of achieving above and beyond anything I have ever set out to do in life. The only unsatisfactory grade he received at the end of his fall semester was in gym class, and, as I remarked to his teacher, I’m not all that concerned about gym. He is excelling in math, language arts, science, and history. He could do better in art and social/transition skills, but again, these are not concerns for me. The social skills will come with time, and Tim will fit himself in to where he is meant to be in life. The one warning we have given him is if he wants to be a veterinarian, he will need to learn to communicate with people. These people will also be upset at times since they love their pets, and pets usually have shorter life spans than humans do. My feelings are that anyone can learn to communicate with other people, even if it doesn’t come naturally at first. Communication with animals, however, needs to be something innate. It needs to be a natural part of who you are.

As Tim’s parent I need to help get him to where he wants to be in life. I cannot make doors and opportunities magically fly open for him, but I can provide support for him as long as he needs it. The parent-child relationship may be the only one where the goal is separation. You know you have done a good job when your child takes flight from your home and enthusiastically begins her or his own life. Tim wants to have his own life, with his own career, apart from me, but he isn’t quite sure how to get there yet. My goal over the next decade is for he and I and his educators to work together, with the help of Minnesota state resources for young adults with special needs, to help Tim find out who he is and what he is meant to do. To help him discover the talents he has that others do not, his relationship with animals being one of them.

Here are some useful links if you would like more information:


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The Cat Grass

Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten. ~ David Ogden Stiers

Daniel had my heart in mind when he bought my Christmas present this year. Literally. My big gift from him, the Main Event, was a heart rate monitor. This may not sound romantic, but it is because he knows that I run on a regular basis, he wants me to be sensible about how hard I push myself when I exercise, and he was giving me something that I needed but was too frugal to purchase for myself. I had been relying on the so far tried and true method of running until my brain says stop. To err is human, however, so to be safe we decided to do the biosensor approach.

As I ran this afternoon, on the treadmill since it is icy and close to 0°F outside, I decided tonight was the night to introduce our cats to the Christmas present that touched my other heart, the one that feels, loves, aches, rejoices, reaches out, and sometimes becomes overwhelmed at the kindness that surrounds me in my day to day life. This other present was from my son Timothy, and when I opened it I realized that I have only begun to realize how kind, generous, and truly selfless he is.

Tim told me about my Christmas present sometime after Thanksgiving.

Tim: Mom, I bought you a Christmas present.

Me: Oh, really? You didn’t have to do that. What is it?

Tim: Do you want me to tell you for real?

Me: No. What is it?

Tim: Do you want me to give you a hint?

Me: Sure.

Tim: Well, it’s actually something for you and the cats.

Me: What?

Tim: It’s something that both you and the cats need.

Me: Um. Now I really want to know.

Tim: Do you want me to tell you?

Me: No. I want to wait until Christmas.

When Christmas came, Tim gave me the present he had purchased me and the cats with his own money. I opened it to discover that it was CHIA Cat Grass. Tim explained that he thought it would help both the cats and me since our cats Smokey and Amber both enjoy eating my plants, much to my chagrin, only to regurgitate them later on the carpet. I try not to keep plants that are poisonous to cats in our house, and our cats know that they are NOT supposed to eat the plants, but they do it anyway. Tim also knows that I am an avid gardener and lover of all things green, as evidenced by the numerous houseplants in our home and the veg and flower gardens we have scattered around our yard.

We planted the cat grass seeds right away in the planter provided, put it in a sunny window, and waited. I told Tim not to worry, if these seeds didn’t sprout, we could always purchase more. After about ten days I saw tiny green sprouts pushing themselves cheerfully up through the soil, and Tim and I watched the seedlings grow taller and taller each day. I have been waiting until the plant is strong enough to introduce to our cats, and when I was on the treadmill this afternoon I decided tonight was as good a night as any.

Amber and Smokey with the family Christmas present.

The aftermath: Amber and Smokey taking a break with the family Christmas present.

Our cats Smokey and Amber LOVED the cat grass. After supper I took the planter from the kitchen windowsill and put it at the top of the stairs. Both cats immediately ran over, sniffed the grass, and became very excited. They could not believe that I had willingly given them a plant all for themselves. Tim and I watched as they quickly began to lick, bite, and rub their faces against the blades of grass. They managed to demolish about half the plant, but it will grow back. Once it grows back in a week or two, the cats can have another evening of a special grass treat.

Tim loves Smokey and Amber, and they love him as well, but they are becoming old kitties and most likely have a few years left at the most. One of my friends put her cat down today and was embarrassed that she cried. Tim considers our cats members of our family, and they are. They run to greet us when we come home, they share our beds, and Smokey is nestled in my lap now, motor running, as I type. Our cats know when we are happy or sad. Somehow they know when we are sick. They know that when they walk up to us, they will be greeted with petting and affection, which they return unconditionally. I have told Tim that we are our cats’ entire world, and we need to treat them with kindness and respect. They are dependent on us for everything.

I was so incredibly touched that Tim thought of all of us for Christmas. He saw the cat grass ad on TV when he was at his father’s house and told him to order it. He paid for this with his own money, and he kept it hidden from me until we opened our Christmas presents. I tell Tim that he is my favorite person in my entire life, and he always will be, no matter what. I am just so extremely pleased to share my life with him.


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Catharsis

I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. ~ Henry David Thoreau

There is nothing subtle about Yellowstone National Park in February. It is a Mother Nature full-force, in your face, kind of place. Perfect for a girls’ weekend away.

This was my first girls’ weekend ever. No spa. No nightclubs. No beach. What we did have was a full day of snowmobiling through Yellowstone followed by beers and a hot tub back at our lodge. The three of us all desperately needed a change of scenery to clear our minds and reset. The lemon sorbet between courses to cleanse our palates.

We flew into Bozeman, Montana, which is about 90 miles from West Yellowstone. The Bozeman airport, which is actually located about 10 miles away in Belgrade, has eight gates total and is very easy to fly in and out from. Downtown Bozeman is full of quaint shops, coffeehouses, and, for whatever reason, an abundance of Mexican restaurants. Bozeman is also home to Montana State University and the Museum of the Rockies, located on the edge of campus. When we visited the Museum of the Rockies, we found it contains a vast collection of dinosaur fossils, including complete skeletons of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. It also has permanent exhibitions on regional and Native American history, a planetarium, and a living history farm.

The drive from Bozeman to West Yellowstone through the Gallatin National Forest is beautiful, winding gradually up through Montana’s Northern Rockies and following the Gallatin River. Many of the fishing scenes in the movie “A River Runs Through It” were filmed along the Gallatin River in the Gallatin Canyon. We drove past Big Sky, which houses one classy ski and snowboarding resort, and clipped about 20 miles through Yellowstone National Park before arriving on the west side. Lodging in both Bozeman and West Yellowstone is extremely affordable, and getting around is easy. The three of us rented a suite in West Yellowstone with three queen beds, a full bath, a microwave, fridge, free wi-fi, and complimentary breakfast for $80 a night, just over $25 per person. The lodge also gave us a free shuttle ride to and from Two Top Snowmobile Rental.

We arrived at Two Top at 8am, where we signed our waivers and put on our snow gear. The temperature that morning was -20°F, but our snowsuits and helmets kept us warm. The snowmobiles also had heated hand grips and seats. After a brief orientation of how to work a snowmobile, we set off with our tour guide for a 90-mile round trip of Yellowstone. Our tour lasted for about eight hours, during which we made frequent stops to snap photos, hike around, and learn about the area. We saw several bald eagles, herds of bison and elk, and even a coyote nibbling at an elk carcass left behind by a pack of wolves. The elk kill was interesting to the park rangers since it only happens a few times each season, and they also like to track where the wolf packs are in the park. My favorite part was in the afternoon when we hiked around the Norris Geyser Basin to look at the  fumaroles and smaller geysers. The geysers all had names, such as Constant, Porkchop, and Whirligig, and the sulfury air was warm enough for us to demask and unzip even though the temperature was frigid. The Norris Geyser Basin is also home to Steamboat Geyser, the largest geyser in the world, which was unfortunately inactive that afternoon.

Being in nature always clears my mind. Any negative thoughts, stress, or gloom flies away whenever I spend time outdoors. A lot of my day was solitary since we all rode our own snowmobiles and saw only a handful of other people. We actually saw more animals than humans, and all of the animals, even the bison, were peaceful. We came upon bison on the road a few times, and each time we passed each other slowly, sizing each other up. One bison was especially intimidating since he gave the hairy eyeball to my friend riding in front of me and then turned his head as I approached, watching me the entire time it took me to putter by him. A male bison stands almost seven feet tall and weighs about twenty times what I do, and the thought of accidentally spooking him into a full-on charge made me tremble in my boots.

I loved being a stranger in a strange land that day. The strangest sights were the most beautiful, ranging from unexpected rock formations to a gigantic ball of ice under one of the waterfalls to the fumaroles which hissed hot steam. I loved being the outsider exploring a new terrain. When I returned home, I told Tim I will take him back with me when he is old enough to spend an entire day on a snowmobile and not be bored. We only live once, and every now and then an adventure helps clear the head and renew the spirit.

Here are some useful links if you are planning a visit to Yellowstone:

  • Yellowstone National Park: In addition to Yellowstone’s homepage, here are several links for information on the park. They include
  • Yellowstone Lodge: This is where we stayed in West Yellowstone. It is located three blocks from Yellowstone National Park and one block from the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
  • Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center: This is located in West Yellowstone. We were able to see two grizzly bear adults, two grizzly babies, and eight gray wolves the morning we visited. We also toured the Naturalist Cabin and the permanent exhibit BEARS: Imagination and Reality. The primary mission of the center is to provide visitors to the Yellowstone area an opportunity to observe, learn and appreciate grizzly bears and gray wolves. One project-in-progress is an eagle aviary with bird-of-prey exhibits.
  • Two Top Snowmobile Rental, Inc.: Two Top is where we booked our snowmobile tour of Yellowstone. There are two tours available, the Old Faithful Basin Geyser tour and the Yellowstone Park Grand Canyon Tour. We went on the canyon tour, which was guided and lasted for about eight hours. In addition to renting your own snowmobile, you can also rent winter gear, which includes boots, gloves, a snowsuit, a balaclava, and a helmet.


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The Price Tag

Intense love does not measure, it just gives. ~ Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Much-beloved Pudge.

Two of my friends, a married couple I met through work seven years ago, lost one of their dogs earlier this week. He was a much-loved member of their family, and he had been deteriorating for a while, which took an emotional toll on his owners over time. Several of us posted electronic notes of sympathy to our friends, and one comment stood out in particular to me. This person mentioned how the overwhelming grief my friends are experiencing is the price tag we pay for unconditional love.

Daniel had to put his dog to sleep about 2½ years ago. This is the only time I have ever seen him cry. The evening after he euthanized her, I laid him down on the couch, put his head on my chest, and let him begin to process his emotions. Daniel’s dog had lived a long, happy life with him, she had been well-fed, cared for, and loved, and she loved him in return. She lived so long, in fact, that by the time he decided to put her to sleep, she could barely walk, couldn’t control her bowels or bladder, and she, being slim to begin with, had lost most of her body fat. What grieved Daniel so terribly was that this animal had loved him unconditionally and, from his perspective, in his exact words, he responded to that love by killing her. I didn’t tell him he was wrong, or that his perspective was skewed. All I could do was hold him and let him cry until my shirt was soaked.

There are inherent risks when it comes to love. Animals love unconditionally, and it seems impossible not to love a creature back that gives itself to you so freely. Humans are more guarded with each other, aren’t we? A few months ago Daniel was stressing over what would happen if Peanut decides one day that he doesn’t love him, or doesn’t want to spend time with him or come to his house because Dad.Is.Old.And.Boring. I didn’t say much at first, because Peanut will always love Daniel, his father, unless Daniel actively does something to destroy their relationship. But after Daniel brought it up a few times, I finally told him that, yes, honestly there is a risk with loving someone. The risk is that you make yourself vulnerable, and the other person may decide he or she doesn’t love you back. However, I finished by saying that when you love someone with your whole heart, that person usually responds in kind.

As we grow older, we become conditioned to protect our hearts. Friendships stall out when someone goes through a rough patch and the other person isn’t quite sure how far to intervene. Marriages fall apart when one partner hurts another, perhaps inadvertently, but suddenly shields are up and battle lines are drawn. There are also people who are afraid to let themselves be loved, who are unable to accept someone else’s affection. There are both passive and active methods of self-preservation when it comes to love.

There are exceptions to the rule. My son is one of them. So are other individuals with varying special needs that I have encountered throughout my life. My son’s brain, being different from my brain in so many ways, has no control over his heart. He loves without bounds, and when he loves someone or something, he falls hard. He is the most loyal, devoted, affectionate companion a person could wish for. He has no malicious thoughts, words, or intended actions, which makes it all the more difficult for him when he sees his classmates at school teasing each other, pushing people in the hallways, or excluding people from social groups. He doesn’t understand any of that, and, like other Aspies, he spends a good amount of his time watching situational television shows in an attempt to learn about social interaction.

To be loved by someone like my son is the most wonderful feeling in the world. He is completely vulnerable to me, and I could say or do anything to him, and he would still love me. I have to be careful of myself and make sure that my words and actions are kind to him, that I don’t take his love for granted and trample all over it. That I don’t assume he will always feel the same way for me no matter how I behave. People with Asperger’s can form very strong bonds with their pets, and I’m not sure we know why. Based on my observations, I think that people like my son have hearts that are more open than mine is, and like attracts like. Our cats connect with my son more than they connect with me, even though I am their primary caregiver. My son has formed a strong bond with both of them where he understands their meows, plays games with them, and knows what they want before I can figure it out.

What I have to work on is giving the same open, unlimited, vulnerable love to my son that he gives to me. I also have to work on giving that to the other people in my life, even if they never give it back. Life is too short to constantly be shielding your heart in the event that is shattered. I promise that it will be, from time to time, but that is part of the human experience. It is the price we pay.


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Autumn’s Arrival

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Fall has arrived in Minnesota, with temperatures dropping to near-freezing last night. I used to dread the end of summer, which tends to happen rather abruptly this far north, knowing that at least six months of wintry weather lay ahead. As the years have passed, however, I have become used to layering up my clothing, and investing in a good quality coat also makes all the difference.

Our crabapple tree.

My son was born in Minnesota, so he knows no differently. He does not mourn the end of summer as much as I do, mostly because it means the start of school. When autumn arrives, he knows that I will be spending more time with him and less time tending to my gardens, even though I constantly encourage him to weed and water alongside me. He also knows that the crabapples on the crabapple tree in our front yard are ready to be picked, and some years he is able to convince me to make him a batch of crabapple jelly. Making jelly is a labor-intensive process, and while I remind my son that we already have a pantry overflowing with jams, salsas, preserves, and chutneys from our summer harvest, he always rallies for the crabapples.

Autumn is a signal for us to spend as much time outdoors as we can. We have about six weeks left for horse therapy until the temperature becomes too cold. On our drive out to Hawk’s Ridge Ranch in Hudson, Wisconsin, I noticed how the green pastures are already starting to yellow, and how in two short months we will most likely have had our first snowfall of the season. While winter brings an entirely new list of fun activities, including skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and drinking gallons of hot cocoa, for now we are enjoying the crisp fall weather.

It is almost as if Gypsy was waiting for my son, having separated himself from the group.

Our afternoon at horse therapy was spectacular. The weather was a sunny, perfect 65F, and the horses were socializing amongst themselves in the pasture. My son chose Gypsy, his usual horse, even though I asked him if he was interested in trying someone new. While he feels a connection to Gypsy, I do not, and I feel that some of the other horses are more…open…therapeutic…interested…I don’t know how to describe it. However, my son is the one in therapy, not me, so he should choose the horse he feels has also chosen him. It is good that he and Gypsy share a unique bond, which is the point of taking him to equine-assisted therapy.

My son led Gypsy into the stable, gave him a thorough brushing, picked out his hooves, mounted Gypsy bareback, and then the lesson began. Our instructor, Dr. Su, who does horse therapy as only one part of her Healing Arts Wellcare Center (The HAWC), had to tend to business for a few minutes and gave me Gypsy’s reins. As I led Gypsy and my son in a big circle around the stable floor, he became curious about this change in routine. While I tried to maintain space between myself and the horse, he kept snuffling his nose into the lower right side of my back, which I considered an invasion of my personal space.

Brushing burrs out of Gypsy's mane.

When Dr. Su returned, she mounted a second horse and rode alongside with my son. During this therapy lesson, in addition to just enjoying time with Gypsy, my son learned how to use his legs to make Gypsy turn, back up, and trot. The advantage to learning how to ride bareback is twofold: First, the physical connection between the horse and rider is more intimate since there is no saddle, and second, you learn how to control your horse with your body, not with reins. It is also more difficult to balance on a horse bareback, so my son was getting quite a workout by using all of his major muscle groups during his therapy session.

During the entire therapy session, except for the beginning where I led Gypsy around, I sat outside the ring, on the other side of the gate, watching my son sit on a massive horse as if he had been doing this his entire life. Dr. Su noticed, too, and about halfway through she came over to me on her horse and told me that my son is a natural. She had been asking him how many lessons he had had, and where he had taken them, and she was surprised to discover that he has not really ridden until this past spring. I agreed with her about the natural riding talent my son appears to have, and watched with mild shock as Gypsy responded to every command my son gave him.

This is a joyous time for me as a parent because I am discovering where my son’s talents lie. I don’t know if these parts have been there, hidden within him, all along, or whether they are new developments. This is a time of transition for him, much like our crispy autumn weather. Parts of him are falling away, like the leaves from the trees, but they are the young child parts that fade naturally with age. Now, when I view my son as a young adult, I see him figuring out how to tap into the parts of himself that he doesn’t quite know how to use. He is beginning to develop self-confidence, leadership abilities, and successful communication skills. And we have the horse, Gypsy, largely to thank, on a beautiful autumn afternoon.


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The White Wolf

Writing from my brother and sister-in-law's home in sunny Florida this week.

This week my son and I are in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, visiting my brother and sister-in-law. My father dropped us off at the airport yesterday, and a two hour flight put us in the Orlando/Sanford area. Port Saint Lucie is about 100 miles southeast of Orlando, and five miles from the ocean. Before leaving Orlando, we stopped at Bahama Breeze for lunch, where my brother had Pan-Seared Salmon Pasta and I had Calypso Shrimp Linguine, both of which were excellent. My brother and his wife enjoy dining at this restaurant mainly for their extensive cocktail menu. In addition to Disneyworld, other attractions in Orlando include Sea World, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, and a great mini-golfing course. My brother said the Orlando Convention Center is one of the largest in the nation, and it is conveniently situated close to downtown. Our restaurant was located near International Drive, which features restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world in addition to numerous retail shops.

Pretty girl.

Upon arriving at my brother’s house, we were greeted by two extremely excited dogs. Their corgi-terrier mix, named Clöe, is eleven years old, and her sidekick Chase, a velvety caramel-colored pug, is six. My brother adopted Clöe long before he met his wife, when he lived in Indianapolis, and she has become a much-loved member of our family. Even though Clöe looks all white when you first meet her, upon examining her more closely you can see faint corgi spots scattered throughout her coat. She is affectionate, intelligent, and highly loyal to my brother. Clöe enjoys spooning with her humans on the couch, playing outdoor games such as You-Try-To-Grab-Her-Tail-While-She-Runs-Around-Like-A-Maniac, and simply staring at you with her soft brown eyes for long periods of time.   

Protector of the key lime tree in the back yard.

Clöe came with bags upon bags of emotional baggage when my brother took her in. We aren’t sure what happened to her at her previous home, but we know it included abuse. She was only one year old when my brother adopted her, but the damage had already been done. She would cringe when we tried to pet her, and hide in corners and under tables. She was a hard nut to crack, but my brother finally started making progress when he figured out that she understood “Good dog!” as a form of positive reinforcement. Clöe is so strongly bonded to my brother that for years she has followed his every move around the house. She has to be where he is, doing what he is doing, and if he is busy, she makes herself comfortable and waits patiently for his attention.

Chase the trusty companion being petted by my son.

Due to Clöe’s history, she does not like men. I was walking her several years ago, and we came to a house where a man was working on his car. I quickly discovered that Clöe stays on her leash as an act of courtesy and submission, because the minute she saw that we were approaching a stranger, she was out of her collar and across the road. Even though I only see her once a year at the most, she has a good memory and warms up to me after she takes an introductory sniff. Right now she is talking to me as I type, and scuttling around my feet for attention. And now she has given up on me and moved over to my son, whom she met for the first time yesterday.

This meeting is the odd event that is the focus for today: my son and Clöe. Remember, she has a handful of people that she lets into her life. She is terrified of strangers, especially men. Yesterday, when we took the dogs out of their kennels and let them into the back yard, I watched this gun-shy animal walk straight up to my son, introduce herself, and nuzzle up to him while he innocently began to pet her. He had no idea at the significance of what just happened. Somehow, Clöe sensed something about him that made her feel comfortable. Just like our cats, and just like the horses at the stable.

My brother came outside and I told him to watch how Clöe behaves around my son. When she came over to him for more petting, my brother did a double-take and said he has never seen her do that before, not in the decade he has owned her. He has never seen her warm up to someone so quickly. What took my brother months to accomplish as Clöe’s owner and center of her life took my son a matter of minutes.

My son recently told me that he would like to become a veterinarian when he grows up. I think this is an absolutely splendid idea, and I told him that he is intelligent enough to do anything he sets his mind to. He has always felt a connection to animals that I do not, but I have always wished I could experience it for just a little while. I have read that animals are especially receptive to people with Asperger’s and vice versa, but no one quite knows why. The part that intrigues me is how the attraction is mutual.

I am so happy for this precious time I have with my son during our vacation. He is my favorite person in the whole world to be around, and I tell him that on a regular basis. However, there are hidden parts to him that explode in all their glory only when he is out of his element, such as his gift with animals. I know he is attached to our housecats at home, and they are attached to him, but since I see it every day it has become part of the wallpaper, faded into the background. With Clöe, however, this facet of my son has been shoved into the front of my mind. My contribution to my son’s wish to work with animals as a career is to support him 100%. This includes encouraging him to complete his schoolwork, to study hard, and to expose him to animals as often as possible. The motivation to succeed, the desire to do, however, is mostly up to him. I cannot want this for him. He has to want it for himself.