"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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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First Flight

Run my dear
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.
~ Hafiz

Last week Tim had an early morning doctor’s appointment, after which he had his blood drawn. Everything was first thing that day because Tim had been fasting since the night before. Once a year we do a fasting check on his blood to make sure his levels of All Important Proteins, Chemicals, Molecules, And Anything Else is normal, and Tim dreads the overnight fasting more than the actual pinprick the next morning.

After taking Tim out to breakfast, as I drove him to school, my mind automatically checked for butterflies in my stomach. To my surprise, there was nothing but calm. Usually dropping Tim off at school makes me nervous because I am letting go of him. I am putting him in an environment where he does not thrive well, where he is targeted by his classmates, where his teachers lose patience with him, and where I have seen doors of opportunity close one by one over the years.

Not this time, however. Tim has been having an amazingly wonderful year at school this year. This part of life finally feels on track, and much to my delight my child’s needs do not consume my every waking thought. My little one is starting to leave my nest, and I am his most enthusiastic supporter.

I realized that the tide of my son’s challenges in life has permanently changed when he announced to me that he needed to bring a copy of his social security card to school. When I asked him why, Tim told me that he needs it so the school can pay him for working in the school store. Tim started working in the school store last September, and after a two month trial period, his supervisor has decided to hire him as a paid employee. I started jumping up and down and told Tim that he should be proud, very proud indeed, of his job. Tim replied that it’s just at the school, and it’s just for an hour each week.

My son missed the point, didn’t he?

I explained to Tim that not many 15 year olds have a paid job. It doesn’t matter where it is, what you’re doing, or how many hours you work. It’s still a paid job. The kicker is that Tim beat me to it age-wise. I started working my first paid job when I was 15 years, 4 months old. Tim started his when he was 15 years, 3 months old. He beat me by one month. When I put it that way, he puffed up with pride and informed me that he is now bringing money home earlier than I was. I said yes, my dear, now you understand why I am so proud of you.

After working his first paid day at the school store, Tim came home and informed me that he made $6.50. All for restocking shelves. He couldn’t believe it. I asked him if earning his own money makes him feel good, and he replied yes, it does. Then he told me how he is bargaining with his supervisor to pick up an extra shift. Tim is quickly making the connection between earning money and independence. It’s one thing to watch your parents or spouse go to work each day. It’s quite another to do it yourself.

The idea that my child, whom I have ferociously protected and defended for over 15 years, is going to have a successful, fulfilling, independent life as an adult is solidifying in my mind. I don’t need to be ferocious anymore, which isn’t part of my nature anyway and exhausted me. I can relax and think about other parts of life, such as where Tim and I should go for supper to celebrate his new job.

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Tim chose Asia Bistro in Woodbury. Asia Bistro has a fantastic happy hour menu, parking is usually available directly in front of the entrance, and the ambiance is lovely with low lighting and benches containing silk pillows to lean against. Tim ordered sesame chicken and a Coke, I ordered sushi and a glass of red wine, and we had a wonderful celebratory supper.

I, the eternal optimist, cannot think anything other than that life will continue to become better. To think any other way is destructive not only to myself but to all others who cross my path. Tim’s job is the start of great things for him. This tells me that the adults in his life away from me trust him, enjoy his company, and believe that he is a responsible person. I could not agree more because as his mother I see these parts of him every day. The time has come for him to spread his wings and show himself to the rest of the world.

Do you enjoy sushi as much as I do? While I’m not sure that’s possible, here are some sushi suggestions around the Twin Cities:

  • East Suburbs: Asia Bistro (http://www.asiabistrowoodbury.com/) – Excellent daily happy hour specials, including $3 sakes and glasses of wine.
  • Warehouse District and Uptown Minneapolis: Origami (http://www.origamirestaurant.com/sushi/) – Great martinis too…the Chocolate one is my favorite.
  • Grand Avenue, St. Paul: Saji-Ya (http://www.sajiya.com/) – Also has Teppanyaki (reservations required). Saji-Ya is where I take my boyfriend for his birthday, and we always have a nice time.
  • South Minneapolis: United Noodles & Deli (https://www.unitednoodles.com/store/) – Largest Asian grocery store in the Twin Cities and worth a trip Just To Gaze because it’s so big.
  • Mall of America and Uptown Minneapolis: Tiger Sushi (http://www.tigersushiusa.com/) – The MOA location is a quick, convenient break during a shopping extravaganza.

Cooking schools around the Twin Cities also offer classes on how to make sushi. After taking a few classes, with delicious results, I decided that sushi is worth the investment of going to a restaurant as opposed to making it at home. However, some of my friends and I get together a couple of times a year for a sushi making party, where we all help with the prep work and then devour our masterpieces.

I keep asking Tim to report on adventures at his job so far, and other than one day where someone tried to grab a bunch of candy and run, there is nothing too exciting. I’m sure he will soon have more stories to tell as he gains work experience.

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For My Dad On Father’s Day

Dear Dad,

Right now I am grilling chicken the way I learned from watching you. I know that the heat needs to be low, that it should take about an hour, and that you wait until the last 15 minutes before basting it. I just put the chicken on, so I have some time to tell you what I am most thankful for on Father’s Day this year.

Tim and my father in 2004.

Tim and my father in 2004.

Thank you for being a constant source of support and encouragement as you watched me raise my son Tim. You are an enormous part of the reason why he is as high functioning as he is today. When Tim was two years old, undiagnosed, and constantly screamed and bit, you reminded me that he was only a toddler and he didn’t know what he was doing. I still remember our conversation, almost thirteen years later, and your words always give me pause when I become frustrated with my child. When Tim was seven, recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and having an extraordinarily tough year in second grade, you reminded me that he was only a child trying to make his way in the world. Your words turned me into a warrior for him, and I have never had a second thought about taking on the teachers, staff, and educators in his life if something they said or did when working with him didn’t sit right with me. Now that Tim is nearly fifteen years old, a lot of the problems he had when he was younger have gone away. You rejoice with me about how Tim’s life and mine have become much better the last couple of years. You tell me that my son will never know how fortunate he is to me as his mother, and you tell me that I have faced challenges in raising him that no one should have to go through.

The good news is that I didn’t go through this alone. You were there with me, every step of the way. Thank you so much. I love you and Tim and I are looking forward to seeing you and Mom in July.

Love Always,

Tim’s Mom 🙂

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The Snowball Effect

Chance favors the prepared mind. ~ Louis Pasteur

The last couple of weeks have been crazy. I’ve been waiting for life to calm down, or equilibrate if we to talk the language called Chemist. Finally choppy waters are giving way to placid ripples.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, and if you are wondering why oh why oh why have you been given this course as part of your life, then please read what I am about to write. You, dear parent, have been given a gift, even if you don’t always see it that way. Among the doctor appointments, phone calls from school, grocery store meltdowns, and frustration in trying to understand the very different mind of this little person who came out of you, amazing opportunities exist for you because of what you have experienced and learned as a parent. What you need to do is recognize these for what they are, seize them when they arise, and hang on for dear life.

I am at a transition point in my career right now. This very minute. The decision I need to make is whether to go through the transition or stay where I am. I have been a scientist through all of my education and professional life. As a scientist in industry, my main job is to run experiments in my laboratory. The past few years, however, I have started wearing other hats. I lead projects where I am responsible for a team of other scientists, I attend scientific seminars, conferences, I meet with patent attorneys, marketers, and technical service reps, I orchestrate the evaluation and purchase of new pieces of equipment. The past few months I have attended courses that my company offers in project management, which have been extremely helpful in teaching me how to be a better supervisor.

Reviewing the course that my career has taken, there’s really no question about what my main job has evolved into. The only part left is to make a final decision with my immediate supervisor about when my move into management will become official. I thought I would miss being a scientist who works in a lab all day, and five years ago I would have been heartbroken at the prospect of hanging up my pipettors. Not anymore. The opportunity is here, now, and I feel that I am ready to explore this new phase of my career. In addition to being a good move for me, I also feel that this is the best way I can contribute to my company. Everyone wins.

What does all this career stuff have to do with being Tim’s Mom? Not much until the past two weeks happened. One of my concerns with going into management is How Do I Get To Know People In My Company That I Really Should Be Connecting Up With So We Can Start Building A Good Working Relationship, which I suppose could be summed up as “Networking”. If I am going to become officially responsible for my team of scientists that I have been unofficially supervising for the past few years, how do I start making connections around the company to harness the resources, support, and brainpower that will help my team succeed. I am one employee in 70,000, which makes me a drop in the bucket.

Here’s what happened, starting with Week 1:

Monday: I had two patents issue this past year, so I was invited to a luncheon (free food!) which is held once a year to recognize inventors around the company. There were about 300 of us at lunch, but I managed to stand out. What did I do? Spill my coffee down my blouse? Sing and dance on the table? Walk around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe? No, fortunately none of that happened. I stood out because I was one of the only women present. I stood out because of something I cannot help. I stood out because I was being myself. I sat with one of my male coworkers, who has been a mentor and dear friend to me for several years. I didn’t know anyone else at the table he and I chose, but by the end of lunch the Table of Older, Patents Many Times Over Men and I were on good terms.

Wednesday: Daniel left for the Edison Awards in Chicago. The system he commercialized last year was nominated. I told him his team was bound to win something.

Thursday: In the morning I attended a seminar given by Temple Grandin. One of the top scientists in our company had used his company funds to invite Temple out to speak. Her seminar was intended for an exclusive audience at our company, namely the top scientists and a few extra invitees. I was one of the extras invited because the woman coordinating the event knows that Tim has Asperger’s Syndrome. Here’s where networking comes in handy…my invitation to hear Temple speak had nothing to do with my accomplishments or responsibilities at work. I was given the opportunity to be part of Temple’s select audience because I had shared about Tim’s special needs. I took the risk of mixing my professional and personal life. Temple’s seminar was wonderful, as usual, and her topic was how to ensure that give people with special needs the accommodations to help them function in society while balancing that with responsibility. She feels, and I agree, that young adults like my son need to be given jobs as soon as possible to help them learn how to work with people and contribute to and integrate into society. At one point Temple mentioned how every time she visits our company, she notices that we have a lot of “techies”. Then she emphasized how our company needs to make sure we have managers who understand our techies. When Temple said this, the decision about going into management solidified in my mind. Raising my son Tim, who fits Temple’s definition of techie perfectly, prepared me for being able to recognize and seize career opportunity in front of me.

Our Customer Innovation Center

Our Customer Innovation Center

I was also invited to have lunch with Temple. There was an open seat, so when asked of course I accepted. Lunch was at our Customer Innovation Center, where we have a room filled with our latest inventions, technologies, and products. I was one of 20 people at lunch, and we all sat around a long rectangular table. Before we started to eat, our coordinator asked us to introduce ourselves to Temple and tell her what invention made us famous. I was sitting, as at the patent luncheon, with a table of older men who had established their careers developing amazing technologies and products for our company. If you’re wondering about an example, one of the men across the table from me was Art Fry, coinventor of the Post-It Note. I listened as the men around me introduced themselves and then a bit self-consciously mumbled what they had invented. When it was my turn I said I had no famous invention. I held up the plastic case that houses my employee badge and turned it around so everyone could see the photograph of Tim that I keep in the back. I told the table that I was invited to lunch because my son has Asperger’s Syndrome. Temple asked “How is he doing?”, which is the question she asks me each time I meet her. I told her he is doing very well, and I agree that Tim needs to learn responsibility and is ready for a job.

We all started eating our lunch, and our organizer mentioned how much Temple had enjoyed touring the Innovation Center. Temple told us how much she liked the little white machine she saw, how she had never seen anything like that, and how she was interested in learning how it works. The rest of the table had no idea what she was talking about, but I did. She was talking about Daniel’s product, the one he was at the Edison Awards for. Temple was talking about the Molecular Detection System (MDS), which Daniel developed to bring molecular biology to the masses. This system detects food pathogens in real time, has a small footprint, is easy to operate, and relatively inexpensive. I was surprised that Temple had not seen one since she travels to farms and meat-packing companies. She should have seen one lying around somewhere. Temple said we need better marketing for this, and all of us around the table shook their heads in agreement.

Then I said, “My boyfriend is the scientist who developed that.”

And the table went silent, and I realized everyone was looking at me, and looking at Temple, and looking back at me. All I could think of is out of our company of 70,000 people, I was the only person at the moment who was able to help Temple out. It was a strange feeling. The organizer of our lunch and I told Temple we will work on getting an MDS into her hands so she can try it out.

Friday: Daniel gets back in town from the Edison Awards. The MDS won a Silver. He and his team had a wonderful time. When I checked my email over lunch, I discovered that the half marathon I registered for in June was cancelled. I had already started training for it, and due to my strange week, I had been running a lot to get the crazies out. I went out for a run in Daniel’s neighborhood on Friday evening while he made Peanut’s supper, which put me at about 25 miles for that week. After I showered up, I told Daniel that unfortunately my half marathon had been cancelled, and he asked me why I was still running so much…what’s the point? I told him there are other half marathons, and I run a ton so I am always prepared to register for one. I want to be ready in case the opportunity comes up.

Week 2 wasn’t quite as crazy as Week 1. Interestingly, the events from Week 1 carried over ended up benefiting the scientists on my project team.

Monday: An email appeared in my inbox. The top scientists in our company meet once a month for lunch, and usually they have a speaker. The speaker cancelled last minute, so the email was a call to the rest of us scientists who are actively working on projects. Instead of scheduling another speaker, the organizing committee had decided to do a poster session instead. The first fifteen of us to reply would have the opportunity to present our research in poster format to the top scientists, followed by lunch. I was #9 to respond.

Wednesday: Time for the poster session. I set my poster up, which highlighted four projects I was helping coordinate that focused on wound healing. When our audience began to trickle into the room, several of them recognized me from our lunch with Temple. The wonderful part is now they know me, I know them, and an invisible barrier has been removed. They see other parts of me in addition to my current role in our company as some sort of scientist/manager hybrid. They see me as a mother, an advocate, and an initiator. I didn’t go to this luncheon for myself. I went to represent the scientists who work on the various projects on my poster. I was merely the messenger. When Art Fry came by my poster with one of his colleagues, he listened to what I presented, then pointed at my lab partner’s project and said, “That’s cool!” This was the best part – I took that comment back with me and told my lab partner that one of the inventors of the Post-It Note is impressed with the technology he is developing.

Minnesota the first week in May.

Minnesota the first week in May.

Thursday: After work I drive to the airport and board a plane for Indiana. My younger sister is graduating with her Master’s of Science degree in Mental Health Counseling, and I wouldn’t miss her ceremony for the world. All the events from the past two weeks are still running laps around my mind, and I don’t know how to process everything that has happened. All I know is that morning, the start of May, we had yet another winter storm in Minnesota, and I am excited for a warmer change of scenery.

The neighborhood near my parents' house makes for a lovely run.

The neighborhood near my parents’ house in Indiana makes for a lovely run.

Saturday: I went for a run before my sister’s graduation. I mapped out a course through the neighborhoods around my parents’ house. Unlike Minnesota, where it was May and still snowing, Indiana was pristine. My run that morning was under sunny skies and 60ºF temperatures, with the weather so warm and welcoming that I added an extra two miles to my route. The first few miles my mind was still overwhelmed by everything that had happened at work. I was thinking about how a door had opened that wasn’t there two weeks ago, and whether it was the right time to walk through it. Is there ever a right time to make major decisions about career paths? Maybe not. Maybe you just have to prepare as much as you are able, and when the time feels the most right, jump.

As I was processing my thoughts, and thinking about how Tim is the unknowing catalyst behind all of the opportunities that have bubbled up in front of me, I ran by a swing set in a park. I played in that park when I was five years old. Next I ran through a neighborhood that I had played in as a child when it was only woods and the remnants of a farmer’s field. Then I ran by the house of a boyfriend I had dated briefly in high school before his family moved to Muncie. I forgot about the life I have now, with all of its questions, tortuous routes, and concerns, and remembered where I came from. I remembered that family and your loved ones are the most important parts, the ones who affect your life and determine your course through this world in the most surprising ways.

I am so thankful that I am Tim’s Mom, and that he is my son. That is one sure part of life that will never change no matter where we live, where we work, or where we travel. Raising my son, with his special needs, has developed parts of me I never knew I had, and that may have laid dormant otherwise. What I like the most is that the person I have become is capable of impacting other people in a positive manner. Raising Tim, which can be stressful at times, has also taught me how to take care of my mind. When I become overwhelmed with what life throws at me, I run it out. I talk to people about the challenges and joys of the day to day life Tim and I have. I try to use my experiences to benefit everyone.

To be continued….life decisions are never easy, but sometimes when a door opens you cannot help but walk through it to see what is on the other side.

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The Wash

I felt as if I had washed a tub full of sheets but not got them clean. ~ Girl With A Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

This describes how I feel raising a child with special needs. You do everything properly, based on a combination of experience, instinct, and advice, only to discover that nothing is as it should be. Then you do everything again, expecting a different result, only to find the same challenges waiting for you. Ultimately, you exhaust yourself with the effort of trying to produce the wanted result in an environment where what you want to do is not possible. Adjustments on your part as the parent become necessary.

While autism doesn’t wash off, as Tim grows older, life becomes more manageable for him (and me). The key is to leverage his strengths instead of trying to change his nature. We had a meeting with his teacher and special education support staff at his school last week, and for once I had nothing to say. This is a good thing because if I go into one of these meetings with questions and concerns, and those go unanswered or pushed aside, the ugly, harsh, protective momma bird side of me that is tucked well away 99.9% of the time flares out in a split second, scorching everyone in its path. However, our most recent meeting was entirely unlike that. Tim has made so much progress this school year that I sat, flabbergasted, as his school staff had nothing but positive remarks to make.

Tim’s teacher mentioned that Tim becomes short when some of his classmates don’t understand or follow her directions. She said that sometimes she will be in a huddle with Tim’s classmates, explaining something to them over and over again, and finally Tim will have had enough, stick his head into the huddle, and tell his classmates what to do, how to do it, and how ignorant they are behaving. His teacher was laughing as she told us this incident. Working full-time with special needs teenagers requires the ability to emotionally bounce, and this often means good-naturedly keeping the day-to-day classroom situations as light as possible.

*Deep breath on my part because I know that Tim knows better than to speak to other people this way.*

Here’s what we decided to do. I knew that we needed to leverage rather than force Tim to change, because he ain’t changing. He is who he is. I suggested that what I see is a feature of Tim that can be used as a strength. He definitely had leadership abilities, and his classmates listen to him. What we, as the adults in his life, need to do is help him develop these abilities as positive parts of his personality. Not everyone is meant to lead. You need followers, too, but Tim has never been a follower. He, like a lot of people with Asperger’s, takes in an entire situation instantanously, which means that he is ready to go in the blink of an eye. He doesn’t need time to digest instructions or decide what to do. He knows it immediately. As a team we decided that next school year Tim will be ready for one of the many jobs his school offers. For example, he could work in the cafeteria, help with janitorial tasks, or assist in the school store. Starting him out on small tasks will help boost his self-confidence and hopefully start to develop his leadership traits positively.

The evening after our meeting at school I stopped by Daniel’s house for a few hours to help him set up for Peanut’s seventh birthday party. Yes, Peanut is seven years old. I came into his life when he was 2½, and how time does fly. This year Peanut wanted a Lego-themed birthday party, so we had Lego birthday decorations, Lego presents, and a Lego cake. If your little one wants a Lego birthday party like Peanut did, you can purchase a Lego party kit through Target’s website (www.target.com). The options include Lego Star Wars and Lego City. Anyway, the first task I tackled when I arrived at Daniel’s house was assembling Peanut’s Lego birthday cake.

Lego cake.

Lego cake.

After mixing up the frosting colors, I started smiling as I began icing the bricks. I knew the dark colors would temporarily stain all the children’s teeth, which always makes for a fun event. It made me of the quote I read in Tracy Chevalier’s book and how some things in life are easier to tackle than others. Since Tim and I had the weekend together, I wasn’t able to actually attend Peanut’s party the next day, which left Daniel in a tizzy because he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with six hyperactive first grade boys for two hours. Before I left, we put together a couple of Lego-themed games and I told him if all else fails wing it and let them do free play. When I saw him Sunday afternoon and asked him how Peanut’s party went, he told me that the cake frosting stained all the boys’ teeth, and they kept smiling at each other to show off their blue, green, and red grins. No one chose the brick frosted with white for some reason 🙂 . I told Daniel how happy I was that Peanut had a wonderful birthday party, and that the frosting colors would wash off the boys’ teeth.

As Autism Awareness Month is drawing to a close, I wish to give encouragement to all parents, siblings, friends, and caregivers of people with autism or an autism spectrum disorder. Sometimes there are no easy solutions for the challenges that our loved ones face. The situations that arise from having special needs don’t wash away, and I don’t think they should be expected to. People come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and functionalities, much like Lego bricks, so why would we want to change that? Tim likes himself just as he is, as do I, and I am excited about helping him develop his strengths as he is becomes a young adult.

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World Autism Awareness Day 2013


If there were no difficulties, there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved. ~ Samuel Smiles

Today is World Autism Awareness Day which kicks off Autism Awareness month. Here are some links to posts that are well worth checking out.


News Articles & Other Stuff:

Happy reading!

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The Escape Artists

I packed my things and ran. ~ Mountain Sound, Of Monsters And Men

On the first day of our vacation in Mexico I inform Daniel that every time I travel to this part of the world there is a chance I will decide to stay put. A vacation to the Riviera Maya will come, in the far-off or maybe not-too-distant future, where I simply don’t come back.

Daniel: That’s odd that you say that. Another one of our friends just mentioned doing exactly the same thing.
Me: Really?
Daniel: He was serious about it. He told me you can rent an apartment in Mexico for $4000 a year.
Me: Oh my. I had no idea. You probably shouldn’t have told me that.
Daniel: We have enough money between the two of us now. If we didn’t have our boys I’d seriously consider not going back.
Me: But we have our boys…

Caribbean Sea on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Caribbean Sea on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

The reality of the fantasy is that it becomes more of a realistic option as I age. In our youth-obsessed society, I feel that people tend to overlook the advantages of growing older, which include knowing what you want, when, why, and how you want it, and having the means necessary to achieve your goals. Tim will be an adult in three years, and Daniel will start thinking about retirement sooner than later. One day I just may make a run for the border and tell the people in my life they are either welcome to come with me or visit any time.

For now a permanent escape is not an option. Vacationing once or maybe even twice a year is sufficient, where we can leave our lives behind for a week and enjoy something completely different. There’s also nothing wrong with planning ahead, even if the end goal is decades away. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and running a marathon takes a lot of preparation before the big day.

It was upon returning home that I received the note from my girlfriend about her niece. Reality came crashing into my mind like a bull in a china shop. Having to recall a lot of the struggles and experiences Tim and I faced when he was little is mentally painful for me. Those were difficult years, and I needed to find a balance between telling my friend the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about raising a child with special needs while emphasizing that it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life.

One coping mechanism I have when I am feeling emotions such as grief, anger, stress, and frustration is to move my pain around. This is why I run, to transfer feelings of discomfort from my mind to my body. Running has a pain component which makes it both mentally and physically challenging. The pain is the good kind, however, the kind that reminds you that you are alive. For me it’s usually the bottoms of my feet that eventually start to hurt. When I am outdoors, on my trail, in the fresh air, all it takes is the first mile and every negative, toxic emotion clears out of my head. Then I run until my legs tell me it’s time to go home. Then I run a little more to push myself.

The afternoon before I called my girlfriend I knew I needed to run. There were too many black things swirling around in my head. When I returned home 75 minutes later I was mentally ready to have the conversation I needed to have with her. I showered up because Tim won’t let me near him when I’m stinky, made supper for both him and myself, and then picked up the phone to call Chicagoland.

Here’s the situation: My friend’s younger brother is married with two children. His oldest is four, and she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Her sibling is 11 months old. The mother stays at home with the two children, and the father is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The mother, functioning as a single parent with an infant and a child with special needs, has suffered a mental breakdown and has been institutionalized. The grandparents are caring for the two children until more permanent custody arrangements can be made, and this is where my friend comes into the picture. Her brother had called her from overseas to ask her if she and her husband would care for his two children until he returns to the United States.

My first response was to say of course the mother had a mental breakdown. Wouldn’t you? In situations such as this one, sometimes the only escape is into your own mind. There is no vacation in Mexico. There is no long run through the sunny countryside. What you do have are small beings who need more of you than you are able to give, and sometimes it becomes too much. People break. Your brain is an organ like your heart, lungs, stomach, and skin. The danger is that injuries to the mind can be difficult to detect until they reach the level of trauma. When your brain has had enough and packs its bags, the hope is that intervention and healing are still possible.

This mother has lost custody of her children, and her marriage is also most likely over. The main concern of the family is to place both children into a stable, loving environment. I told my friend that her home is the perfect place for them. Her boys are nine and three. She and her husband are financially secure. She stays at home, and he has a good job that provides him with the flexibility to come home for lunch most days. They always have a pet or two running around and are active mentors to high school youth in the community. I can already see the benefits of this type of home environment. One of the challenges for children with Asperger’s Syndrome is socialization. You can’t get much more social than this.

I told my friend that my main problem with raising Tim has been the never-ending struggle with his schools. I understand that time, money, and resources are limited in the school system, but as a parent of a child with special needs I need to say that any form of improvement would be most welcome. I am not an angry, peevish person by nature, but some of the challenges I have faced throughout Tim’s school years have brought out a side of myself I never knew existed. I have learned to accept this as an opportunity for personal growth, and harnessing and developing this part of myself in a positive way has actually benefited other areas of my life.

My friend asked me what I think of homeschooling. I told her I think she has an excellent idea. She has never done it, but it’s an option. And options in situations such as the one she is in are good. Again, it’s like the marathon where you need to plan ahead. The end goal for her two new bonus children, in addition to the two she already has, is to raise them to be independent adults who are able to accomplish their own goals and pursue their own dreams. The independence, goals, and dreams of someone with special needs may be very different than someone else, but what we as parents want for the children in our lives, biological or bonus, is for them to believe that they are living their best lives. There is not a single, correct way to reach that. The twists and turns are what make the journey so incredibly exciting.



This past weekend was the first meeting between the two little ones and their new caregivers. I told my friend to let me know how it goes, to keep asking me questions. What I can give her in return are honest answers and perspective. I can tell her what I think I did right as a parent and what I did wrong, or should have done differently, as we say in politically correct Minnesota…after living here for 15 years I’m still learning the terminology. Hopefully an update will be in the works soon.

For now, one last picture of the Caribbean Sea.