Friday, July 7, 2006

Daniel Isn't Talking, by Marti Leimbach

A friend of mine gave me an advance copy of this book this past spring. It intrigued me right away, but I decided to save it for a summer vacation read. The payoff for delayed gratification is always sweet, and the indulgence of reading for pleasure for the first time all year was delicious indeed.

However, there was a certain factor I didn't count on. The simple honesty of the author allowed for both humor and poignance. It evoked every feeling I experienced when my own son was diagnosed just over eight years ago. Very effective, yes, but not exactly the ticket for a vacation diversion.

"I am alert to everything, to the gentle rising of Daniel's chest, the warmth of his breath upon my cheek. I watch him sleep and I have only one wish for him. A wish that should never need be: that he was normal. Just normal. Just an average child. Not a superstar, not a genius, just a kid." ~page 70

Just like Melanie, the book's heroine, I remember that longing so very keenly. I remember weeping over my child as he slept, mourning the loss of my dreams for his future. Unlike Melanie, it took me a good deal more time to find my way into building new dreams. More time to learn not to trust every so-called expert. More time to step out of denial, through depression, and get to work.

This book is a universally true picture of all the components of that dreaded diagnostic phase. It will bring its readers who have never been touched directly by autism as close as they would ever want to get to feeling the terrible desperation that comes of watching your child's personality be stolen away. This is a story that took courage to write and is full--from the first word to the last--of unflinching integrity.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fun, Sun, and Seagulls

I confess to not being overly fond of seagulls. Austin, however, is completely enthralled with them. He has practically worn out the seagull section of his birdbook and has perused the internet for every piece of info he could find on the creatures. As we departed on a vacation to the shore, the seagulls were what he most looked forward to seeing. He can identify by sight or sound each type of gull. Not only that, but he can imitate their calls with suprisingly convincing accuracy. This then, is the engaging side of his disorder.

Austin's favorite birding website is Cornell's All About Birds.

Then there is the other side--the side I've mainly stopped worrying about explaining to strangers. This is the side that sent Austin screaming when we tried to persuade him to ride the kiddie bumper cars. This is the side that compelled him to lock himself in the hotel bathroom because he couldn't tolerate all our "blabberdy-blabbering" (known to us as conversation). This is also the side that had him loudly calling the two women in the pool with us "wimpy donkeys".

But, being the parent of a child with autism has taught me to celebrate the smallest gains and improvements. Austin may not have gone on the bumper cars, but he did get (twice) on a different ride in which the cars go around a small track. He may not go in for conversation, but he managed to write a three-sentence postcard to his grandparents. And, for the first time ever, he did not sob inconsolably all the way home because vacation was over. And, for me, that is the best souvenir ever.

Carter (left) and Austin (right) check out some African penguins.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bits and Pieces

Austin does not like me to sing. It's ironic, really. When he was only 3, virtually the only way I could get him to listen to me was to sing everything. I was just 27 then--a young bewildered mother of one--and I would spontaneously compose such engaging masterpieces as "It's Time to Get Dressed" and "Come to the Table for Dinner". It was my ace in the hole if I wanted his attention. These days, though, my singing is generally met with contortionist ear-covering which, since that is not sufficient to block all sound, is accompanied by his own loud humming, talking, screaming, whatever it takes to obliterate the sound of my voice.

We have done two rounds of
Auditory Integration Training
with Austin with mild,
though significant, results.

My once little boy is now 11 (and a half). He's already a belligerent pre-pubescent with a very strong personality. But I can match him, being now a seasoned 36-year-old mother of two. My youngest, Carter, is now six and blissfully neuro-typical (that's PC for "normal" for those uninitiated of you). My boys are inseparable, a bond I indulge by homeschooling them both.

My days are spent enmeshed in the business of education and therapy. This is not what I thought my life would be. When Austin was born, I fully intended to pursue some self-aggrandizing career once he was old enough to enter the school system. In my life as an only child, I had never really had occassion to learn the virtue of self-sacrifice. It still doesn't go down easy every day and the results aren't always pretty. But I'm in there with my sleeves rolled up, hacking my way through the lot that chose me.

So, I will let this serve as the barest of introductions to my world. The rest you will have to get in bits and pieces as I share my unexpected journey with you.