Hugs, camps, books

Things have been hectic, thus fewer posts. I have been a bit more active over on Facebook; won't you join me there? In the meantime, just a couple quick notes.

C shows his brother some serious affection

We've been working with C to help him show his emotions in appropriate ways, in particular affection. It looks like it's working.

I took this photo just before a very tough morning. You see, it's summer break for the twins. This means some much-needed downtime for C, and day camps for M. As we dropped M off at his camp, C fell apart. He saw the kids doing a morning routine, playing, laughing. He was devastated that he couldn't stay with his brother, that he couldn't be part of the summer camp experience. Obviously, this isn't easy on us, either.

On the drive home, my wife and I chatted with him about how this wasn't possible just now, but hopefully soon. We try to be honest with him, but still protect his feelings. He gets it, even though he doesn't like it.

In other news, I just started reading the just-released and already critically-acclaimed NeurTribes by Steven Silberman. It's not just incredibly informative, it's a great read. I highly recommend it, but don't take my word for it:

NeuroTribes is a sweeping and penetrating history, presented with a rare sympathy and sensitivity. It is fascinating reading; it will change how you think of autism, and it belongs, alongside the works of Temple Grandin and Clara Claiborne Park, on the bookshelf of anyone interested in autism and the workings of the human brain.”

— Oliver Sacks, author of An Anthropologist On Mars and Awakenings

In March, Silberman gave a great TED Talk on the forgotten history of autism. Check it out if you haven't already.

That's it for now. More soon...hopefully.

Help Find Avonte Oquendo

avonte-billboard@2x For over a week now, Avonte Oquendo has been missing. He's 14, nonverbal, autistic. His family and community are devastated.

Avonte Oquendo wearing the same shirt he was in when he disappeared.

Electronic billboards in NYC show his photo above subway entrances; pleas for commuters to keep an eye out are broadcast over subway PA systems; and groups and individuals have begun posting flyers around the five boroughs.

And yet there's no sign of this handsome boy who walked out of his school October 4th. (No one at the school reported his disappearance for at least an hour.)

I hope Avonte comes home to his family soon.

C Loses a Friend

09-misha@2x We had to put our little cat Misha down today.

I adopted her about ten years ago from an agency who told me she was feral and might never be very friendly. Wrong: she was a complete love, especially toward the boys and, in particular, toward C.

For his part, C had developed a deep affection for Misha, and that's saying something because C doesn't usually take notice of other living creatures aside from his immediate family. When he was a baby, Misha would sleep near or even atop him. Otherwise a skittish cat, she never ran away from C despite the overwhelming noise and frenetic commotion that attends his presence.

Misha relaxing near a sleeping (and very young) C.

When C seemed so distant shortly after his autism diagnosis, he still took notice of Misha, often stopping to pat her on the head. Sometimes when he came upon her, he'd smile and say in a sing-song voice, "Meeeeeshaaaaa!"

I recently involved Colin in household tasks by asking him to feed the cats. He'd carry their bowls with pride, always giving Misha her bowl first. "Dinner, Misha!"

When she got sick, we began preparing the boys for the inevitable. C was devastated. Sometimes we underestimate him, we think to ourselves, "He won't get this." He did. He has. At points over the past few days, he's sobbed so uncontrollably that we thought he might run out of breath.

C, to me, is something of a guileless, pure spirit and Misha, being a somewhat feral cat by nature, was the same. I think he sensed that in her, and she in him, and they connected on that level.

Anyway, we've struck a deal: we told him we'll get another cat. Changing emotional gears as quickly as a Ferrari (or any typical four-year-old), C proclaimed, "I'm going to name her Scrappy!" (At one point he also suggested the name "31," which I think is pretty cool, too.)

A closing note to Misha: You will be missed. You were a sweet pet, a good companion, and most of all you made C very happy. For that last bit, I'll be eternally grateful.

A Friend In Need

Lewis P is in the hospital.

Who is Lewis P and how do I know this? He's a boy who goes to school with C, and he's also one of the first and only people C has ever mentioned to us. In fact, C has described him as "his friend," a proclamation so profound and surprising I don't think I could ever forget the name.

I asked C if he had played with him today. "No, Lewis P is at the doctor."

"He's not at school?"

"No, he's at the doctor."

C says a lot of unusual things, so I asked my wife about it. Her expression was grim. "Yes, I heard he was in the ICU."

So now there's this. A little boy I don't even know, but who has distinguished himself to me by being my son's first official friend, and now he's apparently in the hospital.

I don't know you, little Lewis, but I hope you will be back at school soon. There's a little boy I know who would like to have his friend back.

School, Separation, and Loss

Waiting for the school bus C waits for the school bus.

It's not been easy for me to accept that the twins are going to separate schools now. C seems fine with it, while M pleads with us to let him go to C's school. I guess it represents for me an undeniable divergence in their life paths. While I've come to accept that this is what's best, it still pains me.

Upon reflection I realized why: I lost my younger brother when I was just a little older than my boys are now. Despite my young age at the time, I've always felt the void left by his death.

I've had dreams where he's reappeared, sometimes as a grown man, others how I remember him last. His absence has been a fundamental part of my life's reality. Call it survivor's guilt or whatever you like, I know what it's like to lose a sibling (two, actually), so I have to remind myself that this isn't the same thing. My boys aren't losing one another. They're just spending a few hours a day apart.

Maybe the absence will bring them closer. Whatever the case, this is what has to be for now.