If you've read this blog at all, you know I generally try to keep things positive. The reasons for this are many, but for one thing I have no interest in complaining about my son in particular, or autism in general. But there are tough times, and in the interest of keeping it real, I wanted to discuss this last holiday break for Thanksgiving. There were some wonderful moments and memories, to be sure, but it would be disingenuous to say it was all puppy dogs and lollipops.

This break in schedule — any break in schedule — really messes C up. Routine is his friend, and even a short break really drives him bonkers. This resulted in five days of complete hyperactivity. He was up early — 4 am or thereabouts — and going going going. This means no rest for us. At all. He has to be watched every moment.

Why? These five days were filled with jumping on furniture; writing on furniture; chewing furniture. Putting things in the oven — including an iPod. Flushing foreign objects down the toilet (plumber's on his way today). Stomping on the floor (thankfully our neighbors are very tolerant. Or hearing impaired). Hooting and yodeling at the top of his lungs. Putting gooey things found on the sidewalk in his mouth. Unable to sit and focus for almost any quiet activity. Perseverating on times and dates to the exclusion of nearly anything else. Running into the middle of a busy street for the fun of it. Just going going going.

Then there was the isolation: living in a state of basically always being overwhelmed, we never managed to organize anything at our home, and we weren't comfortable inviting ourselves to someone else's home. Friends say, "It's okay, just bring him along! It'll be fine!" But that means we can't enjoy ourselves at all: we'd have to watch C like hawks, follow him everywhere in a foreign environment (another stress inducer for him, and for us). And, frankly, it's enough to pay a plumber to fix our own toilet; we don't need to do it for someone else's, too. So, going to someone else's home was out — even if we'd been invited.

Normal routines were busted up. Our go-to sensory gym was closed for the holidays (just the time we'd need it most, alas). Social skills class was canceled for the same reason. And to top it off, the Department of Ed scheduled an evaluation for C on Monday, further destroying any semblance of routine. This last item really sent him over the edge: he looks forward to school, and to Mondays in particular, because that is when classroom jobs are assigned. These jobs are very important to C, and so he was utterly distraught and couldn't stop perseverating on it. (My wife finally had the great idea to have C help write an email to his teacher telling her what jobs he wanted for the rest of the week, calming him quite a bit.)

All this acting out was hard on C's twin, too. C's behavior stresses him out, and then he begins to act out, too. Thankfully, as he gets older, M is better able to understand and deal, but it's still touch-and-go.

Whew. Getting that off my chest feels good.

So, gratitude. Yes, there were moments of gratitude, too. I'm grateful that the weather was incredibly nice, allowing me to get C outside for extended periods. I'm grateful to my wife who made a wonderful Thanksgiving meal despite it all. I'm grateful to C for taking one tiny bite of the meal — sweet potatoes with marshmallows. I'm grateful to M for how he's learning to accept his twin. I'm grateful to get back to our routine...until the holiday break, I guess.

But most of all, I'm grateful for our health and general well-being when so many are suffering in unimaginable ways.

Thanks for letting me vent.

A chat with geese

C with the geese "Let's see the ducks," C says. It's actually more of a demand, and it's the same each time we're at this particular playground, usually after he's had his fill of the cacophony and chaos of other children.

We walk a couple hundred yards down a gentle hill to the pond where the "ducks" are. Actually, they're mostly geese with a few ducks and an occasional swan thrown in for good measure, but "ducks" is C's shorthand.

The waterfowl congregate in the water before C, hoping he'll throw some bread in the water as most other people do. Instead, C orates.

C orating before geese

Unable or unwilling to talk with the other children in the playground, he has no problem speaking to the birds floating before him. "Hello, ducks!" he says brightly.

He'll pick one out and ask, "What days do you want to be line leader?" (He's obsessed with being line leader at school, so naturally he assumes everyone else — including the "ducks" — must be as well.)

Sometimes he'll give one of them a name. On this particular day he christened one, "Duck Bird Fundun." Although the goose doesn't know it, this is quite an honor: "Fundun" is C's pretend surname, so that makes the bird a member of his family.

C with geese

When no breadcrumbs are offered, the geese eventually grow impatient and start to drift away. Concerned he's losing his audience, C picks up some bits of rock and bark and throws them in the water. He's pleased with his strategy as the geese swim back eagerly. He's not teasing them; he just assumes their joyful paddling and honking mean this is what they want. Upon realizing the ruse, the geese swim away for good, C staring at them slightly confused.


C in a playground with other children

Last night I pondered C's affection for the geese. He's not that fond of other animals; in fact, he wouldn't even go near a friendly, trained aid dog at a recent autism event. I think he likes the geese because they gather around him, but never get too close. They won't leave the bounds of the pond, and yet they swim just close enough to give him the sense of connection he desires. Push-pull. Engaged but at a distance.

Maybe if the children in the playground were a little more like the geese — willing to get close without intruding — they'd have better luck with C, too.

Phil, the barber

Phil cutting C's hair Doctors, dentists, barbers — none are going to get very close to C's head. He ducks and lurches, bobs and weaves like Ali. His anxiety and sensitivity are so profound, in fact, that dental work requires general anesthesia.

That's why we're so grateful for Phil.

Phil works at our local barbershop. He's a sturdy middle-aged man, taciturn except for a few words delivered with a Ukranian accent. He has deep-set blue eyes, close-cropped gray hair, and large hands that belie their fluid dexterity.

And he's the one stranger C lets near his head.

The first time C had his hair cut by Phil, I preemptively let him know that C was a little different and might be a tricky customer. Phil said only, "Yes, yes, I know," and got to work.

Well, C did his usual ducking and weaving, dodging and bobbing, but somehow through it all Phil was able to deliver a haircut. And not any haircut, but a damn fine haircut. Wherever C's head went, Phil's scissors followed, like a small bird relentlessly stalking elusive prey. He stayed cool through it all, even chuckling a bit at C's giggling and wiggling. (Quite different from another barber's running, muttering commentary about C's behavior.)

C, a couple of years ago, enjoying a post-haircut lolli

We've seen Phil several times, and C has grown quite comfortable with him — so much so that his antics are much more subdued now. Not reacting seems to be a winning strategy after all.

The best part, however, is Phil's obvious affection for C. As I said, he's a man of few words, but I see his smile broaden ever so slightly when C hops into his chair.

Phil still hasn't gotten near C's neck with the trimmer, though. Maybe next time.


Postscript: I started writing this post after our last visit to the barber. During that time, a few people shared a wonderful story about a barber who went to incredible lengths to give his young autistic customer a haircut. Here's to this barber, Phil, and all the other people who go the extra mile for our kids.

Feeling understood

C regards a painting C recently asked to go to the museum "to see the pretty pictures." Mind blown. So off we went.

In the first gallery, it became apparent he was less interested in the paintings themselves than when they were painted. He'd regard each painting for just a moment, then scrutinize the information tag posted nearby, before moving on.

"That one is 442 years old. This one is 377."

An older woman nearby seemed interested in his observations. With warmth she said, "He loves the dates, doesn't he!"

"It appears so," I said.

She smiled broadly and said, "Well that's lovely." Then she ventured, "His math is a little off, but it's wonderful to see someone so young interested in history."

"Oh, his math is right," I said. "You see, he insists it's 2167, not 2015. So this painting from 1790 is, in fact, 377 years old in his world."

Her smile faded momentarily, and then it returned with a slightly knowing tinge to it. "Ooooh, I seeeeee."


"Well, he's a very special little boy."

"Yes, he is. Thank you."

C hanging out at the museum

I used to feel compelled to tell people about C's autism. Now I rarely do, unless I think there's a valid reason for them to know.

But sometimes people just get it, and that's the best.

A drawing by a friend

Sean Gallagher is many things to our family: friend, confidante, supporter, neighbor...emergency contact! He's also one of the grownups in C's life who always takes him in: when Sean visits, he gets down on C's level and greets him with great affection and humor, and C loves him for it (as do we, of course). So I was incredibly honored when Sean asked if he could do a drawing of C. But then I was blown away when I saw the drawing itself: a sublime portrait of C singing. Gratitude aplenty. Thank you, Sean.

A drawing of C singing in the shower, by Sean Gallagher

To see more of Sean's work, visit his website.