Quote of the Last Six Days, and an Associated Analogy to a Tree

Six days have passed since I began my occasional series of helpful quotes, so this post I shall declare neither the quote of the day nor the quote of the week, but the quote of the last six days.

These are lyrics from “Shaking the Tree,” which I believe first was released on Youssou N’Dour’s 1989 album The Lion and then became a sort of title track for Peter Gabriel’s 1990 compilation Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats.

You had to be so strong
And you do nothing wrong
Nothing wrong at all
We’re gonna to break it down
We have to shake it down
Shake it all around.

If you know the song and Peter Gabriel’s music, you may be thinking, hey, that song is about women’s empowerment, not autism recovery. As far as I know, that’s correct. It’s about women’s empowerment, and the tree is male oppression. Nevertheless, I’m going to say it can be useful in the struggle against autism.

Allow me to confess that, although the sun has broken the clouds occasionally (church last weekend was a nice shine), this has been a crap few weeks. Really. I’m putting on a brave face, but things are not going well. Martin has no attention. His eye contact is off. He’s echolalic. He’s been shuffling his feet instead of heel-to-toe walking. And he’s exhausted all the time.

Several days ago, Martin’s HANDLE therapist, Katie, sent me an email responding to the September 5 post in which I described recovery as “beat[ing] the daylights out of Martin.” Katie said she was concerned that we may be trying too much at once with Martin, instead of approaching his recovery gently, which is the best path to healing. Her concern is valid; indeed, I plan to post later this weekend on the topic of gentleness. Fortunately, Martin’s excellent Track Two doctor also agrees that moving slowly is most effective. Just yesterday she and I consulted about the crap time we’re having, and she tweaked Martin’s supplementation/detoxification regimen—for the time being, doing less.

Which brings us to Peter Gabriel and the tree. “We’re gonna to break it down / We have to shake it down.” In this analogy, autism is the tree, and Martin is the garden that’s been invaded. I aspire to get rid of the tree. One cannot simply push over something so massive and entrenched as a tree. Hacking away with an axe creates problems, too: It leaves the stump and the roots, still sucking nutrients from the soil and hogging all the other plants’ space. No, to succeed we have to shake it down.

How does shaking down a tree work? By building momentum, offsetting the push to against the push fro and thereby moving with ever more power. Eventually the tree will topple, extracting its own roots from the ground. But, disrupt the side-to-side motion—by deviating from the straight path, for example, or failing to keep pushing at the right moment—and the process stops. The tree settles back into place, trunk vertical.

That may be what has happened these past few weeks. Something has disrupted the push-pull toward recovery. Perhaps we are doing too much, as Katie suggested, thrusting one direction without respecting the need to rock the tree. Or perhaps some supplement or exercise or change in routine doesn’t agree with Martin and has disrupted the motion. Whatever it is, autism seems to have settled back into place, plunk in the middle of the lush garden that is Martin.

It can feel, when this happens, like we’re starting from scratch. True, we do have to start anew, in terms of shaking that tree again. But although shaking it down may still take a while, it gets easier every time we start, because the roots have already been loosed.

Autism may think it’s settled back in, but it no longer has the same hold on Martin. I’ve seen the progress we’ve made. I’ve witnessed where we were before this slump. I know we’re getting to the core.

The tree is vulnerable.

So it’s been a crap few weeks. It’s time to muster my determination and start shaking again, steadily, persistently, yet gently. After all, the soil in which this tree grows is my son. I’d like to keep it as intact as possible.

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