Dropping Him off, Into the Unknown

Tough few days here, in the process of Finding My Kid.

In his life, Martin has had three “drop-off” play dates. The first was more than a year ago, when I left him with one of my friends who has a typically developing son Martin’s age. Though my friend generously spared me the details of the 90-minute play date, I could tell at pick-up that Martin had played alone (and fussily) and ignored her son, who ended up resenting Martin and teasing him at school. The second drop-off play date was a couple months ago, when I left Martin at his friend Jonathan’s house. Jonathan, who has some special needs, is the oldest of four boys (I mentioned them last year), and two of his younger brothers had friends over also. I’m not sure how many kids were in the house. Maybe eight or nine. A bunch of adults were there, too, watching the Winter Olympics. Martin disappeared immediately upstairs with Jonathan. I had no trouble leaving; Jonathan’s mom knows Martin well, and with her houseful of boys, I think she could handle just about anything short of a nuclear explosion. Whatever Martin did while there, he was happy when I returned, and Jonathan was happy, and all was well.

Last Friday was the third drop-off play date. Martin was invited to go after school to the home of Manuel, his school chum who, despite some challenges, is more or less typically developing. Manuel’s grandmother and mother both urged me to let Martin stay alone. I did so, albeit with reservations that they might not understand the extent of Martin’s challenges. I left and texted my friend Stacey:

I just let Martin go to a drop-off play date and now I’m too nervous to do anything.

I don’t want to get back and find out that he freaked or had a meltdown or something, ugh.

I’m seriously hovering a few blocks away in my car in case I get a text.

As it turned out, my reservations were well-founded. Although the grandmother (who supervised) was kind and generous with her words, Manuel began complaining as soon as I returned to retrieve Martin. Manuel said Martin hadn’t listened. Martin had hit him with the sword. Martin was running into the street. Martin didn’t want to play his games. And so on. And so forth. I could see for myself that Martin was hyperactive and agitated. I thanked Manuel and his grandmother for the play date and hustled Martin to the car. How did he think the play date went? I asked. So-so, he responded. Some good and some bad.

From Manuel’s perspective, I have to believe, the play date was more bad than good. We didn’t see Manuel again until Monday at school pick-up, when he rejected Martin’s overtures to play, for which his grandmother was apologetic. Tuesday, Martin appeared sad when I picked him up from school. (At that time, Manuel was trying to play handball with the rowdier boys, an activity in which Martin shows no interest.) Martin refused to disclose anything that might be making him sad. More than an hour later, when I was dropping him at church for Kids’ Klub, he said, “Why didn’t anyone want to play with me at recess?” I asked a few questions and learned that Manuel, Lucas, and the two classmates who usually talk Minecraft with him all said no when Martin asked them to play.

Manuel liked playing with Martin before Friday afternoon. Thereafter, not so much.

If I want to appease myself, I have plenty reasons why the Friday play date went poorly. For example:

>    Manuel’s grandmother had invited Martin specifically to play video games. Martin was so much looking forward to the video games; Manuel has a gaming system that Martin thinks he might want for his birthday, and video games are one arena in which Martin feels comfortable with—equal to?—other kids. As it turns out, the family is half-packed to move, and some cable required for the video gaming system had gone missing. No video gaming occurred.

>    Martin expected to play with just Manuel. When he arrived, Manuel suggested that they follow his usual practice of meeting two other friends as they got off the school bus. Martin knows the other two boys and agreed readily to include them, and in the end they stayed only 15 minutes. Still, their presence created another change in plans.

>    Martin’s palate expander was falling out again. The darned thing was hanging, detached, on one side. Martin kept trying to reattach that side, and he could barely speak. The entire device finally detached during the play date.

>    Manuel is moving next month. Martin is full of anxiety about this. Anxiety, in Martin, can manifest as anything from confusion to silliness to defiance.

In the end, my excuses don’t matter much. The Friday event went poorly because Martin couldn’t manage to play well with others. We still have work to do on social skills.

Or do my excuses matter? How much mischief did the anxiety cause? Last night I met with Martin’s psychologist. I mentioned the play date debacle, and why I thought Martin might have had more trouble than usual. The psychologist said, “That explains these pictures he’s been creating.” She showed my two sheets. On the first, Martin had drawn a car driving away, with Manuel inside and Martin outside yelling, “Manuel!!!!!!!” On the second sheet, Martin had drawn the outline of Florida (where Manuel is moving), a car packed and ready to depart, and Martin and Manuel saying goodbye to each other.

I wish something could be easy for my kid. Anything at all.

A New Era

Today, Martin got braces on his teeth. He’s nine years old, almost 10. His permanent teeth haven’t all arrived, yet. We’ve known for years that braces would be in his future. His teeth are all over the place. They started with gaps and have pushed farther outward with his habit of pressing the front teeth against stainless-steel straws and drinking-glass rims.

Still, the decision to get braces now did not come easy. (As if any decision came easily, in Autismrecoveryland.) Some parents in my circles have complained of regressions and/or adverse reaction to the materials when their children started orthodontics. Martin is still growing. On the other hand, we understand that corrective orthodontics may help with Martin’s lingering pronunciation difficulties. (From Martin, “three” emerges as “free.”) We’d also like to have as much treatment accomplished as possible before he enters middle school.

I myself work bulky braces—those horrendous old-fashioned brackets attached to metal bands that wrapped around the teeth, including the front teeth—from age nine to age 13.

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Sorry for the poor resolution of this photo. I had to search the internet to find evidence that these types of braces existed, once upon a time. This is how my mouth looked for four-and-a-half years.

I am relieved that orthodontics have evolved at least enough to spare Martin that ordeal. After some research, Adrian and I decided on orthodontics with the Advanced Light Force (ALF) appliance, which apparently utilizes the jaw’s own growth patterns. Martin’s had the ALF palate expander for several months already. Several troublesome months. At first his fingers constantly found their way into his mouth, and the delicate device popped out. One was damaged in the process and required an expensive replacement. We forged ahead nevertheless. The palate expander is back in his mouth, and now brackets are attached.

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Also not the best photo! Martin was in no mood for a photo session after getting his brackets. Still, it is plain to see that he’s going to have a more comfortable time of orthodontics than I did.

Starting orthodontics reminds me that, physically, my little boy is verging on pre-teen. Though he’s still nine, his size-medium (“US 10-12”) pants are revealing glimpses of his ankles. I’m getting rid of t-shirts weekly because they no longer reach his waistband. The daily grind of autism recovery can make the days feel long and slow; the realization that childhood won’t last forever comes upon me quickly.

Difficult Come, Easy Go

Two years ago, I wrote my only post ever titled in all-caps: “MARTIN MADE FRIENDS.” I described how Martin finally managed to make friends in a scenario not arranged by adults: He rode his bicycle across the street to play with the twin girls who live there. I also admitted that the friend-making appeared limited to the specific situation—the same week, Martin bombed a play date and failed to speak to another neighbor girl. I predicted that making friends might be one of those skills that pops up, disappears, and then reemerges to stay.

The friendship with our twin neighbors faded, once other kids got involved. That fall, Martin transferred to the same school as those girls, and they joined the school-bus bullying fiasco. Martin tried sometimes to make friends at recess, but his classmates rejected him, and we were left with only playmates from his social-skills group and former special-education school.

Twenty-four (long) months later, fledgling friend-making is back. A month or two ago, as Martin and I were walking to the car at afternoon school pick-up, a boy ran up and said, “’Bye, Martin! See you tomorrow.” Martin replied, evenly, “’Bye, Manuel.”

“Martin,” I asked in the car, “who was that boy?”

“That’s my friend Manuel. He just moved here from Texas.”

“Is he in your class?”

“No, I met him at recess.” Martin said this matter-of-factly, as if he were constantly making new friends on the playground.

I asked Martin whether he’d like to invite Manuel for a play date. He replied that he would.

The next afternoon, I introduced myself to Manuel’s grandmother, who picks him up from school because his mother works. The grandmother said, “Oh, you’re Martin’s mom! Manuel talks about Martin. Let’s get them together.” We arranged a drop-off play date, at our house. The play date lasted two hours, which is a long time for Martin to hold it together and pay attention to another kid, but he managed, and the affair went pretty well (some bumps, resolved with agreement to watch a spooky video together). Thereafter, Martin reported playing with Manuel at recess several times. Once he said, sadly, that Manuel had decided to play soccer with some other boys instead. I suggested that Martin consider asking to play soccer too, but he said he was sure Manuel and other boys would say he couldn’t play. The next day, however, Martin announced that he indeed asked to play soccer, and that the boys had said yes, and that he had played soccer. I was overjoyed.

Most recently, Martin invited Manuel to “bring a friend” day at his taekwondo school. I consider this Martin’s first self-generated, sustained friendship. Manuel is a cheerful and polite boy, slightly clumsy and overweight, in a mainstream classroom and receiving limited (very limited, by our standards) special-education services. I don’t envision him and Martin ever becoming the coolest kids on the playground. That’s fine by me. Adrian and I were hardly cool kids, either.

Martin plays Minecraft on his iPad. Back in February, he asked me to buy him a particular Minecraft book he’d seen two classmates reading. I did so gladly, because Martin hates reading, and I’m happy for anything that gets him looking at words. Then Martin asked for a plush Minecraft zombie, and then for a plush Minecraft baby zombie. I hesitated, as Martin is nine years old and doesn’t need any more stuffed animals, but relented on the basis that the Minecraft theme might be a way to connect with other kids. I made the right choice: Martin’s teacher and behaviorist both said that a couple boys from class asked Martin to play with his zombies, and subsequently that the three of them were sitting together talking Minecraft at lunch and snack time. Martin himself said, excitedly, that he’d played “zombie chase” at recess with his “friends.” His request for the plush toys appears to have been calculated, for the purpose of attracting positive attention. Good work.

Martin also has reported that playing more with Lucas. Martin has known Lucas since fall 2016, when they shared a desk, and we’ve attempted play dates with him before, without too much success. Now Martin says the two of them have invented a game that involves hanging upside-down on the playground slide and yelling, “Help me!” (Um, okay . . . .)

In sum, over the last couple months, Martin has cultivated a playground repertoire. He plays with Manuel, he engages in Minecraft-related activities with classmates, or he hangs out on the climbing equipment with Lucas. When none of those options is available, Martin says, he sits and reads a Minecraft book. Last year he spent virtually every recess alone on the swings. The swings have been removed due to ongoing construction at Martin’s school. I was scared of what that removal could mean for recess, but he seems to be weathering the storm. He’s made a few friends.

And now—just a few months after moving here, Manuel’s family has decided to leave. The cost-of-living in our area is too high, Manuel’s mother says, and they aren’t able to make ends meet.

Martin is losing his first real, independently found friend. He’s crushed.

So are we. Adrian asked me, “Could we lend them money? Help pay for their apartment? Anything?” He wasn’t serious, of course. We can’t go around sponsoring families to make sure Martin has friends.

Even if we might do just about anything else.

On Working Whilst Biomed-ing, and Yes, I Just Made a Verb Out of Biomed

Last month, in response an earlier post titled “Current Issues,” I received this comment from a reader:

Long due note:

I’m a regular here. We are sailing the same long road with my daughter who is three-and-a-half. Your overwhelm me and encourage at the same time. I feel like you are a super mom to be doing all that you do. I’m shattered most of the time and come back to you for hope and guidance. I’m very curious to know where you started. I have gone back and searched the blog and couldn’t find a journey type of blog. Can you write about this when you can? When did you get diagnosed, what were your earliest challenges? Where did he stand verbally when he was diagnosed? I know every kid with autism is different, but I see Martin as hope and would like to get some perspective on where he started to ensure I’m keeping my recovery stories aligned.

One another point of interest is how has going back to work been? I took a brief break immediately after diagnosis and came back. I absolutely love my job and the benefits that come with it to enable us in this journey but guilty nevertheless for not making the choice to stay back.

Once again, to me you are the perfect mom I wish my daughter had. Some day I will get there.

I responded:

“You . . . encourage me at the same time.” Thank you so much for this note. I write this blog to encourage others, as well as to provide the truth about when recovery isn’t going the way I envisioned it should. If at any point I’ve come off as “the perfect mom,” I apologize. I am far from that. Like you, I’m struggling to find my way along this path. I have written from time to time about where Martin started, but for you I will put together a post about exactly where we were when he was diagnosed. Just last week, I happened to be cleaning my office and ended up reviewing his heart-wrenching initial neurodevelopmental report, so I will start from there.

This kind reader is getting two posts in response to her comment. The description of where Martin started requires more time, because in order to make sure I get it right, I want to review not only my contemporaneous notes of Martin’s behavior around diagnosis, but also those first neurodevelopmental evaluations. In this post, I will answer her easier question, “How has going back to work been?”

When Martin was born, I was not working in paid employment; I was on a break from my job with a large law firm in order to complete my MFA in fiction writing. I finished that degree and then returned to the large law firm, albeit part-time, in late summer 2009, when Martin was 14 months old. Primarily, I was able to work from home. (Despite the bad reputation of large, competitive law firms, mine was, and remained, accommodating to my scheduling needs and desire to work remotely. For that, I am grateful.)

By the following summer, when Martin turned two, Adrian and I realized that his behavior was “off” and trending farther from the norm. We received a tentative autism diagnosis in September 2010. The diagnosis was made official in April 2011, after two months of neuropsych evaluation. By that time, we had already started biomed. I continued working for the large law firm, frequently exhausted, until January 2012, when I finally quit in order to focus on Martin’s recovery.

I stayed away from paid employment until October 2014, when I switched direction entirely and took a part-time gig litigating for an upstart, boutique law firm. That’s still where I’m working today. The scrappy new venture suits me (current me) much better than the white-shoe firm where I spent 13 years defending large corporations. Our little collection of lawyers represents non-profit organizations and consumers, in the areas of food safety (including pesticide residue), protection of farmed animals, greenwashing, and keeping toxins out of household products. My hours are, generally, flexible, and most of my work can be done from home; I commute only once or twice per week to our offices in Brooklyn. On those days, a caregiver picks Martin up from school and handles after-school activities, dinner, supplements/antimicrobials/etc., and bedtime. Also, Adrian and I employ a housekeeper, who comes for a couple hours each weekday morning to take care of laundry, the kitchen, and cleaning.

Despite those facts, I regret to inform you—here, I neither request nor think I deserve sympathy—that I have reached the depressing conclusion that it is not possible to do complete biomed and also work full-time, or half-time, or any more than minimal part-time. At least it is not possible for me, at 45 years old and needing the sleep that I lacked for the first years of Martin’s recovery. Although I have household help and childcare assistance, the tasks that still fall upon me include sourcing (in some cases, growing) clean food, cooking, baking snacks and desserts, trial-and-error with Martin’s diet, ordering and tracking and administering supplements and antimicrobials, coordinating doctor appointments and recovery-focused activities, research, and (this I consider important) facilitating quality time for Adrian and Martin. Regarding Adrian and Martin, I like them to be able to go to the movies or go shopping or visit a restaurant together and feel as typical as possible. Preparation for these activities entails a lot of checking menus on-line and packing snacks and sending activities like books, etc. (No, Adrian does not help with these tasks. Read this post.)

On a school day, I get up at 5:40 to heat and package lunches, prepare breakfast, organize and administer pills and drops, and shepherd Martin’s snail-pace preparation for school. Martin’s after-school activities—which include taekwondo, chess club, music lessons, psychologist visits, social-skills play group, and neurofeedback—can feel all-consuming, even before adding homework, with which he needs guidance. I keep Martin busy, because he still doesn’t have enough friends for regular play dates, and when his hands are idle he’s mostly whining for his iPad. Martin’s schedule means that, unless someone else is handling after-school activities, I have time only for finishing up the last parts of dinner preparation. Any minutes remaining after Martin is in bed I dedicate to cleaning the kitchen and prepping for breakfast, baking snacks if we are running low, putting together Adrian’s lunch for the next day, and if I’m lucky, watching a show or the news with Adrian.

Given all that, unless someone else is on duty after school, I have exactly six hours “free” per day, the time between when I drop Martin off at school and when I pick him up. During that time I go to the gym (often, this is aspirational), shower, grocery/food/farm shop, get dinner mostly prepared, set appointments, research treatments and diet, blog, volunteer time for the special-education PTA and church, and—work. Many days, not much time gets left for work. Many weeks, I try to cram all the lawyering into the one or two days I’m able to go to the office. Furthermore, when work, by necessity (lawyers don’t always have control over their schedules), spills into “Martin” time—say, when I have to take a conference call from a playground, or an emergency project precludes me from completing reading exercises—the guilt becomes oppressive. Why, I ask myself, do I even bother working? Why, when I am within the very lucky minority of biomed parents whose spouses earn enough to cover expenses, do I sacrifice any of Martin’s due for my own selfish craving for a life apart from autism recovery?

Around Christmastime, I sat down with the chairman of our little law firm and told him I need to reduce my work even more and, to the extent possible, restrict my activities to writing projects that can be anticipated in advance, in order to keep my schedule regular. The conversation followed upon a difficult November and December, during which I oversaw document discovery, dealt with witnesses and clients, prepared our office for a contentious mediation, and traveled. I began the conversation, “I think you know I’m done for.” I’ve been mostly successful, since then, at reducing the workload and increasing predictability, but it remains a struggle. The chairman wants more from me; I enjoy the intellectual challenge and the opportunity to think about something other than, say, Lyme disease and vision therapy. Still, I have been given the tremendous opportunity to let Martin’s recovery take precedence. That gift must be honored.

So there you have my ugly truth. Despite a supportive husband, a housekeeper, competent assistance with childcare, and an employer that understands my need for flexibility, I have trouble working even part-time.

Dear reader, you think I am the perfect mom? I look at my church friend G—, who fully recovered the oldest of her five children while also working part-time, by necessity, to supplement the salary of her husband, a public servant. I look at G— and think, That’s the mother my son deserves, for I fall short in so many ways.

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Martin following his cousin up the mountain (no path required), Triberg im Schwarzwald, Germany.

Searching the Storm for Silver Linings

It’s 6:53 a.m. I’m sitting on the commuter train to Manhattan, where I will transfer to a subway to my office. The train, which was scheduled to depart at 6:45 a.m., has not left the station (our community is the train’s origin), because a door is stuck open. Here we sit, waiting.

This morning, the train feels like a metaphor about Martin’s recovery: All ready to go, everything operational, until something unexpected jams the trip.

Martin talks a lot these days, and he has no filter, and it’s getting him into hot water with children and adults alike. Here are the texts I received yesterday from the behaviorist at Martin’s school (edited for length and clarity):

Problem this week was really filtering. I did take Martin out of class today. He was telling some boys on the carpet they were dead. Boys said stop. Teacher told Martin not to say that, it is not funny. He said yes it is and repeated laughing. She then asked him to move his seat and come sit by her (class was on the carpet). He told her no and continued to laugh and repeat.

At that point I stood up and told him to come with me to the hallway. He said please no. I just gestured and he came. I spoke to him sternly outside.

I told him no more trying to be funny. He is saying hurtful things. I typed up the “hurtful things” he said this past week and went over them with him. The speech teacher will do that as well.

[Here she forwarded me a photo of the write-up of “hurtful things” Martin has said. The worst was telling a girl she should not be in the school because of the color of her skin. Martin doesn’t believe that (I hope). He’s been perseverating all month on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his accomplishments. I’m guessing that he interpreted his comment as funny based on the absurdity of past discrimination. Still, hearing that Martin had utter such a remark sent my emotional state tail-spinning.]

The aide who covers specials also made a very good observation. She said some of the boys who play sports together are very friendly and in gym they purposely bump into each other, play footsies, etc. Martin sees this behavior and then of course when he tries to execute it does so in an inappropriate fashion or at an inappropriate time.

So the boys are joking around. Martin observes this and then doesn’t understand why when he does it it’s not right.

Yesterday, at church Kids’ Club, I heard Martin yelling, during kickball or some other game in the gym, “Raise your hand if you’re native!” He meant Native American. The term came up this week, when Martin asked me why Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon are Canadian territories instead of provinces, and I tried to discuss former European colonies versus territories with more First Nation and Inuit influence. On some level, I know that Martin is genuinely curious about the relationship between native and colonizing populations. On a more immediate level, I am horrified that the expression of his curiosity is demanding to know who among his church peers has native heritage.

I’m at my office now. That commuter train I was sitting on—it got cancelled. The maintenance crew couldn’t fix the door. All passengers, including me, had to gather their belongings and catch the next train, scheduled 34 minutes later. The business call I was planning to take form my office at 8:00 a.m. had to be rescheduled. The later train, of course, was crowded and uncomfortable.

But at least I had a seat; by the second stop, onboarding passengers were standing in the aisles. At least I waited the extra half hour inside a train; passengers at all subsequent stops were standing outside, in the cold, on the platforms.

At least I had a home to come from, and a job to go to.

At least Martin is talking, and attending school.

One Strike, Almost a Second Strike, and a Continuation

We had the talk with Martin.

Or at least we attempted the talk.

I’m talking about the talk described in my last post.

That talk. The one in which we discuss with Martin how he really is different from other kids.

When Adrian and I met with Martin’s psychologist, she didn’t advocate for revealing Martin’s diagnosis (“ADHD with social-pragmatic language delay”). Instead, the said the better approach might be to talk with Martin in terms of what he’s good at (say, memorizing facts, or learning geography), what he’s pretty good at (say, math), and what still gives him trouble (say, paying attention, or knowing what people mean when they interact). Then we could point out how everyone has a third category: Everyone has trouble here and there.

Adrian and I, strategizing, decided to raise the topic when we went out to dinner Sunday evening. That was my idea. Martin gets nervous when we ask to speak with him at home, because he thinks he’s in trouble. We eat Sunday dinner in a restaurant nearly every week, Martin feels comfortable in that setting, and we make him talk with us anyway, in order to practice manners and to reduce time looking at an iPad or iPhone screen, which is what he’d prefer to be doing. Sunday afternoon, I made paper charts with three columns:

  1. “Things I’m not so good at.”
  2. “Things I’m pretty good at.”
  3. “Things I’m very good at.”

There was a chart for each of us. I thought we could take the focus off Martin by discussing, first, my and Adrian’s weaknesses. After we ordered, I distributed the charts, presenting them as a “fun family activity.” Into column 1, on my chart, I put music, not being anxious, being on time, and paying attention. Into column 2, I put talking to friends, meeting new people, sports, and cooking. Into column 3, I put math, taking written tests, and writing. (Feel free to dispute whether “writing” belonged in my “very good” column.) Adrian admitted that he stinks at soccer, cooking, and being patient, said that he’s pretty good at speaking English (not his native language) and singing, and claimed to be very good at reading and being on time. I struggled to make out most of what Adrian wrote, so I grabbed his chart and added “writing legibly” to the “not so good” column.

Martin went straight for column 3, “very good at”: taekwondo (debatable), skiing (getting there), drums (still figuring out), and spelling (no doubt). In column 2, he included reading (I agree, if we mean straight-up reading, and not reading comprehension) and being patient. Then he stopped, before getting to column 1, “not so good at.” He asked me what he’s not so good at. I replied based directly on something he’d previously told me. “Remember how you told me other kids have better handwriting? So maybe something you’re not that good at is coordination.” “What’s ‘coordination’?” “Coordination is being able to write neatly, or move without bumping into things, and stuff like that. Daddy also doesn’t have much coordination.” “How do you spell ‘coordination’?” “What do you think?” “C-O-O-R-D-I-N-A-T-I-O-N.” (Because, spelling.) He wrote “coordination,” then added “basketball.”

I thanked Adrian and Martin for filling out their charts and began the soliloquy I’d rehearsed, about how everyone has skills that come easy and tasks that make them struggle. I completed less than a sentence before Martin interrupted me to ask, “Is anyone going to see these lists?” I said no, the lists were just for our family to see. Martin flipped his chart face-down and said, “I think we should put these away in case a waiter sees.” I gathered the charts and tucked them into my purse, then resumed speaking. Martin interrupted again, “I think maybe the waiters can hear you.” I promised to speak more quietly. He said, “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Adrian spoke up. “I think maybe Martin would rather have this conversation at home. Is that right, Martin?”

“Yes. At home.”

Strike one.

We got home late (by nine-year-old standards). I did Martin’s supplement routine and got him into bed. Adrian joined, and we restarted the discussion. As soon as I got to the part about everyone having struggles, Martin declared, with finality, “I’m not good at coordination,” then tried to change the subject. I, ever tenacious, suggested other struggles, again from his own prior statements, like his eyes wandering from the page or understanding what peers mean when they speak. Martin said, “I don’t want to talk about this.” I tried to convince him to have the conversation, that discussing strengths and weaknesses helps us understand ourselves. He rolled over and buried his face in a pillow.

It looked like we were headed for strike two, so I threw a Hail Mary. (Apologies for switching sports in my metaphors. I was going to say that I swung blindly, but that’s hardly a way to avoid a strike.) I said, “Do you remember when you said that you’re not a normal kid? Well, no one is a normal kid. There’s no such thing as a normal kid. Every kid has strengths and weaknesses.”

Martin turned his head enough to look at me from the pillow. “No one is normal?” he asked.

“Nope, no one. Even if you can’t see other kids’ weaknesses, they still have them.”

Martin shoved his face back into the pillow, but I could see him nodding in agreement. Good enough. Adrian and I said our goodnights and left.

This is destined to be an ongoing conversation, we decided. We must continue encouraging Martin to discuss his differences and how they affect him. I’m also questioning the wisdom of not revealing his diagnosis. In my head, I’m pursuing a conversation with Martin that opens this way: “Martin, have you ever heard of ADD? It’s a condition that affects a person’s ability to concentrate and pay attention. It’s not the person’s fault. If a person has ADD, her or she can treat the condition and make it better. You have ADD. It’s not your fault. You take all these pills to help make the ADD better.” I’m not sure where that will go, and I have yet to run the idea by Adrian.

The deep, meaningful conversation I hoped to be describing in this post hasn’t happened. So, alas, I need to end this post the same way as the last:

Stay tuned.

Time to Tell

In my last post, I wrote this:

[Martin] even said to me, before Christmas, “Mommy, do you remember when I used to be real shy and have trouble talking to people? That’s getting better. Now I can talk to people.”

By the way, in the seven years since he was diagnosed, Adrian and I have never told Martin that he has, or had, autism. I guess maybe we’re going to call his spectrum disorder “shyness.” I can live with that, at least for now.

This week, Martin followed up, in bed, during our “little chat” (which has become a nightly ritual). He said, “I need help with being shy again.” I asked what he meant, since he’s been doing so well talking to people. He replied, “I’m not doing it right. They don’t answer back.” I asked, “Do you mean how kids sometimes ignore you?” I’ve seen that happen, at school or taekwondo. Martin, in his eagerness, calls out, “Hi, Abby!” or, “Hi, Caleb!” and waves awkwardly as the other child pretends not to hear or makes a face and looks away. Kids can be despicable. Martin replied, “I said thank you to the waiter and he didn’t say ‘You’re welcome’ or anything. I need someone to help me do it right.” So in this instance Martin appeared to be talking about when he issues a comment without making sure he has the recipient’s attention. Most likely he had his face buried in an iPhone or the menu when he said thank you, and the waiter failed to realize he’d been spoken to.

Our little chat about shyness came on the heels of Martin declaring, the previous day, “I’m not a normal kid!” When pressed, he said that his eyes wander. I asked if he meant how he can have trouble looking people in the eyes when they speak. Martin’s eye contact during speech, for what it’s worth, is much improved. Eye contact no longer seems to make him uncomfortable; these days, instead of avoiding eye contact, he just seems to forget to look at his conversation partner. Martin said, “No, like when I’m trying to read. I want to look at the words but my eyes wander away.” Ah. An attention issue.

I relayed both conversations to Adrian. Then I asked him whether we want to reconsider the decision not to tell Martin he has a diagnosis. Together, we decided that the time has come to tell Martin that, indeed, something makes him different from other kids. We reason:

  1. His current diagnosis is ADHD with social/pragmatic language delay. Right or wrong, people find “ADHD” less scary than “autism” (in case Martin starts talking about his diagnosis).
  2. Previously, hearing that he has a disability might have been disheartening. Now, by contrast, we can point out that talking, fitting in, and acting like the other kids are getting easier—Martin has said as much, himself—and will continue to improve.
  3. His self-esteem needs a boost. He sees the discrepancies now, sees himself on the fringe. He needs to know that he’s not a bad kid; he has a body invader called ADHD that we are working on evicting.

We’ve got an appointment tomorrow morning with Martin’s psychologist, for her advice on how to tell Martin, which we hope to do as soon as this weekend. Right now the conversation looms large. On the other hand, a tiny part of me thinks Martin will respond with something like, “Yeah. I already know that.”

Stay tuned.