Action Plan

If last Thursday’s post worried you—and judging from the number of emails and texts I received, Friday’s post worried a lot of you—take heart. The events I described took place more than a month ago, and we’re still sallying forth.

That night, the night of Martin’s big disclosure, Martin cried some more in bed. Of the situation at school and on his bus, he said, “This has got to get better. Can you make this better?” We reassured him, repeated that he was brave and that we were proud of him for telling us what’s happening so that we can look for ways to help.

Once Martin fell asleep, Adrian and I convened for discussion. As upset as we were, we had to recognize that the dinnertime conversation was the most meaningful Martin had ever conducted. Adrian too had noticed the consistent eye contact and Martin’s determination to express himself, including how he’d pushed Adrian away instead of accepting a hug that might have ended the dialogue. Never before had Martin told us about social challenges, at least not directly.

Indeed, we saw progress. Martin wanted to play with other kids. Martin realized when he was rejected. Martin asked for help to remedy the situation.

But those positive aspects notwithstanding, we needed to take action. Immediately, I emailed the school principal and Martin’s teacher:

Principal C (also copying Teacher N to keep her in the loop)—

My husband and I need your help. We know Martin has a great team at school, especially Teacher N, and that you will be able to assist us in dealing with this situation.

We are having something of a crisis this evening with Martin. This afternoon he got off the bus looking very dejected. At the time, he would not tell me what was wrong. But he broke down during dinner tonight and said that all of the kids on front of the bus today (where he was sitting) pointed at him and said, “Stupid! Stupid! Martin is so stupid!” We asked him if this has happened before, and he told us that the kids on the bus have been calling him “weird” and “stupid” for some weeks now.

He went on to say that his classmates have been telling him that he is “unfriendly” or “weird,” and on some occasions have told him that no one likes him. He gave a lot of specific names of kids who say these things to him and, unfortunately, was not able to come up with one name of a kid who is currently being friendly to him. (We realize that Martin’s behaviorist has not been in the classroom that much this year, and that perhaps she is the one who should be catching these things.)

A lot came out this evening, and Martin cried the whole time. He said that no one will play with him on the playground, and will talk to him only to say they don’t want to play with him.

We told Martin that he is right to share these feelings with us, and that we will do everything we can to make it better. Before he went to bed, he asked, “Will there ever be a time when it is not like this?,” and then he asked us please to make it better as soon as we can.

Principal C, may I come and visit with you tomorrow (Wednesday) in order to talk this through and think about some strategies we can come up with to help the situation? I will stay home from work in order to do so. I have never seen Martin looking so down and so upset. He believes that he is completely friendless, and I think his self-esteem must be suffering.

As of tomorrow (Wednesday), he will be a walker, every day. I will deliver him to school and pick him up in the afternoons in order to prevent a repeat of what happened on the bus today.

We have been so happy Martin’s experience at school. I look forward to working with you to resolve this issue and help Martin move forward.

Thank you,

Martin’s Mom

Within ten minutes, the principal emailed back, inviting me to meet her the following morning, which I did, at 10:30 am. Remarkably, by the time I sat down in the principal’s office, the following events had occurred, which I relay second- or third-hand:

Martin, having been chauffeured to school by me, walked into his classroom and announced (to the teacher? to nearby students? to the wind? some details aren’t clear) that he was no longer going to be riding the school bus because the kids on the school bus are unkind to him. The teacher, aware of the situation from my email, asked, “Martin, is this something you want to discuss now?” Martin, apparently, said yes and proceeded to stand in front of the class and describe what the kids on the school bus had been saying about him, and that what they said wasn’t true, and that those kids just did not know him well enough.

Then, when Martin was done excoriating the bus riders, he continued speaking and addressed grievances with his classmates (none of whom ride the same bus). He repeated: “You say I’m unfriendly, but that’s not true. I’m trying to be friendly.” The teacher asked Martin how this made him feel. He said it made him feel bad, and sad, and not part of the class.

Once Martin’s diatribe was drawing to a close, the teacher asked Martin and his aide to go to the art room and retrieve some markers. “Class,” she asked those who remained, “did you have any idea Martin felt this way?” The kids shook their heads. One or two of the girls were crying.

An hour later, the principal passed Martin’s class as they walked to the music room. Martin signaled the principal and said, “I want to tell you what’s been happening,” and proceeded to speak once more about the bus.

I was happy to hear, from the principal, generalized agreement that we have a problem. She confirmed with my decision to take Martin off the school bus, saying we should focus our efforts on the classroom and the playground. As first steps, the principal committed (1) to see that the behaviorist visits Martin’s classroom more consistently (this has been an issue); (2) to check in with the teacher about any additional supports that might help; and (3) to increase playground supervision (from a distance, of course). Longer term, we agreed to convene a team meeting, which I would do through the school psychologist.

I left the principal’s office feeling troubled still but buoyed by her stated commitment to helping.

Coming next: How did that work out? Has school got better?

Polar Bear Under Siege

Studies have found widely varying rates of other psychiatric problems among people with autism, depending on the population studied and the methods used. Those co-occurring conditions include: depression (affecting 2 to 30 percent), ADHD (affecting 29 to 83 percent), OCD (1.8 to 81 percent), and other anxiety disorders (2.9 to 35 percent).

Look at the foregoing paragraph. Again, please. Now keep those statistics, disparate and divergent as they are, in mind as you read this post and the two or three posts that will follow.

Martin is in a general-education classroom for the first time. The other pupils don’t like him. We know.

Remember when I forecasted that language would come last? I was wrong. Aside from a lingering habit of pronouncing “th” as “f,” Martin’s phonology is solid. Semantically and syntactically, Martin comprehends and expresses himself at or above an age-appropriate level. His language is caught up, except for social/pragmatic language. What actually come last, it turns out, are social skills.

Adrian and I have been worrying about how the gap in social performance is affecting Martin’s self-esteem. Last month, we decided to have Martin start seeing a psychologist, to help him deal with feelings of rejection. I made the relevant inquiries with parents in town, and we were able to find a local practitioner who has significant experience with social anxiety and ASD/ADHD. Adrian and I met her first. We charted Martin’s course from birth (and outrageous unnecessary NICU) to present. We said Martin acts upbeat but we know he’s masking other emotions. I told her about the night Martin asked me whether it’s okay if no one likes him. The conversation with the psychologist made us sad, both me and Adrian. I’m pretty sure, because later I asked Adrian, “Did that conversation make you sad?”, and he replied, “That conversation made me sad.”

Martin visited the psychologist for the first time on a Monday evening. I brought him, and worked in the waiting area while he and the therapist met. At the end of the session, the doctor invited me in and showed me what Martin had created: A castle scene in which a hapless polar bear was beset by a crowd including dragons, knights, and several kitty-cats. The doctor made several statement/questions like, “The horse is the leader, and the unicorn is following, and the polar bear wants to go back inside?” Martin agreed with her. I surmised that her comments were made, at least partly, for my benefit, but if I was supposed to be following along, the doctor had wildly overestimated my powers of intuition.

The whole shebang, to me, seemed like get-to-know-you play, but—something happened. The psychologist unleashed a force. What it was, I don’t know. (Relatedly, who the hell was the polar bear supposed to be?) The next day, Tuesday, this ensued:

I met Martin at the school bus stop at 2:45 pm. He exited the bus and walked directly to me, without engaging other kids. That was usual. He also looked depressed. Really, really in the dumps. He stared at his feet as he walked. I asked, “Are you okay? Did something happen?” He replied, “Oh no, I’m fine,” and followed up with, “I had an excellent day at school. Let’s go home.” On the brief trip from the bus stop to the house, I asked a few more times whether he was upset. Martin continued to deny that anything had happened. I took him to taekwondo and to church Kids’ Klub. No mention of anything.

Adrian arrived home in time for dinner, so we three ate together. Adrian finished first, and then left the table to take a business call.

Martin asked, “Do you and Daddy think I’m weird?”

I replied, “I guess everyone is ‘weird,’ in some ways. We all do things in our own way, and that can seem weird to other people. What makes you ask?”

“Do you and Daddy think I’m stupid?”

“Good heavens, no! What makes you ask that question?”

Martin started to cry. He said, “The kids on the bus think I’m stupid.”

And then—whether because the psychologist unlocked a vault within Martin, or otherwise—stuff got real. Through his tears, Martin described his current social situation:

  • The kids in his class call him weird and unfriendly.
  • No one will play with him at recess.
    • Robert, whom Martin knows from church, was playing a game with friends. Martin asked Robert if he could join. Robert said no.
    • Kids run away when they see him coming.
    • A second-grader from another class seemed like he was going to accept Martin’s invitation to play, until one of Martin’s classmates ran over and said, “Don’t play with him! He’s the weird kid!”
  • Some weeks ago, when Martin got in trouble for telling a girl he was going to “kill” her (at the time, he provided no explanation why), it was because the girl had just said, “Martin, no one likes you.”
  • Even the young parishioners at church Kids’ Klub refuse to play with him.
  • As bad as all that is, the school bus is still worse. Every day the kids make fun of him, for months now. Even the kids he knows from bus stop participate in the bullying. The twins across the street participate. Kids from other classes and grades participate. The only kids who don’t tease him are kindergartner Marcus, third-grader Alice, and fifth-grader Stephanie. The only kid who ever will step in to stop the bullying is Stephanie.
  • This very afternoon, before Martin alit the bus looking so dejected, the kids had invented a chant: “Stu-pid! Stu-pid! Martin is so stu-pid!

Never before had Martin said any of this directly. As realities were pouring out, Adrian realized from his office what was going on and returned to the kitchen. He found me squatting next to Martin’s chair, with my hand on his arm, withholding my own tears as I tried to reassure and let him continue. Martin held court for more than 15 minutes. Twice Adrian tried to hug Martin, but Martin resisted, pushing Adrian away gently because he wanted to keep talking. The conversation was extraordinary. Martin held eye contact, consistently. He spoke clearly. He answered my questions: No, his aide didn’t hear mean things kids said; no, the bus driver never intervened; no, Stephanie hadn’t been able to stop the stu-pid! chant because she wasn’t on the bus this afternoon. Martin also expressed a shocking degree of self-realization and profundity. “They say I’m unfriendly,” he said, “but it’s not true. It’s just that I’m still learning how to be friendly.” “I know those kids are wrong. They just don’t know me well enough.” “The twins were nice when I first met them, and then they turned mean on the bus.”

Finally, as I listened to what Martin has been enduring, I lost my own composure. At that moment Adrian scooped up Martin and carried him from the kitchen, telling him how brave he was to trust Mom and Dad with these stories and how proud we were. He took Martin to the bathroom and ran a warm bath. I remained in the kitchen, crying.

With Martin calmer and soaking in the tub, Adrian came back and hugged me.

I said, “We’ve got to do something.”

Knife

We knew when we put Martin in public school that socializing would be problem.

It has been.

Academics: Not a problem.

Speech/language: Fading as a problem, except for social/pragmatic usage.

Behavior: Sometimes a problem (the silly, detox-y days), but his teacher handles the behavior masterfully.

Socializing: Problem alert.

Last month, in the post titled, “I’m the Issue,” I wrote about my concerns for Martin’s self-esteem.

At night, when the reading is done and the teeth are brushed and Martin and his stuffed Minions are tucked under organic linens, I sit on his bed to tell him that he’s a great kid and very, very loved. If he’s having anxiety, I make him repeat: “I am safe. My mom is in the house. My dad is in the house. My mom and dad will keep me safe, and I will keep my Minions safe. I can sleep well tonight.” Sometimes we talk about the day he’s had, or the next day he will have.

“Is it okay,” he asked me two weeks ago, during this intimate time, “if people don’t like me?”

I said, “Of course it is. Everyone has some people who don’t like him or her. There are people who don’t like me. There are people who don’t like Daddy. You can’t make everyone like you.”

“But is it okay,” my beautiful eight-year-old son continued, “if no one likes me?”

I am a failure.

Why Can’t We Cross the Finish Line, the Nonexistent Finish Line, Together?

Bobby [a pseudonym] is eight years old and, according to Martin, his best friend. Bobby and Martin met in special-needs preschool four years ago, when Bobby was four years old and Martin was three. That’s also when I met Bobby’s mom, my friend Stacey [a pseudonym]. Bobby also has autism, and Stacey started biomed with him the following year, when Bobby was five.

When we all met, Bobby and Martin were superficially alike, with corresponding language limitations, emotional dysregulation, and lack of joint attention. They both had been classified “mild-to-moderate” on the autism spectrum. Beneath the surface, however, Martin and Bobby have entirely different health issues. Martin, simplified, has gut dysbiosis, mitochondrial processing issues, recurrent candida overgrowth, and suspected viruses hiding in biofilm. His immune system used to exist in overdrive, so that he was “never sick.” Bobby, simplified, has persistent mycoplasma pneumonia, environmental allergies, parasites, and PANS. His immune system is so depressed that he is “always sick.”

Stacey is given to panic. That is, she remains more susceptible than I am to the rollercoaster ride that is autism recovery. It is therefore possible that I did not completely, wholly, 100% believe her when, during the past few months, she’s said that Bobby isn’t doing as well as Martin, and that she’s not even sure they are still making progress in resolving his health issues.

Two weeks ago, Martin and I had a rare opportunity to hang out with just Stacey and Bobby. After a few hours together, and with regrets, I had to agree with Stacey that Bobby is not doing as well as Martin. At the restaurant, Bobby impulsively put his hands in others’ food and bolted from the table. When we walked in town, he disappeared into store after store and cried about having to go to school the next day. On the playground, he couldn’t swing by himself, aggressively hugged strangers, and melted down when it was time to leave. Martin, meanwhile, was perseverating a lot but otherwise looking pretty typical.

Know that I discussed all this with Stacey, and she gave me permission to write this post. I would not blindside a friend on-line, pseudonyms or no.

The afternoon’s low point, for me, came when Bobby was sitting on the sidewalk biting his own arm and I asked myself, “Is Bobby still the right best friend for Martin? Should Martin spend time with friends who challenge him more?” I would never want a mother to question whether Martin is the right friend for her child. I want Martin to be accepted by all kids, typically developing or otherwise. I was shortsighted and cruel to consider, even for a moment, directing Martin toward a higher-functioning friend. I recognized immediately that I was wrong and tried to turn the situation positive by asking Martin, “Your friend is having a difficult time. How can you help?” Still, there was no denying what I’d felt.

There are plenty reasons why, even though Stacey works just as hard as I do, Bobby’s recovery might be lagging behind Martin’s. I had the advantage of starting biomed when Martin was just two-and-a-half; by the time he met Bobby six months later, they were developmentally akin, even though Bobby is a full year older. Stacey didn’t get to start biomed until Bobby was five years old. The boys’ underlying issues are so different. Not all kids respond well to biomed, and Bobby may be one who doesn’t.

Three years ago, I wrote on this blog:

When I hear about other ASD kids making more progress, or faster progress, than Martin, it gives me hope. It also makes me angry and resentful. Why not our turn? Why not yet? What more do I have to do?

I ask myself, Is that still true? Do I still feel angry and resentful when other kids make more progress?

No. I don’t think so. Consider my friend Lakshmi and her son, Partha. I’ve written about Lakshmi before. Partha suffered a regression (lost all language) following a vaccination. We first met a few years ago when Lakshmi contacted me through this blog, and Partha was developmentally at about Martin’s level. Partha is recovered now, except for minor quirks; his mainstream classmates don’t know he had autism. That is much further along than Martin. When I see Partha and the progress he’s made, I feel happy for Lakshmi and inspired by what she’s accomplished. No resentment. No anger. Only the desire to continue sharing ideas over a cup of coffee. The same goes for my feelings about the other three recovered boys I know, as well as the kids I “know” through on-line chatter but have not met.

I’ve reached my current sanguinity, likely, because Martin has made clear, significant, and undeniable progress toward neurotypicality. In the same post as the “angry and resentful” admission, I mentioned that I became frustrated with Martin for spectrum behaviors like skipping, chewing on a straw in the corner of his mouth, and letting himself fall slack. In a later post, I wrote about Martin whining continuously oh mommy oh mommy oh mommy for 30 minutes, and screaming all the way from our apartment to JFK because Adrian suggested that he change jackets. We are nowhere near that place anymore. The spectrum behaviors that frustrate me today are more like talking too loud in church, laughing at the wrong time, and taking too long to finish breakfast. Almost every day, my confidence increases that we will achieve something like recovery.

I asked Stacey how she feels when she sees Martin or Bobby together, or when she sees Partha. (She knows Lakshmi and Partha too. We biomed moms all end up pals.) Stacey said that children who are recovering faster than Bobby make her depressed and anxious. She worries that she isn’t exploring the right treatments, and asks herself what more she can do (as I once asked myself, and sometimes still do). She fears that a mythical window will slide closed, separating Bobby forever from recovery.

And how does she feel when she sees a child who’s made no progress, who hasn’t taken any steps toward recovery, whose behaviors are more pronounced than Bobby’s, who lacks all language? She said, “I try not to assume the emotional burdens of others’ journeys. I want the best for them. I focus on Bobby.”

I admire Stacey for being hopeful for other kids while not letting their condition tint her outlook. I still tie myself to others’ children. Bobby’s performance at our play date has upset me terribly. I can’t feel as good about Martin’s recovery when I know not everyone is doing as well.

Kind of a funny shot of Martin, acting pretty typical while enjoying calamari in a restaurant.

Kind of a funny shot of Martin, acting pretty typical while enjoying calamari in a restaurant.

Once upon a time, it was more difficult for me to witness biomed kids passing Martin. Today, I think, it has become more difficult to see the ones who lag.

Pulse Admission

“Admit it,” said my friend Kevin, gesturing as if a grand proposition were forthcoming. “Admit that you like listening to The Pulse.” He was referring to SiriusXM Radio’s channel 15, The Pulse, playing “hits from the 2000s and today.”

I hedged. “Well—”

“Admit that when you’re flipping through your favorite channels, your Bridge and 70s on 7 and 80s on 8 and Classic Rewind, you also check to see what’s on The Pulse. Admit that you do it when Martin isn’t even in the car. Admit it!”

Kevin phrased the accusation exactly right. I had no grounds for denial.

“Fine,” I said. “It’s true. I check what’s on The Pulse. I like some of the songs on The Pulse. Leave me alone.”

I was out to dinner with Kevin and his wife, Stacey. We were in Baltimore attending Natural Products Expo East, a tradeshow and conference for organic and natural foods and beverages. Kevin and Stacey also have a son recovering from autism. I was telling them (1) the good news that Martin is finally taking an interest in pop culture, and (2) the bad news that this new interest means he insists on listening to The Pulse in my car, when he used to be perfectly happy with The Bridge, “mellow classic rock and ’70s folk rock.”

Ah, pity the child of older parents. Martin’s cousin Mandy was born two-and-a-half months after he was. Mandy’s mother, my sister, is 14 years younger than I am. When it comes to pop culture, I’m thinking Mandy has it a lot better than poor Martin.

Over the past year, Martin has started noticing what his peers are doing, and wanting to do the same. In the spring, when the weather warmed, I tried sending him to school without a jacket. Despite the sunshine, he insisted on wearing a jacket. Why? “Because my friends are still wearing their jackets to school.” I wrote about when Martin wanted to carry a backpack to the JCC because the kids who came from school without parents had backpacks. Martin has never seen Despicable Me, but he collects toy Minions. He’s never played Angry Birds, but he loves anything with an Angry Bird decoration.

One weekend over the summer, Martin’s classmate Jack stayed at our home. Jack, evidently, was much better versed in current music and television than Martin. Friday afternoon, as we drove from school, Jack started requesting artists and songs. Taylor Swift. Maroon 5. Duran Duran, in time-warp. At a loss, I searched the satellite stations until I found The Pulse. When we arrived home, Jack asked to watch the Disney Channel and knew just which programs he liked. Martin, whose previous television experience ranged from Rangers games to U.S. Open tennis to continuous loops of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, eagerly watched Disney Channel too. Monday morning, I drove both boys back to school. From the backseat resounded not one but two voices: “Taylor Swift! We want Taylor Swift!” Since Jack’s sojourn in neustra casa, Martin has become a connoisseur of all things Pulse and Disney Junior.

Which means that I—who previously resided happily ensconced in the 1970s and ’80s—have listened to a lot of Pulse music, too. And fine, I admit it. I have encountered songs I like. Nick Fradiani’s “Beautiful Life.” Imagine Dragons‘ “I Bet My Life.” Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’s “Cecilia and the Satellite.” I’ve even heard a few lyrics that resound with our autism journey. In “Uma Thurman,” Fall Out Boy’s frontman Patrick Stump sings, “I slept in last night’s clothes and tomorrow’s dreams // But they’re not quite what they seem.” Heck, that’s me. That’s me every day.

I guess that’s part of having a kid: catching up on pop culture. It’s a totally typical thing.

Anyway, I have to go now. Martin is exhausted and grouchy. He was up late last night, because he wanted to watch Andy Grammer on Dancing With the Stars.

We blaze the night
With all we’ve been waiting for
All this time
Reaches such great heights
Gives us just one perfect night
To say oh what a beautiful life

Oh what a beautiful life.

Nick Fradiani

Adjusting My Attitude

Yesterday morning, I accompanied Martin to the church basement for Sunday school. Sometimes, even still, I do that, if he finishes children’s time at the chancel and looks for me while the kids shuffle together down the aisle. I take his hand, walk with him down the stairs, watch him get settled.

There were extra attendees yesterday, so the Sunday school teacher and another parent added a second low table and asked the older kids to bring chairs. In that commotion, the younger kids, the kids Martin’s age, began filling the chairs as they arrived. Seven-year-old Kara plopped down, grabbed the chair next to her, and called to six-year-old Kasey, “Here! Kasey, sit here!” As a chair arrived to Kara’s other side, she clapped her hands and said, “Derek! Take this one!” Kasey, now seated, joined in and summoned two more friends: “Come sit at this table! Here! Here!” And so it went. The friends rushed for the best seats.

At the original table, which had eight or ten chairs, Martin sat by himself, silent.

I stood in the door for another minute. Eventually, Martin’s table filled, too. The older children, done moving chairs, sat there. Younger children, similarly un-summoned, maybe visiting for the first time, sat there. The leftovers. The left out. Like Martin, they were silent.

Autism is a series of heartbreaks.

Hidden in the heartbreaks are victories. Victories like these: No one had been directly unkind to Martin; no one had said, no, don’t sit with me, I don’t want you here. He hadn’t been included. Nor had he been rejected. (Compare with South America, when the bratty Valentín shouted ¡Cállate! whenever Martin tried to play.) Martin, also, was doing exactly what was expected of him. He had entered the common room, found a chair, and waited for Sunday school to begin. (Compare with months past, when he might have bolted for the piano in the corner, or tried to enter the toy-filled nursery, or insisted that I stay.) Best of all, Martin chose a blue chair, seemingly oblivious to the empty yellow chair right next to him. (Compare to the days when Martin had to sit on a yellow chair, when if all yellow chairs already were occupied, I had to fetch one from another table, when the lack of a yellow seat in the subway meant an ear-shattering meltdown.)

Hey, this my boy. We’ll get there, and we’ll bring the rest of the world along with us.

In Praise of the Wonder Kid

Right around the time Adrian and I were considering a second child, Martin was diagnosed with autism, and we put off the decision in order to focus on getting Martin help. The years since diagnosis have been therapies and special diets and supplements and doctor visits and too little sleep. I was almost 36 years old when Martin was born. By the time Adrian and I cleared our heads enough to think again about a second child, we would have been looking at a 40+ pregnancy. That, combined with the increased risk of having a second child on the spectrum if you already have one, sealed the decision. Martin would remain an only child. All of our resources belong to Martin alone, for his recovery.

But alas, a typically developing sibling sure might help. A brother or sister could provide a full-time role model and, if we were lucky, a buddy to protect Martin from neighborhood cruelty, from slights and oversights and bullying.

With that in mind, allow me to sing the praises of Martin’s cousin, Mandy, who is also an only child. Mandy and Martin were born only ten weeks apart and, though they live four hours away from each other, have known each other since babyhood. They get three or four solid visits annually.

When Mandy came to our home last August—Martin had already turned five, and Mandy was about to—they were finally old enough that I thought Mandy might need some explanation of why Martin seems different. Immediately, I found an opportunity to address the issue: Mandy and her mother (my younger sister) arrived after Martin had gone to sleep for the night, Martin’s regular sitter was at the house, and Mandy was hungry, so I volunteered to take them out for pizza.

Ah, to have a kid who can go out for pizza!

“Hey Mandy,” I said. We were sitting in the pizzeria waiting for our order. “Do you know how to read?”

I knew she didn’t.

“Well, guess what?” I asked. I dragged my voice, to indicate that something amazing was coming. “Martin already knows how to read!” Indeed, Martin started reading young. He read fluently (comprehension is a separate issue) by age four-and-a-half.

Mandy opened her mouth in astonishment and gasped toward her mother.

Ah, to have a kid who gasps toward mom when surprised!

I went in for the kill. “But, Mandy, you know what? You are very good at talking”—she is—“and Martin is not good at talking at all. That’s how it is: Some kids are better at talking, and other kids are better at reading.”

I wasn’t sure this little speech would work.

It did.

Mandy and Martin’s visit that August was delightful. Mandy, who is naturally bossy, in the best way possible, forced Martin to interact constantly, and she decided to talk for both of them. Upon Mandy’s request, and Martin’s acquiescence, they both slept in the big bed in our guest room, and I knew when they woke up because I heard the giggling start. One morning as I stood in the kitchen, they walked through. Mandy had Martin’s arm over her shoulder and was pulling him along by the wrist as she announced, “We decided to go outside.” Martin didn’t mind Mandy’s commanding spirit. It brought out his best. He responded to her every whim, including when she thrust paper upon book in front of him and demanded, “Read this for me!”

The big test came when Mandy had been with us almost a week. Martin had a hippotherapy session, and I brought Mandy along. While Martin was riding, Mandy befriended the farm proprietor’s seven-year-old granddaughter. I could tell that Mandy was impressed to be playing with an older girl, and I thought, This is it. She’s not going to be so eager to hang around Martin when this big kid was in the picture. Maybe she’ll even be embarrassed by her awkward cousin.

Curse me for that lack of faith. As soon as she saw Martin dismount the horse, Mandy scampered over, grabbed his wrist, and ordered him to come play. Then she tugged Martin to the seven-year-old and said, “This is my cousin Martin!”

Mandy came to visit again this February, when my sister and I took the two kids to see The Lion King on Broadway. Saturday mornings Martin usually goes to the Equinox gym with Adrian and plays in the kids’ club there while Adrian works out. The Saturday morning of Mandy’s visit, Adrian volunteered to take both kids to the kids’ club.

After they returned, I asked Adrian whether Mandy had still wanted to play with Martin at the kids’ club, or whether, when in a crowd, she had gravitated to the typically developing children instead.

Adrian reported that when he came after his workout to pick the cousins up, Mandy was indeed playing with the typically developing children.

… And, Adrian said, Mandy was directing those typically developing children to make sure they let Martin play, too.

Thank you, Wonder Kid. Thank you for looking out for Martin.

Mandy and Martin on the beach, August 2013.

Mandy and Martin on the beach, August 2013.