Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bringing it home

Michael has been making leaps and bounds recently in his therapies- his vocabulary is exploding, he's starting to pay attention to other children and interact with them, and his receptive language is improving - he actually seems to understand us more and more and is actually able to communicate specific needs.

The other day I was out with one of my girlfriends and her son. We were at a local coffee shop and after she was done nursing him, she let him down so he could play with Michael at the table. Her son would start to wander off, as any fifteen month-old would and all she had to do was call his name and he would come back (pretty consistently too). She was explaining to me that it was an idea that she picked up from the The Continuum Concept - that if you do/say something with the expectation of your child following the direction, then he would.

As I watched her son walk about, I looked to Michael in his stroller, playing with Matchbox cars on the table. Michael rarely responds to his name and the times he does, I'm pretty sure it has little to do with recognizing that he is "Michael", rather he responds because he feels like it or to the tone. I've tried to do this many times with Michael, but it just doesn't work. I spend a lot of time just following him around when he's free, trying to keep him out of trouble. Michael is very focused when he's out and about, exploring everything he can. The problem comes when he finds something he's not supposed to do. One of his new favorite things is to push the elevator buttons at the Barnes and Noble. I have no problem with this, and am fairly happy to just ride the elevator up and down. Unfortunately, there's the emergency stop switch there as well, in an attractive shade of red. Once he's focused in on something like that, there's no distracting him and the entire book store (all three floors) knows when I won't let him play with something. The only solution for this is for him to go back in the stroller or on my back and more likely leave the book store.

Since he's been making such great progress, it's been very easy for me to forget/talk myself out of the fact that he does have autism. It may be mild, he may be an incredibly personable and loveable child who makes great eye contact when he wants your attention, but it doesn't change the fact that he is on the spectrum. Yesterday, I was really reminded of this. Our local Early Intervention agency paid for me to attend a conference for early childhood educators and therapists. I choose to attend a seminar about teaching autistic children. Most of this past week, I was telling myself that I didn't really need to go, that there was nothing really wrong with Michael - he's catching up, isn't he? Hell, I've even been putting off calling his service coordinator about the behavioral specialist's recommendations because I've done such a good job convincing myself that he's fine.

The first two hours of the seminar were spent going over what autism is and the signs and symptoms of it in toddlers and infants. Those subtle deficits that I am so bad at explaining to people were all there, glaring reminders that this is my son. The video clips they showed were all of pretty middle-of-the-road children, not the ones that you picture when you think of autism - children who were just like my son. I wasn't in the best of places to be yanked back to reality so forcefully like that - Michael's sleep has been atrocious and I got 4 hours the night before. I was also there surrounded by educators and therapists who just don't have the same personal investment in it that I do. During the break, I had a long talk with John and was able to remind myself just what I need to do and get back to that place where I wasn't explaining away his behaviors as quirks to myself. The seminar as a whole was very informative and makes me wish we lived in Maryland so I could get Michael into one of their programs. I also came away with some tricks I'm going to try out with him.

It's hard to believe that we only got the formal diagnosis three months ago. I've been so many places emotionally, that it feels like years. My best hope is that I can find that happy medium where I'm not obsessing about the autism but not ignoring it either. John just got home from Lancaster, so I must take my leave. Again, my most abject apologies to Strunk and White.