Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Apple a Day

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...
You might think that David had heard the expression, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" because almost every time we go grocery shopping, he insists on picking an apple. It is always a red apple, his favorite color, and he carries it through the store until we pay for it. He has no intention of eating it; he doesn't like apples or at least refuses to try them to find out whether or not he likes them. Instead, he will carry it around for several days, occasionally touching it to his upper lip to either feel it or smell it. He will carry it around until it gets bruises and soft spots from accidentally being bounced off of the floor, or rolling under the car in the garage and then I throw it away and we buy a new one. It is a waste of an apple, I know, but it does make the shopping experience easier. Do you suppose that David realizes you have to actually eat the apple to keep the doctor away?
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Monday, April 19, 2010


Our older son is a pretty picky eater, so when David was born I really tried to do everything I could to make him eat a variety of foods. I introduced all of the baby food vegetables before any fruit and for a while, he ate pretty well although he never was very fond of green vegetables. Like many kids with autism, however, food he had previously enjoyed started to disappear from his diet. It is now a constant struggle at mealtime.

David will be in school full days next year and I have been worried about what I am going to send for lunch each day. I mentioned this to his teacher and she suggested that I start sending a cold lunch with him to school. They serve hot lunch now, but since I knew there was no way David would ever eat a burrito with chili and cheese sauce and kiwi, for example, I have been feeding him lunch before he leaves for school each day. I managed to find Andrew's old Thomas the Tank Engine lunch bag and sent David to school with his lunch. That first day, he got tears in his eyes when his teacher made him try two bites of banana, but since then it has gone pretty smoothly. He now eats bananas regularly, has tried sliced cheese again and will even tolerate eating pears. I am trying not to introduce too many new foods, but am amazed at how well he has done.

The past two weeks, David has been more short tempered than usual and generally grumpy. My sister asked if I thought it was the stress of eating lunch at school and I dismissed the suggestion because the new lunch routine had been so easy. The next time I packed David's lunch bag, I left it on the counter while I went to get his backpack. I came back and the lunch was missing, but David was peering around the corner from the dining room, eyes beaming. He had stolen his lunch and moved it to the dining room table, hoping I wouldn't find it. As I took one step toward him, he slid the lunch bag all the way down to the other end of the table. I thought the new routine had been easy--easy for me. But, what is easy for me is sometimes very difficult for David and in his own way, David had just reminded me of that.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guilty Pleasure

Andrew turned 10 years old on Monday and my birthday was on Tuesday, so we have been working with David to say "Happy Birthday." He can say it, but refuses to say it on command. He did spontaneously wish both Andrew and me a "Happy Birthday" once on each of our birthdays. My birthday wishes came just as the last candle had been lit on my chocolate cake, which had been decorated with primary colored polka dots. I thought at the time what a great birthday gift that really was. Little does David know how many of my wishes are for him and his progress--not just the wish before I blow out my candles, but my wish and my prayer for him every day. David was so proud of himself for saying it, and it really sounded more like "Happy Irthday," which in my own mind I morphed into "Happy Earth Day" and I chuckled as I thought of my politically correct little boy.

Today, I had my annual physical and I was worried that my borderline high blood pressure may have jumped the border, requiring medication. Much to my surprise, however, it was a good but not great 130 over 80. I picked David up and took him home to get him ready for school. I had not had time to eat anything and was really hungry because I had been fasting for my blood test. I scanned the refrigerator looking for something to eat quickly until I had time for lunch after I dropped David off at school. I saw my leftover birthday cake and I did something I never do, stood at the counter with a fork eating cake right out of the box. I thought to myself, who will know? No one in my family even likes cake. David rounded the corner from the family room, looked at the cake and smiled at me. "Happy Irthday," he said proudly.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Things He Carries - Part Two

I need to expand on my comments about David's attachment to certain items. Last week, I mentioned in passing the plastic fried egg from the kitchen set, but I neglected to mention that what we were carrying at the time consisted of not just one fried egg, but four fried eggs, two pieces of bread, a lettuce leaf, two hamburger patties, a bunch of grapes, half of a hamburger bun and a partridge in a pear tree. Actually, that last item might be writer's embellishment. Anyway, I smiled as I wrote the story about the powder puff because it happened several weeks ago and I can look back on it now with amusement. I was not amused, however, when we misplaced one of the four fried eggs. I was not amused because David was not amused and after spending about 30 minutes looking for it before bedtime, I told David that we would find it in the morning and surprisingly, he was satisfied with that answer.

Now, I was not completely convinced that we would ever find the fried egg because I had broken my cardinal rule and allowed David to carry his food items into SuperTarget earlier that day. We just needed to order a cake for Andrew's birthday, so I figured it wouldn't hurt anything. As I was looking for the egg, however, I remembered how David had lined all of the items up so neatly in the bakery case while Andrew pondered with excrutiating slowness all of the birthday cake offerings. What if we had left the egg behind? Would anyone even bother to turn a plastic egg into the lost and found? Would they laugh at me for even asking?

By the next morning, David had lost patience with me and since I apparently did not seem to recognize the severity of his concern over the egg, he decided to emphasize his point by throwing my crock pot--not the whole thing, just all of the breakable parts--onto the kitchen floor. It scared me and if David wasn't scared already, the gutteral, almost inhuman noise that escaped from me must have done the trick, because we both started sobbing.

After dinner tonight, David burst into tears just outside the kitchen door. After some inital confusion on my part as to the cause of the problem, I discovered that David had slipped a penny car into the hollow space at the very bottom of the Pella screen door, just above the weather stripping. While lying on the deck, my husband and I graduated from a tweezers to a steak knife then a letter opener, kitchen tongs and barbecue skewers and still managed to move the car from a few inches inside of the opening to about halfway into the door. David, with tears streaming down his face, ran inside and got a wooden spoon and a pancake turner and threw them at Michael. It must have seemed to him like they were the only kitchen utensils we hadn't tried.

A few minutes later with the help of a yardstick, we pushed the car out from the other side of the door and the trauma was over. Actually, it was over as quickly as it had started, car abandoned on the deck with David running through the yard. Much like he had suddenly appeared in the kitchen on Saturday morning with the fourth and much beloved fried egg. "Mom Mom, egg," he said nonchalantly and I will never know where he found it. I need to learn to let it be over as quickly for me as it is for him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Things He Carries

Several years ago, my brother-in-law gave me a copy of Tim O'Brien's book, The Things They Carried. It is a series of fictional stories based on O'Brien's experiences in Vietnam. In this particular story, he chronicles the things that the soldiers in Vietnam carried with them, tangible and intagible, necessity or little luxury. They all carried some of the same items--a green plastic poncho, a pocket knife, mosquito repellent and at least one large compress bandage. Some of the things were indiciative of rank or responsibility and still some were a personal choice-- letters or photographs, a Bible, candy or comic books.

For some reason, David becomes very attached to certain items and will carry them around with him for several days. I am rarely able to discover what has led to his fascination with, for example, our coffee filter basket, but for several days these items become an extremely important part of our lives. He may carry a piece of a puzzle, not because he particularly loves that puzzle, but because he loves that particular piece of the puzzle. We have spent more than one night in the backyard with a flashlight looking for the red train from Thomas' Race on the Rails or moving furniture to find the plastic fried egg from the kitchen set. The poor man in the drop off lane at Andrew's school would open the door to let Andrew out of the car and be greeted by David, sporting a pancake turner in one hand and a Rubbermaid yellow rubber glove on the other hand, with a huge grin on his face. "Aiyah (Hi)," he would say to Mr. Brown, who would smile back and say "I'm not even going to ask."

So, one day we were headed to therapy with a SpongeBob bucket filled with two makeup brushes, a plastic figurine of Gary, SpongeBob's pet snail, a matchbox car and the powder puff from my pressed powder. I was in my usual hurry, perhaps because I had faced the challenge of putting on my makeup without the benefit of any of my makeup brushes. I knew as soon as I rounded the last corner to the medical center that I was in trouble when I heard the metal bucket roll across the backseat, spilling its contents. Now, David knows that whatever we take in the car stays on the car and does not go in to school, therapy or the grocery store. Usually, David stows his cargo for the day safely in the glove compartment before leaving the car. I could see by the look on his face that I was not going to be able to make him go into the building without finding each of the items we had brought with us that day. And, since David had taken his usual mental inventory, the fact that we quickly found everything but the powder puff was going to cause us a problem. After nearly ten minutes of moving the seats forward and back again, sticking my hand into every crevice and having located every wayward Cherrio, stale Cheeto and disgarded Tootsie Pop wrapper--red, of course, because that is the only color David will eat--I finally found the powder puff in the back seat door panel. I handed it to David, who touched it to his upper lip, put it in the glove compartment and was ready to go.

Frazzled and sweating, I quickly dragged David into therapy and made my apologies. Although always in a hurry, I am rarely late for therapy so I explained what had happened. One of the therapists smiled and said, "Isn't that sweet? He likes it because it smells like you." I was annoyed. I was irritated. I was exasperated and for that moment I didn't want to consider the possibility that David's motivation was anything other than making my day more difficult. I walked back to my car, slid into the driver's seat and sighed as I flipped the glove compartment closed. I smiled and made a mental note to buy a new pressed powder.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lady Liberty

Early on, we knew that David had a serious delay in the development of his speech, but I did not realize the importance of non-verbal communication until I was preparing for his appointment at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. In order even to "qualify" for an appointment, I had to answer a battery of questions--first over the phone and then followed by several different written questionnaires. I was told at the time of that very first phone call that David had flunked the preliminary evaluation mainly because he never pointed to anything. He never waved hello or goodbye. He didn't high five anyone. So, David wasn't just delayed in speech, but in non-verbal communication as well.

As a mother, I had never given much thought to the fact that David didn't really wave to anyone, but now I became obsessed. It really is a wonder that I did not run over the neighbor children as I pulled out of the driveway, waving like a mad woman. I might be hopeful for a moment as I watched David, but would get tears in my eyes as I quickly realized that he wasn't waving back to me, just flapping his hands in excitement as he watched the garage door close. Now, I could compare waving to algebra--a skill that you really could survive adulthood without developing and pointing isn't polite anyway, but we worked very hard at helping David to develop these skills.

Fast forward two years after his diagnosis. David and I are in the car with Andrew, my older son. We are in a hurry, as usual, and I am thinking about the day's schedule as I drive. Andrew calls to me, "Mom look." I glance over to see a woman in a shabby statue of liberty costume, standing on the street corner with a sign for Liberty Tax Service and waving to passing traffic. David is in the back seat, smiling and waving furiously back at her. I chuckled as I thought of the thousands and thousands of dollars spent on therapy so David can wave to Lady Liberty. I only wish that she had known the significance of that one wave from one of the hundreds of passing cars.