Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Author, author

Bud wrote a book at school last week. The children were given a pre-printed format, and were asked to fill in the blanks. Bud composed his story and dictated the words to Ms. Jones, the classroom aide, who filled in the blanks for him.

Bud's book features his teacher, Ms. Parker, in the title role. It's a story filled with drama and adventure, and even a hint of romance. I've reprinted it here, with the author's permission, for your reading pleasure. Bud's words are underlined.

Watch for the twist ending!
My Friend Ms. Parker Went To A Boat
By Bud
My friend Ms. Parker went to the boat.

The good thing was Ms. Parker was on the boat.

The bad thing was I was worried about Ms. Parker going on her trip.

The good thing was Ms. Parker came back to cheer me up.

The bad thing was I missed her.

The good thing was Ms. Parker was back again. Great!

The bad thing was the boat was gone.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Rest in peace, Dorothy

Bud's pet goldfish, Dorothy, died this weekend. She has been unwell for a long time. She had a close call last March and she pulled through, though she's never really been the same since.

I've been thinking about Dorothy's eventual death since she took ill last year, so I've had plenty of time to plan - though I've had no real sense of how Bud would react. He loves his fish, and he talks about them like they're family members. He offers frequent, unprompted declarations of his affection for them: "I love my pets Dorothy and Stevie!" But I didn't want to project onto him what he should feel or inspire uncertainty where none existed, so I decided I'd just react as events unfolded.

For the past couple of weeks we've been watching Dorothy struggle to stay upright as her gills and tail began turning black. I've been planting small seeds with Bud: Dorothy is very sick. Not the regular kind of sick - a different kind of sick.

Yesterday afternoon Bud was playing on the computer and Nana came upstairs to let me know that the end was near. I broke the news to Bud.

"Remember when we talked about Dorothy being very sick? Not regular sick?"

"Yeah."

"Well, honey, now she is dying. That means it's time for her to leave us and go to heaven."

"And she will be back soon?"

"No, sweetie. She doesn't get to come back from heaven. She has to stay in heaven, where she will be very happy and she won't be sick anymore. Do you want to go downstairs and say goodbye to her?"

"Goodbye to Dorothy?"

"Yes."

"Stevie's friend?"

"Yes. And we can tell Stevie that it will be okay and that we'll take care of him."

So down the stairs we went. Dorothy was lying on her side near the bottom of the bowl, barely breathing.

Bud peered in and put his nose against the side of the bowl. "She's sleeping?"

"No, honey. She's not sleeping. She's dying. It's almost time for her to go to heaven."

"Goodbye, Dorothy," he said. "We'll miss you."

"We love you, Dorothy," I added.

Bud turned to me. "I can go back to computer now?"

"Sure, honey."

Dorothy died about 30 minutes later, and Nana removed her from the bowl. I told Bud that Dorothy was gone, and asked him if he wanted to go talk to Stevie. He said no.

Poor Stevie is a wreck. He's spent most of his life being bossed around the bowl by the bigger, more dominant Dorothy. It was startling to watch as, over the past few weeks, Dorothy started shrinking and Stevie became the fish in the power position. But he continued to defer to Dorothy, trying to nudge her to the surface when it was time to eat, falling still as she lay struggling for breath. Now, without her, he's darting crazily around the bowl, all bulging eyes and twitching tail.

Bud, in contrast, is serene. He hasn't asked about Dorothy, and he's given Stevie only a fleeting glance. We told him that Dorothy is in a happy place, and it seems he has taken us at our word.

We had planned to buy another goldfish to try to ease the loss for Bud, but as it turns out Bud is just fine. I guess we have to turn our attention instead to the family member who needs it most.

The question is: how do we figure out how to ease the loss for Stevie?

Dorothy and Stevie in happier times
Photo by Bud

Friday, January 26, 2007

Words, words, words

There's been a word explosion at our house.

Words are everywhere. Bud's writing them. He's reading them. And, best of all, he's saying them - all over the place.

Bud spends a lot of time these days with his nose in a book. His favorite is one that Santa brought him - Arthur's First Sleepover, which comes with a CD of the story read by its author, Marc Brown. Bud listens to it every day, following the words as Brown reads them, turning the pages appropriately at the end of each line.

He's still watching TV and movies, of course, but these days he insists that I turn on the closed captioning while he watches ("Mama, can you get the words, please?"), so he can read along with the dialogue he's hearing.

And the talking - oh, the talking! We're still hearing plenty of scripts, but his spontaneous language is getting more sophisticated all the time. Bud has started using lots of words to offer up information about his day - what he ate for snack, the project he worked on in art class, who he played with at recess, which part of his day didn't go as well as he'd hoped it would. He uses words to share insight into his emotional state - "I miss Ms. Parker," or "That makes me angry!" He uses words to seek out information from us: "Hi, Daddy. How was your day?" or "What's so funny, Mama?" These days, our back-and-forth has been going back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth-and-back again repeatedly, as it did last night at bedtime:

"What happened at school today, Bud?"

"I was sad."

"Oh. What made you sad?"

"Ms. Parker was working with another friend."

"Which friend was she working with?"

"With Sophie."

"Well, that's her job, honey. Ms. Parker has to work with all the children."

"And then me."

"Yes, and then you."

"Okay. Tomorrow is school?"

"Yes, tomorrow is Friday. It's going to be very cold, so you'll be staying inside for winter activity day."

"I'll stay with Ms. Parker."

"Remember? Ms. Parker called and said she's sick so she can't go to school tomorrow. Ms. Jones will be with you."

"No, not with Ms. Jones. I can stay with Ms. Parker."

"Ms. Parker is sick, sweetie. She can't come to school. She has to rest."

Pause.

"I can take care of Ms. Parker. I can rest with him. I'll just hold her arm." (Yesterday, as Ms. Parker felt she might be coming down with something, she asked Bud not to hold her hand because she didn't want to transmit germs to him. He held her arm instead.)

"That's very nice, Bud. You are a good friend to Ms. Parker. Maybe you could make her a "Get Well Soon" card."

"At home?"

"Yes, at home, and we'll send it to her. But at school tomorrow, you'll be with Ms. Jones."

"And Ms. Jones will teach the kids?"

"Yes, she will."

"Okay."

He's also made huge strides in finding words to help us understand his needs, even when the words don't come to him readily. One night after he'd gotten into bed he called out to me in a somewhat panicked voice: "Mooooom! I need your heeeeelp!"

I went to his doorway and asked what was wrong, and he answered slowly, "It's - it's - it's tih-ing me!"

"It's what, honey?"

"Tih-ing me! It's TIH-ing me!" he paused, listening, so I paused and listened as well. Then I heard the click of the baseboard heaters kicking on as the chilly night swallowed the warmish day: tih - tih - tih - tih.

I explained that the noise was the heat coming on so that we would be warm all night and, satisfied, he rolled over and fell asleep. I wonder how a similar scenario might have played out a year ago, before he was able to find - to create - those words. I imagine that he would have called for me, but he would not have been able to tell me why he needed me. I would have thought he was restless and agitated and being difficult for no reason. I would have told him - probably too sternly - that it was time to sleep. He might have tried again, but ultimately he would have found himself in the dark, alone with his fears and anxieties as he listened to the mysterious, unexplained tih-tih-tih that seemed to be getting closer and closer.

Ouch.

The most exciting recent development, though, is that Bud's starting to be able to answer "why" questions. It's still an inconsistent skill. He has mastered the why/because question/answer format, but often his "because..." answer is not quite congruent with the "why" question that was asked. But sometimes - sometimes - he nails it. One night last week, he nailed it despite being in the middle of having himself a good cry.

He was overtired but fighting the idea of going to bed, and in protest he dumped water from his water bottle onto the floor. I handed him a towel and took his water bottle, explaining that he was done with it and could have it back in the morning. Much weeping and snuffling and melodrama ensued, and in the midst of it he threw his arms around my neck and exclaimed "But, Mama, I'm so SAD!"

I decided to go for it: "Why are you sad, Bud?"

"I'm sad because, because... I'm sad because I lost my favorite water bottle!" he wailed.

I consoled him, gave him a brief reminder of how the situation came to be, and assured him that the water bottle was not lost and would be returned to him in the morning. He sniffed and snuffed and tried to pull himself together, and I stayed somber and sympathetic on the outside. But on the inside, my heart was doing a big old dance of joy.

Why?

Because there's been a word explosion at our house - and it's rocking my world!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

First grade magic

As Bud and I walked down the hallway toward his classroom this morning, I heard a small voice ring out from behind us: "Bud!"

We turned and saw Bud's classmate Carla walking toward us. Bud doubled back, flung his arms open, and hugged Carla as well as he could manage through the bulk of their winter parkas. Carla walked with us the rest of the way to the classroom, and as she walked, she talked. And talked.

And talked.

I honestly had no idea how much the average neurotypical first-grader has to say. Here's a (fairly accurate) transcript:

"I saw you," she said, "And so I called Bud's name because I didn't think he saw me. It sure is cold outside today."

"It sure is," I said. I turned to Bud as we reached the classroom. "Let's get your boots off, Bud."

"You really have to wear a lot of clothes when it's so cold."

"Yep. That's why you're all bundled up, right, Bud?"

"Yeah. He's bundled. He's REALLY bundled. He's a bundle of FUNNY!"

"Very true."

I got Bud out of his boots and into his sneakers and we made our way to his cubby as Carla trailed us without missing a beat of her monologue.

"It's going to be so cold on Friday that the outdoor activities are going to be cancelled. They are going to be indoors. I was supposed to do an outdoor activity, but now I have to do an indoor activity instead."

"Bud was supposed to do an outdoor activity as well. He was --"

"Yes, I already know that. He did an outdoor activity last week too, and him and Ms. Parker saw deer tracks. They saw deer tracks in the snow. Did you know that? It was really cool. Because deer are tricky. You sometimes see them, but you never really know where they're going. Where I live, it's near the woods and sometimes there are deer near there but sometimes we don't see them. But we saw a BEAR, and you want to know what? Michael - that's Michael right over there in the blue shirt - Michael is AFRAID of bears!"

"Well, I might be afraid if I saw a bear up close, too."

"Not me. Nope. I saw a bear right up close and I wasn't afraid. We were in the car and we saw a bear right there. And you know what?"

"What?"

"My favorite word is underwear."

"Really?"

"Yes. That's my favorite word: underwear."

"Well that's a great favorite word. It's very funny."

By this time, Bud had finished hanging his things at his cubby and wandered, wordlessly, to his desk. Molly, whose cubby is next to Bud's, approached us and Carla immediately shifted her attention: "Molly, you want to know what?"

"What?" asked Molly.

"My favorite word is underwear."

"Really?!" said Molly, turning to Carla. "Hey! You have the same pants as me!"

And they were off.

I walked over to say goodbye to Bud with a smile big enough that Ms. Parker asked what caused it. I explained that I'd just learned that Carla's favorite word was underwear.

"Well," said Ms. Parker, catching my smile, "If underwear can't be your favorite word in first grade, when can it be?"

I smiled all the way to work. There is magic in first grade. There's magic in the guileless, genuine stream-of-consciousness wonder of first-graders. There's magic in their unwavering self-confidence, their certainty that what they have to offer is just exactly what the world needs to have. Walk into the average first grade classroom and ask all the artists in the room to raise their hands. Every hand will go up. Walk into a classroom full of first-year college students and ask the same question. If you're lucky, a few tentative hands will raise - but it's likely that at least half of the people with their hands up will mutter something like "but I'm not very good..." It's no wonder that Bud is thriving this year, surrounded each day by so much fascination, so much enthusiasm, so much life.

It seems to me that we could all use a little more first grade in our lives. And if you think so, too, then I offer you this:

Underwear.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's in a name?

All the way to school this morning, Bud sat in the back seat of the car and read the book Arthur's Birthday. To be honest, he may not actually have been reading it, since he memorized the book a long time ago and would not even need to look at the pages to be able to recite it verbatim. Either way, he was engrossed in the book for the whole ride.

When we got to school, he left the book in the car but continued to script passages of it as we walked together toward the school building. As I often do, I tried to engage with his script to pull him out of his echolalic track and into more spontaneous speech as he made the transition to his school day.

"Three dollar bills fell out!" he said.

"That's right," I said. "Arthur got three dollars from his Uncle Bud."

A little lightbulb clicked on in my head, and I said, "Hey, I just thought of something. What name do I call you sometimes?"

"What?" he said.

"What name do I call you sometimes?"

"Mom." (Darn those pesky pronouns.)

"You call me 'Mom'. Do you remember the name I call you when I write about you on the computer?"

Bud knows about my blog, though he doesn't really understand what it is. He enjoys looking at it to see pictures of his toys, his writing, and his drawings, and likes scanning the text for his favorite words: "Teletubbies," "Curious George," "Jack Johnson," etc. Recently he saw one of those words on the screen and asked me what I was writing, so I read the sentence to him and explained that when I write about him on the computer I always call him "Bud" (a name which, frankly, I call him more often than not in real life as well).

"What?" he asked again.

"I call you 'Bud'! Just like Arthur's Uncle Bud!"

"Yeah," he said, as we continued to walk through the school. Then he added, "That's a great name."

"It is a great name," I said. "Because you are a great kid."

He didn't look at me. He just smiled a shy, private smile, then reached over and slipped his mittened hand into mine as we walked down the hallway to his classroom.

Great name. Great kid. Great moment.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Help us, oh wise ones

This afternoon I got an "SOS" e-mail from a reader named Lisa, whose son Jared has autism. She was looking for advice about dealing with challenging issues involving aggressive responses from Jared when things are not going the way he wants them to go. My family has not experienced those particular issues, so I had two pieces of advice for her:

1) Send the same e-mail to Susan Senator, who has been there (and read her book Making Peace with Autism), and

2) Let me toss this out to the wise folks in the autism blogosphere.

Lisa jumped at both ideas, so I'm posting her e-mail here and imploring you to post your best ideas, suggestions, and words of advice in the comments section. Lisa writes:

My family is challenged by Jared's aggression problems. Over the slightest correction or frustration, Jared melts down, then lashes out. He consistently lashes out at me, his younger brother and our dog, and this has me very concerned. I am the parent that works full time, so my husband is the at-home parent. My husband is much more successful with Jared than I, or his female teachers, but Jared will hit him too. These meltdowns leave pretty much everyone a mess, except for Jared.

I've printed up tons of info on behavior modification techniques, but I'd be a fool if I didn't ask those in the trenches (some crap filled, some not). Do you know of any resources that could help?

Okay, wise blogosphere friends, you are the best resources I know.

Help!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Solving the world's problems

I've had problem-solving on the brain today. This afternoon I participated in a telephone conference with two professionals who will be involved in Bud's developmental assessment next month. They asked a lot of questions to try to get a sense of who Bud is, and they asked me about his problem-solving skills. We talked about him teaching himself to tie a knot, and about his creative problem-solving when improvising characters for his pretend play.

I also told them about Bud's struggle with this week's school homework. The exercise involved a grid with the numbers 1 - 100. I was instructed to choose two numbers and say, for example, "I'm thinking of a number between 10 and 20." Bud would guess a number and if it wasn't my number I would instruct him that my number was "higher" or "lower" until he guessed it correctly.

Bud was baffled by the activity.

I started small: "I'm thinking of a number between 7 and 9." Bud's first guess was 15. His second guess was 9. I tried to show him visually, pointing to 7 and sliding my finger to the right as I said "hiiiiiigher than 7," then pointing to 9 and sliding my finger to the left as I said "looooooower than 9." Both times I left my finger on the number 8.

Bud guessed 5.

I tried to reframe the problem, using different terms - more than/less than, bigger than/smaller than - but it wasn't happening. We moved on to spelling words, and Bud was much more successful.

After I recounted the homework experience to the clinic professionals, I found myself thinking about it and wondering what problem was at its core. Was Bud having trouble responding to questions under pressure? Or was it the conceptualizing of the question that he found challenging?

So tonight I tried another problem-solving experiment. Earlier in the day, I'd purchased a toy harmonica for him (he's been wanting one because Curious George plays one in a favorite episode.) I entered the room with the toy behind my back and said, "I bought something for you today."

"What?" Bud asked.

"See if you can guess," I said. "It's something you use your mouth for."

"Twizzlers," he said, almost immediately.

"That's a good guess," I said, "But it's not Twizzlers."

"Cookies?" he asked.

"Nope," I said. "It's not something you eat."

"It's what?" he asked. "Snacks."

"It's something you use your mouth for, but you don't eat it."

Bud thought for a second, then guessed, "Juice?" (Clever boy! You drink juice; you don't eat it.)

"Good guess, Bud! But this is something you don't eat, you use your mouth for, and you blow."

"Balloons!" he guessed.

"Great guess!" I said. "But it's something you don't eat, you use your mouth and blow and make music."

Bud thought again, then smiled and said, "Harmonica!"

He was delighted to learn that he was correct, and immediately set about trying to figure out how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, which I taught him to play on the glockenspiel, and he taught himself to play on the xylophone, keyboard, and toy clarinet.

So, I think it's the concept of the homework that is baffling to Bud. Quite frankly, he probably inherited his aptitude for math problems from his mom.

The problem-solving, on the other hand... the problem-solving is not a problem.

Horror where horror is due

Christine at Day Sixty-Seven alerted me to the horror of an article in today's Hollywood Reporter about yesterday's Sundance screening of the Autism Speaks film Autism Every Day. The article opens with this sentence:

The horror films on display at the Sundance Film Festival are nothing compared to every parent's fear that their child could be diagnosed with the mysterious developmental disability called autism.

The statement is so horrifying that I had to read it several times before I could fully grasp its meaning: Was the author really comparing our lives - our children - to a horror movie? Was she honestly asserting that our lives - our children - are "every parent's fear?"

Maybe this sentence blows me away because I've been working so hard to keep an open mind about the "new" Autism Every Day. Or maybe it blows me away because this time of year tends to be difficult for me anyway.

Either way, I'll say this:

Parents, don't waste your fear on autism.

If you must devote energy to fear, use it wisely: fear the death of your child.

I'm not being dramatic here. I know of what I speak. I have a child with autism. I have two children who died.

I will take autism every day.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Quotable quote

One of our own appears in today's edition of The New York Times.

Blogger, friend, and fellow autism mom Kristina Chew, who chronicles life with her son Charlie on Autismland and provides soapbox wisdom on AutismVox, is quoted in an article about today's premeire of the extended version of Autism Every Day at the Sundance festival.

I've been hoping that, in response to concerns raised here and elsewhere about the one-sided portrayal of the bleak life of parents of children with autism, the lengthier version would attempt to provide a more balanced view - not a whitewashed view, just a more accurate one. I'm not sure it does. From The New York Times:

As he worked on a documentary about children with autism, Eric Solomon wanted its opening sequence to have an impact similar to the start of “Saving Private Ryan,” he said: “The soldiers are storming the beach and you feel like you’re in battle with them.”

The film, “Autism Every Day,” is being shown starting Jan. 21 at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Its first 90 seconds are an uncomfortable, compelling sequence of children crying, shouting and rocking as their parents struggle to restrain, comfort and connect with them.

Enter Kristina to provide an alternate perspective on Solomon's goal of making viewers feel like they're "in battle with them":

That focus has angered some families. Kristina Chew, a mother of an autistic child who writes two blogs about the disorder, said the initial version of the documentary “portrayed a tone of hopelessness.”

I am trying to keep an open mind about the new extended version, which I have not seen. The New York Times reports: "While the filmmakers capture hope, love and determination, the documentary also reveals the unrelenting stress and occasional despair in rearing children with autism."

Most of the parents I know who are raising children with autism experience stress sometimes. Some of them experience "occasional despair." And all of them are fueled by "hope, love, and determination." I hope that the Autism Every Day that's screening at Sundance is both new and improved, and that it depicts the whole spectrum of emotion, the whole spectrum of experience, the whole spectrum that is the spectrum.

I'll give the film a chance, and I'll view it when it becomes available. In the meantime, I'll continue to follow the adventures of Charlie and his family as they experience the stress, the hope, the determination and, most of all, the love that is Autismland.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Knot even wrong

Another day, another new skill.

This evening at bedtime, Bud put on his jammies all by himself (and only the bottoms were on backwards), then dashed back into his room to put on his bathrobe. He came back out with the bathrobe on and his hands fumbling with its belt.

"How I tie it?" he asked.

"Come here and I'll show you," I said.

"I can do it," he said.

"I won't do it for you, Bud," I said. "I'll just show you how to do it."

"No," he said. "I'll do it." He went back into his room and closed the door. My husband and I started chatting in the hallway, and as time passed I assumed that Bud had gotten distracted and was in his room playing. Of course, I have learned my lesson about barging in on him when his door is closed, so I put my ear to the door and heard his sing-song voice in what I guessed was a quote from a video:

"Over... under... and make a loop!"

"Over... under... and make a loop!"

"Over... under... and make a loop!"

His voice was even and calm, but he was clearly focused on the task at hand. I backed away slowly and whispered to my husband to let him know what was going on. We sat patiently as the minutes ticked by. We'd never tried to teach Bud how to tie a knot. This was brand new territory for him. I hoped he wouldn't get too frustrated. I hoped he wouldn't be too disappointed.

Then the bedroom door burst open and Bud flew out, his mouth in a great big grin and his belt in a great big knot. A raucous celebration ensued.

He did it.

Not as young as some other children.

Not as quickly as many other children.

Not the same way as most other children.

He did it in his own time, at his own pace, by capitalizing on his own strengths.

And would I have it any other way?

Knot a chance.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A week late and a comment short

Last week I learned from bubandpie that it was Multinational De-Lurking Week, a time for folks who read blogs but don't usually comment to reveal themselves and say "hey." I made the discovery late in the week, so I missed the opportunity to participate in the official event, but in these parts we're not afraid of showing our developmental delays. So here I am - a week late, with an open invitation to "out" yourself.

I'll say this, though: I've got nothing against lurking. I do it all the time myself. If you'd like to continue to lurk, know that you're welcome to and that no judgments will be made. If, however, you've wanted to pop up for air but you haven't known what to say, please take your cue from Marilyn and surface!

I was mining the archives of Bub and Pie recently, and stumbled upon this post, in which bubandpie writes:

I have been lurking for awhile on some blogs by mothers of autistic boys, but I don’t feel comfortable yet poking my head out to say hi, perhaps because I don’t really know how to introduce myself. "Hi, I’m the mother of a son who probably isn’t autistic (but might be)!"

That sounds like a great introduction to me.

If the open-ended "say anything" invitation is too ambiguous and you'd like to have something to respond to, then tell me something you enjoy reading - a book you love, a magazine you keep in the bathroom, a comic strip you never miss, the best cereal box in your cupboard, a blog that makes you laugh out loud - anything! (And "regulars" are welcome to pipe in, too!)

Or not. It's all challenge-by-choice around here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Best comment ever

This weekend, a new extended version of the Autism Speaks video Autism Every Day will be screened at the Sundance festival. As a result, the post An alternate view of Autism Every Day - which I wrote last summer in response to the old, briefer version - is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, as people stumble onto it through the magic of Google. Some of the visitors in recent weeks have left comments, but since the post is six months old few regular readers are likely to see them.

Comments are an interesting phenomenon. A blog would be lifeless without them, yet some of them - particularly those left anonymously - can be scary enough to make even the most intrepid of bloggers want to run for cover. The comments I get on this blog aren't usually controversial or inflammatory, perhaps because most of my posts are not controversial or inflammatory. On the contrary, most of the comments I get are helpful, insightful, thoughtful, respectful, and kind. Some of those - often the ones I most appreciate - are comments from people who disagree with something I've written or people who want to offer a different perspective that I haven't considered. Once in a while (rarely, thank goodness) I get a comment that seems inexplicably mean-spirited. I have a hunch that those comments come from people who oppose my affiliation with Autism Hub.

Every now and then I get a comment from someone who disagrees with what they think I've written, but which, in fact, I have not written at all. It's hard to formulate a response to comments like that - first, because my responses tend to sound defensive, and second, because those comments are often left anonymously. I can't follow up through e-mail or by leaving a comment on the writer's own blog. I can only leave a follow-up comment there in the post, with the arrogant assumption that the commenter will check back to see if I've responded. So, I typically don't respond to the commenters who somehow missed my point; I just try to move on.

I've been moving on for the past couple of days from a comment someone left anonymously last weekend on An alternate view of Autism Every Day. The commenter wrote:

Yes, a film about the hardships of rainy days should show nothing but sunny ones. You seem to have missed a simple point. This film isn't meant to highlight the fact that children are a blessing in life because we should know that without question and without being reminded. What the film does show are the things that have been taken from these children as a result of something that shouldn't exist. The average public is not going to be moved to action by pictures of happy people living problem free lives. Your child is wonderful, joyful, and a blessing to the whole world, as are all children. That isn't the part that needs help.

The commenter makes some good points (specifically, that my child is wonderful, joyful, and a blessing to the whole world), and I appreciate that balance to the criticism of my post. The trouble is, of course, that the commenter seems to have missed a simple point - namely, that the post called for balance in the portrayal of life as the parent of a child with autism, not for an artificial view through rose-colored glasses. I thought about trying to compose a response to the comment, but ultimately, I decided to let the original post speak for itself and let readers draw their own conclusions.

I'm glad I did.

Today, another anonymous-ish commenter (using the name "ulyyf") posted a response, which just might be my favorite comment of all time. ulyyf wrote:

"A film about the hardships of rainy days should show *accurate* rainy days.

Rain brings flowers, and crops, and rainbows.

Clouds erase shadows and make the world soft.

Fog and mist make the world a mystery.

Thunder and lightening are the world's best and cheapest entertainment. Thrills and chills, folks!

Colors seem brighter in drizzle - clear and neat, instead of dulled by the constant sunshine.

Who hasn't enjoyed splashing in puddles, or standing with their tongues out to catch raindrops? How can you say that the only part of the rainy day that's worth talking about is the part where your shoes get wet and your hair frizzes?

Sunny days have their virtue too, but also their faults, which are separate from the faults of rainy days. But I do prefer the rainy ones - even outside the bounds of this analogy, and even considering how much I hatehateHATE walking in wet shoes."

Thanks, ulyyf. Thanks for your poetry. Thanks for your truth.

I hope you'll be posting more of both soon.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Harshing his mellow

This just in:

New evidence that Bud is continuing to make strides, both in asserting his independence and in exhibiting neurotypical responses to parental input.

At bedtime this evening, Bud and I were headed to his room to put on his jammies and I got sidetracked (by which I mean that I stopped to show my mother the OK Go treadmill video on YouTube. She was impressed that it had gotten three million hits until I told her that two million of them were from me.)

Anyway, when I finally got back to what I was doing I discovered that Bud had gone into his room and closed the door behind him. I heard him talking and banging things around in his room, and thought he was just playing, passing the time, and waiting for me to show. So I did what I have been doing for the past seven-and-a-half years when Bud's on one side of a door and I'm on the other - I opened the door and started walking in.

Bud was bare-chested and was in the final stages of pulling on his pajama bottoms. His head whipped toward the door when he heard it open, and his face registered shock and annoyance.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Gimme a minute!"

I quickly apologized and shut the door.

Then I remembered that Bud and I have never had an exchange like that. "Gimme a minute?" Seriously, "Gimme a minute?"

That wasn't a script. That was Bud. That was Bud being annoyed. That was Bud being annoyed by me.

And so begins the next chapter of our lives.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sneak-googling and the slippery slope of literacy

With every new skill come new challenges, and we've been seeing a lot of both around here lately.

Bud's been proficient on the computer since he was about 2 years old, and even before he could read he could recognize familiar words (PBS, Teletubbies, Noggin) well enough to surf the internet with ease. After a while, we discovered that his digital self-sufficiency gave us some (otherwise rare and highly-coveted) time to get our own stuff done while he was happily pointing and clicking. In other words, we stopped paying close attention to what Bud was doing on the computer.

Many months ago, Bud discovered Google and started doing searches by typing in words he had memorized (mostly "teletubbies.") Then he got creative and started hauling favorite books and videos to the computer, so he could copy the words for new searches ("teletubbies hat" or "teletubbies windmill"). Then he discovered Google Images, and a whole new world opened up for him.

His literacy skills continued to improve and he tried typing phonetic approximations of words into Google, until the day he tried sounding out "Tinky Winky" and landed himself on a pornographic website. Luckily, Nana happened to be in the area and quickly put the kibosh on it. I talked to Bud that evening about The Evils of Google, and told him that he could only use Google when one of us was with him. He agreed to my terms and I walked away relieved, because Bud had always been a rule-follower - if we told him not to do it, he wouldn't.

So I was surprised several weeks later when I walked into the family room and found him with a screen full of thumbnail images that were obviously the result of a search.

"Bud!" I said. "We said 'No Google' unless someone is with you."

"It's not Google, Mama," he said calmly. I peered over his shoulder and looked at the screen.

It was Yahoo Images. (In fairness, I did say "No Google".)

I explained to Bud that, really, any search engine needed to be off-limits, because they all had things that weren't for kids. He acquiesced readily. I see, in retrospect, a little too readily.

It seems that, instead of steering him away from search engines, our conversation served as the impetus for Bud to achieve a few more developmental milestones: deception and sneakiness. (And, yes, I know that developmentally these are very good signs, but really - why is it that so many of the neurotypical developmental achievements result in less pleasant behaviors?) Of course, this is all knowledge that I have in hindsight. At the time, I naively assumed that I could take Bud at his word, and that now that he knew the rules he would abide by them.

And he did. That is, until The Great Thanksgiving Day Teletubbies Massacre of 2006.

I spent a large portion of Thanksgiving Day prepping and eating and cleaning up downstairs as Bud quietly and contentedly puttered away at the computer upstairs. I should have been more mindful of limiting his computer time, but I was just so pleased that this Thanksgiving was going so much more smoothly than the previous Thanksgiving that I was reluctant to rock the boat. Finally, though, I dragged him away from the computer. At first he was fine. Then, slowly, he started telling me stories with plots I couldn't follow - "the man and the Tubbies and then the man in the sun and then KRSHHH and then BANG and Oh No Tinky Winky and the man and the water and is gone" - and when I asked more pointed question he told me he'd been watching "Spanish Tubbies" on the computer (I'm not sure where the "Spanish" came from - except that, perhaps, since he didn't understand it he assumed it was in a different language?)

After Bud went to sleep, my husband pulled up the history on the computer and discovered that Bud had been surfing Teletubbies in Yahoo Video and had watched a great deal of footage. Some of it was actual pirated footage from the show. But the rest... oh, the rest. It was horrible - parody with foul language and violence, first-person shooters, blood spurting out of the lobbed-off appendages of Bud's best friends, and George W. Bush as the Baby Sun launching grenades and erecting oil wells throughout Tubbyland. (I swear that in Bud's recounting of the day's events I heard him use the word "President," though I'd be surprised if Bud is familiar with either the man or the office.) I sat with my husband watching horrifying clip after horrifying clip, our guilty feelings of negligence growing - especially when the history showed us that Bud had watched several of them several times. I wondered how Bud had made sense of the footage - my boy, who has never watched commercial television, who finds Finding Nemo too action-packed for his liking - and the pit in my stomach continued to grow.

My husband enabled the security feature on the computer in a close-the-barn-door maneuver, and the next morning I sat down with Bud to talk to him about the videos he'd watched: Those are not real Teletubbies. They are pretend and they're not nice.

Bud agreed. "I don't like Spanish Tubbies, Mama."

And he's stayed away from the video searches. But he can't keep away from Google. Even with the security feature enabled, Bud is able to do a preliminary Google image search and pull up a page with thumbnail images - he just can't load the sites from there. He knows he's not supposed to do it, so he's started getting sneaky. He minimizes the screen when he sees us coming. Instead of waking us as soon as he's out of bed in the morning, he lets us sleep while he creeps into the computer room. Or, when I'm just a room away, he dashes across the room to shut the adjoining door so I won't see what's on his screen. (I said he's getting sneaky and deceptive. I didn't say he's mastered subtlety.)

When I call him on it, he evades:

"Bud, what are you doing?"

"I don't know."

Or he lies:

"Bud, what are you doing?"

"Nothing."

The good news, of course, is that he's refining his theory of mind skills.

I'm walking a fine line between addressing the behavior and ignoring it. I'm not interested in turning Google into Bud's very own Holy Grail. At the same time, though, the stakes continue to rise. His spelling is getting better and better. He's not relying on memorized words or things he can pull from books. According to our computer's history, in the past several weeks Bud's areas of Google interest have focused on things like poop, bum, tummies, and belly kiss, and he's been viewing tiny thumbnails of huge pregnant bellies, men giving each other belly smooches, and the occasional set of bosoms.

Now it seems that Bud is tiring of the thumbnails and is developing greater ambition. He's creative and determined - always a formidable combination - and he's branching out. The other night my husband was checking his e-mail on my mother's computer - the computer, incidentally, that Bud is forbidden to use - and I sighed as I heard him look at the history, then shout to me:

"Hey, honey? It looks like Nana's been Googling bellies again!"

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Friendly update

You may recall that several months ago I solicited help for my friend Teal regarding issues she's been having with her live-in father-in-law Ernie, who may or may not be on the spectrum. Many of you offered your thoughts and insights, which were tremendously helpful to Teal. She recently sent me an update and asked that I pass it on to you. Here it is, in her own words:

You were kind enough to use your blog to get me suggestions about Ernie. I feel like I almost know your blog friends, and I feel that I owe them a debt of gratitude for staring me on the path to finding help. Please pass this along to them.

Here's what's gone on:

1. The blog friends gave me concrete ideas to consider.
2. The blog friends made me feel understood and supported.
3. The blog friends gave me the courage to look to a professional for help.
4. I am on medication to reduce my anxiety (and chest pain).
5. I see a therapist once a week for myself.
6. I go with my husband to the same therapist once a week for a couples session.
7. Our therapist has given us very concrete suggestions for solving specific problems.
8. The therapist helps us to get over the "not wanting to hurt each other" and get to the truths that need discussion and action.
9. We have taken several very big steps already including having Ernie stay upstairs and out of my hair. (My guilt over his being like a prisoner was overruled by the therapist who said it's HIS choice to stay up there. He could go out, he could get a hobby, he could make a friend...)
10. The other big step is that I no longer drive Ernie anywhere. My husband and Ernie had a talk and he realizes now that he is not my responsibility.
11. We are acutely aware of this being a work in progress. Ernie may have to move out eventually, but we will try the "least restrictive environment" kind of thing first.

I guess that's the update. I think it's important for the blog friends to know that THEY, and you, MOM-NOS, really started the ball rolling for me. I sincerely appreciate it all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Push, pull, lift, carry

It seems it's time to start paying more attention to Bud's sensory integration needs. I have to admit, I'd gotten lazy in that department. A couple of years ago, when Bud was in preschool, sensory integration was a Top Priority, but the better he got at self-regulating, the less attention I paid to it. We ended his supplemental Occupational Therapy sessions last spring (though he still has them at school), and bit by bit I've started slacking on all the other stuff - the jumping, the swinging, the marching. In the past couple of months, I'd even gotten slack with the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol, which we'd been using faithfully with Bud since he was three.

My laziness has caught up with me.

To be fair, it's not just my laziness. Sensory integration activities are easy in the summer, when we can spend whole days splashing in the lake and rolling down hills and playing at the park. It's even pretty simple in the fall and spring, when the weather is still mild and the days fairly long. But in winter - especially this winter, when there has been no snow for sledding and digging and building - it's a much greater challenge. The days are short, the calendar is packed, the cold metal playground has low appeal - and even playing in the backyard is difficult, because we are currently managing through some particularly unpleasant issues with our septic system (and I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it makes the scatalogical issues I've been reading about in the autism blogosphere lately pale by comparison.)

Anyway, for the past couple of weeks, Bud has been making his sensory needs known. I've been particularly aware of them in the middle of the night, when he crawls into our bed and tries to slide underneath me, or digs his heels into my shins, or buries his chin between my shoulder blades or hides his elbows in my ribs as he thump-thump-thumps his feet against whichever part of my body is closest, or as he wraps his leg around my kneecap and yanks. When Bud needs sensory input, he gets closer than close - and now that he's over 60 pounds and solidly built, it feels a bit like we've got a Marmaduke who thinks he's a lap dog.

So sensory integration is making its way back to the top of the priority list. We're brushing regularly - at least twice a day. We're ending our days with games that involve a lot of climbing, marching, dancing, pushing, pulling, hugging, squeezing, jumping, and crashing. My favorite was "sled dog," in which Bud (the dog) pulled me (the sled) by the hands as I slid across the wood floor in my sock-covered feet. I think Bud's favorite was the game in which Bud, Daddy, and I dog-piled on top of each other in varying order, requiring the person on the bottom to wriggle themselves free. Kyra also provided a terrific (and well-timed) list of sensory integration activities on This Mom. I just keep thinking back to the workshop I attended a few years ago, in which Carol Stock Kranowitz, author of The Out of Sync Child, said that the keys to promoting sensory regulation were "push, pull, lift, carry," and I'm trying to build in those activities wherever I can.

It seems to be doing the trick, and Bud must be remembering how good it feels to have his sensory integration in check, because as I tucked him into bed last and he wriggled and twitched and tried to get comfortable, he stopped and said, "We need a swing." He went straight to the closet to unpack his doorway swing, and after a few minutes of flight he was ready to settle into sleep.

Bud's upcoming evaluation with the child development clinic is well-timed, since an OT is among the consultants we'll meet. In the meantime, we'll just keep pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, sled-dogging, and dog-piling. And swinging, of course. Always swinging.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Songwriting

We ordered pizza this weekend, and all the way to and from the pizza shop, Bud listened to Jack Johnson's song "The 3 R's". He sang along with gusto and cued me on backing vocals (because I am allowed to sing when it's Bud's idea.)

He was still singing when we got home, and before the pizza was on the table he asked if he could use the computer, "to write words, Mama." I told him that we were done with the computer for the day, and that it was time to eat pizza. So he asked for paper instead.

I gave him a notebook and a pencil, and he sat down with his iPod and his pizza and got to work. He listened, wrote, rewound and munched, and this boy who usually avoids handwriting filled four pages. I helped him with the first "3", since he finds 3's and S's exceptionally difficult. After that, though, he did the rest all by himself - and the result is mighty impressive.

His words are first. My transcription follows. Jack Johnson's original lyrics come last.


3 itsAmAgit
NUmbR
YESITis
iTSA MAgiK
NUmbR

Three it's a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number


bEKUsToTim
3is6
3Tim6is18
ANd ThE 18
lstElflbETisRWE
goT 3Rs W goT TocAbAWT


Because two times three is six
And three times six is eighteen
And the eighteenth letter in the alphabet is R
We've got three R's we're going to talk about

TodAy
WR goT lEdgWE
l ENREdoo
WWElll ifYou
gotothEmrKiT
tobYsUjis Yono bRiNgYoN


We've got to learn to
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
If you're going to the market
to buy some juice
You've got to bring your own

bAgs
REYos
W goT lEN REdoo
ANdYoRbRUR

bags
and you learn to reduce your waste
And if your brother

That's where he ran out of steam. Or out of pizza.

But, really, what more could you ask from a seven-year-old? He's got a lot going on. He's a singer. He's a songwriter.

He's an environmentalist.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Too hot to handle

I live in the northern United States, where the average temperature for January 6 is 16° F.

Today it's 61°.

I'm worried.

Friday, January 05, 2007

"I'll do it myself"

Bud has suddenly started asserting his independence, and I couldn't be happier about it.

We've seen flashes of it before, but all of a sudden this week he has been insisting that he doesn't need help and that he wants to do things on his own.

The other day I started to help him wash his hair in the shower, and he stopped me: "No, Mama. I'll do it myself." I stepped back and gave him some privacy as he massaged shampoo into his scalp, then I offered to help him rinse it out. He turned me down.

Yesterday at the end of the school day, the children in Bud's class sat down for their math lesson. Bud turned to his aide and said "I'll do it myself."

She happily stepped aside and watched as he sat at his desk, chatted appropriately with his neighbors, and stayed focused and on-task. Then she wrote a very happy note in his school-to-home notebook.

This morning Bud stopped me at his bedroom door when I tried to help him get ready for school.

"You go out there," he said, pointing to the hallway. "And close the door. I'll do it myself." I stepped outside and heard him rustling through drawers. On the first attempt, he came into the hallway with his shirt inside out. Then he forgot to put on underwear. The next time he emerged, his underwear was on, but he had both legs through the same leg-hole. Each time, he happily accepted my suggestions on how he might make a change, but he insisted that he did not want any help from me.

And then he emerged, in clothes I probably wouldn't have chosen, a bit more rumpled than I might have liked, but with a wide smile on his face and a shining pride in his eyes that I couldn't have put there.

He had to do it himself.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Flash the lights and sound the sirens...

The Police may be going on tour!

In 1983, a friend called to offer me her extra ticket to a show on their Synchronicity tour and I had to turn it down. I can't recall the details, but I'm sure it had something to do with high price, short notice, and deep parental concern. I've since seen Sting, but, you know - it's not the same.

It looks like 24 years of patience may finally be paying off.

Love, love me do

In a recent comment, VTBudFan asked my opinion of the latest addition to the Beatles' catalog, the CD titled Love.

For the uninitiated, let me give you this brief overview: Love is the handiwork of longtime Beatles' producer George Martin and his son Giles. On the album, which was developed as a soundtrack for the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name, the Martins mine the archives of outtakes and alternate takes from the original Beatles recording sessions to remix and enhance some classic songs. More significantly, they also take well-known and lesser-known Beatles album tracks and create mash-ups by melding them together.

I have to admit, when I first heard about the project I was skeptical. I'm not sure why, because I tend to like mash-ups in general (my current favorite blends Oasis and Green Day in a track called Wonderwall of Broken Dreams.) And, I've long believed that my friend Ric invented the mash-up when he created the game "Maggie Mae," which is based on the theory that Rod Stewart's Maggie Mae can be sung as a counter-melody to any other Rod Stewart song. The game took off when we expanded the rules so that players could sing any song by an artist as a counter-melody while any other song by the same artist was playing. Yes, folks, this is how I spent my college years. But I digress.

Back to Love. As I was saying, I was skeptical. I thought it would be too unsettling, too modern, too not-the-original, too not-the-Beatles.

I was wrong. It's amazing. These mash-ups are masterful. They add texture and dimension where I never realized that texture and dimension were missing. Love takes songs like Drive My Car and What You're Doing, which I never really liked as stand-alones, and brings them together to create an entirely new song that's superior to either of the originals. It even tosses in a little of The Word for a little extra something-something surprise at the end.

The album continues to work the same magic again and again and again. Some of the mash-ups are predictable - Strawberry Fields Forever with Penny Lane; Tomorrow Never Knows with Within You, Without You... no stretches there. But Lady Madonna with Hey Bulldog? Helter Skelter with I Want You (She's So Heavy) and Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite? Get Back with elements from Help and The End? Just brilliant.

It even stays true to the Beatles' unofficial and unspoken credo, which is that the weakest track on the album must be the one sung by Ringo. In the case of Love, it's Octopus's Garden with a dash of Good Night and a few other things I can't place (Yellow Submarine, maybe? Anyone?).

Despite the occasional weaker moment (and who among us is free from those?), Love is just fantastic. It's not just a great tribute; it's also a great album, all on its own.

This closing begs to be written. I know it's trite and obvious and not at all clever. I know it's going to make you groan, but I just can't resist. I have to say it:

All you need is Love.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Check one: Don't Know, Don't Care, Doesn't Matter

I'm doing my best to complete the next round of paperwork for Bud's appointment with the new child development clinic, which has been moved up to February. As always, I'm struggling to figure out how to use a standardized assessment to describe my delightfully nonstandard son.

The assessment that's giving me the most trouble is the "Child Behavior Checklist for Ages 6-18." It seems to be designed as a general, global assessment tool, and is not specific to ASD. It asks me to respond to questions by checking the box by the answer that best reflects my view of Bud's behavior. The problem is, the boxes it provides are entirely inadequate.

The assessment starts by asking me to list the sports and activities that Bud enjoys, and indicate how well he does each "as compared to others of the same age". The boxes are marked: Below Average, Average, Above Average, and Don't Know.

Huh.

I list some activities, though if I really want to describe the things Bud likes to do I'll need more than an inch-wide space. Then I start checking boxes. For most of the activities I check "Don't Know." I'd like to check the box marked "Differently From," but it doesn't exist.

I move on to the next question, which reads: About how many close friends does your child have? It's followed by boxes marked "None," "1," "2 or 3," and "4 or more."

I have no idea how to answer this. What does this mean? How are we defining "friend"? How are we defining "close friend"? Does physical proximity mark the difference between the two? Is a friend "close" only if we spend a lot of time together? I think about VTBudFan, whom I haven't seen in about five years, but whom I consider a very close friend, and I rule out proximity as a defining feature. So, what are the defining features? A spiritual connection? A mutual understanding? Just a feeling?

How can I begin to assess the depth of feeling that Bud has for the other children in his life? Or theirs for him? We don't have playdates with the children from school; Bud is not interested in having them. Yet, there is genuine affection between Bud and Kelly, Bud and Lily, Bud and Sophie, Bud and Michael, Bud and Clay... Bud and a number of other friends at school. How can I - why should I - try to qualify and quantify? It is what it is - and what it is, is wonderful.

I scribble a note in the margin, leave the boxes blank, and move on to the next question.

Compared to others his age, how well does your child:
Get along with other kids? Worse, Average, Better
Behave with his parents? Worse, Average, Better
Play and work alone? Worse, Average, Better


I resist the temptation to tear the paper in half. I breathe deeply, pour another cup of coffee, and take them one at a time.

Compared to others his age, how well does Bud get along with other kids?

Well, that depends on what we mean by "get along." Does he initiate play? Not really. Does he have sustained conversation with them? No. Does he engage in games with complicated rules and turn-taking? Not without a lot of assistance. On the other hand, he has never once (to the best of my knowledge) hurt another child's feelings. He has never been mean. He has never been aggressive. He has often been kind. He makes other children laugh. He makes them feel good. Children want to be around him.

So what answer is that? Average? Better?

I scrawl another note and move on.

Compared to others his age, how well does Bud behave with his parents?

How do other seven-year-olds behave with their parents? I have no idea. Frankly, it seems to me that there is no universal standard of "behavior" that parents use to assess their children, and "good" is a slippery, subjective classification for it. There are a lot of unreasonable parents out there. I've seen them in the grocery store, yelling at children who seem perfectly well-behaved to me.

So, I wonder, is this question asking about Bud, or is it asking about my husband and me? Is it asking how well-behaved Bud is, or is it inquiring about the extent to which Bud's actual behavior matches our expectations for his behavior?

I decide it's the latter, and I check the box marked "Better."

Compared to others his age, how well does Bud play and work alone?

What exactly is our goal here? Are we seeing the ability to play alone as a goal-worthy outcome? He's autistic, for goodness sake. Of course he can play alone. And work alone? What am I being asked to measure? Willingness to work alone? High. Productivity when working alone? Varied. Task-orientation or focus when working alone? Depends on the task.

I scribble again in the margin and leave the boxes empty.

I finally reach the end of the "compared to others his age" section of the assessment and I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. I hate the "compared to others his age" section. It runs counter to my entire philosophy of parenting. In Bud's early years, I tried not to compare him to others his age. Now it doesn't even occur to me to try. I compare Bud now to Bud yesterday, and to Bud a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. And by that standard, he is More, Better, Advanced, Above, Beyond.

In the next section, I'm asked to assess Bud's performance in academic subjects: Reading, English, or Language Arts; History or Social Studies; Arithmetic or Math; Science. The boxes read Above Average, Average, Below Average, Failing.

Seriously? Failing? What would it feel like to check a box marked "Failing" when assessing your own child? I will never know. I scan for a box marked "In Progress." There isn't one.

I plod through several additional pages of more of the same, and I do my best to answer honestly within the rigid boundaries that the assessment provides. At the end, I have a document that reflects some shadows of my son, but captures none of his essence.

I'm reluctant to stick these papers into an envelope and let them be the only representations of my thoughts about my son that this clinic has on file. If I really want them to understand my assessment of Bud, maybe I should send along the URL to this blog. Or maybe I'll print out a few blog posts. Like this one. Or this one.

Or this one.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The other Magnificent 7

Through the magic of TiVo, I caught the BBC America premiere of the made-for-television movie Magnificent 7, which aired on Christmas night. No, I'm not talking about the 1960 Steve McQueen western. This Magnificent 7 stars Helena Bonham Carter as Maggi, the single mother of seven children: three daughters who are neurotypical, and four sons who fall on four different spots on the autism spectrum. The film is based on the Jackson family of Blackpool, UK. The real-life Maggi, Jacqui Jackson, is the author of Multicoloured Mayhem and served as a consultant on the film. Jacqui's son Luke is the author of Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome. (I haven't read Jacqui's book, but Luke's has been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time and is now on the fast track to my nightstand.)

I'm not familiar enough with the Jackson family to know how much of Magnificent 7 is a fictionalized version of their lives. Their names have been changed, which tells me that this is not a film designed to maintain historical accuracy. And there is a love-story element to the plot that may or may not have been based on real-life events. But the movie is brimming with moments that families who have been touched by autism will recognize. None of Maggi's sons is overtly like Bud, and yet there were shadows of him everywhere - especially in Christopher, the character based on Luke, who waited months before opening his Christmas present and who took pictures of things close-up and at odd angles (he especially liked taking pictures of people's shoes.)

The BBC America website doesn't currently have a listing for another showing of Magnificent 7, but it's worth checking back frequently as they're sure to replay it. In the meantime, I think there are a couple of books I need to check out...

Let the campaigning begin

2007 is less than a day old, and I'm already worrying about 2008.

John Edwards has thrown his hat into the ring. I really like John Edwards, and I liked what I heard from him in the 2004 campaign. But the possibility of Barack Obama entering the race is exciting. And, of course, there's the Hillary factor. (I know, I know, I know... but I like her.)

At least I know for sure who I won't be supporting.

And I suppose that, when you come right down to it, a surplus of good candidates in the race is not really a bad problem to have.