Because of the inherent struggles with communication, children with autism often rely on behavior to make their wants and needs known. In essence, behavior is communication. We autism parents become master detectives, constantly sifting through the clues our children give us. We analyze possible triggers for the behavior. We hypothesize the function of the behavior. And we respond accordingly to either reinforce the positive behavior or change the negative behavior.

When examining the function of the behavior, it is important to determine if the behavior is self-stimulatory in nature, if it is to gain access to a preferred task or object, if it is for attention, or if it is to escape/avoid a certain task or object. The majority of Kate's behaviors are related to her desire to escape or avoid situations that she finds aversive. Most aversive to Kate is pooping on the potty.

I will spare you the gory details of this ongoing struggle. It is downright ugly. In order to avoid sitting on the potty Kate will do one or more of the following, depending on her mood at that particular moment: throw a tantrum, cry, scream, throw herself on the ground, whine, argue, complain, kick, hit, line up her toys, or hide in her room. We ignore and/or redirect Kate when she exhibits the above behaviors and slather on the praise when she sits quietly on the toilet and goes about her business.

One recent night after a lengthy battle, Kate finally accepted her fate and sat on the toilet. She was exceptionally quiet. Too quiet. I gently knocked on the door. No answer. Was she even in there? I opened the door, which was fortunately unlocked. Perched on toilet, slightly askew, sat a sleeping Kate. That's right. Sleeping. On the toilet.

My daughter, master avoider of pooping.




I see them everywhere. Forever etched into my mind as adolescents, it is a bit of a shock when I see them in their adult form. Full-fledged grown-ups, just like me.

The woman behind me in line at the grocery store, an old friend from middle school. The friendship ended badly, over something petty that I no longer remember. We both avert our eyes, not wanting to call attention to the painful details of our shared past.

The gas station attendant who fixed my car, a boy mercilessly bullied throughout his teenage years. A speech impediment continues to plague him. I wonder if memories of being on the receiving end of countless wedgies in the boys' bathroom continue to haunt him. I thank him for his help and quickly leave.

The woman manning a craft table at our hometown fall festival, former arch rival from elementary school. I turn the other way and all but sprint in the opposite direction. A nasty child surely grown into a nasty adult, someone I do not care to associate with.

I see them everywhere. And I know they see me too. Yet, we say nothing. Maybe someday we will outgrow those old hurts and find the courage to start anew.



It is not going away. The autism, that is. No matter how much progress she has made, or continues to make. No matter how much the expressive language gap is narrowed, or how reciprocal the conversations may be. It will always be there. The obsessions, the rituals. The rigidity, the inflexible thinking, the poor frustration tolerance, the emotional reactivity, the perseveration. These things will continue to impact her relationships with peers, people in the community, our family.

I have spent the last year of my life telling myself that if we give her an extra year in preschool she will be caught up. The issues will be resolved, the gaps filled in. I foolishly let myself believe the autism would simply disappear.

Let me be clear about something. I fully accept who my daughter is, autism and all. I respect her neurological differences and am so proud of how she has overcome the many challenges she has already faced in her young life. I love her silly sense of humor and the unique way she views the world. It is just so hard to see her struggle, to push people away, especially those who love her the most.


A New Course

The 10K race was held at a local park, the scenic course winding its way around the lake like a ribbon. Back in the early days of autism this park, for me, was both a blessing and a curse. Situated halfway between my house and a friend's, the park was the perfect meeting place for an impromptu play date. Our late afternoon get-togethers served as a respite, time out of the house, away from the endless parade of therapists. Connecting with my friend punctuated those dark days with the tiniest speck of light. As much as I treasured our time together, those play dates stung. Watching my friend's children and Annie laugh and play with one another painfully highlighted Kate's deficits, leaving me defeated, without hope.

The first half of the race was a trip down memory lane of sorts, each landmark awakening a scene from a lifetime ago. The playground where Kate spun in endless circles, alone. The swing set where she threw herself to the ground, enraged that Annie occupied the swing on the right side instead of the left. The path where she bolted away from us, screaming at the top of her lungs. The spot at the edge of the lake where we threw rocks, Kate wading in the frigid water, oblivious. And finally, the bridge Kate attempted to scale only to be pulled to safety in the nick of time.

As I crossed the bridge I picked up my pace, leaving those memories behind. I rounded the bend into an area of the park I had never seen before. My legs burned as I made my way through this uncharted territory. With no memories attached to this path, I couldn't help but feel that we are on a new course, an opportunity for new memories, for new beginnings.


The Banker

Words like financial crisis, bailout, money, billions, trillions, and dollars flow throughout our house these days, the drone of the TV an undercurrent. An empty piggy bank lay on Annie's floor. Its contents, a crumpled dollar bill and an assortment of coins, sit on her nightstand. The mention of a quick trip to the convenience store for milk causes her to spring into action. "Don't worry, Dad," she reassures. "If you need some money you can use mine."

My sweet, generous little girl.


A Fabulous Day

The beginning of September marked a major milestone in Kate's educational career: the beginning of kindergarten. All summer long I harbored a great deal of anxiety over this transition. She would be leaving the safe haven that was preschool, the magical place that transformed her from a screaming, dysregulated toddler into the delightful child she is today. It was the place where everyone knew her, students and teachers alike. It was the place she loved.

So it was with great trepidation that I put her on the bus that first day and bid her farewell. For the 2 1/2 hours that she was gone I paced back and forth, waiting for the phone to ring telling me I needed to pick her up immediately. Surely she would be overwhelmed by the bus ride and the large building and the new teacher and the 19 new classmates. I was confident this kindergarten thing was a recipe for disaster.

So it was with great surprise at dismissal time that I was greeted by a smiling Kate coupled with an enthusiastic thumbs up from the teacher. "A fabulous day!" the teacher gushed. No time for elaboration, Kate was quickly deposited into the car and off we drove, leaving a million unanswered questions swirling around my head. A fabulous day? What did she mean? A fabulous day for a kid with issues? Or a fabulous day just like any kid might have? A fabulous day as in she didn't throw herself on the ground and scream? Or a fabulous day as in she talked to the other kids and played with them? A fabulous day as in she blended in with the rest of the class, the autism indiscernible?

I looked in the rear view mirror to gauge Kate's reaction to all of the newness. It was the smile that silenced all of my questions. She is happy and that is all that matters. A fabulous day indeed.


Where Babies Come From

Annie: Hey, Dad. Do you remember when you comed to the hospital and picked me out?

Dad: eyes twinkling with amusement I sure do.

Annie: very serious Yeah and you picked me instead of the other babies because I was the best one there and you liked me the best.

Dad: That's right, honey.

As you can see we have yet to have THE TALK. I wonder how much longer we can get away with her version of the facts of life.



The young twentysomething strode confidently through the crowd, a single word emblazoned across her chest.


An obvious play on the R-word.

An internet search revealed the following:

Found on this site: "This funny t-shirt is meant to be worn with humor in mind. We all know that video gamer who just needs to express their inner self. Enjoy the lighter side of life just a little bit more in style and comfort."

And here: "Do you play with your wii all day? Wii do too! That's why we're wiitarded! Get this shirt today. Made of 100% cotton this tee will stand up to the most rigorous sitting down. Own this t-shirt and show everyone that you really are wiitarded."

And still another: "We are Wii-Tarded. That means we love our wiis to the point of being crazy. Let the gamer in you out and be wiitarded. This humorous spoof on the Nintendo wii will have the humor flowing at your next wii-kend party."

I don't know about you, but I fail to see the humor.



Summer is our season. Combine a husband's flexible work schedule with a serious case of wanderlust and the result is endless summer fun all while living out of suitcases. Our travels took us to the beach with my husband's family, to Disney World to visit a dear friend, then to another beach with my family.

Traveling with 3 young children is a challenge. Add autism, a whining preschooler who insists she lost the ability to walk, and a newly-minted toddler whose sole purpose in life is to destroy everything in his path to the mix and it is downright exhausting. My husband and I often joke that we don't go on vacation but merely pack up the contents of our house and live somewhere else for a few weeks. Exhausting, yes. But totally worth it.

Old memories were relived, new memories made. Kate splashing in the ocean, riding the waves on her little boogie board like a pro, jumping into the pool and swimming under the water. Annie laughing with her cousins, singing songs from High School Musical at the top of her lungs, riding a roller coaster for the first time. Little Fella playing in the sand, taking his first steps, eyes wide while taking in the sights and sounds of Disney World. These are the things that I will remember.

Now all I need to do is lose the 5 pounds I gained from pigging out, give my liver time to repair from the alcohol consumption, catch up on some sleep, and dig myself out from under mountains of laundry. Then I think I will need a vacation.


The Inexplicable

Each morning we walk past the row of stately sycamores, their trunks adorned with yellow ribbons. And each morning she turns to me and asks me the same question in her squeaky little voice, Mommy, why are there yellow ribbons on those trees?

My answer is always simple, always the same. They are for the men and women in the military, I tell her. They are for our troops who are fighting in a war very far from home. It means that we are thinking about them and praying they are safe.

And each time she utters, Oh, feigning understanding, but the question still lingers in her eyes. She clearly does not, nor will not, understand my explanation, no matter how simple. Words such as military, troops, and war are just not in her 4 year-old vocabulary.

This week we learned of the tragic loss of Vicki's son, Evan, who touched many lives. And although as adults we have the words in our vocabulary, the loss of a child is beyond comprehension. My thoughts and prayers go out to Vicki and her family. I wish peace and comfort to all.

Information about services for Evan can be found here.


A New Goal

Running has been going fabulously well. So well, in fact, that it's become somewhat of an addiction. I just can't stop. Over the course of April and May I ran 4 5K races and improved my time by nearly 5 minutes from the first race to the most recent. And I am hungry to shave off even more time.

Now that I completed my goal of running a 5K, it is time to tackle something bigger. A 10K. It's not that the 3.1 miles have become too easy. It's just that I need to set a new goal, to move forward, to challenge myself, to continue growing.


Tonight's Plans

To celebrate our first night of summer vacation we will be, in Annie's words, s'moring. What is s'moring, you ask?

The Dictionary of Preschool Language Quirks defines s'moring as "cooking marshmallows on the fire and get it on the stick then you hold it with 2 hands then you put it on a chocolate graham cracker sandwich".

After s'moring this evening I shall engage in beering.

beering- v. relaxing by the fire, sipping a cold beer, celebrating the start of summer

Wishing you all a wonderful summer!


Endings and Beginnings

Three years ago I dropped Kate off kicking and screaming for her first day of preschool, anxiety clearly evident. Her delayed echolalia, a mantra, "You are a brave girl. It's okay to cry." Over and over.

Today marked Kate's last day of preschool. She bounced into the classroom and announced, "I'm here! I have presents for all of my teachers!" We handed out the gifts, exchanged hugs and tears, reminisced about those early days, and marveled at the progress she has made.

"I kept hoping this day would never come," I confessed to the owner of the preschool. "I don't want to say goodbye. I wish Kate could stay here forever."

"No," she gently corrected me. "This is the day you have been waiting for. Look how far she's come. Typical kindergarten next year. She is ready. She will be more than fine."

An ending. A beginning.


The phone rang late yesterday afternoon. My brother. "Grandmom's not looking good," he told me. "You might want to get over there."

"I will go tomorrow," I promised. How many times had I uttered those words and not followed through? I always had an excuse for not going to visit her in the assisted living facility she now called home. The kids were sick...we had plans...there was a school event...I was just too busy.

My grandmother was a woman of few words. As a child I often did not know what to say to her. Our conversations were always brief. Awkward. In her later years our conversations focused on my career. She would ask me if I liked teaching. I would respond in the affirmative and say that it was fun but a lot of hard work. We would then have the same conversation a few minutes later.

The curtains were drawn, darkening her room. The drone of her roommate's TV, the hiss of the oxygen, the hum of the air conditioning threatened to drown out my voice as I greeted my grandmother. I wish I could say that she didn't respond because she didn't hear me, however that was not the case. Hospice had been called in the day before for the sole purpose of keeping her comfortable in her final days. She was much smaller than I remember her. Frail. Propped up on pillows, the bed seemed to swallow her.

My brother and I took our places at her side. He did the talking. I just sat in silence, old memories swirling around my head, regret planted firmly in my heart.

We sat this way for close to a half hour, until he needed to leave. I knew I needed to stay, to speak what was on my mind. Silent no more, I knew what I needed to say.

I told her I was sorry. I was sorry that I didn't visit her. That I didn't bring my kids to come see her. That this was a nice place, and we should have been there for her. I told her I was sorry I didn't talk to her more. That I didn't know her like the people at the home knew her. That I didn't take the time. That I was sorry.

I sat and watched her. She moved not a muscle, except for the rapid rise and fall of her chest. An infomercial squawked from the roommate's TV. Residents passed by the door. Some hobbled, others glided by in wheelchairs. A single picture stood on her nightstand. She and I on my wedding day.

I sat. Glued to the chair. Unable to move. An overwhelming desire to read the bible flooded me. My search through the nightstand drawers yielded nothing as my grandmother was not a religious woman. Not one to quote scripture, I recited the only verse I know.

"God so loved the world he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

Those were the last words I spoke to my grandmother. Moments later her breathing slowed, became deeper. A deep breath in. Pause. Exhale. I glanced around the room, wondering if my grandfather was here, waiting for her. Did he recognize me? Did he know I have 3 kids now? That I'm all grown up? I thought about the music store they owned and about Sunday dinners at their house. Always roast beef, always good.

I sat there until her chest rose and fell one final time.

Inside my heart, joy.

An ending. A beginning.


A Never-Ending Expense

There should be a sign at the dance studio that reads "Please surrender limbs for payment" because this little hobby is costing me an arm and a leg. Make that an arm and a leg times two. When I signed the girls up for dance lessons it was with the false misunderstanding that the only money I would be forking out would be for the monthly tuition.


If you want your child, make that children, to participate in the recital at the end of the year, you must fork out the recital fee that is not included in the aforementioned monthly tuition. Said recital fee covers the cost of costumes, rental of the facility, and liability insurance, just in case we crazy dance mothers go wild and trash the auditorium. The following items are not included in the recital fee: tights, tickets for we crazy dance mothers and fathers and every single relative in the family over the age of 3, trophies, Olympic-style dance medals, recital t-shirts, professional portraits, and video of the performance. Oh, and you can have your child's hair professionally styled at a local salon, too. We opted out of that one.

Excessive? A bit.

Someone once described the roller coaster of parenthood as the highest highs and the lowest lows. Today, watching my girls dance on stage, was one of those highs. Seeing smiling Kate wave to the audience when the curtain opened, dancing in sync with her classmates, Annie executing multiple ballerina twirls without toppling over, putting her heart and soul into her routine. These are the moments that make my heart sing.

Worth it? Every. single. penny.


A Meme to Get Me Out of My Blogging Funk

Niksmom so kindly tagged me for this meme, thus bringing to end my 7 week blog silence.

5 things found in your bag

1. A laminated card of Jesus- I was strolling through town one day about 8 years ago when I stumbled upon Jesus. He stared at me unwaveringly from a laminated card that had been propped up against the curb, as if waiting for me. I stared back, pondering my next move. I quickly glanced around and picked up the card. On the back, a quote: "Lord, Help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that You and I together can't handle." The card has been with me everyday since I found it.

2. Epi-Pen for Annie's mild walnut allergy, just in case.

3. 2 mismatched socks, courtesy of Little Fella's fondness for removing his socks and tossing them wherever he sees fit.

4. My calendar/planner that I would be lost without.

5. Crumbs.

5 favorite things in your room
(Right now I am in my family room.)

1. My new couch- Back in November we special-ordered a couch. What should have taken a maximum of 6 weeks ended up taking 11 weeks. Very long story short, our long awaited couch arrived covered in a hideous brown and green paisley material that no sane person would ever order. I refused the couch, had my money refunded, went to a different salesperson, and bought a different couch. 3 days later it was delivered, and it is fabulous.

2. My new laptop- My darling husband decided if I was going to spend so much time on the computer it might be a good idea to purchase a laptop so we could at least sit next to each other on said couch. So we sit here, side by side. He reads the paper, I read blogs.

3. My fireplace- The one thing we did not like about our house when we bought it was that it did not have a fireplace. We had a gas fireplace installed shortly after we moved in. My husband and my father-in-law built the mantle that surrounds the fireplace themselves.

4. Pictures I took of the girls at the beach.

5. A picture of Gonzo and I walking through the Virgin River on our cross-country trip 10 years ago.

5 things you have always wanted to do

1. Run a 5K.

2. Go to Hawaii.

3. Own a beach house.

4. Get organized.

5. Figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

5 things you are currently into

1. Running.

2. Reading blogs.

3. Lost.

4. Driving all over creation for playdates, dance class, school, etc.

5. Going out on dates with my husband.

5 people you'd like to tag

Amy, Lori, Kristen, Maddy, Tulipmom

Wordless Wednesday- Autism and Play Skills


Coming Home

Last night marked my return to the running world. Butterflies danced around my stomach with the thought of running again after a near 3 year hiatus. Any thoughts of self-doubt quickly dissapated the moment I laced up my too-new-looking shoes. Slipping into those shoes was like being enveloped in the familiar embrace of an old friend.

The class consisted of a diverse bunch ranging from non-runners to those who had a marathon or two under their belt. Most of us, though, were runners who, for various reasons, had fallen out of touch with running. The class was an opportunity to become reacquainted with the sport, a promise of new beginnings. Once a runner, always a runner.

My feet hit the pavement, surprisingly quick and light. I found my pace, lulled into a zone by the rhythmic cadence of my steps and breathing. 2 breaths in, 2 breaths out.

I can. Do this.
I can. Do this.
I can. Do this.

It was, in a word, exhilarating. Like coming home. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I was not running away from the demons that were chasing me, desperately trying to escape. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was running toward something.


The Things I See

She bursts into the dance studio and sings at the top of her lungs, "Hi, Miss Teresa!" She only hears Miss Teresa's words, "Hi, Kate. Put your bag down and get in line." What she doesn't hear is the less-than-enthused tone of the reply, the annoyance in her voice.

But I do.

She needs to be reminded several times to pay attention, follow directions, stay with the group. She doesn't see the exasperated look on the teacher's face.

But I do.

She shows a coveted toy to the group during sharing time. Her words come out disjointed, fragmented. The teacher feigns interest and asks her a question she does not know how to answer. She doesn't see the look of disdain on the teacher's face.

But I do.

She patiently waits her turn to try a new step across the floor. She does it wrong, the entire way. She doesn't notice that the teacher doesn't bother to help her.

But I do.

She is the last one to emerge from the room, no doubt because the contents of her bag must be arranged in a particular order. She doesn't see the impatience in the teacher's hurried movements as she quickly brushes past her.

But I do.

And I wish I didn't.



You do not want to come within a 5-mile radius of my house. It's not pretty, folks. Right now my best friend is a bottle of Lysol that I have obsessively sprayed on virtually every surface in this place in hopes that the vapors will kill off any stray viruses that might have seeped into my body after being vomited on 4 times between 3 children. It's only a matter of time before one of us big people joins the others. Wish us luck.


Snow Day

I watch her from my position in the front door. She is a pile of pink punctuating the white blanket covering the ground. She lay motionless, on her back, eyes turned toward the heavens, arms and legs splayed from her body in neat 45 degree angles. She maintains her position for a minute or so before standing up to inspect her handiwork. Pleased with her creation, she dances several steps to the side and flops down again. This routine continues, unchanged. Eventually she spies me, waves, and calls out, "I makedid 25 snow angels!" Sure enough, 25 small body prints lined the yard, side-by-side. 25 snow angels created by my little angel.


A Goal

I have been out of sorts lately, adrift. My days are filled with the rather mundane tasks of motherhood. Shuttling the kids to and from school, endless piles of laundry and dishes, cooking, wiping up crumbs, picking up toys, sitting in the waiting room at the dance studio. I am bored. I am restless. I pick up a book or a magazine, only to put it down again. I tackle a project around the house, only to stop in the middle, leaving it incomplete. Unfinished. I am treading water, going nowhere. Each day I am simply marking time, just trying to make it through the day without drowning.

This is no way to live a full, rich life. I need goals, things to accomplish. On my calendar is the date May 24th circled in red. It is the date I will run my first 5K. It is a goal, something that I will inch closer and closer to one baby step at a time. We all need goals. Something to set our sight on. Something to keep us moving. Something to give us strength.


The Wandering of the Three Year Old Mind

Annie: Hey, Dad. I'm a smart cookie.

Gonzo: Yes, you are.

Annie: Hey, Dad. I like cookies.

Gonzo: Me too.

Annie: I don't like chocolate chip cookies though.

Gonzo: Oh, I do.

Annie: I like chocolate though. I like Hershey kisses.

Gonzo: So do I.

Annie: Hey, Dad. Maybe we could go to Hershey Park again.

She pops her thumb into her mouth and turns her eyes expectantly toward Gonzo, awaiting his answer.

Gonzo: Maybe we will go this summer.

Annie: Okay!

And with that she happily gallops off toward bed.


Watch Your Mouth

Thoroughly frustrated with our ongoing bathroom struggles I vented to Gonzo, "I am so tired of wiping that five year old A-S-S!"

From the next room comes a tiny monotone voice, "Five year old A-S-S. Five year old A-S-S. Five year old A-S-S."

Moral of the story: Be careful what you say, or spell, in the presence of an echolalic child.


A Little Reminder

The plume of thick, dark smoke rising on the horizon matched my mood that morning. Dark. It had been yet another rough start to the day. Little Fella screamed from his high chair while scattering Cherrios onto the already crumb-laden kitchen floor. Crunch. Annie incessantly whined that she was still hungry. Her requests for fruit snacks, gum, peanut butter on a plate, crackers, goldfish, a popsicle were met with an increasingly louder, "I said no." Amidst the cacophony Kate stole into the playroom to engage in repetitive play with her "kids", a random assortment of 22 small dolls that must be lined up and put away according to her own stringent standards. Any deviation from her particular routine is not allowed and will result in a full-blown tantrum.

We were running late that morning, and I quickly morphed into the wild-eyed, crazed Mean Mommy. "Hurry up! Put those away! We're going to be late, " Mean Mommy barked.

"Put kids to bed first," she responded firmly.

"Just leave them! Why do you have to put them back? Let's go!" Mean Mommy ranted, not understanding her insatiable desire for these nonfunctional, quirky routines.

Giving her a few extra moments, I loaded the other 2 into the car. However, the routine was still not complete when I returned. Not having any more time to spare, Mean Mommy picked her up and carried her kicking and screaming to the car, kids strewn about on the floor.

It was an ugly car ride that morning. Kate, red-faced with tears streaming down her cheeks, screamed at the top of her lungs, drowning out Little Fella's cries. Annie alternated between whining and sucking her thumb. My insides shook, and I cursed under my breath.

Halfway through our 20 minute journey, the plume of smoke began to dissapate, and the screaming and crying subsided. As I rounded the bend in the winding rural road, traffic came to a screeching halt. Police cars, fire trucks, and an ambulance barricaded the road. A single vehicle wrapped itself around a tree, fully engulfed in flames. The driver, extricated from the car just moments before it was too late.

The accident required me to turn my car around and find a new, albeit longer, route to school. During the drive I had a little extra time to think. Had Kate not played with her toys, had we not argued, had we not been running late, we might very well have been involved in that accident. The little annoyances that, at the time, I thought were going to ruin my day, were nothing compared to what the driver of that car endured, were nothing compared to what could have happened to us. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Let us celebrate the many blessings in our lives, today and every single day. Let us not take these things for granted. Ever.


The Dawning of Self-Awareness

The scowl and furrowed brows warned me that trouble was afoot. The question came in fragments, indicative of her continued struggle with language, "Why I.... why doos... why have... a Mr. Joe at my school?" I answered this question easily enough, that Mr. Joe helped her learn how to talk, how to use her words. Her reply was blunt. "No. Need. Help."

The next question came in quick succession, so quickly that it caught me off-guard. "Why Annie not have a Mr. Joe at her school?" I faltered, stumbled over my words. Everyone is different, I told her. Everyone is good at something but may need help with another thing. You are a good reader and know how to count to 100. You just need a little bit of help with using your words. Annie is a good dancer, but she needs a little bit of help walking up the stairs.

She remained silent in response to my imperfect explanation, and I did not press the issue further. When the time is right, she will bring up the subject again. And I hope that next time I will find the words to tell her that despite our differences, we are all the same. And that differences are okay. Same but different, different but same.


Wordless Wednesday

What being couch-ridden for a whole week with a 103 degree fever and ear infection will do to your hair.


A Walk Toward Hope

Below is something I wrote over a year ago. I had planned to submit it in hopes that it would be included in this book. I chickened out. So now I am sharing it with all of you.

I will never forget the first time I heard the word autism and Kate spoken together in the same sentence. Those life-altering words were a punch in the gut, changing nothing, everything. Gone were the frilly fantasies of a childhood filled with giggling little girlfriends staying up all night at a sleep-over. Gone were the dreams of an all-star athlete, award-winning scholar, and class president. Such hopes and dreams were replaced with an exhausting array of therapies and appointments, support group meetings, behavior modification that never seemed to work, and a small mountain of paperwork stamped with the word autism, as if sealing the fate of life ahead.

When Kate was a baby, she could light up a room. Her musical laugh announced her arrival as her twinkling blue eyes scanned the room, eager to explore the marvels of the world. She was a charming baby who could captivate anyone with those eyes and that sweet smile. Kate sparkled and exuded life.

Then came what we thought were the terrible two’s. Tantrums, screaming at people, throwing herself on the ground, rigid routines, quirky obsessions. By age two-and-a-half it appeared that Kate’s terrible two’s had lasted longer than expected, and we decided to seek help.

Around the time of the diagnosis, my husband’s sister asked if Kate would participate in her wedding as the flower girl. Although I knew that Kate bouncing down the aisle in a quiet church in front of a few hundred family members in a fluffy dress and new shoes was a recipe for disaster, I accepted the invitation as my way of trying to hold onto a tiny shred of a typical childhood.

Over the next few months, flower girl practice consumed me. Each Sunday we drove a half hour to attend Mass at the church where the wedding would take place. During church we fed Kate an endless supply of praise and goodies for sitting quietly. After Mass we practiced walking, not bouncing, down the aisle. We took pictures of the church and wrote a social story about being a flower girl. That story became a bedtime favorite. We paraded around our house in the fancy dress and stiff new shoes, laughing at the tappity-tap sound they made on the kitchen floor.

The day of the wedding arrived with my stomach churning in anticipation. Would all of our practice finally pay off, or was my sister-in-law’s perfect day going to be ruined? Part of me just wanted to grab Kate, poofy dress and all, throw her in the car and drive away from everything and everybody.

Moments before it was time to begin the processional Kate was sprawled out on the floor, a mound of white tulle and curls. Rolling a toy car across the floor, back and forth, she clearly did not wish to be disturbed. Each attempt to get her to stand up was met with an increasingly louder scream that showed her displeasure.

The processional began, and Kate showed no signs of any desire to participate. One by one the bridesmaids glided down the aisle. Panicking, I told the ring bearer to walk without the flower girl. It wasn’t going to work.

In one final attempt, I gently picked Kate up and whispered calmly in her ear, "Kate, do you want Mommy to carry you or do you want to walk?" My sweet little flower girl looked into my eyes and said in a slow and halting voice, "Walk with Mommy." As she raised her dimpled, chubby hand toward mine, she gave me a shy smile. I grinned from ear to ear, took her hand in mine, and we began our journey together.

As I floated down the aisle with my beautiful daughter I said two prayers to God. The first was a prayer of thanks for giving us that perfect moment. The second was a prayer of hope that some day, some day, my husband would be given the same gift of walking Kate down the aisle.

That magical afternoon we walked together. We walked toward hope and acceptance. We walked toward the future, together.


An Elvis Fan

Earlier this week Kate's school celebrated Elvis Presley's birthday. The festivities included birthday cake, guitar-making, and of course, lots of music and dancing. According to her teacher, Kate had a grand time and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

The highlight of the party? In Kate's words, "My favorite song beed 'Love Me Teacher'."


A New Habit

A new sound can be heard echoing through my house these days. This sound is usually produced by a large, beer-guzzling man, not by a sweet girl at the tender age of 5. Apparently, Kate picked up this gem of a habit from spending time with her soda-chugging tween-age cousins.

Kate thought this belching thing looked, and sounded, like loads of fun, so she decided to give it a whirl. She pounded a cupful of milk, tilted her head back, and let loose. The belch that escaped her lips was incongruous to her diminutive stature. True to the principles of behavior, this act garnered such a reaction that it was immediately reinforced and thus has since been reproduced quite frequently.

Fortunately, I am teaching my children the virtue of good manners. Each time she produces an earth-rumbling belch, Kate, the little lady that she is, always says, " 'scuse me."