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.