Saturday, December 31, 2011

Confessions of a Helicopter Mom

Someone mentioned a book recently that I want to read: "50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do)." I checked it out on Amazon and felt a little smug as I read some of the items on the list. Let your kids walk a tightrope. Sleep in the wild. Throw a spear. Play with fire. Ha! I thought. I could do this! I have sometimes prided myself (key word here: pride) in not being one of "those" moms who only feed their kids free-range, organic whatever and who wouldn't dream of, say, letting their kids make mudpies or climb trees or watch TV for a good amount of time while mom gets something done.

Then I thought about this more closely. No, I don't "hover" over my kids, waiting to swoop in and make sure they don't fall off the slide or digest a candy with yellow #5. But when it comes to their hearts, their feelings, their emotions, I most certainly am the Protector-in-Chief.

This sounds so good, in theory. Of course as a parent and in particular a mom I am called to protect their feelings. What kind of mom would want her child's heart broken?

I remember when Anna was about two, maybe less. We were at the rinky-dink play area in the Enfield mall when a boy who was about four and built SOLID marched up to her and for no discernible reason took both arms and shoved her to the ground. Anna looked up at him, stunned. I felt the Mamma Bear instinct rev up in a way I'd never experienced.

"You can't do that," I said sternly, not caring if his parents were nearby. I think I nearly growled at him.

This kind of protectiveness is a good thing, in small doses. Of course we stand up for our kids. Of course we don't want to see them hurt or treated unfairly. But then of course the reality is that they will be hurt and treated unfairly.

I never had this idea I was going to be a perfect mom or make up for any way I might have felt slighted, when I was a kid. But I am naturally one of those sensitive types, always wondering if I may have offended this person when I made a certain comment or that person when I didn't say or do something. In time, and particularly after Ethan got his diagnosis, this ramped up big time. My intentions were good. Aren't they always? The pressure was huge.

I've got to give Ethan as much individual attention as possible. This is how to draw him out of his shell. But Anna can't feel left out. So I've got to make sure I include her. Extra time for him means extra time for her. If I buy him extra toys to inspire him to play of course I can't leave her out. I've got to make special "girl time" for her to make up for the extra attention he gets from therapists. I've got to respond to Ethan immediately when he says something or he'll get discouraged about communicating and regress.

And, in public:
What if Ethan does something and embarrasses Anna? What if he can't handle an event and we have to leave and she's disappointed? What if I just let him go play and he acts weird and a child makes fun of him and both kids get upset? I better stand right in the middle of the play area and try to make Ethan interact and not just look at the elevator. I better make sure I'm around to explain, to apologize, to intervene, to encourage, to make things better.

The truth is, the thought of either of my kids hurting, of feeling neglected or rejected, stabs a knife into my heart.

But, they will.

I was talking to a very wise woman awhile ago who said quite bluntly, "The point of being a parent is not just enabling your kids to be happy. They have to go through difficult things. That's how they form they learn compassion and unselfishness."

And Dan, when I was sharing my worries about Ethan and school as he gets older, as his teachers continue to talk about him needing to be with the typical kids: "Deb, he's going to be made fun of sometimes. It's just going to happen."

Not that we should allow bullying in the name of "making him stronger." But: our kids don't live in bubbles. What kind of disservice am I doing by not showing them how to deal with the painful and uncomfortable, and move beyond it, to forgive and overcome? What kind of message am I sending if they never push themselves, never hurt but still love, never miss out on something but choose to still be thankful?

I watch other parents sometimes. Even Dan, or the grandparents. I watch the free and easy way they let the kids play, or not play. Not hovering making sure everyone gets along. Not being a second playmate all the time. Loving but not always intervening. Not freaking out if Ethan wants to play with a light switch for a moment. I don't blame myself. I just wanted to do the right thing. But I can't always be a play therapist. And I can't always be a supermom.

About six months ago the kids were in a McDonalds play area, clamoring through the tunnels. The place was jammed with children and many of them happened to be screeching. From my spot down below I had no idea where the kids actually were at any given moment. Anna came down the slide and walked up to me, looking indignant.

"This big boy in there kept standing in front of the slide and wouldn't let anyone go by unless they told him how old they were," she reported. "He kept asking Ethan and Ethan wouldn't answer him. So he called him dumb."

Ouch. And there it was, my fears realized. Anna kept going.

"I yelled at him and told him he wasn't dumb. He knew how to answer. And that he is my brother!"

There are moments that hurt but then slowly meld into something else.

"Anna," I told her as we walked to the car. "I'm so proud of you."

Sometimes you have to let them go. You have to trust. You have to accept what is. You have to know they aren't really yours, that Someone else is looking after them. And when you can believe that, you don't have to be quite as perfect anymore.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Just Believe

Every year for awhile now around Christmas, I've grown a little weary.

Weary of people arguing the merits of "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" and of everyone desperate to create "magic." Weary of news stories on Black Friday fights in stores and parents creating elaborate ruses to convince their kids there truly is a Santa Claus.

And yes -- even weary of sermons highlighting "the true meaning of Christmas" and of hearing the same Bible verses on the Christmas story, and knowing they are more completely and perfectly amazing than just cliche and tradition...yet somehow still not grasping, still not appreciating, their true significance.

On Christmas Eve morning I woke early and looked out at the quiet streets and sky just growing light. I kept all the lights off and sat in the glow from the Christmas tree. Ethan got up next. He sat next to me on the couch and announced, "We need to turn the lights on!"

"Let's just sit and watch for a minute," I urged.

After a moment he realized the lights of the tree were reflected in the window. "A mirror!" he exclaimed. "Not exactly," I answered. "A reflection."

We looked back at the sky and it had burst into light. Pink, orange, and blue. "In China, the sun is setting," I whispered.

Day was coming. I thought about the light splitting the darkness. I thought about that night in Bethlehem. The light of the world came not just to illuminate but with beauty and creativity and majesty.

And here we are, called to reflect the beauty. Not perfect enough to be a mirror image. But still here, in His image. Called to reflect not a tiny flicker of a candle, but an explosion of light and love like the sunrise that was splashed across the sky.

That evening, we went to Christmas Eve services with Dan's parents. In front of us a mom sat with the tiniest of babies. He rested his head on her shoulder, fingers curled, lost in sleep. I watched in awe.

God with us. God chose to take on such a fragile form. He chose to live a life in which he would know and live out our the man playing the guitar in the service who stumbled and lost his way in the music. Like the girl who forgot the words to part of her solo. Like Ethan, who had trouble keeping his voice to a whisper. Like the very old man, hands shaking as he tried to find his place in the scripture he was reading. God looked down at all this imperfection and still loved.

Outside in the chilly night, the sky was brilliant with stars. "Look!" I motioned to the kids, pointing up.

"Count them!" Ethan asked.

"I can't," I replied. I thought of the verse I had read that morning, from Isaiah 40:

To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

And as I shivered in the still air I thanked God for helping me see through the sunrise and the stars, through the wrinkled newborn's face, what I sometimes miss in the sermons.

We don't have to make Christmas anything. His story is not a story but the story. I don't have to "feel the Christmas spirit." I don't have to work to make it perfect. My only work is to believe, as the little girl who forgot some of her words sang:

You have everything you need, if you just believe.
If you just believe.
If you just believe.
If you just believe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

These Simple, Miraculous Wonders

I missed something, when Anna was very little. I didn't realize it at the time.

The girl was so precocious. Not about everything, mind you. But by age one she had maybe 15 words and by two she was speaking in long sentences. She showed honest-to-goodness, highly imaginative pretend play before 18 months. She was reading by four. Every time we blinked, it seemed, she had learned something new. She learned so quickly that in mere days her new skills would become commonplace. Dan and I would look back and our memories would quickly grow fuzzy. There was often a sense of Hasn't she always known how to do that?

I didn't mean to, but sometimes I missed the wonder of what was happening in front of me.

Awhile back I read an incredible book by Philip Yancey called Soul Survivor. In it he talks about his relationship with Paul Brand, a famous physician well-known for his research and work with people who have leprosy.

Yancey writes:

If anyone has a right to bitterness or despair, it should be someone who works with these unfortunates. Instead, the single characteristic that most impressed me about Paul Brand was his bedrock sense of gratitude. For him, the universe is assuredly a friendly place.

He continues:

How could a good God allow such a blemished world to exist? Brand had responded to my complaints one by one. Disease? Did I know that of the twenty-four thousand species of bacteria, all but a few hundred are healthful, not harmful? Plants could not produce oxygen, nor could animals digest food without the assistance of bacteria. Indeed bacteria constitute half of all living matter. Most agents of disease, he explain, vary from these necessary organisms in only slight mutations.

What about birth defects? He launched into a description of the complex biochemistry involved in producing one healthy child. The great wonder is not that birth defects occur but that millions more do not, he responded. Could a mistake-proof world have been created so that the human genome with its billions of variables would never err in transmission? No scientist could envision such an error-free system in our world of fixed physical laws.

Sometimes, like Brand's experience with his patients, it takes an encounter of a different kind to appreciate the wonder.

Unlike Anna, some (but certainly not all) of Ethan's milestones were longer in coming. Putting words together. Pretend play. Showing interest in peers, or even just showing me something, anything. Forming a mature pincher grasp. I think of the way Anna would pick up her cheerios with her chubby thumb and forefinger from the time she was 9 months old and I never gave it a second thought. I remember the way she was not much older than one when she took her two hands and made them talk and gave them names: Sarah and Fishy. We thought she was cute. We didn't appreciate the miracle of what was going on inside her brain, the millions of connections taking place enabling her to envision her little hands as people and making them converse.

I didn't see, until some of these things were missing or delayed, in Ethan. And as many of them have started to come...sometimes a year or even two years late, I realize I've been given two gifts.

I savor every little thing Ethan accomplishes. He says "Hi" for the first time to someone at Target and my heart floods with joy. He calls to a friend on the playground to come on the slide and I could watch and listen forever at the beauty of his attempt to make a connection.

There is more, though. There is no way I can ever again look past Anna's milestones, either. I better appreciate as a whole the profoundly complex work it is to, well, live the process of growing up.

One way I could describe them is as different views of two flowers about to bloom. Anna is the flower that blooms overnight. You wake in the morning and suddenly it's there in all its glory, a delightful surprise. And Ethan is like watching a similar flower bloom in one of those time-lapse photos or videos. Maybe this flower is missing a few petals; maybe its not completely symmetrical. But seeing the process of blooming in slower motion provides an incredible perspective of an intricate process. A little imperfection can't take away from the miracle. And you know you can't look at other flowers in bloom again without a measure of awe, remembering the experience they went through to get there.

Our lives are made, in these small hours
These little wonders... - Rob Thomas

Monday, December 19, 2011

Unspeakable Joy

I stumbled upon an article recently written by a person with autism. I've read more of her writing since then and it's startlingly frank. She wants to be called autistic rather than the more PC-term "person having autism." She decries the common practice in special education of forcing autistic kids to keep their hands calm; bodies quiet. She is part of the neurodiversity movement, which advocates that people with autism should be allowed to be and express who they are rather than suppress their personalities to gain acceptance in the neurotypical world.

Sometimes all of this is a bit much for me. If a child never learns to keep her hands quiet, for example, how will she ever learn to do school work or focus? And if we don't to some extent teach our children how to make their way in this so-called neurotypical-dominated life, are we not subjecting them to ridicule and abuse? This isn't to
excuse such abuse -- it's just acknowledging the reality that if you, say, let your child make unique noises and body movements whenever she wants to in public, ridicule is going to happen.

But then I read this article called "The Obsessive Joy of Autism." In it the author shares about her sheer joy at doing sudoku puzzles or watching the show
Glee. She writes:

I flap a lot when I think about Glee or when I finish a sudoku puzzle. I make funny little sounds. I spin. I rock. I laugh. I am happy. Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can be so happy, so enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious.

This is the part about autism I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose. Without this part autism is not worth having.

Neurotypical people pity autistics. I pity neurotypicals. I pity anyone who cannot feel the way that flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel and thrusts it up into the air. I pity anyone who doesn’t understand how beautiful the multiples of seven are, anyone who doesn’t get chills when a shadow falls just so across a solitaire game spread out on the table. I pity anyone who is so restrained by what is considered acceptable happiness that they will never understand when I say that sometimes being autistic in this world means walking through a crowd of silently miserable people and holding your happiness like a secret or a baby, letting it warm you as your mind runs on the familiar tracks of an obsession and lights your way through the day.

As I read I immediately thought of writing this a little over a year ago.

And then I saw my seventh grade self. This was 1987 and I had a new love: Kirk Cameron and the sitcom Growing Pains. Every Tuesday night at 8:30 I would position myself in front of the TV with my tape recorder (our VCR had inconveniently stopped recording around then) and would tape the intro to the show and theme song. During the next 20-something minutes I could not move from the television. I needed to soak in every minute. After I would write a brief synopsis of the episode in my diary and give it a grade as well. Then during the week I would play what I'd recorded while in the privacy of my room. I'd sing the theme song and memorize the script. And when I was doing that, when I heard those opening notes of "Show me that smile again..." I felt such an inexplicable joy. In those moments, indulging my obsession, if you will, I was no longer a nerd with few friends who cried too much and didn't know a thing about fashion or make-up.

When I remembered this, I thought about the traces of autism that rest in many of us. I thought about the times I've listened to a song over and over because a certain chord in a certain spot made me impossibly happy. I thought of the way many times at parades when I see veterans marching and American flags I feel this sense of both pride and sensitivity and nostalgia that I almost always have tears in my eyes without being able to define why. I thought how the simple aroma of basil can transport me to my grandmother's garden and her weathered hands lifting the leaves to my nose and the moment is nearly palpable, I'm almost living it again, and I'm flooded with something that feels absolutely beautiful.

To acknowledge these feelings, and that they may be just an inkling of what someone with autism feels, just a touch of the way their senses are impacted by the seemingly mundane, helps me see.

Ethan went through a hand-flapping phase, awhile back. I remember being taken aback, worried about him regressing, worried about how he might look. I think if he happened to pick up the habit again I might still have those feelings.

But I might have a little more compassion and understanding as well. "It's not that people with autism don't feel anything," someone once said to me. "It's that they feel too much."

More people need to know this. And maybe, in some small way, more people need to be just a little bit more autistic. If they were, maybe life would seem a little more beautiful and not quite as mundane.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lessons from the Choir

This weekend Anna sang in the kids' Christmas choir at church. This is her second year doing so, and it basically entails learning two songs and performing them as the first number in the adults' Christmas show, twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday.

Two years ago when the kids got up to sing, Ethan had just gotten his diagnosis. I watched the kids and had to fight the thought that kept coming into my head...Will Ethan ever be able to do that? It felt like one more broken dream added to a large pile. Last year, as we witnessed him practice along with his sister at home, the thought changed to maybe he will. And this year, amazingly, I marveled that he could be ready to do this next year, at age 5.

Of course, there's the whole thing about the distracting bright lights. And standing still on a stage. Waiting in line patiently. Learning to use a quiet voice and learning to at times keep completely silent. Remembering to sing. As I thought over the list, I wondered how we expect any child who is preschool or kindergarten age to get up on stage and perform. Then I remembered that we don't, really.

The first show was at 2 o'clock on Saturday. My friend's son, who is 5, was in tears waiting to go on stage, he was so scared. Then he began to sob. Someone led him away just as the kids were getting on stage. There was feedback from the microphone. One soloist stumbled over her words; another forgot a part and covered her face with her hands.

As I stood in the back in the dark and watched, I thought about how forgiving we are when children perform. There is something beautiful and pure about their unsteady voices. There is an innocence in their mistakes. Something about the imperfection brings out smiles from the adults watching, and warms hearts in a way that I don't think a polished, professional children's choir does.

As I listened, I wondered why I would expect Ethan to be perfect, when there were typical four-year-olds on stage yawning, tugging at their sleeves, and even turning around backwards.

I wondered why we forget that there is beauty in weakness.

There is a story that Jason Upton tells about "working" with his little boy. I know I often talk about him, but that's because I've been profoundly impacted by his music. He tells the story of sitting at a work bench, doing something like hammering or sawing and having his little boy come up and ask if he can help. And of course Jason lets him and of course his help isn't much help at all, but they're spending time together, and they're laughing, and there's something so sweet about the way his son was making an effort, as small and inconsequential as it might have been.

I think that sometimes this is the way God sees us. I think that's what God sees, when those kids are up there belting out songs a little bit out of tune. When we nod and smile and are still touched by the beauty, we are seeing like God. And when we try and don't give up, and when we try and still fail, like the little boy who just couldn't make it onto that big stage, we are loved by God.

It's like the song Jason wrote about his son wanting to be with him:

Everything you do
I wanna do with you
Cause doing things with you it makes me happy

And everything you say
I wanna say it too
Cause even when I say it wrong we just start laughing

Merciful Father I'm learning to trust you love me the way that I am
My simple desire to help you means more to you
than whether I really can

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The day after Thanksgiving, I
brought the kids to hang out at my parents' house for awhile.

Andy was there. He always comes home from the group home for the major holidays. This can be difficult for my parents. Andy, well...he doesn't like to DO much. TV has never interested him. Or the computer. He loves to be outside but you can't always do that during the winter months in New England. Of course he loves to eat. And he enjoys listening to music, so he spends a lot of time in my parents' finished basement, sitting on the couch under a blanket, listening to CDs.

On this certain day Anna was really longing for some one-on-one attention from the grandparents. I think sometimes she gets jealous of the younger cousins when she was the first one who used to have everyone's undivided attention. So I took Ethan downstairs to visit with Andy.

Here is the thing about Ethan and Andy: they gravitate toward
each other.

Ethan instinctively knows there is something different about Andy and is fascinated by him. And Andy, who isn't big on eye contact or really letting you know he cares about you being there, will often look Ethan straight in the eye and give him a little smile.

Andy was in his usual spot on the couch, with his blanket, listening to Jason Upton. He was making his usual noises, clucking his tongue, hand covering one eye, looking at his other hand. He seemed a little perturbed that we'd invaded his space. Still, I persisted.

"Ethan, do you want to sit next to Uncle Andy?" I asked.

"Yeah," he answered. He sat on the other side of the couch. He looked over at Andy. "Hi Andy," we both said to him.

His eyes lit up and he looked at both of us.

I went over and attempted to give a quick hug, which in his usual fashion Andy pushed me away, but not unkindly. His eyes were still smiling.

Ethan went up and gave him not a hug but more like a gentle tap. Andy smiled and held his gaze for a moment. Then he started running his script, one of the few scripts he has:

"Hamburger. French fries. Diet coke."

He doesn't just say this when he's hungry, my parents have told me. He says it when he's happy, as routine, as comfort, as a way of settling himself.

I've often wondered if people had worked with Andy more, if they had known more about autism back then and if the schools had given him the therapies he truly needed from the start, how much more verbal Andy might be.

"Andy, can you say this?" I asked on a whim. "Ethan, you too. Say 'I love you.'"

"I love you," both of them repeated, earnestly. Ethan thought this was a great game. His words at just-turned-4 are more clear than his uncle's.

"Let's say it again," I said, suddenly the speech therapist. The way Andy focused on me intently inspired me. A part of him is so eager to learn.

"I -" I pointed to myself. "Love -" I pointed to my heart. "You." I pointed to Andy.

Something prompted me to then add: "Now say 'God loves me.'"

"God. Loves. Me." Ethan was grinning from ear to ear. Andy seemed so focused on getting the words right. They said it again. I listened to the words linger in the air, strong and true. God loves me.

In that moment in the basement I thought, I felt, I knew that there are reasons for everything.

And while I don't thank God for giving autism, and I don't credit God for autism, and I don't have all the answers or know all the reasons, in that moment I knew that Ethan's autism could help me do something extraordinarily important.

Ethan could help me remember Andy. Ethan could help me to see Andy.

Sometimes, when a person's level of disability is so great, that can be hard. Sometimes, when I see Andy only through the eyes of my childhood, my sight is obscured by all the wrong things. I grew up viewing Andy primarily as a problem, not a person. Part of that was not me just being selfish or evil but just because it was hard to see the person, hard to see past all of the behaviors -- especially when I was a kid.

The CD player clicked and I watched how they both looked over with such intensity and anticipation, waiting for the next song. They both loved the room with its low ceilings and quiet and nothing but music.

Andy is no different than any of us. But sometimes the gulf seems great. Until I see my son, only lightly touched by autism. He helps bridge the gap. Ethan reminds me to think about what Andy is thinking or feeling and knowing Andy is even when he's not showing us that.

As we sat and the next song washed over us, I knew that despite how it may seem to the cynic, God cares and all things work together for good.

Ethan in part has Andy to thank. I never would have rushed him in to the developmental pediatrician or gotten him the therapies he needed if not for my experience with Andy. And today, now, Ethan's teachers tell me there is a chance that sometime down the road, he could actually be let go from special education (and get help under a 504 plan rather than an IEP).

This awes me.

And Andy? This I know:

God has a purpose for him.
God doesn't want Andy to feel all alone.
God wants him to have people in his life who understand.

Now Andy has Ethan. Ethan, who asks for him when no one else does. Ethan, who understands him better than anyone. Ethan, who can help make a connection.

For all this, how can I not be thankful?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Well, Technically You're Right

Back when Ethan had private-pay OT in addition to Birth to 3, one of the activities "Miss D." would often do with him was work with him on drawing a vertical line. If I remember correctly, apparently kids typically start by learning to draw a vertical line, then a horizontal one, and then a cross.

They would practice that sometimes, drawing both lines, and Miss D. would say over and over, "Down...and across. Down...and across."

Now that Ethan's into his church and bell phase, he's begun to recognize that a cross often symbolizes a church.

"See that?" I've said, pointing to a cross on a church. "That means God," I tell him, wondering what they'll say at school if he announces that.

I thought he was getting it. Apparently not completely. I forget that "a cross" sounds exactly like "across." I forget that he doesn't forget little things like his sessions over a year ago with Miss D.

"There's a cross!" I said the other morning in the car, pointing to a cross on a sign advertising a church down the road. Ethan saw it, too.

"Yes!" he said, looking right at it. "And there's a down!"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More Questions Than Answers

So, for awhile now I've been taking Ethan to music classes at this great little place that is sort of a mish-mash of services for kids and adults, those with special needs and not. He LOVES music class, and before that about a year ago he had done a little playgroup there with another boy on the spectrum that had gone fairly well.

This place is a little, shall I say...earthy crunchy. In addition to the special needs classes, they've got a chiropractor there. They do acupuncture. And yoga. There's also a naturopathic physician who's always whipping up remedies for people that she places in little brown paper bags.

I watch people come to pick up these bags from my spot in the waiting area and try not to giggle, listening to them talk about roots and herbs. I laugh because I am SO not the earthy type.

I never considered cloth diapering.
I clean my house not with vinegar and lemon juice but with those horrible cleaners chock-full of chemicals.
We eat organic stuff...every once in awhile.
They still give me plastic bags when I shop.
The list could go on and on.

So this place may not be my "thing," except I've enjoyed, or I should say Ethan has enjoyed, the classes they offer. Not only that, but it's the only place I've found in the area that bases what they do on the Floortime approach. What that has meant to me is: classes are based around play and following the child's interests and lead, aiming to motivate the child internally rather than through rewards, as ABA (applied behavioral analysis) does.

The thing is, ABA works great with Ethan, because he's quick and can memorize what's expected of him. To me though, when learning and play is based soley on memorization, it's built on a flimsy foundation. This used to happen to me all the time in math, which has, sadly, always befuddled me. I'd be able to work out the homework problems that were just like the examples provided in the book. But change up the problem a bit, add something new, and I was lost.

Floortime approaches learning as emotion-based. We go to an amusement park, for example, and Ethan is so enamored by the roller coasters that he takes that memory with him at home and is inspired to do roller coaster pretend play. He wants to recreate the experience because it meant something -- rather than an ABA therapist modeling playing with a roller coaster and rewarding Ethan with a sticker for imitating the action.

I've said it before, but I'll reiterate - ABA therapy has its place. I think my brother would have benefited tremendously if he had had more ABA during his early school years. But it's not best for Ethan, so for two years now I've poked around online and found that the only certified Floortime therapists are an hour or more south of here. (Of course!) they want to charge oodles of dollars for a thorough play assessment and evaluation. And I find it hard to justify driving Ethan hours every week for play sessions that are supposed to be relaxed and spontaneous.

All of this leads me back to where I started, the fact that I found this place one town over that, while not being an official Floortime provider, at least operates under the principles of Floortime.

Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago I decided, since Ethan was enjoying his music class so much and I'd been looking for more playmates for him, that maybe he should start another class there. So we came in so that the owner could have a play session with him and assess his play skills.

No one was in the waiting room that day, and I could hear fairly clearly what was going on in the back room.

"Ethan, do you want to play doctor?" Ms. K. asked. Ah, something we've done at home. He's into doctor stuff.

A few minutes later: "Ethan, do you want to shop at my store?" Eh, he doesn't so much like grocery store play.

"Ethan, do you want to check me out?" No answer. "Ethan, do you want to check me out?" He doesn't know what that means. "Ethan?"

Then: "Do you want to come on my pirate ship?" Um, he doesn't quite get pirates yet. He does like to pretend a laundry basket is his canoe, if he's in the right mood.

Finally: "Ethan, we can swing in a minute. If you play on my ship, then we can swing. Ethan?"

Um. Yeah.

A few things were going through my mind. One was that it all sounded awfully familiar. The pleading, cajoling, pushing. Play with Ethan can be tiring. The other was -- for someone who says they practice Floortime, that was NOT Floortime. Floortime would have followed Ethan to the swing and made a game of that. Floortime wouldn't have continued to push a concept he just didn't get...would have simplified...would have done whatever it took to make the connection with the child.

Ms. K. came back with Ethan. "He did pretty well," she said, "considering I pushed him a lot."

Pushed him? This was supposed to be play. This was supposed to be fun. When it comes to playing with a kid on the spectrum, how much pushing is necessary to teach our kids about living in the typical world (where not everyone follows your lead all the time) vs. doing whatever it takes to help them begin to find play as fun?

I asked what she thought Ethan needed, as far as play or playgroups was concerned.

"Well, we could do a playgroup, and I could keep doing certain things, certain play schemes, and he would certainly model them, but I don't know how much fun he'd actually be having," she said. "I'd like to do Brain Gym with him instead."

Brain Gym?

"I think what he needs is to learn how to focus. His brain hasn't made some connections, and that's what makes this difficult for him. I think the Brain Gym exercises could help."

That all sounded relatively reasonable, until I got home and started Googling Brain Gym and realized a lot of people considered it nothing more than pure quackery. Nothing but anecdotal evidence. Like so many treatments in the autism world, just pseudo-science.

So now I'm left wondering --

Do we go back to Ms. K. and learn our brain exercises that supposedly will help Ethan's left and right brain hemispheres connect?

Do I drive down to southern Connecticut to have real Floortime people assess Ethan and tell me what I probably already know?

Or do I do what Dan is always telling me to do: trust my own instincts and that I really do know most of what the "experts" know? Do I just live life and do the best I can?

The choice seems so simple. Yet a part of me feels like those people coming in for their little brown paper bags full of remedies for their heartburn or allergies or headaches. A dash of this and a twist of that. A little tinkering here and there to find that perfect combination, to find that ideal blend that will assuage any lingering guilt that I didn't do enough to help my child.

God, help me to let it go.