Saturday, June 29, 2013

Road Trip

"Kids, let's drive to New York City!"

It was a Sunday afternoon, and Dan had to work. Outside the sun was blazing and I felt under the weather. I knew staying at home all afternoon with the kiddos would mean no actual rest and just me getting grumpier at not feeling well.

Yes, these are the kinds of crazy things we do in our family. Some people shop when they're in a cranky mood. I like to travel. And since funds are limited right now, our travel options are for the most part limited to day trips. I could have chosen Boston, which is (in my humble opinion) prettier, more manageable, and a bit closer. But there's something about driving to the city that truly feels like the center of the world. Yes, I'm a staunch Red Sox fan, and I just wrote that.

Thankfully, 1) Ethan likes car rides and 2) Anna likes going to interesting places like really big cities. We hopped in the car and pealed out of the driveway. I had a personal mission, another quest that would seem insane to most likely the majority of the population: I wanted to prove to myself I could drive straight.into.Manhattan. I've conquered the insanity of Boston traffic...zipped through D.C. and Chicago; navigated the steep streets of San Francisco and even managed to take pictures of Houston while steering a rental car on completely unfamiliar freeways. But New York...New York has always loomed as unconquerable.

"Okay Ethan, we're going to count the cities as we drive!" I announced, trying to drum up excitement. "There's Hartford...New Haven...Bridgeport...Stamford...then New York City!"

As we zoomed by New Haven 40 minutes later, Ethan piped up, "Can we go home now?"

Danger, Will Robinson!

"Ethan, we can't go home NOW!" I said in my cheery mom voice. "You won't see the big city. Do you know it has big buildings like the Chicago Elevator?"

Most of you would know the Chicago Elevator as the Willis (or previously Sears) Tower in Chicago. I told Ethan about going there with Dan years ago, and not surprisingly he was quite titillated by the idea of an elevator that went up over 100 floors. We watched video on You Tube and he was sold. Now he asks every once in awhile about going to see the Chicago Elevator. Someday, Ethan. Someday.

With visions of tall buildings dancing in his head, Ethan was again enthusiastic about our trip. Traffic was not so bad. We watched five skywriting jets craft an advertisement for the Mohegan Sun Casino in the air above us. Eventually the outskirts of the city appeared.

I steeled my resolve not to consult any kind of map or GPS. I could do this! I knew I had to take a bridge other than the George Washington, which would bring us to New Jersey, but I had no idea which one. Finally, I saw a sign that said "Manhattan" with a left-pointing arrow. A-ha! We approached a less than grandiose steel through-truss bridge. I have no idea what it was named. All of Manhattan lay stretched out before us in the distance.

"There it is!" I called to the kiddos.

Ethan sat in the back, his mouth gaping open. Anna and I have made several Christmas trips to the city, but he's never been there.

There was a toll booth. "Okay Anna, hand me the money," I asked, referring to the cash I'd asked her to grab off the counter.

"Uh, I don't know where it is..."

...which is why we ended up tying up traffic as I explained to the toll booth operator that we had no cash, and had to have a mail-in ticket written out for me.

That little blip aside, we were in! There we were, zooming down FDR Drive with the East River and Brooklyn to our left. This was too easy, I thought. We weren't right in Manhattan. We needed to get off and drive right down the middle.

I rolled down the windows, warning the kids it would be loud and they'd probably hear ton of horns honking. Both sat on the edge of their seats, eyes big. "Can we get out?" they started pleading. "Pleeeasse!"

We were in some unrecognizable part of the city with of course nowhere to park and I had no idea what to see. "No guys, that's where I draw the line. We can't get out. Today."

We started way uptown, crossing something like 116th street, and headed south, the numbers getting lower and lower. I have no idea what street I was on. I figured I just needed to grip the wheel, make no sudden moves, and go with the flow.

"There's the library!" The kids gaped at the big stone lions. People were everywhere. Oh, the people. I thought Christmas was busy.

"I've never seen this in the summer," Anna noted, in awe. A neverending stream of yellow taxis streamed by on either side. We flowed past parks with exploding fountains, the Flatiron building, the World's Biggest CVS (Anna was particularly impressed at this one). Ethan would be quiet and then suddenly erupt with a comment: "Wow! That building has sooo many windows!" Of course, we'd passed 300 buildings with many windows, but for whatever reason he was fascinated by THAT one. He also, as I knew he would, particularly loved all the Walk/Don't Walk signs that counted down before they changed. He happily counted with them, every time we were stopped at a light.

Then we were downtown. I glimpsed the Freedom Tower to our right, the World Financial Center Buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral and Trinity Church, which had been so close to the 9/11 disaster area. We passed Wall Street and the bull statue (tourists were climbing all over it, posing for pictures) and then we saw the waters of New York harbor. We'd gotten to the end of the island, and no had had honked at me.

"We have to start heading back," I announced, not quite sure of how to do that, but figuring we'd find that darned FDR Drive somewhere. We stumbled upon Chinatown and Anna took great pleasure in seeing nothing but signs in Chinese, wherever she looked. Then we were back on the road I'd been looking for, speeding past boats on the river and parks on the shore with Little League games and joggers and birthday celebrations and nothing but people, people, people.

"Awwwwww." Ethan was sorely disappointed. "I like this place." I knew he would. For whatever reason, loud, blinking, flashing places don't cause him sensory overload. Or Anna. I, meanwhile, thought I was going to pass out the first time I came here, when I was 16.

"We'll come back," I promised, as we headed back over the river. I had learned a few things. I knew now that I could drive anywhere. I knew that Ethan was old enough to handle the city, were we to travel in on the train and find something kid-friendly.

And as I sheepishly told them at the toll booth once again that I had no cash, I knew never to trust a just-turned nine-year-old to take care of the cash situation. Next time I'd be ready, bills in hand.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Last Day

There we were, witnessing the waning minutes of Ethan's last day of preschool, and for once I wasn't crying.

Well, okay, maybe I got a little teary when a group of second graders, looking tall and proud and ready to graduate to a new school next year, came out of the school cheering, their teacher clapping for them as they headed to their buses with huge grins on their faces. Just a little.

Inside the school there was the usual chaos magnified by the excitement of the kids finally being DONE. Three blizzard days, two hurricane days, and several other snow days meant school wasn't dismissing until June 24. These kiddos were more than ready.

Normally on last days I get emotional. No surprise. I tear up watching people say goodbye in airports or veterans marching in parades. But on this day, despite us saying goodbye to Ethan's wonderful teacher who is leaving to move away and get married next year, I just wasn't feeling the waterworks.

Maybe it was because, although Ethan is graduated from preschool and heading to kindergarten, he's actually not leaving his school. He'll be in the same place with primarily the same staff next year.

That was part of it, but more than anything, I think it's because, as we watched those kids rush down the halls, ready to break out and start summer, I couldn't help but think of how far we'd come since Ethan started school the day after he turned 3, more than 2 1/2 years ago.

He was in an ABA classroom, not in the preschool room.

He was verbal but not yet conversational. At school, he was much more quiet. Numbers of teachers asked me straight out, "Does he talk?"

I was worried about how they were going to get him to sit at the table or attend to a craft.

He was taking PT, OT and speech in addition to adaptive PE. In OT, I knew we had a looong way to go, when it came to writing skills.

He barely wanted to look at other children, nevermind talk or play with them.

The boy that came down the hall with his preschool teacher for the last time was a vastly different person. Any child changes immensely from ages 3 to 5, I think. With Ethan, the changes are just a bit more pronounced.

There he was, looking straight at me, telling me about his day.

There he was, giving his teacher a hug goodbye and calling out to friends.

There he was, no not "cured" by kindergarten but crawled out of his shell, showing us all the potential we knew was in there.

At home, I opened up the paper highlighting his progress on IEP goals. Ethan was a PT and adaptive PE graduate this year. His OT was reduced and his speech is primarily in the classroom setting and in the form of a twice weekly social skills group. On his progress report, nearly all of his OT goals were mastered (including writing letters!). His social goals were, as always, not mastered, but coming along. Slow but steady progress.

Kindergarten will present its own challenges. I know school will not be getting any easier. I know the social expectations will become more complex. I know it will most likely be hard sometimes.

But on this day, on this last day, I couldn't feel sad. Standing there in a hallway of a school I didn't think any of my kids would be attending, I couldn't help but feel we were in the right place for that moment.

I was grateful for people I'd gotten to know, for friendships made.

I was grateful for teachers who worked hard with limited resources, grateful for that feeling that they truly had my son's best interests at heart.

And despite a rocky start a few years ago, I was grateful for the principal, who despite not being the most warm and cuddly personality in the world, is trying. She's trying to understand the special needs kids on the spectrum have, and she's beginning to really listen to the special ed teachers who continue to tirelessly champion their cause. I can see the change.

Just nine weeks. Nine weeks and I'll have a kindergartener and a fourth grader. That's when I'll probably get weepy.

Now's the time to celebrate.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Getting and Giving

For the longest time, on one of our (too) many trips to Target, I'd wonder as we wandered down the aisles if Ethan would ever be one of those kids I seemed to see all around me -- the ones whining about going to see the toys or about which toy they had to have. Granted, I didn't really wish for Ethan to start incessantly nagging and whining, but at the same time, I wondered.

For the longest time, he just didn't care. And then, he cared about seeing the things Anna liked, because they were familiar. Since he didn't really play with toys of his own, dolls and My Little Ponies were what jumped out at him because sister liked them.

I should mention, of course, that he always liked the TVs.

Then came the day less than a year ago when he looked around at everything and announced, in a tone similar to Anna's, "This is the GIRL stuff. I want to look at the BOY toys."

And so (oh joy!) we headed over to the "boy" section, with its Thomas Trains and Star Wars merchandise and Hot Wheels cars. Ethan looked at everything for about a millisecond and then gravitated towards the interactive displays. This went on for a number of months. If there was a button, he was there. But our particular Target at least has phased out some of his beloved interactive displays. And so, in the past several months, Ethan has continued to ask to look at the toys. Right now he's got a pretty exact system down that involves checking out the light sabers, Angry Birds, two guys fighting Samurai game, and then the Wii U display.

He never glances at anything else. And that's okay. His toy "repertoire" at home is still pretty limited. This is what it is.

But even on our most annoying, exhausting days at Target, when I want to wring the kids' necks and just get what we need and get out of there...when I hear him whining about going to the toys, I just can't get mad. I remember that it took him nearly 5 years to ask or to care, and I remember once again the way little things can be big things.

Same goes for birthdays. Even after Ethan began caring about his own birthday (probably his 4th but definitely his 5th) he still didn't really notice others'. I can remember getting little pictures and attempts at birthday cards from Anna when she was as young as three. By four she was wrapping up little "presents" for us that she'd found around the house.

Ethan? Usually our conversation would go something like, "Ethan? It's Anna's birthday!"


"Can you say happy birthday?"

"Happy Birthday, Anna." Case closed.

A few days ago, on the morning of Anna's 9th birthday, Ethan bounded out of bed and ran down to her room.

"Happy Birthday, Anna!" he called. Then he ran to me. "I was the first person to say Happy Birthday to Anna!" he announced.

"Awesome! Are you going to give her a present?"

"Umm, yeah. What can I give her?" Before I could answer, he said, "I know, I can give her a DVD!"

I thought he was going to run over to the shelves and get one to wrap up the way Anna used to do. Oh no. I saw a questioning look in his eyes.

"How do we make a DVD?"

"Umm, Ethan..."

"I know! We need one of those black things." I think he meant the case. He went digging in some cabinets under the TV. "We need to make a picture of some ponies," I heard him say.

"Ethe, it's really hard to MAKE a DVD." I wasn't quite sure how to explain this. I looked over and saw one of Anna's old My Little Pony DVDs. "This one has ponies. How about we give this to her?"

Ethan liked this idea, so we presented Anna with her first present ever from her little brother, along with a card that I coached him to write (Ethan is NOT the boy to sit around and painstakingly create a card or picture for anyone).

Anna graciously accepted her gifts.

In very many ways, it was a beautiful birthday.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


School gym. Last day of school. Awards ceremony time.

I'm nervous. I'm nervous for Anna, because I know how sensitive she can be. Most of the teachers are handing out just a few awards to a few students. This isn't an "everyone is getting an award" kind of day.

I know she's getting honors but not high honors. I know she's missed the perfect attendance award by one measly day, a few measly degrees on the thermometer. I know she's not getting an art award, even though she loves art, since her projects are usually not quite good enough to be entered into the annual competition.

Her teacher comes to the front. She's a quiet one, and as I suspected, she's quick. She has just two awards. One is for "servant's heart." They do this award every year and Anna's never gotten it. I forget the other award; something like "outstanding student." It goes to the same girl who got it last year.

For a moment, I can't help it. I feel that twinge. I remember myself in school. Yeah, I was "that" girl. Maybe not the teacher's pet, but the quiet, studious one that makes a teacher's life easier. I had all A's every year until junior high, where my math grade slipped to a B. I got the penmanship award...won the essay contest on "What America Means to Me."

For a moment, I wonder what it would be like if Anna was "that" girl. Or if not the studious one, the star. The bubbly, outgoing one like her friend who is now homeschooled, who excels in any sport she plays, who has such a winsome and generous personality that she probably can't keep track of all of her friends.

I look at Anna, trying to remained composed and happy as she sees her friends go up for awards while she remains in her seat. And then I feel something fierce and good.

I know that I know that no matter what, even if they don't call her name for a single award, I am going to find her as soon as this ceremony is over and give her one of those squeezing hugs like the ones she gives me when I tuck her into bed.

I'm going to tell her we're so proud of her.

I'm going to wipe away her tears if she's disappointed.

I'm going to just love, love, LOVE her, because, while we want her to try her best, it's okay. She doesn't have to be the model student or the model person. She doesn't have to live up to an ideal.

She doesn't have to earn anything.

I think of that verse our pastor likes to speak of often: "We love because He first loved us."

I love her first. Not because of anything she can do or doesn't do, but because of who she is.

We love you, Anna. Happy Birthday.

Towards the end of the ceremony, we were stunned when the gym teacher called Anna's name. Athletics has never been a strong point in our family, to say the least. She was one of four students to receive the Most Improved award. You should have seen the way her eyes were shining.

Friday, June 14, 2013

As a Matter of Fact, Life Isn't Fair

Yesterday was Anna's last day of school. For whatever reason, Anna's school lets out a little more than a week earlier than the public schools in town every year. This means that she comes along to both drop off and pick up Ethan from school, and of course that she's bouncing off the walls talking about how happy she is to be out of school.

In the past, this was not an issue for Ethan. Two years ago, the fact that she was out of school didn't seem to phase him, and last year, he seemed more happy that she was around to come with us at drop-off time.

This year, I heard something new as we navigated around puddles and dashed through the rain drops to get into the school at 12:30 p.m. I heard a complaint.

"Why can't I be done with school? I want to stay home like Anna."

Last week, Ethan's best buddy from his class took a day off to go to Six Flags and of course filled everyone in the next day on how much fun he'd had.

"I want to go to Six Flags sometime," Ethan told me sadly that afternoon. "It's not fair!"

And there you have it. Those three little words. Another one of those milestones you don't think of as a milestone: the concept of jealousy, fairness, of realizing someone else has something you want and that you feel upset about that.

I think Ethan picked up on fairness by listening to Anna. Like any typical kid, she's been harping on it (or the lack thereof) for years, sometimes quite loudly and dramatically. How many times has Ethan heard her cry out, "It's not fair?!" Probably hundreds.

But sometime recently, he started paying attention. He started making an association. Sometimes, I'll see that he hears phrases and first tries them out and sometimes doesn't get them quite right. He's been doing this lately with "lucky." He'll throw a ball to me and I'll make a nice catch and he'll say something like, "Oh, you were very lucky." And I know he's probably heard a kid say that at school and he's trying it out for size, but it just needs a little tweaking.

This fairness thing I think has come relatively quickly because it's tied to strong emotion, and we all know that learning that has an emotional element just seems to come faster, to make more of an impression. At some moment along the way, Ethan understood that Anna really wanted something, and didn't get it, and burst out with an "It's not fair!" and he had that a-ha moment.

Of course, there are the greater nuances we haven't gotten to yet. We haven't gone in depth about fairness and the fact that sometimes in life it's impossible to be perfectly fair -- and that life in itself is not always fair.

But here we are, starting the conversation. In the car the other day, talking about Six Flags and listening to Ethan pout, I said, "Do you know what you're feeling now? Do you know what it's called when you really want something someone else has and you're upset you don't have it? That's called jealousy."

It didn't really sink in at that moment. These things are going to take time. We're just getting down the concept of "embarrassment" right now. But it will come. And I just know sometime soon I'm going to catch myself saying what every kid hates to hear their parent say:

"You know what? Life isn't fair!"

And maybe he'll hate to hear it, or maybe his literal self will take that at face value. Maybe he'll think, "Okay, life isn't always fair. That's just the way it is." Oh how much easier would it be, for all of us, if we were all able to do just that?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Searching for Grace

I arrive at Ethan's t-ball late, wondering why I don't see him on the field with his teammates. In a moment I realize it's because he's curled up in Dan's lap, crying on the sidelines.  "Another kid ran and got the ball before he did," Dan explains.

It's been a crazy couple of days that have included lots of jumping in and out of the car and rushing from place to place, and Ethan going to bed too late and getting up too early two days in a row. He's DONE. But -- this is the last few innings of the last t-ball game of the season. We beg and wheedle and cajole him. Finally he runs back out on the field...only to come back when the ball goes to someone else again.

When his team is up the coach tells him he can bat last and do the "home run" (they bat through the order and the last kid up bats everyone home). Feeling better, Ethan stands in line and does what he always does: bops other kids on their helmeted heads. Most of the kids do this...they like the sound of their slapping palms against the hard helmet. Only Ethan does it harder and doesn't know when to stop. "Stop doing that!" kids whine at him.

"Ethan, please stop," I ask him. Then he decides to roll around on the ground and goof off. "Stand up, it's almost your turn to bat." Then he starts to grab a bat and swing it around, too close to people. "Be careful with that, watch out for other people," I say this time.

This is how our interactions go, lately. I feel as if I am the constant taskmaster. I feel as if I'm constantly nitpicking and criticizing. I'm sure no child wants to hear no, don't, you can't do that, stop, all of the time. Even worse, these moments are often around other children. They hear my nagging and disciplining, and I know the messages that are getting in their heads. There's that boy again. The one that's always in trouble. I think it emboldens them: if this mom is always telling her kid what he's doing wrong, why can't we?


The point is driven home a few hours later, at a family birthday party. Since we've arrived, Ethan has dumped a pail of water on my backside, thrown mud at Anna, grabbed a baseball bat out of his cousin's hands, thrown mud on the slide, tried to drag the slip and slide where it shouldn't go, snagged a Frisbee from his uncle and practically lobbed off people's heads with it, and tantrummed about five times when someone went on what he wanted to ride on the swing set.

I feel as if my child is out of control. I feel as if I look like the bad parent who never disciplines her child. That point is driven home when I hear, "You're going to let him get away with that?" after he dumps water on me.

Meanwhile, "NO!!! ETHAN!!!" Anna has continued in her usual habit of screeching at the top of her lungs, over-the-top dramatic about everything, which of course greatly pleases Ethan.

All of the other kids there are best friends who see each other nearly every day of the week. These toddlers and preschoolers travel in a pack half the time, and even at their age they see Ethan is different, and pick up on everything going on.

"Baby Bethan, Baby Bethan," they started chanting at the last family party. Now they start up with it again. The first time, at the other party, they didn't really mean it in a taunting way. He actually thought it was funny and started to do baby-like things to make them laugh. Since they all know each other so well and Ethan has trouble relating to them, it was a way to (kind of) get along.

But today I'm not liking this. Today this feels like us against them. And then, after I've told Ethan he shouldn't have thrown mud on the slide, I hear one of the kids say to another:

"That bad Baby Bethan. Maybe next time when he's not here we can play on the slide without mud on it."

Now it's the middle of the afternoon, and I'm in the backyard crying behind my sunglasses and hating that I'm crying.

I hate that I don't know how to make my child behave.

I hate that people think I'm too easy on him; I hate that I care what people think.

I hate that whenever my child starts to actually wants to relate to people, he sometimes does it in such an inappropriate way that it has the opposite effect.

I hate that I can't handle this, that my sister-in-law with three little ones is immensely more relaxed and laid back; I hate that I'm comparing myself to anyone else.

I hate that every time I get upset or even angry, I cry.

I hate that I can't just take a moment to feel upset and that's it's okay without the voice that tells me you don't have it so bad. This is easy autism. I hate that I feel like my feelings aren't valid, and I hate that even though I feel that way I still sometimes judge other people for getting upset over seemingly minor issues.

You have to know that the day ends well. Ethan discovers croquet with the guys and has a blast bopping the ball around. The kids end up playing together nicely. There are no more "Baby Bethan" chants and no more tantrums.

At home before Ethan goes to bed, I'm cleaning up the kitchen while Dan's reading a story with Ethan. I think of the unanswered questions. I think of how this will start all over again tomorrow.

I hear the book. It's one we've had forever. Finding Nemo. One of my favorite movies. "Just keep swimming," Dan is reading. Just keep swimming.

I think of one of my favorite Bible verses: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

I think I've got the weakness thing down. Now I just need to get a hold on the grace.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

So Close Yet So Far Away

China, all the way to New York, I can feel the distance, getting close... -- Tori Amos

A few years ago, back when Ethan was first diagnosed, a friend who was trying to be helpful connected me to another friend who had a child with PDD-NOS. We began to exchange emails. You know how email can be if you've never met a person. I'm not sure if she meant to, but much of what she wrote about her little boy came across in very "clinical" terms.

Have you tried a sensory diet? Her messages would say. We have him do a number of calming activities...use the sensory brush three times a day...breaks at school to help him organize himself.

He's on a strict gluten-free, casein-free diet. We've seen amazing results.

He's come so far in that he is barely distinguishable from his doing great in school.

After a little while, I realized I had to be honest. I wasn't annoyed at the way she talked about her son.

I was annoyed because her son was "too normal."

There's this weird set-up in Autism World. You have parents who want desperately to connect with someone who understands just what they're going through, and you have the vast spectrum of autism.

Of course every child is unique, and any two children with a similar diagnosis, whether it be autism or Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia or a form of cancer, will have their own path to travel, their own special set of circumstances and challenges.

Yet with autism, that gulf between what any two children may experience seems so much wider.

Growing up, I saw one autism. I thought autism was hand flapping and head banging...refrigerator raiding and house-destroying. I thought autism meant no words. Then there was the day we headed out to Andy's residential school near Boston for the end of the year show. Some of the students were greeting people. Wait, they're talking, I remember thinking. They can talk?! And while their greetings were somewhat stilted and rehearsed, they were standing and knew how to interact on at least a basic level.

I'd never seen that before.

If someone had introduced me to Ethan when I was a teenager, I would have scoffed. HE has autism? I would have rolled my eyes. Let me show you autism.

There's this constant friction that exists, in these times when autistic persons are becoming increasingly vocal about their experiences, about acceptance, about their feelings that there is nothing wrong with them and that autism should be embraced rather than be "forced" out of people. It's almost impossible to make very many blanket statements about autism, because not only is there no one autism, but the distance between one autism and another can be so very great --

-- and, as a result, sometimes the space between parents of those with autism is too big to span.

Awhile back I began chatting with a mom of a boy who has what I'd call moderate bordering on more severe autism. We got together a few times with our kids. I really enjoyed talking with her. I loved watching the kids play, albeit in their own way. As we talked, though, I found myself uncomfortable answering some of her questions. It was obvious Ethan did not deal with some of the same issues her son faced. I realized I was trying to couch my answers...respond vaguely...not dwell on some of the things he was doing well. I didn't want to discourage her. Nevertheless, after a little bit this mom stopped answering my emails. We didn't get together again. She's swamped with her own life and responsibilities, but I wonder. I wonder if it had anything to do with how different our boys are.

And yet -- I stand on the other side. I am the one who sees the child with PDD-NOS, mainstreamed in a classroom without any supports, playing with friends easily, maybe getting a little upset over changes in routine, maybe acting a little big "quirky," -- I am the one who will still stand there, if I'm honest with myself, and silently wonder, silently judge. A part of me will think that this child wouldn't even have had a diagnosis 25 years ago, and the walls will go up.

This bothers me. It bothers me that the nature of autism is that we can be so close, but so distant, that our kids could be so close in diagnosis but so different.

The urge to compare is human nature: but when we do that, as parents of children on the spectrum, we are ultimately hurting ourselves.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Another Elvis Sighting

I think I've written before about a blog I came across awhile ago called Elvis Sightings, written by a mom about her daughter, Joy, who has severe autism and other special needs. She writes:

The term "Elvis Sightings" comes from the book Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by Roy Richard Grinker. It's a one-time utterance or action that comes surprisingly out of nowhere, and then disappears again. For example, one day Joy very clearly echoed "Happy Holidays!" from her Baby Einstein video -- words that we'd never heard from her before, and have never heard since.

With Ethan we have our own version of Elvis Sightings.

We have a clutter issue in our house, and some of it directly corresponds to toy clutter. I'm not talking about clutter spread all over our house (although yeah, there's some of that, too)...but more like collections and possibilities and options for toys all over the place, should Ethan decide he actually wants to play. Aside from Anna's plethora of Lalaloopsy dolls, Ethan has various toys piling up in different rooms. Some of them are probably too young for him if you're going by the "age appropriateness" of the packaging. Most of them remain on their shelves or in their bins for months upon months at a time.

One time a year or two ago my mom looked at all of our toy food spilling all of the place and asked if we might want to consider giving the food to my nephews, Ethan's cousins. They were about to get a toy kitchen, and the idea seemed practical, but --

Then we have these darned Elvis Sightings.

I wish I knew what where they come from, but they seem to correspond with some sort of developmental leap Ethan is making. Suddenly, I'll hear a noise. It's him rummaging through the toy box, a toy box he's walked by as if invisible for six months. I'll see him digging. I'll see him choose a toy that's not electronic in any way and actually take it out and play with it. The room will get surprisingly messy. I'll look over and see him playing with something I was about to give away and know there was indeed a reason that I hung onto it.

We're having another Elvis Sighting around here. Suddenly that play set from Toy Story is getting put back together again. Ethan spent a full 20 minutes building Lego towers (this is big, people!). Musical toys at the bottom of the toy box are singing again. We're taking out the paints so he can make pictures (albeit all one color, filling up the entire page, usually).

And then one day, Ethan will decide he's done, and will go back to his comfortable world of puzzles and books and Wii games and the computer and maybe playing the electronic keyboard.

I've learned there's no real way to figure out what triggers these sudden bursts of typical play, and there's no real way to convince Ethan to go back once he's out of one phase. More and more, I've learned to just go with it.

Sooner or later, Elvis will return.