Thursday, November 27, 2014

Autism and the Holidays: Something to Remember

We've visited my parents' house several times lately, and I've wondered how bringing a 10-month-old who's pretty mobile to a place with not many baby toys can actually seem relaxing.

I couldn't put my finger on it at first. I still spent time following after her and taking inappropriate items out of her mouth. I still kept having to take her away from the kitty litter box and the open dishwasher.

Then I remembered Ethan.

Let me try to articulate this. With a typical child, you bring him somewhere and of course need to keep an eye out for him while he's a baby and toddler. But once he reaches a certain age, usually around 2 or 3, his curiosity and desire to either play or do what other kids are doing means you start to be able to let him "roam" a bit. Parents then start have a chance to sit back, take a breath, and enjoy hanging out with the "grown-ups" while their child plays independently with other kids or toys.

Autism parents rarely get this kind of breather.

I'll share Ethan's example, although it's not a great one, because he knows how to get along much better at these types of events now. There are some parents still having to keep a tight reign on their "child" with autism who is 40.

Ethan didn't require extra supervision because he was an out-of-control, hyperactive child who would trash people's houses. He didn't throw tantrums. He just didn't like a change in routine, and he didn't care as much about interacting with people. That meant: Wherever everyone else was gathered, he wanted to be doing something else. And he needed to spend time with some kind of object that brought him comfort from the stress of a changed routine. These were usually unconventional items or activities such as sliding a screen door back and forth over and over, opening and shutting doors nonstop, flipping light switches, or looking for the hose outside to trace the path again and again.

When we are with relatives these days and all of the little cousins are around, I see the way they flock around Chloe. I realize how much time kids spend on interaction that we don't even notice. I honestly never knew how much time young children take just looking at each other, exchanging subtle gazes and other gestures. At gatherings and especially during the holidays, adults cook and gab and catch up on each other's lives; meanwhile a gaggle of kids usually forms somewhere, led by the older ones, with the little ones trailing along wanting to do everything the big kids do...

But if your child isn't interested in interacting -- that child, who is not trying to be bad or irritating or rude to the others, often goes off and does something else, often something considered "inappropriate."

I wish others knew, or would remember, how many parents of kids with autism spend a good deal of the time during holiday get-togethers in a quiet room apart from everyone a bathroom where their child wants to play with the basement...outside. These parents can hear the murmurs of laughter in the distance. They would love to be taking part in conversation. Maybe they'd love to be sitting in a comfy chair able to focus just on chatting rather than always wondering what they're child is doing or how to keep him calm.

I wish others would keep in mind that the first thing most parents of autistic kids think when they hear holiday gathering is stress. They know they will spend a good deal of the time trying to keep their child comfortable with a change in routine and scenery. They won't get much "downtime." They will possibly miss special moments. They will see the other kids playing together and watch the way their parents are able to let them go and play without even thinking about it, and their hearts will hurt a little. They will return home most likely more exhausted than when they got there. They will be counting down the days until the end of the weekend or holiday break when their child can get back to their schedule.

If I could implore you, please, remember these parents as the holidays approach. If you see one at a get-together, the best thing you can do is leave the festivities for a few moments and seek them out. Go to where they are and spend some time chatting, or connecting with and helping with the child, if that's possible. Involve the parent in adult conversation. Let them know you really, truly care and want them to be a part.

And if you ARE that parent, please know: you are not forgotten. I am thinking for you and praying for you, during this wonderful, difficult time of year.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Saturday. The leaves in the backyard were calling our name. I reminded myself how I wasn't going to freak out at the kids and be a drill sergeant about raking. We'd do what we could do. Live and let live. Let it be.

Yeah, all that Zen stuff worked for about five seconds. Why?

We were running against the clock. I knew we'd have to rake while Chloe was sleeping because I didn't want her out in the freezing weather with the cold she'd been fighting. Only -- Ethan wanted to play. The kid spends 8 hours at school every day with 20 minutes of recess. I couldn't blame him for wanting free time. But I didn't like the way he was throwing a fit. It seemed to be there should be some sort of basic understanding that I was the parent and he was the child and not that I would make him rake all day but was expecting him to spend 45 minutes helping mom out too much to ask?

The next hour involved tears (his and mine), threats, warnings, encouragement, complaints, yells, and yeah, a bit of raking. In the end, Ethan left his chores to go smash ice, lost his screen privileges, and later earned (only a little bit) back by doing lots of extra work for mom. I was left feeling simultaneously relieved, stressed because the whole thing had been too hard, and sheepish because after all, this was raking leaves, and I just needed to chill instead of seeing our stand-off as a reflection of my failure to be a good parent.

Later we went to Target (Yes. Again.) where I proceeded to hit a mini-pothole in the parking lot with the cart, and the sudden stop in motion caused Ethan to smash his nose into the cart handle, hard, and began spurting blood everywhere. Especially on the white section of his new winter jacket. Then he began wiping his nose on mine. I tried not to yell about the coats and get us out of the middle of the street. Inside the store we were quite a spectacle. Ethan's hands were literally covered in blood. A few supervisors appeared out of nowhere and offered to hang out with the girls while I got Ethan cleaned up in the bathroom. Then one manager offered Ethan popcorn and a Slushie. Suddenly, all was right with the world.

"See," I said to him as he sucked the frosty blue chemicals, "sometimes in life bad things happen, but then even good can come from them," trying to take advantage of a "teachable" moment.

"Yeah, like people giving you food," he said, crunching popcorn.

Um, yeah. That.

The next day was Sunday, and I was singing at church. This means I leave the house very early and in glorious silence get to enjoy the sunrise drive to church while most of the rest of the world is sleeping. While driving there I was thinking about how often I get nervous about singing (whenever I have a solo or something of that nature). I was thinking about an interview with (worship leader) Kim Walker-Smith, how she had talked about falling off a stage one time, and how she said to just be bold and go for it. Even if you mess up. Mess up big, and move on.

I liked that.

I thought about what it would be like to just have fun and not always sweat over every detail and analyze every single thing and about the burdens that would be lifted from my shoulders.

I thought about singing unabashedly and not wanting to crawl under a rock if my voice broke or wavered.

I thought about how the more I THINK about anything, the harder it is to actually DO anything.

I told myself it was time to start doing, to be ready to mess up, and to have some fun. Whether it was singing, or life.

We got up on the stage for the first service, and my mic wasn't on and I wasn't quite ready and they started 30 seconds earlier than I expected which meant no one could hear me singing a certain part...breathe in, breathe out. These things happen.

Then second service we were about to start and I realized the wires to my ear buds were incredibly tangled and I spend a number of "blonde" moments trying to unravel them and get out the knots and realizing how very, very silly this was. I couldn't stop laughing.

With every one of these little seemingly inconsequential moments I felt something drop off. I think it was the weight of perfection. And every time it did, I felt a little more free.

I wondered about doing life this way, about how to not see every mix-up as a sign that I'd failed at everything. All or nothing thinking has been a path I've tread down for way too long.

I thought of doing my faith this way, about not being so scared to reach out and share, or to help someone hurting.

I thought about all of this, on and off, throughout the morning. I sang and realized how much more fun it was to sing when you realize mistakes may happen, and it's okay. I know, I know. Even a kindergartener knows this. But some of us say we know it, but don't live like it.

Then we went to my parents' house, had a dinner I didn't have to cook and watched a glorious amount of football (these days I treasure just being able to SIT and do one thing rather than running around multi-tasking), and the cousins made gingerbread houses (well, except for Ethan, who of course had to watch football) and then they all invented a game that involved jumping from halfway up the stairs onto a giant beanbag at the bottom, and Chloe crawled around and watched them like it was the greatest thing ever.

Yup. It was a weekend of ups and downs. The best part was being able to let the "downs" go.

It's like that old song, the one in the commercials around here now: Everybody wants to be...closer to free...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Short Share

Ethan's first grade teacher has an assignment for them each morning. When the kids come in, they sit down and write a few sentences about something that's been on their mind. They accompany what they've written with a couple of pictures. Then they have a chance to read what they've written out loud during their "morning meeting" on the rug.

It's called Short Share, and I'm convinced that the assignment should be a requirement for all early elementary students.

Short Share is the best. I wish I could save every one. I've set aside at least 5 or 6 so far because they're the type of thing that will be priceless in 20 years.

Short Shares give us an idea of how Ethan is progressing in his handwriting as well as his drawing skills, and storytelling ability. Better than that, they give us a peek into what he's thinking about and what he considers important.

Ethan is quite meticulous when it comes to his Short Shares. He plans them in advance; sometimes days early. I've heard him on Saturday mornings talk about what he was going to share on Monday. He thinks about the pictures he's going to draw. (These are still, by the way, very similar and usually rudimentary, even by first grade standards. We've all, his teacher included, accepted that art is not his strong point.) He also thinks before he heads to school how to spell words correctly (i.e., "Mom, how do you spell Patriots?"). He also at times tries to cram in every possible bit of information that he's pondering, even if it's on completely unrelated topics. Hence we have, from the other day:

To translate: Actually the Patriots played the Colts and the Patriots won! the score was 42 to 20. I woke up at 2:30 am and then went to bed at 10pm. Any way this is dangris. I was on the highway and I saw a truck on fire. it's true! And Eloanor why weren't you here for 3 days?

Of course, as with most first graders, there's no filter on what he writes, and not much elaboration. So the teacher doesn't know that when he says he got up at 2:30 a.m., that's because his little sister woke him up and he decided not to go back to sleep, and that he ended up taking a 2 1/2 hour nap in the late afternoon, which made him wide awake to watch the Patriots game until halftime.

I often wonder what his teacher thinks of all the Short Shares she's seen over the years. I can only imagine. I'm waiting for the day Ethan writes something like, "My mom and dad were arguing last night" or "My mom was crying because I wouldn't stop crawling under the table during dinner and goofing off."

Usually short shares are statements, but lately Ethan's been turning them into questions for others in the class. He also keeps playing around with certain figures of speech, which is why we keep seeing the words "anyway" and "actually." Yesterday's short share read:

I have a question for you kids. Do you know how much is a dollar? It's 100 peenys. Anyway guess what my birthday is coming up!

Usually short shares are about sports or something fun he's done, but sometimes he's shifted to other topics. Once he got political: 


"I agree with Luke because I also think that tom foley is good for aur state. But danol molloey is still goviner that means danol malloey is goviner for about 4 years.
One time he even called his teacher out with a question:
Befor school I played in the snow. Anyway I had a fun time at the feld trip and Mrs. rumrill I have a question why were you sitting in seat 24 on the bus?
Sometimes he'll write about something that we had no idea was important to him until it showed up in the Short Share:

I watched Pokeomon last night. Pokeomon is on netflix. Pokeomon even has a theme song it goes I wanna be the very best dad dad dadada and that's all I know from the song.
I don't know the whole song.
And sometimes Short Shares have helped us see something Ethan's been concerned about, even if he doesn't outwardly show it. I think my favorite was this one, as Anna's broken arm was healing:
My sister got her cast off. I am so happy. My sister still has a part that needs to be heled but it's not enough to get the cast on. Mommy told me that. 

I only wish I had something like this from Anna's earlier years. Thank you Mrs. Rumrill, for providing us with this treasure trove!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Redeeming Middle School

Not long ago I found myself doing something I never thought I'd do: I took out some of my old diaries from junior high and started reading them to Anna.

Anna is 10 1/2. She's technically in middle school now, even if it's in a very small Christian school where everyone has known everyone for years. This is new to us. We haven't parented a middle-schooler before. And in my case, it's bringing back some no-so-wonderful memories.

Here's the thing: entering the tween and teen years to me feels like barreling quickly down a road where there's a big Danger sign looming ahead. Or maybe that's being melodramatic. Maybe it's more like construction ahead, and the words are Use Caution. Okay, so this analogy is not working, but my point is that I know what's coming, and I don't want to scare her, but I also don't want her to be blindsided.

And so I took out some of my old raggedy journals and began reading. I'm not sure if Anna thought I was crazy or was insanely curious. I quickly learned a number of things:

I watched a LOT of TV when I was 12. While I may have had writing talent, it wasn't reflected on the pages. My diaries would never hold a candle to any sort of Anne Frank-esque masterpieces. How many times did I need to write about episodes of Growing Pains or Mr. Belevedere?

Also -- I was a very, very oversensitive and resentful person, who was often angry at everyone.

Reading through the pages, and later hearing Anna recount stories from school (so-in-so's mad at us so she sat with the boys; I couldn't find a partner for the field trip because so-in-so always wants to be with her new friend now) makes me wince and recoil. It's kind of like whenever I remember the time I sprained my ankle really badly after tripping over a huge hemlock tree root up in Maine. I kind of shudder. I can still feel it.

Anna entering her tween years is making me relive mine. And I'm wondering: what good can I squeeze from this?

All I have to do is stop for a second and in a wild rush, I remember.

I remember walking into a new school year and suddenly realizing everyone cared about how everyone looked now, and wanted to talk about who liked who.

I remember being excited when a boy I liked call me, only to find out he was just calling to find out if my friend liked him.

I remember the list that circulated in 8th grade in which the boys ranked the girls on a scale of 1 to 10 and how my friends and I scored solid 3's.

I remember walking into a store to buy a school uniform and the clerk saying we were going to need to find something in the "chubette" section.

I remember the girl in gym who used the words from this commercial always on at the time ("Move over bacon, here comes something much leaner") to taunt me, which lead to my secret crash-diet.

I remember the fake love note from the boy who knew I liked him, who very much did not like me but just wanted to get my hopes up.

I remember my nickname -- Plastic -- because I didn't know how to properly blend foundation on my face.

I remember the girl who stood up in Social Studies and announced she hated me and that I was so ugly.

I remember the night at the school dance in which no one asked me to dance and concluded with me fighting back tears at the bleachers while listening to Tiffany belt out "All This Time."

I think of all of these things, and I know these are the stories that could be told in countless other iterations from millions of others. I think of these things, and I don't hurt anymore because of what happened to me but because I desperately wish I could prevent that kind of hurt from happening to my daughter.

I can't wave a wand and have her skip straight to 16. The only way out of this is through.

So what can I do?

I can pray. I can listen. I can remind her of who she truly is, in God's eyes, and that she is unconditionally loved by her family.

I can tell her, even if she won't believe me, that she WILL get through this. I'll never forget my friend's older sister, who was about 20 at the time, telling both of us that someday we'd look back at everything we were going through and see how silly it is. That we WOULD make it to the other side. That those people who seemed to have everything were just like any of us. I had trouble believing her, but I did hold on to those words for years.

And I can share my stories. I MUST share them because she has to know that she's not alone. That others have been where she is and we made it. I have to share them because sharing makes everything that happened worthwhile.

This is what I am learning more and more, these past few years: everything that happens to us can be redeemed. And everything can be of use. Even the long-ago taunts of mean-spirited kids.

I can give her the gift of my ridiculously detailed memory. I can unwrap these things so that she knows that these feelings that are so big and so painful and so raw have been felt by others. She doesn't have to be a victim. She can run this race and win. She's just got to take it one little step at a time, until she can look back with a wry smile and laugh. And pass her stories on to benefit the next one, just starting the journey.

Monday, November 10, 2014


"Ethan," I said as we were putting on his cleats, "you know whatever happens today, we're still very proud of you. You've all learned and improved your soccer skills so much." It was such a parental, Mr. Rogers-like thing to say.

We were headed to play the team that had caused us so much trouble the first game of the season. "Yeah, we're better now," Ethan said, brimming with confidence.

"You're right," I replied. "Just remember -- they probably are, too."

Eight weeks later, we were back on Field 4. Most of the kids on Ethan's soccer team, Portugal, were bundled up like little Michelin men (game time temp: 39 degrees). USA was waiting for us. Undefeated USA, I might add.

We were ready.

We were ready for their cheerleaders, their blonde phenom little girls, their Olympic-intensity coaches, and their mammoth American flag. We even had a flag of our own. Yes, one of the parents has Portugese relatives and had asked to borrow the flag they had flying outside their home.

A little bit of "friendly" competitive banter before the game

Walking across the field splashed with feeble November sunshine, I wondered exactly when I'd morphed from a nonchalant parent to one secretly hungry for blood.

I really, really wanted Portugal to beat USA.

You have to understand: I'm not a competitive person. I don't like to turn things into contests; I sometimes let other people win because I feel bad for them. Heck, I don't even like watching sports when my team is winning really massively on the road. I feel sorry for the local fans. (Well, except Yankees fans).

So what was THIS? Maybe it was the good-natured ribbing that had been going on between the USA coach and a parent on our team (apparently they know each other and work together). Maybe it was because USA in their undefeated, confident glory reminded me of too many Yankess vs. Red Sox match-ups. Maybe I really, really didn't feel like ending the season with Ethan lying on the field, embroiled in the Mother of all Meltdowns because they'd lost.

I needed to bite my lips. I didn't want to be one of THOSE parents. I didn't want to be a cliché. So I clapped and encouraged and told Ethan we would still get munchkins from Dunkin Donuts if he lost -- just as long as he kept himself under control.

As soon as they started playing it was apparent that both teams were very evenly matched. And as I'd said to Ethan earlier (I wasn't completely just spouting platitudes), Portugal's scrappy bunch of kids were much, much improved than when they'd started eight weeks earlier. It was sweet to see even the littlest ones get a few attempts at actually kicking the ball.

We scored first, and things were going swimmingly until Ethan "The Wall" (he's Mr. Defense) let a ball go past him and USA scored. Trouble.

He sunk into the goal, sobbing. We yelled from the sidelines, encouraging.

Then Portugal found some momentum and scored three goals. Only USA started to come back. They scored twice. Then they were heading down the field to score again and tie it. There had to be only 30 seconds in the game. My heart was pounding as if we were watching the Red Sox one strike away from winning their first World Series in 86 years. All I could see in my mind was the mammoth disaster that would ensue if USA tied the game in the last few seconds.

Time ran out.


Portugal handed USA their first and only loss of the season. We parents erupted. Someone ran out on the field with the Portugal flag. USA looked stunned. Ethan was grinning ear to ear.

We lined up the kids and took photos. We said our good jobs and thank yous and goodbyes, we passed USA holding a closing ceremony complete with trophies, and of course, we went to Dunkin Donuts.

"I gave USA their first lose," Ethan kept saying.

"It's loss, buddy, and not just you, the whole team," Dan and I kept answering back.

Looking back at the game (and the entire soccer season), it'd be fair to say that this was not the experience that taught Ethan how to deal gracefully with losing. They won their last six games, and Ethan was having enough trouble keeping it together when the other team would score individual goals, never mind win the game. Down the road, he's going to need to work on this.

But years ago I was not sure if Ethan would ever play an organized sport with typical kids. I just couldn't envision it. Yet here we were. And he'd loved the experience, most importantly.

If I had to sum up my favorite moment of the soccer season, it would have to be in this last game, when USA scored their first goal and Ethan began to fall apart. The other parents on the team know his story. I felt I had to explain why he got so...intense at times. And honestly, I didn't want people to think he was just a brat who hasn't been taught self-control.

When Ethan put his head down and started to cry, every parent on the sidelines started cheering him on, clapping and shouting words of encouragement. Someone started up a chant and others joined in: "E-than! E-than! E-than!"

For a moment, he gave us all a shy smile, acknowledging the attention. Then it all became too much. He turned his head away and put out his arm to us in a "talk to the hand" kind of way. And we laughed, not unkindly, because we knew he wasn't being rude. The moment had just become too overwhelming, in a good way.

That was the best part of the season. The compassion and understanding. The patience from his coaches. The chatting with other parents.

And yeah, the winning. I'd have to say the winning.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

More Than Fine

More than fine/More than bent on getting by/More than fine/More than just okay... - Switchfoot 

We were at a Bible study I attend for moms, circled around a table, one of several small groups that met in various rooms around the church building. Each of us were "checking in," updating others on how life was going, if there was anything we were stressing about, etc., etc.

In a flash I thought about everything I could say. I thought about the way so often we say we're doing "fine" when really what we mean is "I don't feel like troubling you with my burdens that would probably either bore you, scare you, or both." I remember a pastor saying once that "we could be walking around as if we're completely fine when really inside our soul is hemorrhaging."

I thought about the way I'd been reading a magazine the day before about this group of women that had met for dinner and conversation and to talk about one thing they were going to work on in the coming months, and how I'd seen their examples, their bad habits, their fears, and thought that I had every single one of them. About how often I think, "Where do I begin?"

I thought about how I could share the way Ethan's behavior the other night left me in tears. Again. That I lost my temper so badly I had to apologize, even while I was wondering how I was ever going to find a system of discipline that worked. About how other people out there are having their kids follow pretty Pinterest chore charts, and I can't even focus on chores because I'm just trying to get us through the afternoon without a meltdown.

I thought about how I've forgotten what it feels like to sleep eight solid hours; that I drink too much caffeine and tell myself I won't but wake up tired and start the cycle again. Or I eat and then get angry at myself for eating too much. About the way I still have oodles of baby weight to lose and how what I seem to have lost most of all is willpower.

I thought about how I could say I am tired of chewing my fingernails to bits and of the same old insecurities. That I hate that I'm almost 40 and still haven't a clue as to how to smartly apply makeup or do my hair. Or decorate my home. That I can't seem to stick to a budget, that Dave Ramsey would probably glare and wag his finger at me sternly. That I sometimes wonder when I'm actually going to grow up.

I thought about how I still have so many doubts and so many fears. I thought about the way, when I sing at church I hear such amazing things in my head, but when my voice actually comes out of my mouth and I'm up in front of people it never quite goes as beautifully. That's what my entire life feels like, sometimes. Potential that I'm not maximizing.

I thought about wishing I had a sister, because then maybe I'd be better at relationships with other women rather than being so darned brooding, so serious, so into books and intense things rather than fun and gossipy chit-chat and shopping. I hate shopping. I hate it more now since I have so many extra pounds to lose. And because I wouldn't say I have a lot of fashion sense. Or extra money to spare.

I thought of the ways I want to with purpose, selfless, teaching my kids to be giving and caring, sitting around the table doing Dr. Dobson-like family devotions, taking on Christmas giving projects, versus how things really are: everyone fighting over the computer, quibbling over things that don't matter. Am I living shallowly? How is it already my girl wants to YouTube Taylor Swift first and foremost? How is it my kids are complaining already about having to go to church or to do anything for anyone besides themselves? Were my own self-absorbed ways somehow oozing into their little personalities?

I thought of spending too much time on social media and knowing it, knowing that sometimes I just wanted to feel connected to other people, to feel as if someone else cares, that my life and my goofy self actually matter?

I thought of all the organizing I haven't done; all of the good intentions that don't mean anything; all the ways I feel I've failed.

I thought of all of this in a few seconds, and I couldn't stick with "I'm doing fine," because one of the few things I'm good at seems to be keeping it real. Even if others undoubtedly are put off by my over-sharing.

If you can't be at church and be real, why be there at all? So I mentioned how I felt: the sense of thinking that I have so many things to work on, I don't know where to start.

What I learned is that even in the midst of feeling like a failure, being real, being authentic, feels refreshing. And I learned that I'm not alone. There are others out there thinking similar thoughts; fighting similar battles.

There are no pat answers or quick fixes. That's not what Christianity is about and it's not what church is about.

I don't know exactly how I'm going to finally sleep well or stop being a worrier or be more organized or eat better. I'm sure it starts with a healthy dose of self-control and a determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other rather than throwing in the towel.

But before any of those things, I am reminded of that verse in the book of Matthew. Peter goes to Jesus and asks how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. He wants to know if seven is enough, but Jesus replies, "Not seven, but seventy times seven."

And I wonder if that's what I have to do with me. Forgive. Not to give myself the license to do whatever, to never work on things or improve or be disciplined. But just because living with the weight of everything you've done wrong or every way you're not measuring up is no way to live.

Every little failure is yes, a failure. But it's also a chance to learn. To learn to receive grace. And to learn to accept this flawed, temperamental self as clay that can still be molded. That can still become something more beautiful. That already is, when I catch just a glimpse of myself, the way God sees.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

"Did you know that Bud Light is the official sponsor of the NFL?" Ethan announced during a recent Sunday football game.

I did know, in fact. We'd been seeing the Bud Light commercials non-stop. Along with a plethora of others.

Okay, so the older I get, the more I really, really can't stand ads. Well, except for the Super Bowl, when most people are watching strictly FOR the commercials.

But other than that, they're loud. They're annoying. More and more, they're inappropriate (Victoria's Secret ads, anyone?). The remote's mute button was made for them. Except -- in our house, when I mute a commercial, everyone (including Dan sometimes) either watches the silent screen, or calls out, "Unmute it! I really like this one!"

A long time ago (meaning college), I wanted to go into advertising. For about five minutes. Then I realized I'd quickly hate myself for convincing people they needed things that they really, truly did not need.

I clearly remember the day Anna got a stern education on the evils of advertising. She was about three, and I had just watched a news special about how slapping a familiar cartoon character on any old grocery item significantly increased a child's chance of wanting it. The clincher was when a kid was filmed preferring to eat a ROCK for breakfast rather than a cereal bar because they'd placed it in a box with a Sponge Bob picture.

Anna asked for some soup that had the Dora the Explorer characters on the can, and I was all over that. To this day she walks down the aisles with a discriminating eye, looking to see whose trying to bamboozle her.

Then we have Ethan. Oh, Ethan.

"Mama, you can get a new house for just $29.95!" he called out to me the other morning. We always listen to news on the radio during breakfast.

"Ethan, that's new windows for your house. And they're actually charging you two THOUSAND dollars, not 29."

In the car, driving to school one day, he spotted a satellite dish on someone's house. "It's time to get rid of cable and get Direct TV," he said earnestly.

"Where'd you hear that?"

"That's what they said on the commercial. We need to do that!"

Many people on the spectrum love commercials. In Autism World there's a lot of talk about scripting, which is when a person with autism lifts a familiar line from something they've heard or read and either enjoys repeating it over and over (sort of a comfort thing, or stress-reliever), or uses that "script" to appropriately apply in conversation. Ethan's done both, but usually the latter.

Commericals are perfect scripts, because that's really all they are: snippets meant to stick in our heads; particularly if they're set to music. Which is why I can't remember a lick of the Algebra I was taught, but nearly 30 years later I can sing to you

New Tato Skins got baked potato appeal
Because they're made with real potatoes and skins that are real


The political ads of late have sobered me to the fact that Ethan is not just listening to ads, he's wholeheartedly believing them. Thanks to our (no big surprise) contentious gubernatorial race here in Connecticut, the ads have been on the radio and TV non-stop. And Ethan has begun to state, "Dannel Malloy, he's on our side," and ask "Why doesn't Tom Foley care about us?"

In some respects, this has us trying to hide our giggles, but autism and gullibility are a very real thing. People on the spectrum take what's said at face value and aren't the best at thinking about the internal motivations that might lead someone to say one thing and do another, or speak untruthfully. The last thing we want is for Ethan to believe everything everyone tells him without blinking an eye.

And so we're starting to talk about this, just a little bit.

"Do you know what ads are?" I asked him the other day. "It's people trying to get you to buy something or do something, even if you don't need to."

I'm not sure how much he was listening, but hopefully this message begins to sink in, as the holiday toy ads come out in full swing. Or before kids at school ask Ethan to do something completely inappropriate just because they know if they tell him to do something, he'll go and do it.