Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hitting The High Notes

Today started out on a high note and just kept getting better. Oliver woke with a cheery smile and a "Good Morning" for each of us. He even joined in the good morning song that I greet each of the children when they awake each day. Then it was business as usual, getting dressed, breakfast, teeth brushed and ready for the therapist that arrives each morning 8:30. The out of the ordinary thing this morning, though, is that I stayed home. Although I quit my full-time job in January, they were kind enough to ask me to stay on for whatever amount of time I could spare away from home. I still go to work four days a week but now I am home by 11:30; early enough to overlap for a half hour with the therapist and then orchestrate the rest of the days activities.

But today I took the morning off because we were having special visitors. Our school district has created a new Autism Program Coordinator position and the man who has taken the job came by to meet Nik and I and Oliver. I didn't quite know what to expect but was pleasantly surprised by his knowledge, his demeanor, and his attitudes towards working with the parents. There are 19 children in our district, in 6 different schools, plus 4 in home-based programs like Oliver. That gives him a case load of 23 children. And he plans to visit our home twice monthly to spend time with Oliver. He made it clear that he wants to establish clear lines of communication with the parents but that he also wants to know and understand Oliver so that he can be of more assistance as we look to meet all of his needs. I've written before about how pleased I am with the efforts of our school district and I know that many parents struggle to get what we have been given so I feel very fortunate. I also hope he isn't too good to be true!

As we were sitting in the living room talking to this gentleman, who was accompanied by Mary, our much-loved lead therapist, Oliver came into the room during a break from one of his activities. I took the chance to ask him to sing for Mary, who had not heard his rendition of You Are My Sunshine. He sang beautifully and I tell you there are not many people who can keep a dry eye when listening to Oliver sing that song. And I love how he finishes with a flourish, holding the notes here and there for an extra beat or two. And when he finishes he basks, he revels, in the applause. I have never, ever, seen him so pleased with himself. Luke, the new coordinator was genuinely impressed. Only after Oliver left did he tell me that he had earlier expressed concern to Mary that we had abandoned our PECS program for the Verbal Behavior program. After seeing and hearing Oliver he now agrees wholeheartedly with the change.

As the day wore on I did some reveling myself. Oliver and Sam have gradually, slowly, tentatively, started to establish a playful relationship with each other. Most of this is due to Sam's persistence and the very physical play skills he has learned from RT. One of RT's favorite games to play with Sam is "Sumo." RT will walk into a room and say: "Hey Sam! Sumo!" and then Sam will tackle him sumo-wrestling style. This same thing has become very effective with Oliver and it is fun to watch as he lays down on the floor or bed and becomes increasingly excited as Sam repeatedly jumps on top of him. Sometimes Sam will hesitate for a few seconds and Oliver will breathlessly call out: "Jump, Jump, Jump!" or "Go!!" Then, once sam lands on Oliver the two roll around in a posture that is half wrestling, half hugging. It makes me deliriously happy.

Then at 4:00 we rendezvoused with our neighbor and her daughter on the porch of another neighbor to sing Happy Birthday to one of the happiest faces on the street. The woman who lives two doors down is always eager to invite the kids onto her porch to sit on the swing or to have some sweet that she has just concocted. She turned 80 yesterday and delighted in the special kiddie-style serenade. Oliver didn't join in the group song but when the candles were lit it seemed as though everything came together for him and he launched into a solo version of the song. I have never told her that Oliver has autism but I gather she has figured it out because she once told Nik about a program that she watched having to do with the immunization theory. Anyway, as we were sitting there shooting the breeze Oliver kind of curled up beside her on the swing and put his head on her lap. She then turned to me and said, "I really think that he is doing much better." I had just been thinking the same thing myself and wondered if my gratitude to her for saying it out loud showed on my face.

But all these high notes were juxtaposed against a couple of more somber notes. Oliver hasn't really had any tantrums of note since last November. That is, until last week. Twice in the past week Oliver has had monumental meltdowns of the kind that I would sooner forget. Both of them occurred in the car while I was driving. Oliver can now get out of his seatbelt and these tantrums had him lunging across the backseat aggressively towards his brother. What can you do when you are halfway between home and your destination in this situation? I drove for a block then pulled over, put a hysterical Oliver back into his seat and drove another block then repeated the whole thing three more times. It was awful. And scary. And I'm now busy brainstorming ways to avoid the same scene next week when we make this particular trip again. One thing about parenting: it requires resourcefulness and creativity unlike any other job I've ever had.


  1. It's so interesting to read about your boys. I notice very similar things with mine- I wouldn't say that my sons' relationship is typical of brothers. But I am so touched whenever I see them doing anything together. And "rough-housing" is a big boys activity in our house. Tickling, wrestling, playing Power Rangers or Star Wars. It all thrills me because it also forces Henry into some pretend play.

    Unfortunately, we also have the lunging-across-the-backseat brother-type activity. As Tommy grows older, it pains me, because he (at 2 1/2) can already control his emotions and express himself better than Henry can. He knows it's wrong when Henry tries to kick him or pinch him.

    I believe having a little brother has done wonders for Henry- I'm sure it will be the same for Oliver.

  2. I've had exactly the same experience with Charlie in my car----had to pull over, though sometimes he's so wound up, nothing seems to help. I'm very curious how it all works out with the new Autism Program Coordinator---is his training in ABA or another speciality?

    HIgh notes and low notes---not a perfect melody, but a pretty unique one.