Dispelling the Cloud, Removing the Chip

Oriole

So I was out of town a couple of weeks ago at a meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association. It’s an annual gathering of biblical scholars that I attend as an “associate” member—someone who isn’t really a scholar but who works with the Bible on a regular basis and who would benefit from hearing research reports from the full members. One of the things I enjoy about this gathering is the collegial atmosphere. For the most part, everyone is treated equally: the great, the near-great, and the just plain silly. You are not looked down upon if you don’t have a PhD; you are welcomed just as much as the most celebrated, published scholar.

At the conference, I had the pleasure of sharing dinner with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. Like the others, he is a respected scholar and researcher, but he is also a born teacher who brings a pastoral approach to his studies. Plus, he’s from Canada, so he has niceness encoded into his DNA. The last time we met, I had told him a little about our fourth child, whose high-functioning autism we were just learning about. This was our first diagnosis. We didn’t know about the others until later on. So it was only natural for him to ask me this time how our boy was doing and how the rest of the family was adjusting to his uniqueness.

That’s when the discomfort began. Should I tell him that all six of our kids are on the spectrum? Do I have the emotional energy to give a minor tutorial in the ins and outs, the mysteries and challenges of ASD? I’ve been down this road before with a lot of other people, and I was getting tired of it.

I debated changing the subject, but I respected this fellow too much to stay shallow. So I dove in, with a lump in my throat.

An Impromptu Community.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to worry. My friend, along with a couple of others at our table, listened carefully and asked insightful questions. They showed genuine concern for our kids. They shared their own experiences and understandings of autism. We ended up talking together about how God is and is not at work in challenging situations like mine. So what began as a general “How’s it going” conversation grew into a shared reflection mercy, grace, compassion, justice, and perseverance. It was as if we had formed an impromptu community of faith.

Mind you, I did feel somewhat uncomfortable being the center of attention for so long. I was afraid that the conversation would decline to the kind of pity and mock-sympathy that I detest. But another part of me thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. There was something distinct about it. Everyone there was immersed in Scripture and its teachings, so our discussion had a strong fait dimension to it. Of course, not every Scripture scholar is a saint, but it was clear that these people had taken Jesus’ words to heart and were striving to live in the love of God. That’s no small thing.

The Cloud and the Chip.

Rather than feeling drained, as I usually do after “raising autism awareness,” I left the conversation feeling energized and encouraged. And that got me thinking. You see, I’m not used to having such genial discussions about my kids—and especially, not with people who don’t know me well. I have spent so much of my time the past few years advocating for them in a cash-strapped school system and among neighbors who (with a few exceptions) didn’t have patience for anything outside the status quo. So I wasn’t expecting such a kind reception of my story.

Add to that the fact that I didn’t have that many friends in Florida. Katie and I spent so much time with our kids, and that made it hard to meet new people. Plus, we lost a couple of friends due to our kids’ challenges, and these losses left me defensive, guarded, and cynical. I didn’t want to get to know anyone else. “Why bother?” I’d think. “It’ll only turn out bad.” I didn’t realize it until after having left Florida, but I had spent the better part of four years walking around with a cloud over my head and a chip on my shoulder.

A New Beginning?

That seems to be changing now. A couple of months ago, we moved back to Maryland, where Katie and I both are from. It’s something we had been wanting to do for quite a while, but never had the chance. We knew that Maryland schools were better, and most of our family is there. So when the opportunity finally arose for me to be transferred back to my company’s home office, we grabbed it—and we’re really glad we did. The school year hasn’t started yet, but all of our preliminary meetings have been extremely encouraging. Accommodations we could only dream of in Florida were offered to us without our even having to ask for them. Programs are in place here that we had never heard of down South—programs to help ASD kids not only survive but thrive.

What’s more, and I don’t exactly know why, there seem to be a lot more families with ASD in our new hometown. Maybe it’s because of the higher population density. Maybe it’s because there are more doctors here who are trained to spot the signs of autism. Or maybe the parents are just better informed. Whatever the reason, that increase in numbers brings an increase in awareness and acceptance. So we’re feeling like we fit in here better than we did down there. It doesn’t feel as lonely.

And then there’s family. All of my siblings are within an hour’s drive, and most of Katie’s siblings are even closer. Plus, Katie’s parents are just a ten-minute walk away. So there’s a lot more support where we are now, and our kids are surrounded by more than twenty cousins ranging from age three to twenty-six.

All these factors have helped me relax a little bit. With increased awareness and acceptance, our kids have a better shot. With family around, we have ready-made friends and social situations. With a more accommodating school district, we hope to have fewer fights and less tension. A few days ago, I wrote that our family’s future is beginning to look brighter. Maybe I’m just fooling myself. Maybe we’re in a bit of a lull right now, a respite between crises. Or maybe with this fresh new start Katie and I are able to see our situation and our kids in a different light. Whatever the case, I’m enjoying it—almost as much as I enjoyed my conversation with those biblical scholars who reflected a God who loves and cares for his people.

The Day We Met Temple Grandin

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See that grainy picture right there? That’s my oldest son speaking with Eustacia Cutler, better known as Temple Grandin’s mother. Yes, that Temple Grandin. We were at a conference on autism on Friday, where Cutler and Grandin were both featured speakers.

I wasn’t thinking of attending this conference—I had only heard remotely that it might be going on. But my son found out about it and practically begged me to take him. I was a little reticent. I thought it would be one of those highly scripted events, where the speakers on stage to rousing applause, give their spiels, and then are whisked off to some undisclosed location. So I suspected that my boy’s dream of meeting Temple Grandin would probably not come true, and that he might end up disappointed.

I was wrong. No sooner had we entered the lecture hall than we found Eustacia Cutler milling about, unrecognized by many of the attendees. So I took my boy up to meet her. She was as charming as could be, introducing herself to him and asking about him and his family. Very classy in the way that only New England matriarchs of a certain socioeconomic status can be. Then the moment was gone, and we had to find our seats.

Michael was thrilled to have met her, if only so briefly. He also felt emboldened by it—and dramatically so. This kid, who is usually very shy and unnecessarily aware of his “otherness,” found the courage during the Q&A part of her talk to go up on stage and ask Cutler a question. Seriously. He walked right up in front of nearly three hundred people, spoke into the microphone, and his story. He talked about how he’s scared to make the transition from his very small private, Aspergers-only middle school (with a student body of 25) to the big, noisy, public high school where he is enrolled (population: 1,500). Cutler was impressed by his courage, and she told him to just be himself, remember his poise, and not to let anyone tell him he’s anything less than an amazing, goodhearted kid. Then everyone in the room gave him a big round of applause. I was floored.

A Minor Celebrity.

It was an awesome moment for me as a dad to see my son take this step. I spend so much time thinking about his social anxieties, his cognitive glitches, and his emotional ups and downs. I fret over his prickly relationships with his siblings. I worry about his struggle to handle sensory overload. But here he was, holding a conversation with Temple Grandin’s mother in a full-to-capacity conference hall!

Of course, all of my pride pales when compared to my son’s own response. He was shaking in his shoes, he told me, but he felt so good that he could talk to someone who understood his challenges—in front of so many fellow travelers. What’s more, he became a minor celebrity for the day. At every break during the conference, people came up to him to congratulate him, to tell him how they could relate to what he was saying, and to encourage him. Over and over again, they told him, “If you could get on that stage and talk in front of so many people, you’re going to do great.” One young man with Asperger syndrome, who just graduated high school, told him, “That was awesome! I couldn’t have done what you just did.” He and my son spoke for a good while, comparing experiences of having been bullied in middle school. He told my boy that high school is a different, and easier, challenge altogether, and he encouraged him to push through any anxiety he might feel. “There are a lot of kids like you out there. You just have to find them, and you’ll fit in.”

It got better from there. Temple Grandin herself came wandering through the hall during the second break, and I took Michael to meet her. Then, after lunch, he found her himself and spoke with her. Then again after her talk. Three different encounters with someone he admires so much. Three different topics of conversation. Not a fear in the world!

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My son did so well that I gave in and let him buy a (small) can of Red Bull, a drink he has long wanted to taste. I also bought him a copy of Grandin’s latest book. I didn’t really have a choice in that one. He had picked up a copy of the book to bring it to me and ask if we could buy it. On his way to find me, he bumped into Grandin one last time. She saw the book in his hand, assumed he had already bought it, and autographed it for him. What else could I do?

A Glimpse of the Future.

Anyway, we drove home at the end of the day, my son asleep next to me, as I excitedly filled Katie in on the day’s events.

This is what I love about my kids. Every now and then, they throw me for a completely beautiful loop. Here I was worried about whether he would be able to make it through one talk, let alone four—and he goes and does this!

We got home just in time for dinner, which was just as chaotic as it always is. For us, this meant a couple of tantrums and a minor melt down. Even my oldest, who acted so much like a young man during the day, collapsed halfway through. But that’s okay. I got a glimpse of the future, and it looked very bright indeed.

It’s All About Us

Video

I’m so proud of my oldest daughter. All by herself, without telling us, she produced this video for a project in her Aspergers-only school. She doesn’t often tell us what she’s thinking—not uncommon for any 13-year-old girl and even more prevalent with girls on the spectrum—so I was blown away when I saw this.

An Inspired Diptych

Pieta

So here we are in the middle of another Holy Week—the seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter. This is the time when Christians pay especially close attention to the stories of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection. And as you might expect, believers conjure up beloved images during this time—images drawn from the Stations of the Cross or from a classic movie like The Ten Commandments or Jesus of Nazareth.

My favorite image, however, is a little different. I tend to think about Jesus’ mother, Mary, and especially that moment after the crucifixion that has been called the Pietà. See that picture up there? It’s Michelangelo’s rendering of the scene, and it’s on display in St. Peter’s Basilican in the Vatican. 

Anyway, the Pietà wasn’t always my go-to Holy Week image—at least not until something happened about four years ago. And since it’s Holy Week, I thought I’d share the story.

It had been a long evening—and it was only 6:30. Our second child had been fighting Katie over homework, fighting her older brother over the use of the TV, and fighting me over whether she was going to eat her dinner or just sit at the table and wail.

She was nine years old at the time: a very pretty girl with big, ice-blue eyes; light brown hair with natural blonde highligts; and a fair face with a few freckles. When she’s not throwing a tantrum, she has a lively sense of humor and an innocent, even sweet disposition.

She also has Asperger Syndrome. Among other things, this means that her brain has a difficult time processing all the visual and auditory input that we neurotypical people take for granted. So after a full day dealing with the sights and sounds of school, she has had just about as much as she can handle. She spends six hours every day holding it all in, and it’s only when she gets home that she feels safe enough to let it out. And that’s precisely what happened this evening.

So there I was, taking my daughter from the dinner table and escorting her to her room—again. “Maybe if I sit with her for a few moments,” I thought, “she’ll be able to calm down.” So up the stairs we went, me tugging her as she reluctantly followed, crying and swatting at me. I sat down on her bed, held her in my lap, and tried to speak in soothing tones while she shook and wept. But it was no use. She just kept pitching back and forth, wailing and screaming until she fell asleep in my arms.

Recognition and Revelation.

I was lucky that night: she fell asleep quickly enough for me to make it to the prayer meeting I had been attending. It took place in the chapel of a large Catholic church. The chapel was dedicated to Mary, and it featured a series of stained-glass windows depicting various scenes from the Virgin’s life.

I got there a few minutes early, tied up in knots and on the brink of tears. Since only a few people had arrived, I found a quiet corner and knelt down for some private prayer.

As I bowed my head and shut my eyes tight, a host of anxious thoughts swirled in my mind. What was going to happen to my little girl? Would we ever find the right therapies and medications? How could Katie and I keep up? What about our five other children, all of whom are also on the autism spectrum?

But then I looked up, I saw that I had stationed myself right next to the stained-glass window depicting the Pietà. I saw Mary, a look of both resignation and surrender on her face as she cradled the lifeless body of her son, the image pierced my heart. I had just come from cradling the seemingly lifeless body of my child, and here was Mary doing the same thing.

It was a moment of recognition and revelation. My reaction to my girl’s suffering was tinged with bitterness, but so was Mary’s. Looking at her face, I could tell that she didn’t just shrug off what had happened with a sense of holy indifference. She was a real mother holding her own flesh and blood. As I kept looking at the image, I imagined Mary telling me, “It hurts, doesn’t it? It really hurts. I don’t have comforting words to offer you, except to say that I know how bitter it is—because I’ve tasted it. Does that help?”

An Inspired Diptych.

In that moment, I felt a sense of kinship with Mary that I still have a hard time putting into words. The best I could come up with was a diptych, a kind of two-paneled painting. On one panel, I imagined myself holding one of my children, much the way that Mary holds Jesus in the Pietà. As I contemplate this panel, I realize that, just like Mary, I too am sharing in my children’s pain and frustration and anguish. When melt downs like my little girl’s happen, I am just as helpless as Mary was, and the best I can do is keep vigil with them and pray for God’s strength to keep moving forward.

On the other panel, I see myself as the lifeless body, spent and exhausted, lying in Mary’s lap. I have given all I have to give, I have done all that I know how to do, and there’s nothing left. But Mary is there, accepting my pain, sadness, and helplessness as her own and ennobling it by turning it into a prayer that we offer to God together.

I realized that night that this is an okay place to be. If Mary is with me, I know I’ll find some kind of resurrection, some kind of divine grace to help me get up and take the next step. I saw that it’s okay to collapse upon occasion; someone will always be with me until I can rise again.

Rising to the Challenge.

What I learned—what I felt—as I looked at that stained glass window has stayed with me. My little girl is not so little any more. Her melt downs may not be as dramatic, but her challenges have become more complex. So too have our other kids’ challenges, melt downs, and rough patches. Frankly, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t get the chance to identify with one or another—or both—of those pictures on my diptych. And that’s a good thing. Because I don’t know what I’d do without them.

I hope you have a happy Easter.

Five Years with Autism

Five years.

Sixty months.

Two hundred and sixty weeks.

One thousand, two hundred and eighty-six days.

That’s how long we’ve been living with autism. Actually, scratch that. We’ve been living with it for fourteen years, but we didn’t know what it was until five years ago. We were a little slow on the uptake.

Five years is a kind of a milestone, isn’t it? So naturally, I did a bit of looking back at both the highlights and the lowlights to see how far we’ve come and to think a little bit about the future. Here’s what I came up with.

From Fear to Acceptance.

First, the diagnoses themselves. From the first one, when our lives began to change, to the last one, which was more or less a given, I can see somewhat of a progression.

• With the first diagnosis, in March of 2009, there was fear. Would he ever talk? Would he ever be independent? Would he wander off one day and get hit by a car? Would he spend the rest of his life alone?

• Then came the second diagnosis, in May of 2009. This time, there was a combination of relief and anger. Relief because we finally had a name for her quirkiness and emotionality. Anger at her pediatrician, who had told us it was only a matter of bad parenting.

• Then came the third diagnosis in September of 2010. This time, there was mostly guilt. Guilt because of all the lost years. Guilt because this was our oldest, so he had to bear the most years of our misunderstanding him. The signs were there early on, but I didn’t want to see them.

• With the fourth one, in March of 2011, there was a sense of validation. I had called it early on this time. This little fellow spent almost an entire year insisting that he wear nothing but red shirts and shorts. He would also get so absorbed in building Legos that he would forget to go to the bathroom.

• Then came the fifth in early 2012. This time, there was laughter. I had seen so much with the first four that nothing was a shocker. Besides, by this time, my attention had turned to working with the kids’ schools. Frankly, I had bigger fish to fry than to react to something I was beginning to think was inevitable.

• I’m sure I felt something when the last diagnosis came during the summer of 2013. I just can’t remember what it was. Nonchalant acceptance, maybe? More or less, I took it in stride. Nothing could shock me anymore. It just gave us more insight into this sweet little girl.

Not Just Labels.

But besides the accumulation of labels, there are some other milestones. During this time, I have:

• Attended more than 30 IEP meetings at three different schools.

• Spent nearly $50,000 in autism-related medical and psychological treatments, schools, medicines, and therapies for my kids.

• Lobbied our state representatives for increased funding for our local autism center—and won.

• Taken more than 15 stress-relieving day trips to Disney World.

• Seen the dissolution of two friendships—one close, the other not so much—because of misunderstandings or judgments about our family.

• Seen two other friendships slip into casual acquaintances. Not because of any malice but because our paths rarely cross any more. (Let’s face it. I rarely cross paths with anyone these days!)

• Met other autism parents online, in whom I have found encouragement, humor, common experiences, and wisdom.

• Fallen more deeply in love with my wife, whose commitment to our kids never ceases to inspire me.

• Made peace with God over the whole situation. Ironically, I bear fewer external markers of my faith than I have in decades (e.g., commitment to a Bible study, membership in a small faith community, parish involvement), but I feel more strongly connected to the Lord and my faith than ever before.

Accepting a Constant Presence.

So yeah, it’s been a wild ride. There have been wonderful triumphs, like the day our four-and-a-half-year-old finally got potty trained. And there have been crushing blows, like the day one of our kids, in a full-scale melt down, grabbed a kitchen knife and threatened to cut himself. There have been strings of days when we’ve wondered if it could ever get any worse. And there have been times when everyone seemed to be firing on all cylinders and we could breathe easier.

But through the ups and the downs, autism has been a constant presence. I know I said a few years ago that not everything is about autism, but I don’t think that’s true any more. Autism is an integral part of who my kids are, and that means it shows up in just about every aspect of their personalities. They’re not being autistic only when they’re melting down or misinterpreting social situations. They’re just as autistic when they’re happy and making excellent progress. They do everything a little bit different, and that’s part of what makes them so unique.

I guess this means that I no longer look at autism as a scaly, ravenous monster ready to devour my children. There are days, mind you, when it seems like that’s happening. But there are many more days when it feels more like an awkward, galumphing puppy that you have to keep an eye on—you don’t want it peeing on your floor or chewing your furniture!

So have I come to a point of acceptance? Yes and no.

Accepting my kids and their unique neurologies? Absolutely.

Accepting the fact of their diagnoses? Pretty much, although there are times that I lose sight of it.

Accepting that this is how they’re going to be forever? No. I’m not trying to fix them, but I am trying to teach them how to be as successful as possible in a world that can seem so bizarre, alien, and even frightening.

What’s around the Corner?

And that’s where the future comes in. As I stand at the five-year mark, I can be proud of what we’ve accomplished, even as I peer nervously around the corner to see what’s still waiting for us. I know every year will have its own challenges and triumphs. I also know better than to assume that the worst is behind us. No one can say that with any degree of confidence. But I can say that the past five years have changed and shaped me in ways I never expected. They have shattered old misconceptions and built up new, stronger convictions. They have revealed a shallowness in my heart and taught me how to love more selflessly. And they have taught me never to put limits on what I—or Katie or any of my kids—can do.

There are many more obstacles to overcome, many more challenges to face down, many more threats to neutralize. There’s so much more we haven’t experienced yet, but I think we’ll be able to handle it.

Just as we’ve done for five years.

No Love from the Lollipop Guild

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Someone’s unhappy. No lollipops at the bank, because Daddy used the ATM tonight. Mommy always uses the drive-up window, and the Little Guy always gets a lollipop. But it was after hours, and the window was closed. The poor guy sitting in the back seat of my car just couldn’t comprehend a world in which The Bank does not equal Lollipop. No matter how many times I explained it to him, it just didn’t load. He knew his routine, and there was no room for variation. The autistic brain thrives on structure and predictability. Unanticipated change is a dangerous thing—especially when that change means no lollipops!

A Stuck Brain.

“Are we going to get a lollipop?”

“Not tonight, Little Guy. I have to go to the ATM.”

“Aren’t you going to the bank?”

“Yes, the ATM is a machine at the bank.”

“Doesn’t the machine give lollipops?”

“No, it doesn’t. If you want a lollipop, you have to go to the window. But that’s closed now.”

“But we going to the bank, and we always get lollipops at the bank.”

“Yes, but we can’t get one tonight.”

“But Mommy always gets lollipops at the bank.”

“That’s because she uses the window. But the window is closed, so we can’t get one.”

“No lollipop? This is so wrong!”

“I’m sorry, Little Guy, but we can’t get one.”

“But aren’t we going to the bank? We always get lollipops at the bank.”

I tried. I really did. I tried changing the subject. But he kept circling back to the lollipop. I tried to turn it into a game, tickling him and telling him that we had a yummy dinner waiting for us at home. Nope. I even took him to the drive-up window so that he could see that no one was there. No dice. No matter what I did, he became more and more anxious.

Plan B.

So I did what any sane man would do. I took him to the drive-through window at pharmacy across the street. They give out lollipops too.

“Hi, I think you have a prescription waiting for me? The name is Z-a-n-c-h-e-t-t-i-n. Nothing? Oh well, I guess my wife already picked it up. Oh, by the way, can you give my boy here a lollipop?” [I’m so clever.]

“Sorry, sir. We’re all out of lollipops.”

$#!† Now I was really in trouble. He started to cry. Big, crocodile tears.

Plan C—Please?

As we headed home, I tried a different distraction. I promised him a couple of mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups after dinner. But his language glitch was in high gear. First he thought I was promising him a cup of chocolate.

“No, chocolate and peanut butter. Together.”

“But I don’t like peanut butter. Only Nutella.”

“No, Little Guy. It’s a Reese’s Cup. You remember them, don’t you?”

“Is it chocolate ice cream?”

“No, chocolate and peanut butter. Together. You know—Reese’s cups!”

“Do you have them here?”

“No, they’re at home, waiting for us.”

“Instead of dinner?”

“No, after dinner.”

<Sniff> “Okay” <Sniff> “And a lollipop, right?”

The Comforts of Home.

By this time, we had pulled into the garage. He got out of the car, headed into the kitchen, and ate dinner with the rest of the family. A little disconsolate, but nothing too dramatic. Come dessert time, he had completely forgotten about the Reese’s cups. He was back home, back in his routine, and all was right with the world.

The little stinker!

Not So Fast!

2014 seemed like it was going to be a good year. Our two oldest were enrolled in a private school dedicated to kids on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, and they were actually enjoying it. We were, too. Who wouldn’t? There is very little homework, and the teachers are both knowledgeable about ASD and approachable.

Our next two oldest kids were making good strides in the public school, including a very responsive IEP team for our fourth child. And the two youngest were skating along beautifully, showing the world just how much they could learn.

We had taken a relatively incident-free overnight trip to Disney World in January, and in February we took a longer trip to visit my father in Tampa—again, with no real problem. During that trip, we took a side visit to Sarasota that blew me away. The primary purpose was to visit my mother’s grave, but we turned it into an all-day thing, throwing in a lunch at a restaurant downtown. That entailed walking through a crowded arts fair. But again, with no incident. What’s more, at the restaurant, two people told us how beautiful our family was and how well-behaved our children were. I couldn’t have been more proud!

Things were going so well, in fact, that I caught myself wondering whether I was making a mountain out of a molehill with all this autism stuff. Was I just being too dramatic? Was I letting my fears color the way I looked at my kids? Maybe I was turning my anxieties into self-fulfilling prophecies.

Oh, Well . . .

That was a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve had to deal with . . .

• A huge melt down from one of our private-school kids over a Doctor Seuss celebration the school had been planning. This trivial event brought back embarrassing memories from a similar one seven years prior. “I can’t go to school,” she wailed. “Don’t you remember how I had a migraine in kindergarten during Doctor Seuss Day, and I threw up? I don’t want that to happen again!” It took two hours of helping her work through it before we could get her to school. Ant that was just the beginning. For the entire week afterward, she became so anxious that she began throwing up every day.

• Completely irrational anxiety from our oldest about his upcoming confirmation—all because of a cognitive glitch that left him petrified of our local bishop. Seriously, the guy’s a kindly Cuban gentleman who lives next to the cathedral in St. Augustine. But my boy was convinced that the bishop was going to interrogate him in front of the whole congregation and condemn him to hell for his sins!

• Increasingly angry, sometimes violent, outbursts from our eight-year-old every evening. Once he’s surrounded by the whole family at the dinner table, he becomes jumpy and irritable. Too much stimulus that he can’t control. Too many voices talking. Too many flavors and textures on his plate.

• Our ten-year-old whiz kid fighting tooth and nail instead of doing the bang-up job he was capable of on his STEM project. The melt downs bordered on the epic because Minecraft had to win out.

• Our six-year-old girl collapsing into an emotional heap every time we corrected her for the slightest mishap.

• Our five-year-old boy suddenly becoming unable to sit still for love or money. Unless he’s playing Fruit Ninja on my iPad or watching YouTube videos of Angry Birds on the computer.

No Laurel-Resting.

So yeah, it’s been a trying couple of weeks that left me wondering what the hell happened. Everything was going so well, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t.

All this has shown me something, and I hope I don’t forget it.

Good days come, and you get a break every now and then. Maybe even a longish one lasting a couple of months. But God help you if you ever let down your guard. If you don’t keep working with your kids, if you don’t take advantage of every opportunity to move them forward another step or two, you risk losing more ground than you thought you had gained.

I knew it, but I relearned it: ASD is permanent. It’s also a tricky S.O.B. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, just when you think your kids have it licked, it comes out of left field and says, “Not so fast, Cowboy!” This is especially true when your kids are high-functioning. They get good at masking what’s going on inside them, until they can’t take anymore. And if you’re not careful, you play along with them.

The Trap of Wishcraft.

It also showed me the power of the imagination. In a sense, I was in denial because there were no immediate crises to deal with. Things were relatively smooth, and I let wishful thinking take over. Rather than pay attention to the signs that some of the kids were beginning to unhinge, I slacked off and enjoyed the rest. And yes, there were signs. Katie saw them and tried to alert me to them. But I didn’t want to look. Instead, I conjured a fantasyland in my mind and tried to make the outside world conform to it.

I don’t think I’m the only parent who does this, by the way. Everyone takes a mental vacation every now and then. But in the case of special-needs parents, the stakes are usually much higher.

So we slid down the mountain a bit. It happens. But that’s okay. I’m back on the watch tower now.