Category Archives: Grandparent


Ariane and Emma were just dancing in the bedroom, no music, just a lot of finger-snapping and hip shaking. She was so cute, laughing like crazy the whole time, rocking back and forth, proud of her new-found finger-snapping ability, looking at Ariane and me with her million megawatt smile. Ariane tried to get her to do ‘the bump’ which made her laugh even more, though she didn’t quite get the hang of it…yet.

I’m sure she’ll be bumping all over the place in a few days.

Emma has been singing all the time lately. I take her for rides around the ranch every morning and late afternoon on a small four-wheel all terrain vehicle. She sings the whole time. She likes it when we drive out into an open meadow behind the barn. I like it too because a family of coyotes lives there. They romp around, looking for mice to chomp on, or sit in the field catching some rays. They are pretty fearless so we can drive right up to them until we’re about twenty feet away. They just lay there blinking, mostly ignoring us.

Unfortunately, Emma mostly ignores them too. I’ll shout out over and over, “Hey Emma, look at the coyotes!” but she barely gives them a glance, preferring to keep warbling while I point and shout. This morning, we went into the field and I saw the coyotes up ahead, so I drove toward them. As I got closer, I saw these little brown fluff balls bouncing up and down, their heads barely visible above the tall grass.

“Look! Marmots!” I shouted, pointing ahead, trying to get Emma to watch as they bounded along the tire tracks I’d made the previous day. Then I realized they weren’t marmots at all, they were coyote cubs, three of them, about a foot long from nose to tail. They were so cute I could barely stand it, hollering at Emma, “Look! Look at the puppies Emma! Look at the coyote pups!”

She looked at them without any reaction, still singing away as they ran up to Ma and Pa coyote. They circled around them, then headed over to a nearby irrigation ditch to lay low while we putt-putted past them. “Emma look! Look at the little puppies! They’re so cute!”

Still no reaction, except for a polite glance in their direction, probably just to appease me or get me to stop yelling so she could sing without any more interference. It bummed me out she didn’t care about the cute little pups. I was so excited I couldn’t wait to get home and tell everyone, but she couldn’t care less. I thought about her autism, how hard it was for her to engage with living beings or her surroundings, and I could feel a little air hiss out of the tire of my joyfulness, my hopes deflating because she’s been doing so well and has been so engaged lately, with Ariane and Nic and me and Paula and even her other young cousins who came over for a super-soaker gunfight the other night.

When I got back and told Paula, moping a little because of Emma’s lack of interest and excitement, she said, “Well you know how Emma is afraid of dogs…maybe she didn’t like seeing them or they scared her.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” I thought, looking at the glass half-full. She was nervous, she doesn’t like dogs. Maybe that’s why she didn’t care.

Or maybe she was thinking, “Puppies, schmuppies, they might be cute…but they got nothing on me.”

From Emma’s Granma

“I have four grandchildren, and the youngest is Emma.  She is a beautiful blond with blue eyes and a sparkling smile, she skis like a pro, she swims, she climbs the climbing wall at the rec center, she balances on the back of the sofa (while her granma shudders in fear that she might fall), she sings with near perfect pitch, and she is autistic.  When I was growing up such children would have been hidden away.  Anyone who encountered them would have avoided them, other children would have teased them, or worse still, abused them.

My husband spent the last ten years of his life in a wheelchair.  He told me that in social gatherings people avoided him because they didn’t know what to say to someone who was so obviously disabled.  Today men and women in wheelchairs compete at the Olympics.  They race on prosthetic limbs, those who are blind ski with Challenge Aspen.  I have a friend, one of the founders of Challenge Aspen, who skis in a specially designed chair.  She tells me that she skis better now in that chair than she did eighteen years ago when she had full use of her limbs.

Scientific research, skilled therapists and loving families have helped all these people achieve a potential that would have been denied them eighty years ago when I was born. These people are actually lucky because their disabilities are visible, and so scientists and skilled therapists have been funded with the means to investigate all avenues that might lead to improving their lives.

Autism is not visible, but inside of Emma there is also a person yearning to be understood, to be able to communicate, to tell us of her fears, her frustrations, her desires.  She too wants to be  treated with understanding and compassion.

In the family room we have a stage with a curtain.  Emma loves to draw back the curtain and sing and, as her father says, strut her stuff as if to an enormous audience.  One day she too will reach her potential.  One day she will step down from that stage, her inner person will emerge, and she will still sing like an angel, but also she will speak with clarity, she will laugh with us, play games with other children and be able to step off into the future with confidence.

Such is our hope.

But even if none of that turns out exactly as we might wish, one thing is certain, wherever she goes, however she behaves, she will walk in beauty, surrounded with love.”

To see a survey that my mother participated in on the effects of autistic grandchildren and their grandparents, go to: