Category Archives: mother/daughter

Awareness Sucks

Today I wanted to do a companion post to yesterday’s “Emma Discusses – Awareness“, with a post entitled, “Emma Discusses – Acceptance”.  I love when Emma tells me to put something she’s written on the blog, because her words are always so profound and insightful.  But once we returned home Em was too tired, so I resigned myself to writing about Autism Awareness and what that means to me.  After all today is World Autism Awareness Day.

A year ago I wrote a  post – Autism Awareness? where I discussed how my awareness regarding autism has changed over the years.  The next day I wrote  – “What I Wish I’d Been Made Aware of When my Daughter Was Diagnosed With Autism“.  After rereading those posts, I then remembered a couple of others I’d written about autism awareness and acceptance, ‘here,’ ‘here,’ ‘here,’ and ‘here‘.  And after all that I just felt cranky.  Seriously.  Just cranky.

I don’t look forward to April the way I once did.  April is a loaded month when many of my friends feel they must hide or cannot look at social media because they know they’ll be triggered by all the calls to “light it up blue,” the hype from organizations like Autism Speaks who seem to do nothing, but speak… it’s exhausting and in the end the awareness they’re pushing isn’t awareness that helps either me or my daughter.   What they seem to call awareness, is to my mind hyperbole, fear mongering and irresponsible.  I’ll be honest, I would be happy if Autism Speaks folded up their little tents and found something else to rant about.

In addition to Autism Speaks’ dire calls for action, the CDC released new statistics – 1 in 68 – and I just groaned because I know how those numbers will be used, forget that they’re almost completely meaningless and actually not an accurate number as Jim Martin explains in his most recent post, 3 Reasons Why Canadians (and Everyone Else) Should Stop Using the 1 in 68 Autism Stat (For Now).  More fear. More anger.  More calls for action.  More listening to people who don’t know what they’re talking about.  More and more and more and more and I just want to crank up Pharrell Williams’ Happy at full volume, put it on repeat and dance.

So in the midst of all the calls for awareness I’m going to hold my daughter close, revel in her presence, sink into my immeasurable gratitude that I get to be her mom and feel the joy in knowing she is a young woman who is talented, funny, creative, wise, insightful, kind, and more forgiving than anyone I’ve ever met. And, boy, am I proud of her.

How’s that for a little awareness?

Emma ~ 2010

Emma ~ 2010

The Joy of Being Wrong

When my daughter was eight I was so envious of my friends who had daughters the same age, because they were going out together, having mother/daughter outings, getting pedicures, doing girlie things and I despaired that I would never have these kinds of outings with my child.  I know how selfish this sounds.  I know this statement is all about me and has nothing to do with my child or her interests or her feelings.  I always dislike hearing parents talk about their children as though they were some sort of glorified extension of themselves, like a conduit for all the parent’s failings, as though this child was a metaphoric phoenix rising from the parent’s DNA, destined to be all that the parent hopes for, but has failed to do and be themselves.  But at the time I did feel envy and also, was aware enough to also feel badly for having those feelings.

Flash forward to this summer.

A friend of ours returned home one Saturday afternoon with Emma, who ecstatically showed off her newly painted RED toenails.  I was astonished. “You guys went and had a pedicure?” I asked.  “Red toenails!” Emma exclaimed with glee, while positioning her foot next to our friend’s, who had the same color red on her toenails.  “They match!”  Since then Emma and I have gone every other weekend for our “pedicure spa” where we sit side by side and have our toenails painted.  Emma picks out the color, which she insists we both have so that we “match.”  Both of us look forward to these outings.

There are other examples of times I’ve despaired, thinking that whatever our current situation is, it will remain so forever.  This is not specific to my daughter, but is something I am aware that I have a tendency to do in life and always have.  The idea that things are fluid and constantly change, is a tough concept for me.  I tend towards extreme thinking.  When things seem bleak, I am convinced they will always be.  When things are good I am suspicious and await the inevitable.

It is as though I believe I will have to pay for those good times, like an invisible law that shows no mercy.  The good times are tempered with the “knowing” that they will be fleeting and won’t last.  Over the decades I’ve gotten better at this, I am aware this is my tendency.  I catch my thoughts quicker and am able to remind myself that I do not know what will happen next.  But still I find myself easily sliding back into that old way of thinking.  It’s not the reality of someone else’s life, it is the idea of someone else’s life that I compare myself to and that idea is never true.

These days I try to head off comparing the minute I become aware of it.  It does not serve me.  It does nothing to help me.  I am not a better person because of it.  It makes me sad and miserable and has nothing to do with either of my children or my life.  In fact that thinking hurts my children.  Both are highly sensitive to other people’s moods, they easily pick up on emotions and take them on.

At the moment, Emma and I are sporting pink toenails and every time I see our toes, I smile. They remind me of all those years when everything seemed grim and hopeless.  When despair surrounded my every breath, when desperation hung in the air I breathed, when I believed I knew what we were up against, when I believed this was going to be our life, when I thought I knew and no one could convince me otherwise.  That toenail polish, that gorgeous pink toenail polish that Emma insisted we both wear is proof of just how wrong I was.  About everything.  About everything.

Traveling Without A GPS

I’m traveling with Em.  We’re doing a kind of mother/daughter trip together, though not, as Em would like, to a spa where we sit around getting our nails done, (Em has fallen in love with the joys of a good pedicure) go swimming in heated pools that are like massive bath tubs and doing nothing else… that trip will have to wait.

And I made the mistake of opting out of the GPS system for the car I’ve rented, which means every few minutes Emma can be heard saying from the back seat, “Oh no!  You’re going the wrong way!”  And because I have no sense of direction, am driving in a state I’ve never been before, let alone city, she is correct.  We have been here less than 24 hours and have gotten completely lost, despite thorough directions from google maps (which suck, by the way, I’m totally blaming google maps) FOUR times!  This is not an exaggeration.

It seems I cannot drive more than a few miles without taking a wrong turn, end up inexplicably going in the opposite direction from where I meant and wanted to go.  So I’m like one of those annoying drivers who’s leaning forward, peering out the window, both hands nervously gripping the steering wheel and driving so slowly I’ve got a line of cars in back of me, pissed off and trying to get around me. But I won’t pull over because I don’t know where the hell I am and… Yeah.  That’s me in that car you’re honking at.  And that GPS system that I turned down, because really, at an additional 20 bucks a day or whatever it was, who would think that was a good idea?  Um…  it’s looking like a bargain, right about now…

This was not always the case.  When I was in my late teens and all through my twenties I lived and drove all over the place.  I lived in LA for three years, a city where you spend more money on your car than you do on your home.  So yeah, I’ve driven a lot.  But as I have grown older and my eyes are not as they once were, requiring glasses, my sense of direction (not that I ever had one) has gotten worse, not sure how that’s actually possible…  but it has…  so a GPS system, it turns out, is less an “option” and more a necessity.

But last night when we arrived, I was still thinking of the me that I was thirty years ago.  The me that took on New York City traffic without a second thought, the me that spent hours a day navigating Southern California’s freeway system, the me that drove all over the place, every day without hesitation, yeah, that me.

Turns out?

She’s gone.

Image representing Google Maps as depicted in ...

People: Interpreting and Responding

Two days ago Emma told me I could write about people’s reactions to her, though it is more accurate to say this post is about my reactions to what I perceive to be people’s reactions.   I asked Em if I could write about that too and she gave me her permission.  My feelings are not necessarily the same as my daughter’s.  I may perceive someone’s curiosity and even confusion as annoyance or impatience or even outright anger, while Emma remains in the moment, without judgment or adding layers of interpretation to people’s responses to her.  Someone who makes a comment or tries to engage her in conversation, a person she then walks away from or answers with, “Emmaemmaemma!” I may decide is judging her harshly or is drawing conclusions about her that they may not be.  Sometimes I decide my daughter is saddened by the reactions she gets from others, yet when asked, she tells me she liked that person and felt happy meeting them.

So it was, a  few nights ago when a dozen or so people came over for dinner.  I knew only one of them, the rest being complete strangers.  Typically at any gathering, either here or at our home in New York City, we know almost everyone who enters our home.   And they, in turn, have met, or at least know we have two children.  Whatever happens is usually met with smiles and kindness.  People might ask questions, some will actively seek to engage, others do not attempt to, but all are friendly and take whatever happens in stride.  We have wonderful friends, and those who are not kind, are not our friends…  but this group was made up of people I’d never met and so when Emma said she wanted to sit at the dinner table with them, I felt a certain degree of trepidation.

I imagined they were confused by her and it felt awful.  I stood nearby, ready to interpret, ready to intervene, ready to take over, ready to control the situation.  But my daughter does not need me to take over, she’s perfectly capable of interacting with people without my intervention.  At one point she thrust her hand out blocking one woman’s view of her, so that the woman could not see Emma, or more accurately, Emma could not see her and the woman immediately made it into a game of peering over and under Emma’s hand.  Emma smiled and began to laugh.  “Don’t look at me!” she said in delight.  The woman stopped and made a big point of looking away.  Emma giggled.

I went into the kitchen briefly and when I returned, one woman I imagined, looked worried.  Another guest I thought seemed annoyed or maybe nervous.  I am sensitive.  I know this about myself.  I think I can “feel” people’s energy, and often I can, but sometimes I decide I know what others are thinking and feeling and I’m wrong.  I have always been hyper aware of people’s vibes, sensing their emotional state, which has caused me problems when I’ve been wrong, as well as kept me safe, when I’ve been correct.

After everyone left, Emma said to me, “Have another dinner party tomorrow?”

“Did you have a good time, Em?”  I asked.


“How did you feel when that woman was looking at you and you held your hand out blocking her view of you?”  I asked.

“Playing don’t look at me game!”  Emma answered, laughing.

“Was that fun?” I said, wanting to make sure she was okay with the interaction that had taken place.

“Yeah!  Another dinner party tomorrow!!”

After Emma went to sleep, I lay awake, feeling troubled.  Emma’s experience of people is not the same as mine.  I am fearful of people, or I tend to be.  My daughter does not share my fears.  I sense people’s intent and often believe what I’m sensing, as though it were fact.  I hear and sense people’s words, often read between the lines, take their words, add my interpretation of them from the way they hold themselves, the tone they use, the way they look and draw conclusions from all these factors.  My daughter does not do what I do.  I’m not sure how she interprets others, but I do know it is different from the way I do.  Both my children interpret the world differently from me.  This is a good thing.

Neither of them are as fearful as I am.  Neither of them shrink in fear when someone is angry as I do.  Neither of them physically pull away when someone raises their voice as I do.  I have a physical response to what I perceive people are thinking and feeling.  I feel slightly nauseous when I think someone is angry, even if they are not, or if they’re angry, but not about anything to do with me, I still feel uneasy.  If someone seems particularly upset, my hands will shake, it’s hard for me to speak.  If I become angry, my face will turn red, my whole body feels hot and I will begin to shake.  If very upset I cannot form coherent sentences.  Sometimes, whether angry or hurt, I feel pain in my chest and it becomes hard to swallow, my breathing becomes shallow and it feels as though there is less oxygen in the room.  All of these things are ways of adapting, I understand this, but I also am relieved when I see both my children not interpreting people and therefore not responding to a perception of people’s emotions as I do.

Performing for guestsPerforming

A(nother) Performer in the Family

I asked Em if it was okay to post the following photographs of her.  She said, “Yeah!  Post on blog!”

“But is it okay to first post on Facebook?” I asked.  And again without hesitation Em gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

I have to admit, whenever Em says yes to me, regarding posting an image of her or something she’s said or typed, I feel more than a little ambivalent.   I wonder if she fully understands what it means to post on Facebook or here on the blog, despite my lengthy (and more than one) explanations of what this means, how many people may see it, who those people are or might be.  People remind me of the importance of listening.  And part of listening is to also honor and respect what I hear.   I’m trying to do that, while also trusting my own instincts and hopefully I’m getting it “right” more often than not.

I compare Emma’s response to her older brother’s, who has made it known to us that under no circumstances is he okay having us post his photograph, except on very rare occasions when he’ll shrug and say, “Seriously, Mom?”  There’s usually a moment when he stares at me with a slight grin and then says, “Yeah, okay.”  But my daughter is not like her older brother.  My daughter has a completely different personality.  Emma, adores the spot light.  If there is a stage, she will head for it.  If there’s a microphone, she will grab it, if there’s a crowd she wants to be in front of it, preferably singing.  Emma does not have inhibitions, she does not worry about what others will think or may think.  Emma has that wonderful ability to be herself among strangers and doesn’t modify herself in accordance with what she thinks they may or may not like.  Emma is MY role model!

What follows are the photos I asked Emma if it was okay to post, to which she said cheerfully, “Yes!”

First there was this…


And then this...

And finally, this…

Okay, I don’t know about the rest of you, but for some reason Emma hugging the Vlasic Pickle Mascot makes me tear up… Every. Single. Time.

*A quick side note – the Vlasic Pickle mascot is a stork. Why, you might ask? Well, I googled it and found out that in the ’60’s their tag line was, “the pickle pregnant women crave…”

I have to run, because Emma’s mom is in a flash mob today outside the stock exchange…  yeah, you read that right.  YouTube video to follow…  😀

Encouraging a Sense of Self Worth

When I was in eighth grade I had a “Wellness” class given by a classmate’s mother who had been a child actor and model.  The boys were separated out and taken to (presumably) a similar class given by a male equivalent. (I have to wonder now, where exactly did they go?  Who was the male equivalent?  At the time, I never thought to ask.)  All the eighth grade girls sat in a circle on the ground in front of this woman who stood before us in all her coiffed, fine featured, perfumed glory, wearing an oh-so-chic, red pants suit (this was the early ’70’s) and looking like she had just walked off a shoot for the cover of a fashion magazine.  (Which, in fact, she had.)

I felt completely inadequate in comparison and all the more so as I sat listening to her glowing accounts of what she did for exercise, the wholesome meals she ate and her disciplined daily use of various emollients.  I remember falling into despair as I listened to her, not only because I didn’t know what emollients were, or couldn’t imagine a life that did not include glazed jelly doughnuts, but because everything about her was foreign to me, forget that hers was not a life I had ever thought about having, let alone wanting.  But as I sat there I was aware that I should want to be just like her.  She represented all that was beautiful and unobtainable and I, in direct contrast, represented all that was wanting.  I’ve never forgotten her.

When I gave birth to each of my children, the one thing I wanted more than anything else was to make sure they never felt ashamed of themselves.  I wanted to make sure they felt supported, loved and valued for who they were, exactly as they were.  I wanted to be sure I cheered them on, to model for them kindness, generosity, compassion and good work ethics.  I swore to myself I would do my best to respect them and to listen to them.  And then we were given Emma’s diagnosis and suddenly those goals took a back seat to the goal of her being “mainstreamed” and “indistinguishable from her peers.”  Those two goals rammed up against my desire for her to feel self-love, self-acceptance, self-worth.  For a couple of years I lost my way.  In my desperation I allowed others to dictate what I should do and what I should want for my daughter.  I forgot that my early goals for her were more important than anything else.

I began to look for an Autistic adult who I could imagine my daughter might be like.  I wanted to find someone who might represent a possibility of what I might expect.  I read what books I could find, written by Autistic adults, but concluded these adults were much “higher” functioning than my child.   It wasn’t until later that someone pointed out these adults who had written and had published books, were at least twenty years older than my daughter and therefore had more than twenty years of learning, experience and growth that my daughter had not had the advantage of.  Undeterred, I kept looking anyway.  Even when I found someone who seemed to have similar language challenges, their upbringing differed greatly, their interests led them in other directions, I could never quite imagine my daughter growing up to be just like them.

Searching for Autistic adults who might be a version of my daughter was grounded in a desire to calm my fears.  It was a misguided attempt to comfort myself.  By saying – well this person is speaking so clearly, able to have their needs known and heard, therefore perhaps my daughter will be able to one day do the same, I was hoping to quell my worries.  A shared neurology with random people does not mean anything more than it does to compare my shared non Autistic neurology with the same. Without meaning to I was replicating that “wellness” class over and over only now it was my daughter I imagined sitting cross-legged on the ground looking up at someone she would never grow up to be like.  This or that person is not an adult replica of my daughter any more than that woman teaching the Wellness class was an adult version of me.

I want and hope my daughter will feel empowered to be who she is without amendment.  The best way I can ensure she feel empowered is by listening to her, honoring her, celebrating and embracing her, exactly as she is in this moment.  I must give her the support she needs to communicate,  show her the different methods she can use to communicate so she knows she has choices and believe in her.  And there’s another piece to this, which is this – my issue of self-worth, with not being that fine featured, delicate nosed, thin hipped, flat chested version of ideal woman I grew up believing meant happiness, is mine to work through and not my daughter’s.  This may seem obvious to many of you, but it is something I must remind myself of.  I have to ask myself often, is this my issue or hers?  Comparing Emma to adults, to any adult is most definitely my issue and it is one I am trying hard not to pass along to her.


Dreams, Love, Loss and Gratitude

I had a dream last night that unsettled me.  I dreamt that I was standing with some other people and saw a woman with her young son.  He was small, maybe five years old at most.  I was fascinated because he was holding what looked to be a “string” like Emma has, but much smaller.  It was proportionately the same size as Em’s given how little he was.  I turned away because Em was saying something to me and when I turned back around the mother and her son had walked away.  On the ground was the little boy’s string.  So I picked it up and ran after them.  As I approached the mother I held out the tiny furl of string and said, “I think this is your son’s.  I wouldn’t want him to lose it.”  The mother stared at me and said, “What is that thing?”

I said, “Oh!  I think it’s maybe his string.  My daughter…”  but before I could finish she interrupted me and said, “That isn’t ours.  It’s garbage.”  I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach.  And then she turned away, carrying her son who gazed at me wordlessly over her shoulder.  I stood there watching them walk away from me and felt stunned and confused.  I wondered if maybe I’d somehow misunderstood and that perhaps it wasn’t important to her child.  And then I felt ashamed for having approached them and said anything.  Ashamed that I’d assumed it was important because my daughter’s string is so important to her.  Ashamed too, that what is considered beloved and of value to my daughter is seen as garbage by another.  I stood there feeling these things and then I turned to find my daughter was no where in sight.  I felt that horrible surge of panic and adrenaline as I began going through the various scenarios of where she could be or what might have happened to her.

When I woke up I wanted to cry I felt such unspeakable sadness.  All morning that dream stayed with me like a shadow.  All morning I have felt fragile and on edge.  And then I read my friend Gareeth’s latest blog post.  You can read it ‘here‘.  It is a daughter’s moving and powerful tribute to her mother.  I cried as I read because it is so beautifully written, but also because it is about profound loss as well as gratitude for what wasn’t lost.  Loss of time, loss of relationships, loss of missed opportunities…  and as I read I realized that dream was also about loss and judgement and denial and how we harm those we love.  And now as I sit here in my studio looking out at the bumper to bumper traffic on the 59th Street bridge, the rain pours down.  I can hear drops splattering the top of the air conditioner that juts out of one of my studio windows in irregular plops and pings.  Rain drops stream down the windows obscuring my view and I am surprised that I hear no angry honking given how treacherous the traffic is, just the occasional siren can be heard in the far distance.

I feel so grateful to all those people driving their cars who aren’t honking at each other.  I feel so grateful that though the traffic is at a crawl, people are being patient and it gives me hope.  Let me be patient today with every person I come into contact with.  Let me give myself the same respect and patience.  Let me be aware and kind and respectful to others today.  Let me feel gratitude for all that I have.  Let me feel my feelings and not behave as though my feelings are facts.  But most of all, let me know the difference.

Em’s string – February, 2013

Em's string


Emma Knows Best

This past Christmas I bought Em a snow fort.  Em loves bouncy castles and the snow fort looks a bit like a bouncy castle.  It seemed like an excellent idea at the time, except that it was missing a key component – it didn’t bounce.  It’s one of those gifts that looks good when you receive it, but once it’s been constructed it’s not so interesting.  Even I wondered, once we’d blown it up and put it out in the snow, now what?  What exactly does a kid do inside a snow fort?   Em was a trooper and sat inside it for a minute or two before extracting herself.

Em's Snow Fort

“No, it’s not a bouncy castle,” Emma said shaking her head as she wandered back into the house.

I stood there looking at it for a minute before following her.

“It doesn’t bounce,” I told Richard.

“Right.  It is without bounce,” Richard reiterated.

“And it’s not even a castle,” I added.

“It’s an inflated dome,” Richard said.

“It’s basically a piece of colored plastic,” I replied.

“What were you thinking?” Richard grinned at me.

I could interrupt this dialogue by going on at length about how Richard has the single best smile of any human being I’ve ever met, how when he grins these little dimples appear that take my breath away, how I can become so distracted I lose track of time, thought, words… I could do that, but I won’t.

Theatrical pause and winsome smile.  

Now where was I?  Oh yes, thinking… what was I thinking?  Well, the truth is I didn’t think it through.  I was thinking about her love of bouncy castles and how this looked sort of like one.  I remembered over the summer how we’d gone to our local YMCA to play on the bouncy castle they’d set up for a limited time and how the guy setting it up didn’t know how to operate it and finally Emma had to tell him.  At first he didn’t pay attention to her, probably assuming she didn’t know what she was talking about because of her non-fluency with language.

“What’s she trying to tell him?” another mom asked me as we watched from across the room.

“She’s telling him that he needs to tie the other end and that he has the air pump attached to the wrong tube, but he won’t listen to her,” I explained.

“Should we go over?” the mom asked.

“I already did.  I told him to listen to her, but he seems to believe he knows what he’s doing,” I said.  “I’m betting on my daughter.  She is rarely wrong about things like this,” I added.

“I’m betting on your daughter too,” the other mom said.  The guy fumbled some more with the defeated looking, semi-inflated bouncy castle as Emma looked on with an exasperated expression.

Finally he did as Emma instructed with a little help from me and the other mother, and the bouncy castle was, well, bouncy as it was meant to be.  Emma was ecstatic and soon joined by a dozen other kids all screaming and bouncing together.

That’s what I was “thinking”.

Moral to the story ~ A brightly colored inflatable plastic dome is not the same as a brightly colored inflatable plastic bouncy castle.

Feel free to add your own wisdom to this story or add your own story…

The Magic of This Moment

Early this morning:

Nic: I’m late!  Gotta go Mom.

Me:  Okay,  babe.  Have a great day!

Nic:  I love you.

Me:  Love you!  Bye babe.

Emma:  Love you, Nicky..

Nic:  I love you Em.

Emma:  Bye bye

Just another typical conversation, right?

Um no.  No.  Not at all.  Nothing typical about it.  This.  This is why I don’t envy any other family, this is what I treasure about MY family.  This is exactly why, this conversation, this seemingly common, innocent, no-big-deal conversation…. yeah.  Because this conversation has never been uttered before until this morning.  And weirdly Nic and I were talking just five minutes before, while the three of us had breakfast about the importance and magic of being present.  We were discussing how this moment, right now, this second will never be repeated.  We may have moments like it, but this one?  Nope.  Never again.

And as we were talking about all of this, Nic interrupted me and we had the above conversation, the one I’ve just transcribed.  It may seem un-noteworthy to many of you, you may be thinking, so what?  Or who cares?  But to me, this conversation that other families have, perhaps on a daily basis and don’t think twice about, they are little nuggets of pure gold because these moments with my children are gifts, each one of them, pure gifts that I am so lucky to have.

In Buddhism there is emphasis on being present and practice and it isn’t easy.  It’s  a simple concept, but definitely not easy for most of us to actually do.  And yet, when I am able to really show up for this moment the joy is beyond description.

I will leave you with one more snippet.

Later this morning as Em and I walked toward her school, we stopped at a red light.  As we waited she linked her arm through mine.  Not a single word was exchanged.  We waited, a mother and daughter, side by side for the light to turn green and once it did we made our way to the entrance to her school.  As Emma entered the gymnasium where the children and teachers were waiting, one of Em’s classmates called out, “It’s Emma.  Yay!  It’s Emma.  LOOK!  Look!  It’s a cupcake, I love cupcakes!”

And Em looked back at me and grinned before running to greet her friend.

The Cupcake Hat

When the Words Don’t Match

The other night Em woke up at around 2:00AM crying.  She kept saying the same words over and over.  It was a kind of script, about an indoor playground that I used to take both children to when they were toddlers.  It is a playground that has been closed for more than six years.  “Mommy has to look.  Daddy has to find new Sydney playground.  The tickets are broken.  Mommy has to fix it.  Oh.  You want to go to new Sydney playground!”

Do not try to translate this.  Lean into the emotion, what is she telling you?  Forget the actual words, the individual words are less important, it’s the emotion, it’s the intent… 

This is what I’ve been taught.  I’ve paraphrased the exact words my friend Ibby actually used, but it captures the general idea of what she has reminded me of more than once.  It’s an important concept and one that I didn’t readily understand at first.  In fact our initial conversation went something like this –

Ibby:  Do you speak another language?

Me:  What?  No.  I barely speak English.  Do I need to learn another language?  If you tell me I need to learn Russian to help me understand, I’m on it.

Ibby:  (I imagine Ibby took a deep, calming breath before continuing)  No.  You do not need to learn Russian.  But you need to feel the words instead of trying to do a word for word translation.

Me:  Feel the words?  Mind began to race, a panicky feeling overtook my body. I don’t know what that means!  What does that mean?

And so Ibby patiently tried to explain that by getting lost in the exact meaning of the words I was missing the emotions being expressed.

With this in mind, I went back to Emma’s bedroom with her.  Very distressed, she continued to repeat the script and then suddenly veered off to an unrelated, yet another, unattainable, desire.  “I want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.  Not binyard, v, v, v, vineyard.  Mommy I want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.  No baby.  We can’t go to Martha’s Vineyard, it’s too cold.  I want to go to Martha’s Vineyard.”

As I sat with her listening, I tried to be present, neither lying to her nor adding to her anxiety, just being present and as I did this I felt a flood of recognition.  I realized I do a version of this too, only I call it “spiraling out”.  It happens at odd times, but being tired makes it harder to cope with.  When I think about how I spiral out an image of a pin ball machine comes to mind.  My thoughts are the little metal ball careening around hitting one side, ricocheting off the little bouncy things that make noise while the lights flicker, before shooting off in another direction.  Nothing anyone says helps me.  In fact, often well-intentioned people will make it much, much worse, because my mind is literally looking for things to think about that will create more anxiety.  The only thing that has ever helped me when I get this way is a calm, loving voice gently nudging me down a different path.  It has to be authentic and very, very loving and very, very calm or I become suspicious and even angry.  With this thought in mind I gently said to Em, “Is it okay if I tell you something?”  She nodded her head.

“I get upset too, Em.  Just like you are right now.  And when I do I have thoughts that I can’t stop going around around in my head.”

She sat up and looked directly into my eyes.  “Sometimes when I feel stressed and tired I can’t make the thoughts go away.  Sometimes the same thoughts just keep repeating in my head and I can’t get rid of them.  Daddy calls it spiraling out.  But you know what?  It’s going to be okay.  I’m going to stay with you.  It’s going to be okay.  I promise.  Try to breathe.  Here breathe with me.”  We inhaled together and then exhaled.  “Feel the cool air on your face and the warmth of the blanket on your body.”  I continued in this way, talking to her softly, trying to guide her, trying to make her aware of the present.  These are the things that help me when I’m agitated and feeling overwhelmed and eventually she rested her head on me, leaning her body into me as I spoke to her in a soft voice.

It was during those early morning hours with the two of us sitting together while everyone around us slept that I felt a surge of understanding.  When I get lost in the words that fill my head and when the words don’t match up with the emotions it feels confusing and I become perseverative and spiral out.  I see this now.  In the past I’ve called it anxiety.  I’ve said I’m overwhelmed and tired.  These are good words to describe what I’m feeling, but a more accurate explanation is that when I become fixated on specific thoughts, in my case they are often in the form of fears, I can become so lost in the specifics I lose sight of the emotions.  This has happened my whole life, only it took my daughter to get me to make the connection.  We are not so different, my daughter and I.

An image that calms me – The Manhattan Skyline taken while walking to my studio the other morning

Manhattan Skyline

Happy Birthday Dear Emma!

Happy Birthday Dear Emma!  

Eleven years ago you came into this world and graced us with your presence.  Eleven years ago you presented yourself to us and from that first moment that you drew breath you began to have an impact on all who met you.  You are an example of perfection, exactly as you are, without need of tweaking.  You are strong and wise and smart and intelligent and funny and talented and beautiful.  You are determined and a terrific negotiator.  You are fiercely independent and artistic and your mind, how you think, the way you perceive the world and those in it is a beautiful thing. You are patient and generous and kind.  You are loving and good.

You are perfect.

You are just at the beginning of your life, but already you have taught me more than I could ever teach you.  Eleven years ago I had no idea that because of your life, mine would change as dramatically as it has.  I could not know that because of you and who you are, my entire outlook on life, the world and it’s inhabitants would change so radically.  These are changes I welcome.  These are changes I am so very grateful for.  They are good changes, important changes.  You have forced me to see what I once could not.  You have shown me another way of living, a better way of being in this world.   You have opened my eyes to all that is possible, and it is beyond my wildest dreams.

You are perfect exactly as you are.

One day I hope you will be able to read this on your own.  But until that day arrives, I have one wish I would like to have granted on this day, your eleventh birthday and it is this –  flourish and do not ever, ever allow anyone to bring you down, make you feel badly or cause you to doubt yourself.  Spread your wings and fly dear Emma and I will be here to support you, to love you, to cheer you on and to remind you of your perfection.

You are beautiful Emma Rose.

You are perfect.

4:30PM January 17th, 2002 


January 17th,  2003

Birthday Girl-2003

Central Park – January 2004 


January, 2005


Jamuary 17, 2006


January 17, 2007


January, 2008


January 2010


January 2011


January 2012

Birthday Girl-2012



Yes, These Are Things I Think About – What About You?

We, non-Autistics say all kinds of things without thinking.  We use a sort of socially accepted shorthand during a great many encounters.  It’s a way of being in the world that requires no thought, rote gestures and words that are mindless and often meaningless.  Expected utterances we don’t think about, we do and say them because we are taught to do otherwise is impolite.  Upon meeting someone we automatically put out our right hand in greeting.   We are taught to smile and ask, “How are you?”  The response is unimportant, after all we aren’t really asking the person we’ve only just met to seriously contemplate their mental state and then divulge this information to us, neither are we honestly curious except in specific instances when we know something about the person and have wanted to meet them.  But typically, “How are you?” is an opener.  It’s merely a polite question we’ve been taught to ask, showing the accepted degree of interest in the other person, even if we actually have none.

Someone I know sent me a wonderful piece she’d written about meeting her baby nephew for the first time and being expected to say immediately that she loved him and how disappointed her family member was when she couldn’t bring herself to say those words right away, even though she felt a number of things that we non-autistics would probably identify as feelings of “love”.  Reading her wonderful piece (click ‘here‘ to read it in its entirety) made me think about all those years when I would encourage Emma to say “I love you.”  I even said to her, on  a number of occasions, “I love you Emmy.”   To which she would reply, “So much.”  I then laughed and said, “No Em, you’re suppose to say, I love you, back.” And Em dutifully said, “You’re suppose to say I love you back.”  I don’t, for a second, doubt that Emma loves me.  I know she does.  I also know my desire to have her say so, is my wish and not a desire she puts much weight into.  For all I know Emma doesn’t say those words because she doesn’t  feel the need to, perhaps she doesn’t see the point in reminding me of this fact.  Perhaps, and this is the one I hope is most true, she doesn’t feel the need to utter those three words because she is secure in the knowledge of her love and assumes I am too.

Many of the “niceties” we non-autistics say are said with a degree of dishonesty because really, how “nice” is it to meet someone you may or may not ever see again, may or may not have anything in common with and do not have time to actually get to know?  And while we’re at it, let’s consider “how are you?”  How many people really care?  We are taught to respond with the equally (often) dishonest single word, “Fine” but how many of us really are “fine” when we’ve been asked how we are?  Seriously.  How many times have you been asked, “How are you?” and you either didn’t actually know, hadn’t had time to think about it or weren’t fine, but were instead feeling something else, yet replied with “fine” because it was simpler, easier, safer or because the conversation had already moved on, before you’d had the chance to give your more thoughtful reply?

So I’m curious – what if we didn’t ask or say things unless we were honestly interested and meant what we were saying as a way of communicating something new or that required discussion?  What would happen if, upon meeting someone we weren’t sure we really were pleased to meet, said nothing?  Would this be so bad?  What if, when asked “how are you?” we answered truthfully?  What if when we voiced our love for our children and they said nothing in return, we didn’t assume that meant anything other than our child did not find it necessary to state the obvious?

Em & Nic – Summer 2004

An Ode To My Daughter

Dearest One,

When you were first born I had an idea about you, it was an idea I have come back to, all these years later, it was an idea that was more right than wrong.  You were very much your own person right from that first moment you drew breath.  I remember marveling at your strength and independence.  I knew almost nothing about autism.  I hadn’t taken the idea of independence and remolded it as “autism” yet, only to rework that idea back to its original concept later.  I saw you and appreciated you for who I saw you to be.  Defiant, independent, strong, determined and silly.  Even as a baby you loved to laugh and appreciated silliness in all its various forms.  You loved playing peek-a-boo and being thrown in the air.  Those first eighteen months, before I knew words like “vestibular”, “proprioceptive”, “stimming”, “perseverative”, “echolalia” and all the other words that threatened to push you from center stage, making you less you and more an example of a diagnosis weighted with other’s learned opinions, I was in awe of you.

Words have power, but words can confuse, they blinded me for many years, I became caught up in what they meant or what others thought they meant and as a result was less able to appreciate you.  I used to wield those words as though they were weapons banishing what was, into something else, something undefinable, something “other”, something I wanted to find a way to control or remove.

As a baby before I knew those other words, you were in a state of either bliss or agitation.  I use to watch you with wonder and admiration.  You were distressed by the lights and the air seemed to hurt you, as though it scraped against your skin.  You liked being swaddled tightly in one of the soft baby blankets I had bought for your arrival.  You slept almost constantly those first two weeks.  Then your deep slumber was interrupted by internal discomforts I could not guess or see.  You greeted these intrusions with indignation, howls of distress and I felt a helplessness I had not known could exist.  A helplessness borne from not knowing; watching, but not able to intervene, hearing, but unable to understand.  I tried to comfort you, but my understanding of what comfort meant was not the same as yours and so your teaching began.  You have been so very patient with me, dearest one.  You have never given up on me.

You have painstakingly tried to communicate in a language that does not come naturally to you.  You have met me more than half way.  You have tried over and over to help me understand and you’ve never stopped.  It has taken me a long time to learn some very basic things about you, things you’ve been telling me ever since you were born, but that I couldn’t understand.  Things I still forget, but  I’m getting better at listening to you and understanding that words are not the only way a human being communicates.  I am getting better at hearing you.  I have learned to listen to your behavior as though it were a conversation, because it is how you reach out, it is the way you connect.  I am learning to lean into you, to not try to do a word-for-word interpretation of your verbal utterances, but to try to feel the meaning of what you are doing or saying.

You are Autistic.  Do not let other’s interpretation of that word define you, rather help others understand that you define it.  Make your mark in this world by continuing to believe in yourself.  Continue to stand up for yourself.  Advocate. Let your voice be heard.  “Actions speak louder than words,” people say, but they don’t seem to apply that to you and others who cannot and do not rely solely on language.  Those people need to be taught, because actions DO speak louder than words if we can learn to listen to them.

You, my beautiful daughter, are kind and good and honest and talented and funny and caring and sensitive and yes, Autistic.  Be proud of your neurology, but do not allow others to limit you because of it.  Do not allow someone’s idea of what that means to encroach on who you are or how you perceive yourself.  You are Autistic and you are my daughter.  It could be argued that both come with a great deal of baggage, but both also come with many wonders and advantages.  Concentrate on the positives, lean into them, and make your way.  Reach out to me, grab my hand, together we are stronger than we are alone.

I am so proud of you.

Richard, Em & Me – 2010



*A version of the following was sent to me a few weeks ago.  This is about women fighting for the right to vote, but it could be the battle engaged by any group in the minority, including those who are Autistic fighting for the right to have a say in the policies that ultimately harm or help them.  It is the same story, told over and over again.  This post was inspired by Lydia Brown’s recent post, Protesting Autism Speaks on her blog Autistic Hoya where she recounts the response she received as she and others offered ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) flyers to Autism Speaks supporters and asked, “Would you like to hear from Autistic people?” only to be told “No” over and over again.

Less than 100 years ago women did not have the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment, ratified August 18, 1920, granted women the right to vote. Prior to that women marched and picketed as a way to bring attention to their cause.  These tactics succeeded in raising awareness, but were often met with massive resistance and brutality.

On November 15, 1917, known as the “Night of Terror” when the prison warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they picketed the White House for the right to vote.

By the end of the night, many were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and with their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women convicted of “obstructing sidewalk traffic”.
One of those women was Lucy Burns. They beat her, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging all night.
Dora Lewis

They threw Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, knocking her out. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thinking Lewis dead, suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking and kicking the women.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul began a hunger strike so they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she threw up. She was tortured for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

Edith Ainge

Voting is our right. It isn’t always convenient, we have to take off early from work, find childcare to watch our kids, stand in long lines, but it is our right. A right our grandmothers and great grandmothers did not have.  It’s easy to take for granted that which we have grown up believing is a given.  But it wasn’t always our right, and while it is doubtful it could ever be taken away, there are many in this world who still do not have that right even today.

Helena Hill Weed – Serving a 3-day sentence for carrying a banner saying, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Lest we forget, rights we think are a given, can be taken away.

Go out and vote!

When Confronted With Parenting Questions, What Do You Do?

Someone asked me recently a question about teaching personal hygiene to their nonverbal child.  This was a question about shaving, in this case legs, but it could have been about underarms and certainly could apply to young men’s facial hair as well.  It got me thinking about  how I doubt my gut instincts or at least question them or perhaps even ignore them when it comes to my Autistic daughter and why that is.  This post is not well thought out, I’m just going to say that right from the beginning.  I’m mulling this over and would love other’s feedback.  Think of this post as a doodle pad and feel free to add your own doodles.

I’ve noticed that when confronted with a question about how to move forward with either of my children I use a couple of different methods to figure out what to do.  First I speak with Richard, then in Nic’s case, I’ll speak with him and ask a lot of questions, then I usually will speak with Richard again, sometimes he will have gone to Nic and the two of them will have talked about whatever it is too.  We will then discuss, often getting sidetracked with our own histories, there will be lots of comparing notes and then if both of us are still unsure as to how best to proceed we will ask friends, look for literature on the subject, go to the internet, seek professional help, call my mother.   (This last is said in jest, sort of, except that sometimes it’s been true.)  The point is there are a number of steps we typically take and so far this approach has worked out pretty well.

But what about when your kid’s language is limited or nonexistent, what then?  This is where the part of my brain that is firmly rooted in neurotypical thinking gets into a rut, like a record that keeps skipping until you pick the needle up and physically place it elsewhere.  I want to change my thinking when it comes to parenting my daughter.  I don’t like that I don’t automatically go to her and try to find other ways to communicate with her.  I want to make a concerted effort to do things differently, because here’s the thing, Emma has shown me countless times that she can and does have an opinion on any number of topics.  I may not have the kind of conversation I can expect to have with my son, it may take more planning, it may not be as “easy” but it is possible.  I have to train myself.   I have to teach myself and here’s the big revelation – often it takes me a while to learn, but I can and DO learn if I’m patient with myself and give myself the time and encouragement I need.

A couple of months ago I asked Ib (totally and unabashedly giving her new blog, Tiny Grace Notes AKA Ask An Autistic,  a plug here because it’s a much-needed and awesome resource, she’s brilliant and I love her, I love you too, Richard, but in a more, you know, marriage-y kind of way :D) anyway, I wanted Ib’s help in trying to interpret some of Em’s scripts.  Ib and I brainstormed, but what became clear was that I was looking for a key to unlock her language as I understood it and what Ib kept (patiently) trying to explain to me was that I would never be able to achieve a word for word translation.  At one point Ib said, “Do  you speak another language?”  And I said, “No.  I barely speak English, but if you think learning Russian will help me, I’ll learn it.”  Ib (I imagined her taking a long, deep, breath) said, and I’m paraphrasing now, No you don’t need to learn Russian, but you need to try to feel what the emotion is in what she’s saying.

At the time, I was completely freaked out, couldn’t understand what she was talking about, but then after a few more conversations, and thankfully Ib didn’t give up on me, I began to understand, I think, what she meant.  My literal mind wants a word for word translation, but that doesn’t work.  So I’m learning to train myself to ‘hear’ her words differently, which brings me back to the first paragraph regarding questions about parenting and teaching and puberty and everything else.  I admit, I’m fumbling my way along here.  I don’t have any concrete answers, but I do know that listening is a huge piece in all these questions.  Listening to my children, listening to their sensory needs, but also listening to my own instincts.

Questions about puberty, hygiene, shaving and other such matters, I will continue to seek advice, particularly from my Autistic friends, while also taking into account my specific child first and foremost.  If it’s a question that is ‘optional’ such as leg shaving, how does my child feel, is it important to them, do they care, are they interested?  On issues like teeth brushing, where negligence will result in cavities and larger problems, I don’t think twice.  I started teaching both my children how to floss and brush their teeth when they were toddlers.  Both kids need to be reminded, but I don’t grapple with whether I’m doing the right thing, I know I am, I know how important it is.  But some of this other stuff, I begin to second guess myself.

Em and I have a routine at night.  When it’s bedtime she’ll say to me, “Mommy come.”  So I will go into her room with her where she lies down and then pats the bed so that I will lie down next to her.  In the past she’s said, “Mommy read story.”  And I have.  But for the last few weeks she hasn’t said that, but instead has talked.  At first it sounded like scripting, but when I listened to her I realized she was talking about people and school, the bus, sleepovers, listing people she misses or things she wants to do, just the way my son used to do when he still wanted me to lie next to him at night.  So I started asking her, “Hey Em, would you like me to read to you or do you want to talk first?”  Every single night Emma responds, “Talk first, then read.”

And honestly.  How awesome and amazing is that?

“Talk first, then read.”

Em, Nic and Friend