For James On His Birthday


To my darling son James,

Nine years ago today, you finally decided to leave the comfort of the womb and join us in the world. You were a week overdue: either you were very comfortable where you were, or you figured that we would need an extra week of quiet before the adventure began.

The day of your birth was incredible, filled with little moments that I will never forget – like the little kid in the hospital coffee shop who was convinced that I was Santa Claus. You can’t blame him: it was Christmas morning and I had a massive belly and a Santa hat. The best moment of all, though, was when you came flying into the world like a cannonball, screaming in outrage. There was never any doubt that you had a very healthy pair of lungs and an abundance of energy.

Since that day, you have filled our lives with a very special kind of magic. You are never afraid to explore and discover not only what is in the world, but what is within yourself. Your massive imagination takes all of us on weird and wonderful journeys, and the front of my fridge is covered with your fabulous artwork. Your creativity combined with your love of animals has given us a zoo of animals that have been lovingly crafted by you. As I write this, you are transforming ordinary cardboard into a set of Wild Kratts creature power disks.

You have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are one of life’s true givers who experiences absolute joy through the act of making other people happy. Every single day, I am on the receiving end of your spontaneous hugs and little handmade gifts and notes. I see the kindnesses you extend to your friends without even having to think about it. Being a caring person is so much a part of who you are that your school gave you an award for empathy.

The love that you have for your brother is genuine and complete. You do not take anything for yourself without first making sure George has something too. If George’s autism is making things difficult for him, you calmly and patiently do whatever you can to soothe and comfort him. You play with him, you share with him, you protect him. You take care of him so beautifully, and yet you think of him as your hero.

I know that sometimes I cannot keep up with your boundless energy and your constant chatter. But I absolutely love that those things are a part of your character, and I would not change a single thing about you.

I love you, and it is a joy and an honour to be your mom.

Happy birthday.

Lots of love,



A Letter To Autism

2013-02-09 11.05.55

Dear Autism,

Although we were only formally introduced to one another six years ago, we have really known each other for longer than that. I didn’t realize it at the time, but you came into my life 9 years, 7 months and 4 days ago, on the day of my son’s birth.

You were there throughout his infancy, staying up with me during the late-night feedings and diaper changes, looking over my shoulder as I tried to figure out what was making him cry, and watching as I tentatively navigated those uncertain months of new motherhood.

You were there during his toddler years, and it was then that you really started to make your presence more obvious. You guided those tiny little hands of his as he repeatedly spun the wheels of toy cars without actually playing with them. You got him interested in that piece of string that he spent hours and hours examining. You choked his language skills and made sure he wouldn’t be interested in playing with other kids.

I didn’t know your name yet, but I knew you were there. I felt as if you wanted my beautiful boy all to yourself. You didn’t even want to share him with me. I hated you and felt threatened by you.

On the day the doctor told me your name, I cried. The doctor said that you would have control of my son forever, that he would never be able to achieve anything because of you. Hearing that broke my heart.

When I was done crying, I made a decision. I was not going to let you win. I was not going to let you ruin my son’s chances to have the best life possible. I knew that I would not be able to get rid of you, though. So we were going to have to learn to live with each other, you and I. Maybe we would even have to become friends.

And so, instead of trying to beat you down, I tried to find ways to work with you. You weren’t going to let my son learn in the ways that other kids learn, so I found people who would teach him in ways that you would like. You weren’t going to make it easy for him to talk, so I had to start at grass-roots level and show him ways to communicate in your presence, in ways that you would allow. You didn’t want him to enjoy playing with other kids his age, so me and my family became his playmates, teaching him how to play without letting you take the fun out of it.

As we have gone through all of this together, you and I, I have made the most astounding discovery. There are actually things about you that I like. You have accelerated the development of whatever part of my son’s brain is responsible for math. In blocking those quote-unquote “normal” ways of thinking, you have opened up his mind to thinking in ways that are unique and incredible. You have given him the ability to single-mindedly focus on a task until it is done just the way he wants it. Because of you, my son is determined and hard-working, and does not believe in giving up.

Best of all, you have touched my beautiful child with his own special brand of magic. He has an innocence and pureness of spirit that makes him light up the space around him. Because you make him think in such a unique way, he has a quirky sense of humour that brightens up the lives of those who are near him. He has a fierce love for me, for his dad, and for his little brother.

You have given me a special gift as well. You have taught me how to appreciate the little things. Every word, every sentence, every little baby-step of progress is a cause for celebration. I have learned how to be happy in the most adverse circumstances.

I cannot go far enough to say that I like you, Autism. But without a doubt, there are things that I respect about you, and while you have made my life so hard and heartbreaking in many ways, you have enriched it in other ways.

I have come to terms with the fact that you will always be there, and I think by now you know that I’m not going anywhere, and I am not letting you get the better of my son. I like to think that for the most part, we can peacefully coexist. There are undoubtedly days when you win, and there always will be.

But you will never stop my son, because he is unstoppable, and because he has a family who will fight for him tooth and nail, every step of the way.

Yours truly,

George’s Warrior Mom

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Santa and Autism: A Special Brand of Magic

This morning I was faced with a minor dilemma, brought on by the fact that it was Pajamas and Stuffed Toy day at my son’s school. If it had been my younger son – the one who doesn’t have autism – it wouldn’t have been a problem. But since this is my older son we’re talking about, I had to make a choice. Do I encourage him to take part even though the idea of wearing pajamas instead of clothes to school could make him feel seriously disoriented and possibly distressed? Or do I let him just wear clothes even though that would mean yet another thing that sets him apart from the typical kids in his school?

See? Dilemma.

As an autism parent, I constantly have to make tradeoffs of this nature on behalf of my child. On the one hand, I want him to have as many “typical kid” experiences as possible, but on the other hand, I don’t want to cause him to be upset.

It always come down to the idea of choosing my battles, and by now I know that I should only pick the battles that really matter. And let’s face it – wearing pajamas to school does not exactly count as an essential life skill, especially when he’s part of a class of special ed kids who probably wouldn’t be into the whole pajama thing either.

And so I decided to let him exercise his preference in the only way he knows how. I would dress him in a clean pair of pajamas and then see what happened. And what happened was that he promptly crawled back into bed. It was only when he realized that he was actually going to school that he started to resist the pajamas idea. Within seconds the pajamas were coming off and George was rummaging around for clothes to wear.

Surprisingly, though, he did want to take a stuffed toy. I say “surprisingly” because George has never really been into stuffed toys. This is a kid who sleeps with about a dozen Mr. Potato Heads and a pineapple. But not only did he want a stuffed toy today, he wanted two. In an intriguing fusion of holidays, he selected an Easter bunny and a stuffed Santa.

I was sure he’d lose interest in the whole thing by the time the school bus showed up, but he went off to school with Santa and the bunny, and by all accounts he had a great day.

Friday is always Show & Tell day in George’s classroom, and from time to time we send him in with something and his teacher gets him to “participate”. In a dramatic break with tradition today, he independently – independently! –  joined the Show & Tell circle and proudly showed off his Santa.

This moment of progress proves to me that although Santa is not real, he is capable of producing magic.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)



A Kind Of Magic

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

When James was about four, he got himself an imaginary friend. The friend’s name is Albert and his age varies from 3 to 12, depending on the day. According to James’ descriptions, Albert is a yellow monster with tall hair. He stays at home and sleeps while James is at school, and he is responsible for every single mess or piece of mischief-making that we blame on James.

Although Albert the monster features less in James’ incessant chatter these days, he still makes the occasional appearance – inasmuch as an invisible, imaginary monster can make an appearance.

I have come to recognize that Albert has served an important dual purpose in James’ life. First, James talks to him when he’s lying in bed at night, using him to process the events of his day and work through any conflicts he might be experiencing. And second, the monster fuels his imagination. James makes up a staggering variety of monster stories, and it is enormous fun to see where his mind takes him.

Monster hasn’t been around for a few days, but yesterday, someone else showed up.

I was industriously working wasting time on the Internet, and James was dancing around, chattering away to someone or something that only he could see. All of a sudden, he was by my side, telling me about a giant pink rabbit that was bouncing around in the kitchen.

“You should see it, Mommy!” said James, quivering with excitement. “Come on, look at it!”

“But I can’t see it,” I said to him, raising my hands palm-side-up in anI-don’t-know gesture.

Without missing a beat, James said, “Close your eyes and you’ll see it.”

His words instantly infused me with a sense of that childlike magic unique to six-year-olds who still know the true meaning of imagination.

As adults, we only see with our eyes. Most of us don’t take the time to look beyond what is literally in front of us. Children know how to see things with their minds. They can see possibilities of magic where most of us don’t even know there’s anything there. They are the ones who truly have vision.

I did what James suggested. I closed my eyes and really tried to look. And sure enough, there was that giant pink rabbit, dancing around my kitchen.

(Photo credit: This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)