:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

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In any given moment, the universe is primed to give us new life, to begin again, to create new opportunities, to miraculously heal situations, to change all darkness to light & fear to love.      ~Marianne Williamson

Sharing a few autism journey miracles

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Today’s Gratitude List

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Today I am grateful for:

  • Music.  All kinds.  Yesterday was one of the  most productive days I’ve had so far in 2011, mainly because I bounced through all my work listening to awesome upbeat tunes.  Alex’s teachers are trying to include more music in his school day, so he’s listening to everything and I mean *everything*!  It’s classical one day, country the next.  Top 40 in the morning, jazz at night.  I’ve even discovered some radio stations I hadn’t known existed!  Yes, I do know internet radio, just don’t have the proper speakers hooked up yet to blast it through the house 🙂
  • Protein.  I learned to make omelets, not just eggs with a bunch of stuff mixed in.  (Which is what I used to make until I did a little “joy of cooking” and “silver palate” cookbook research.)  Yum.  Nourishing food for the body, higher serotonin for the psyche.  Yay protein!!
  • Different perspectives.  Ohmigosh, I do love blogging and reading other people’s stories.  I am fascinated by people and there is so much amazing writing and sharing going on out there in cyberspace.  Just this morning I think I’ve fallen in love with three people I don’t even know!  Okay, maybe not fallen in *love* love, lol.  But you get my drift right?  I am so grateful for beautiful, unique people who share their thoughts on the world with others
  • 

What are you grateful for?  Write it down & share it!

Does everything happen for a reason? You decide.

… my second teacher tribute …

My friend Susan commented to me that she had read my last post, I was amazing, and I always made her cry.  After a snarky comment back about how it was my goal to cause her eye makeup to run down her face, I told her seriously how much I appreciated her encouragement and how I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.  This blog would not be “Autism Home Rescue,” my life and my children’s lives (my son’s life especially) would not be the same, and my perspective might be vastly different were it not for my friend Susan.  So for this post, I’ve decided to write my second teacher/mentor tribute about how Susan and I came to be in each other’s lives today.  Does everything happen for a reason?  You decide.

A wrong number phone call changed everything.

When Alex was a little over one year old, I decided I wanted to take him to a “mommy and me” music class.  He loved music (see “Music is a language all its own” to read about our first musical conversation) and I was committed to reaching out within the stay-at-home mom community and finding friends and activities for our new family.  I had browsed through some parent magazines, but wasn’t really making much of an effort to find a class when one afternoon the phone rang.

“Hello, this is Margie from Music Together.  I’m wondering if you and your daughter Olivia could switch from the Thursday class to the Tuesday class?”

Wrong number.  No daughter, no Olivia, no class registration.  I could have politely hung up.  But I didn’t.

“Well, you’ve got the wrong number, there’s no Olivia here.  But I have a 14 month old son, and we’re looking for a music class.  Can you tell me about it?”

She described the class, it was perfect.  Then she literally said (and no, I am not making this up) “It starts tomorrow morning, around the corner from you.  Why don’t you go?”

I got chills.  I looked up, scanning for some kind of angel keeping watch, and said “Okay.”

The next morning we arrived at Music Together.  It was wonderful, we had so much fun.  During that first ten week session we met Sabine and her mom Rose.  A year later little Sabine would help me understand more clearly than anyone else how to reach my son as he began to retreat into autism.  (Read the story of Sabine’s lesson here.)  A couple sessions after we met Rose and Sabine, Alex and I met Susan and her daughter Lauren.

From the get-go, Susan told me I looked familiar.  My response was, “Yeah, I get that a lot.”  One day she met me in the parking lot. 

“Seriously, you really do look familiar.  Are you sure we don’t know each other from somewhere?”

“Did you go to high school around here?  When did you graduate?”  I asked.

“Well, I graduated in 1986, but I didn’t go to high school in this district.  I did go to the local elementary school though.  I was vice president of the school in 5th grade.  See how far that got me?”  Susan looked around and laughed.

“Wait, wait.”  I gave her a quizzical look.  “You couldn’t have been vice president of the school in 5th grade.  Because I was secretary of the school in 5th grade and…  Susan B?”

“Cathy M?”  She replied.

Amazing.  I was reconnecting with a woman I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  In a totally new world, we had everything in common again.  Each week we sang and danced with our kids, we shared family stories and parenting advice.  As time went on, things seemed okay on the surface, but underneath the happy-new-mom facade I tried so hard to maintain, the ground on which I was standing was beginning to crumble.  No one noticed.  Except for Susan.

Each week she quietly watched us.  Each week she saw the changes in Alex that I was trying hard to keep under wraps.  At Alex’s second birthday party (a music party of course), he did not respond to his name.  His grandmother clapped loud behind him to see if he would react.  He did not.  I snuck upstairs after the party and made a secret phone call to my aunt-in-law, who is a speech pathologist, to get some information on typical speech development and whether or not to have Alex evaluated for early intervention.

Each week the mothers, teacher, kids and I sang and danced.  Each week between classes I made calls to experts, set up evaluation times, tried to get my game face on, to tackle the puzzle, to figure out what the heck was attacking my precious little boy from the inside out.  Where was he going?  Why was he all of a sudden so strange?  Who knew the answers?  Who could help?

Alex’s increasing strange behavior and occasional outbursts were scary and embarrassing, especially since I had no way to explain them.  I felt terribly alone.  That session of music class there was a lullaby called “The River is Wide” of which the teacher was particularly fond.  I think it was adapted from an old hymn or spiritual poem.  The words were:

“The river is wide, I cannot cross over.  And neither have I wings to fly.  Give me a boat that can carry two.  And both shall row, my child and I.”

As I type this, I can hear the music teacher’s voice and the gentle sounds of the guitar.  Tears are slowly making their way down my cheeks.  I remember so clearly that song and my desperation.  I used to hold Alex on my lap at the lullaby time and rock him, trying to make sure he didn’t see me cry.  It was a sweet, beautiful song for naptime for everyone else.  But for me, it was my life.  Where was that boat?  How in the world would I cross?  All those two years I thought I would live in Italy, now I found myself almost to the shores of Holland without a guide.  I had no one, and no wings.

What I didn’t realize was that I was not alone in my struggle.  Susan was there, too.  She saw my tears and she knew why I cried them, even though the other moms didn’t.  Right around the time Alex was being diagnosed, Susan stopped me after class.  She asked me how I was and I started to cry right in front of her.  I couldn’t hide it. 

I choked, “They think it’s autism…  We had an evaluation…” 

Susan didn’t ask me about the doctor or the tests or the plan or anything anyone else had asked.  She simply put her arm around me and said:

“You remember my daughter Rachel, right?  She’s Lauren’s older sister, she’s been here a few times with us.”

I nodded.

“She’s beautiful, right?  She has fun in class, she participates and she responds.  She’s okay, right?”

I nodded again, tears still flowing on my cheeks.

“Rachel has autism.  And she is just like Alex.  I know who is going to help you.  There is a behavior specialist named Mari.  She works with Rachel.  She will work with Alex, and she will help, you’ll see.  It will be okay.”

I didn’t question, and I didn’t need to look up.  I felt that angel watching.  I simply said, “Okay.” 

What I needed more than anything right then was that promise that it would be okay.  There was a boat, there was a teacher, I would learn how to row.  The water was wide, but there were other people crossing too.  No one could tell me or make me believe.  But Susan could.  And more importantly, she did.  In a way that only my dear friend Susan could do, she explained how it was with Alex, how he was like her Rachel, and how the universe was going to bend to connect me with all the right people and knowledge I needed to help my son.

When I contacted Mari a short time later to ask her to begin a home program for Alex, neither Mari nor the agency for which she worked had an open space for him.  On the way to the agency interview (which I begged for anyhow), buoyed by the confidence I borrowed from Susan, I prayed.  Through those prayers and– I firmly believe– Susan’s sheer force of will, the universe bent and the connections were made.  As I walked into the agency– the best ABA therapy practice in our area at the time, the one with the 25% full recovery rate from autism and the most encouraging outcomes for kids on the spectrum– the director was just hanging up the phone. 

“Amazing.”  She said.  “I just had a cancellation.  We have one spot left.  Alex can have it.”

Does everything happen for a reason?

I believe so.  Maybe you don’t see the world that way.  Or maybe things happen differently in your life.  And that’s okay.  But for me, yes, I believe there are no coincidences.  Just as I had no explanation for what was happening to Alex when he was two years old, I have no explanation for the wrong number phone call that led me to a friend from grade school whose child was helped by the same woman who would become a true angel to my son.  Mari and Susan are now a forever part of my family.

I’ve never asked her, but when I think back, I wonder if Susan knew exactly the words to say that day in music class.  There certainly had been many, many people speaking to me about Alex and our family.  Much of the time I didn’t understand their words, it was like a different language.  Yet Susan’s reassurance and gentle guidance reached through my confusion and pain, and gave me hope when I most needed it.

Does everything happen for a reason?  You decide.

Music is a language all its own.

From the time he was in the womb, my son was an extremely musical child.  He responded to music with passion and excitement.  When I was eight months pregnant with him, I attended an orchestra concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia with my mom.  It was my mother’s gift to me; she wanted to take her unborn grandchild to his first concert.  Alex was the first grandkid on both sides of the family and we were privileged to enjoy many treats such as this, even from the time of his conception.

Hilary HahnThe concert that night was a collection of works by young artists and composers.  Alex was mostly still during the evening, with the notable exception of rolling and kicking playfully during an especially beautiful violin concerto performed by Hilary Hahn.  His kicking seemed to be so pronounced and deliberate during that part of the performance that after the concert I immediately purchased two of Miss Hahn’s CDs.  We waited in line to get the CDs autographed and Miss Hahn signed them “To Baby K, Congrats on your first orchestra concert!”  I told her that my baby had really enjoyed her music—even in utero! 

After Alex was born, I continued to play many different kinds of music for him.  But still, he particularly preferred Hilary Hahn.  When he was several months old I sent a note to Miss Hahn which included a picture of Alex playing with his first musical toy.  Several years later, I had the good fortune to be able to tell her, while she signed another CD for Alex’s soon-to-be-born little sister, the story below about one of our most significant early experiences with music and communication.  Her comment was, “Music is really a language all its own.”  Here’s the story:

The very first conversation I ever had with my son was a piece of music.  As a baby, Alex had a toy frog that played lullabies at night.  Most of them were pieces of classical music, Mozart sonatas I think.  Alex and I would listen to them every night as I cuddled him on the makeshift futon on the floor of his room.  He would snuggle up with me and fall asleep blissfully.

One weekend we were visiting my mother at the Jersey shore.  After a day at the beach and a nice home-cooked dinner, Alex and I went upstairs to the guest room.  We had forgotten to bring the toy frog that was such an integral part of our bedtime routine.  So I did the next best thing.  I improvised.  A talented singer I am not, but after 18 months of Music Together classes, I knew that the most important thing to my child was the sound of my voice and my own “mommy music,” no matter what key it was in or out of.  I began to softly hum one of our favorite tunes. 

At first Alex just snuggled and listened.  But then I heard him begin to hum very faintly.  Encouraged, I continued on, humming the same song over and over.  After a few minutes Alex was humming along with me, in perfect rhythm, repeating the same tune.  It was the most amazing duet I had ever heard, let alone participated in.  My son, who had never spoken a word, never said “I love you” or “pick me up” or “want cookie” was fully engaged in a musical conversation with me.  That was the moment that I knew that there was an entire world of communication going on inside Alex’s mind, the trick would just be how to get it out.