Teacher Professor

March 31, 2010

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…

Filed under: ADHD,Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 4:45 pm

Late afternoon- I needed to start thinking about making dinner and we were out of clean dishes.  No pots or pans to be found.  All of them were in the sink from last night.

So, I started by cleaning the dishes.  Placed them in the dishwasher.  Put the dishwasher detergent in.  Hmmm.  Can’t start the dishwasher yet.  One more bowl left.

The bowl of left-over dry Cheerios that were this morning’s snack.  They needed to be thrown away.

But the garbage can was full, so I went to the cabinet for a trash bag.  I emptied the trash and got grossed out at the scum at the bottom of the can.

And to clean the scum, I needed some paper towels, but there weren’t any in the rack on the counter.  So, I went to the garage to get a new paper towel roll.

While I was in the garage, I straightened up the bikes that had fallen over so that James could park in the garage this evening.  Then, I went back inside to put the paper towels on the rack.

While I was putting the paper towels up, I noticed that the phone was off the hook and sitting on the counter.  So, I went to the office to hang it back up.

I noticed my son’s prescription on the computer keyboard (how did that get there?) and picked it up to move it to my purse to fill tomorrow.

When I opened my wallet to put the script in, I saw my checkbook, and realized that I needed to fill out the reservation for my high school reunion, which is due tomorrow.  Back to the computer.

Form filled out, and envelopes stuffed.  Back to my purse for stamps.  Stamps reminded me of sticky things and the scummy trash can still sitting in my kitchen.  Back to the kitchen.

Trash can cleaned and put away next to washing machine.  The quiet washing machine.  No laundry hamper.  Clothes in dryer piled on top of dryer.  Laundry placed in dryer.

Back to the bedroom to get the clothes hamper.  Dog chewing on green flip flop- not destroyed yet, but damaged.  Remove shoe from dog’s mouth, realize that dog got to shoe because they had been left next to my bed.

Took shoe back to closet to put away.  Pile of dirty clothes sitting in the closet that needs to be washed.  Child walking out of the bathroom, “I’m hungry, Mommy. When’s dinner?”  Tossed shoe in closet.  Back to kitchen, where the bowl of half-eaten Cheerios was still sitting, waiting to be thrown away.

“How about some Cheerios, kids?”  Dinner’s going to be a little late…

March 30, 2010

My Son is Not Alone

Filed under: ADHD,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 10:23 am

This just in from the New  York Times… Boys are being surpassed by girls around the developed world.  In everything- test scores, graduation rates, advanced degrees, proficiency- girls lead boys in GPA, scores, and completion rates- and not just by a little.  A lot.  It’s not even close to 50-50, or even the natural ratio of 54-46.  Some research has the rates of girls’ success at 65-70% over boys.  It’s even worse in minority cultures.  72% of advanced degrees among African-Americans are held by women.  The only exception is in math and engineering, where men have a slight advantage over women.

I’m all for equal opportunity and advancement of women.  My mother was the first woman hired by the State Land Office that oversees oil and gas leases for the state.  She now leads the Division and was recognized as a Woman Trailblazer.  She was often the only woman on the oil rig.  She was one of a few in her undergraduate geology program.  My mother has fought HARD for women’s rights.  I got to trail along in her wake and become a… teacher.  Not the most trailblazing choice for a woman, but it was what I loved and wanted to do and I had that choice.  I was always given that choice.  I flirted with becoming a stockbroker, a doctor, a chemist- and several others that all pay much better than education!  I chose teaching not because it was my only choice, but because it was what I wanted to be- a choice that my mother, and so many women like her fought for their daughters to be able to have.

But it is disheartening that as women have made so much progress, a) they are less happy than they were 30 years ago (and this is a whole ‘nother post), and b) men have started to slide.  As the pressure of high-stakes testing have increased, it has become significantly more important to children to test well, study hard and sit down and fill in the bubbles- all things that boys, with their engaged learning styles, their activity levels and their team approach, do not do as well.  Anyone with a “difference”- which is not so different, but is not what tests well- performs poorly.  And so, we’re losing them. We’re losing children who are gifted and question deeply.  We’re losing children who can’t sit still for hours at a time.  We’re losing the boys.

The other night, my husband came home from working with my son’s soccer team- all 6- and 7-year old little boys.  He was exhausted trying to organize them, teach them foot skills and get them to pay attention to him.  “They ALL need medication,” he announced as he collapsed.  He WAS joking, and I was amused at first, until I started thinking… if he had this much trouble organizing 10 little boys for an active game of soccer, imagine the teacher trying to get them to sit down and take a series of tests…. tests that my son has already started to fail; tests that so many other boys are going to fail as time goes on.  Tests that will keep them out of college, out of graduate school, out of power.  I’m not advocating keeping men in power, but I want EQUAL power… And are only upper socio-economic boys going to get to these levels because they’re the only ones whose parents help them through, pay for medication, are able to play this game?

And so the question is: Are we drugging our child  because he “needs” it, or because our society is creating a system of testing that rewards passivity?  It’s very 1984 and frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

March 29, 2010

Introduction…

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 12:36 pm

From my book: Children with High Functioning Autism: A Parent’s Guide available from Amazon.com and in stores at Barnes and Noble

An Unplanned Journey Between Holland and Italy.  Switzerland?

It’s important to know that no one CHOOSES autism- you, your child, and your family were drafted.  You need to remember this when teachers, mothers, and total strangers feel free to tell you that you’re using autism as an excuse for ________ (Name your issue here- misbehavior, laundry piling up, financial failure, your lack of showering…).   And just like being drafted and being shipped off to another country, autism will change your whole life- your plans, your dreams, your family structure, your relationship with your local grocery store.  All will be different than you expected- and not always in a bad way.  Just… different….

“Welcome to Holland” is a poem originally written for a child with mental retardation.  However, it is an analogy I deeply related to: you think you’re going somewhere and suddenly you’re not there.  However, autism is more like the Wizard of Oz- you THINK you’re just like all of your friends; you THINK you’re on the way with a clearly defined map, when you start getting strange signs that things are not the same as all of the Baby Books would have you believe.  I had read the “Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” and laughed so hard, I was sobbing.  (Seriously, my husband was concerned about me.  Perhaps an over-reaction to hormones….)  However, I truly bawled when I read the “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Toddlerhood”.  That wasn’t what I was seeing.  I didn’t get to laugh at funny sayings my kids were doing.  I had the child who wouldn’t leave the swings.  I didn’t have that map anymore…

Autism is so insidious because, to use the Holland analogy, for a while, you ARE in Italy.  The language spoken for a while is Italian- the food, pasta.  But in small pieces, the language changes.  The people change.  The activities change.  The landscape changes.  It reminded me for a while of one of those Star Trek shows where you were part in one world, and part in another. 

There are several different metaphors about autism out there.  In her book “The Autism Trail Guide: Postcards from the Road Less Traveled”, Ellen Notbohm notes how having a child with autism is like being on a strange trip, and that you have to communicate with others that you’ve arrived safely and that you want to share your experiences.  In contrast, Karyn Seroussi calls autism “The Jabberwock” and talks about defeating this disease that causes autistic behaviors.  She also talks about saving children from the “Pied Piper” of autism.  It’s interesting the differences of metaphors- to some it’s a scary demon thing; to others, a process, a journey. 

And that’s autism. Something to be fought against while at the same time trying to understand the journey.  It’s both a process and a condition.  It reminds me a bit of trying to capture the dual nature of light.  Scientists have found that when they provide a substance to react to, light clearly acts as a particle.  When they provide a slit, it appears to be a wave.  Autism is both something our children have as well as being someone they are.  It’s a really fine line between “quirky” and “problematic”.  A gap between “typical” and “not right”.  Somewhere between “Cute and hmmmm”….

March 28, 2010

Passing

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 12:09 am

While I certainly do not presume to speak for the experience, there is, among African-Americans, a concept of “passing”.    There was even a legal definition of being “black”- if you were 1/8 black, or your great-grandparent was African-American, you were considered “black” yourself- even if you had blonde hair and blue eyes.  The term was an “octoroon” and under Jim Crow laws, they were denied the right to vote, marry a white person, etc.  I mention this simply because there was some significant reason to “pass”.  In the days before computers, some families would move, and claim “white” heritage in their new place.  Often, they prayed that no one who knew them from “before” would recognize them or come to visit, and so they were cut off from their past, and often, too afraid of being caught to fully become “white”.  They were of no culture, of no label, not fully one or the other.  They were “passing”.

I mention this, not to discuss racial issues, but because Elizabeth is very close to “passing” as a typical child.  With tremendous therapy when she was 2, 3, 4 and lots of caring teachers and help from us when she was 5 and 6, she  looks “quirky” now- most of the time.  Autism hovers around her, but is rarely invoked.  We don’t tell her teachers until after they get to know her; we never mention it to friends or their parents, and we discuss it lightly with her.  The term “autism” is so loaded, that we would rather people get to know Elizabeth before they see her as “that autistic girl”.

Ray’s Tourette’s is obvious.  Not severe, but enough of an issue that it warrents interference from me- a plea to his teachers, explanations to friends, and ongoing conversation with him.  Elizabeth?  Not so much.  To my great relief and amazement, most of the time she’s just a little extra sensitive, a half a step behind socially, stimming in socially acceptable manners, fantastic in math and less so in language.  She’s come a long way.  We are deeply grateful that her autism is so rarely a “problem” and has gotten to the point where she CAN “pass”- we know so many children who cannot.

But not this weekend.  This weekend, she is caught in the tendrils of autism that are highjacking her reactions. She’s screechy, singsongy, weepy, and socially off.  And of course, this is the weekend that her bestest friend, Emily, who does not “know”, is spending the whole weekend because her family is out of town and the girls didn’t want to be separated for TWO WHOLE DAYS!!! (as said in dramatic Elizabeth fashion).    Emily knows that Elizabeth is “odd”, but she’s a very kind child who loves animals and babies and is very helpful to most children.  She’s an ideal bestest friend.  We call her our “bonus daughter” because she and Elizabeth spend so much time together.  But today, even she is taken aback at Elizabeth’s behavior and reactions.

There are lots of reasons why autism is rearing its ugly head- it’s the weekend before Spring Break, the weekend before we leave for Louisville, a major change in routine with Emily spending not one, but two nights.  An awful lot for a little girl to absorb.  She’s tired because of a soccer game today.  The weather is terrible- windy and chilly and irritating. A restaurant we enjoy going to burned down this morning in rather spectacular fashion.  We didn’t see it directly, just the blackened, crumbled aftermath, but it was rather shocking.  There is an awful lot going on.  I’m feeling a bit highjacked myself.   And my heart breaks just a little when I watch her try to deal with it all.

In the car this morning on the way to the soccer games, Emily got “that” expression on her face- that “Oh my GOD, what IS SHE DOING?” look when Elizabeth absent-mindedly began stroking and tracing the soccer number on Ray’s jersey that he was wearing.  Ray protested that she was TOUCHING HIM, and Elizabeth scooched down in her seat and started to chew on her hair, something she hasn’t done in years.  I covered for her- about how the texture of the letter was really different and soft and nice to touch.  Let’s remember to keep our hands to ourselves, shall we?  I turned it into a typical sibling issue.  I think Emily bought it and we moved on.  Until this afternoon.

Elizabeth didn’t want to do anything except swing.  She didn’t want to walk Emily’s dog; she didn’t want to play with another friend; she didn’t want to draw.  She only wanted to swing.  Emily looked bored after a while.  I brought them in early for dinner.  I was trying to work on a project that is due before we leave, so I couldn’t play Activities Director as much as I would have liked.  Normally, I don’t have to.  I have celebrated letting her go- watching her play on the fringes of groups- not wildly popular, but not excluded, either.  But not today.

Elizabeth spent much of the evening arranging her closet to sleep in it.  She took all of her toys out of her toy chest, and put in her pillows and blankets.  Emily was invited to sleep in there with her.  Emily, being a typical child who doesn’t want to sleep completely crunched in a 3 foot space, looked at it, and said “No, that’s ok”, and looked bored as Elizabeth proceeded to hum as she put toys on the bed and more and more covers in the toy box.  There are pink and purple blankets crammed into a wooden chest and there Elizabeth sleeps now, her knees drawn up to her chin.  Emily is sprawled out on the trundle bed, alone on her sleepover.

And there is still tomorrow to get through before Emily’s family comes back.

I think the girls need a break from each other- Elizabeth needs to find her stability again, and Emily needs to have some time to forget this “other” person who has appeared where her friend has been.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about whether my daughter “has” autism, or if she is autistic.  Speaking only for my child- she “has” autism- and is only a little bit “autistic”.  She has a dramatic personality- she’s known as a “drama queen” because of her exaggerated reactions.  She’s intense.  She’s analytical.  She’s really, really good in math and can focus extraordinarily well.  Perhaps that’s “autistic”, but it’s so much a part of who she is, that I don’t label it anymore.  It’s just Elizabeth.

However, we are stalked by “autism”.   Autism is something that is there, waiting- waiting for tiredness, waiting for a change in routine,  waiting for pressure, waiting for an opportunity to throw things off.  It appears, takes her hostage and we have to wait it out.  We have to let her soothe herself- crawl into a tight ball and sleep it off.  We have to talk her through it and remind her of consequences- “We don’t touch other people.”  I envision “autism” as this gabbling, wizened creature, a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Ring, muttering, hiding in the darkness, and jumping out at us every now and then.

Most of the time, she can “pass”… but not today.  Today, we share the house with Autism.  My Precioussssssss….

March 26, 2010

Recognition and Humor

Filed under: Autism,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 9:18 am

I was observing one of my student teachers in an inclusion classroom yesterday, when I heard a familiar voice.  “I CAN’T.  I CAN’T.  This is something I CAN”T DO!”, in a very particular, sing-songy voice.  The intonations were ones that I hear often at home when I ask my daughter to do something she doesn’t want to do- clean her room, put away her clothes, brush her hair.  It’s not a particularly confrontational voice, almost a whine.  But there’s an element of music or rhythm behind it.  It’s when I know that she’s wanting attention, she’s feeling slightly overwhelmed, she’s nowhere near a meltdown, but is trying to manipulate me into believing that she is.  I typically laugh with her when she does it.   Just hearing it was enough to bring a smile to my face.

But this was NOT my child- this was another little girl- and I had a moment of instant recognition- of the voice, the manipulation, the humor behind it.  I whispered to the “real” teacher who was also in the classroom, “Autism?” and she, laughing as well, nodded.  We exchanged amused glances.  My poor student, who was being OBSERVED, was in a panic, and was trying desparately to calm her down.  “Of course you can.  Here…” and proceeded to give her a sentence that she happily copied down.  Mission accomplished.

I was struck by a couple of things: first of all, the similarity of tones.  I KNEW that tone of my daughter, but hadn’t recognized it as one of her “autistic” moments- I just thought that it was her own unique form of whining.

Secondly, the amazing ability to manipulate that both little girls can demonstrate.  So many times, it is easy to assume that because a child has a difference, they are living in the moment.  Both of these children can control their environment, get what they want, by using their differences to “scare” someone else.  That takes a certain amount of intellect and ability to perceive other’s perspectives to manipulate.  It’s quite a step forward!

And thirdly, the shared humor that both the teacher and I had, as we recognized how masterfully this little girl was pulling it off.  She and I both have reached the point where we can “call” kids on their behavior, and let the child know that we’re not falling for it, in a way that builds rapport, rather than destroys it.  We both wanted so badly to step in and say “Oh right- of course you can” and then ask the questions that would get her to do it on her own.  In education, we call it “scaffolding”.  But we were in an observer role and couldn’t step in.

My student teacher?  She’ll get there, too.  I just have to scaffold the experience for her as well so that she can realize how incredibly smart kids are- especially kids with differences- and to laugh while teaching.

March 24, 2010

Perfect Bracket

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 3:00 pm

This just in: A kid with autism from Chicago has picked everyone of the correct teams in the NCAA bracket thus far.  His odd of doing that randomly: One in 13,460,000, according to BookofOdds.com. It’s easier to win the lottery. Twice.  He foresaw the fall of Kansas!  (And New Mexico, my alma mater- sniff…)

Of course, he entered his data in one of the only bracket games to not pay.  Had he entered his picks in sportsbook.com, he could have won $13 million dollars. There is no other person, according to the article, who has a perfect bracket.  Certainly, not me!

His pick for the big winner? Purdue.  You might want to place your bets now, folks.

Spread the Word

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 11:49 am

My son horrified me last night.  We were reading “The Secret Garden” and the Robin was thinking that Colin was learning to fly.  “Oh, that’s stupid, ” said Ray definitely.  “He’s retarded”.

I was aghast.  “RAY!”  I screeched.  “You don’t SAY that word!  Do you KNOW what kind of insult that it?  Do you have any idea how hurtful that is?”

He was completely taken aback and yelled , “It just means not smart.! I’m not being mean!  It just means not smart!”  He then stormed off and hid in his closet, completely shutting me out.

I took a deep breath and realized that 1) he probably heard it at school and 2) figured out what it meant from the context, and 3) had no idea it was an insult since he’s never heard it at home.

I followed him to his closet and apologized for yelling at him; explained that I wanted to talk about why the word was so bad to use.  He hid under his laundry basket.  Clearly, this conversation would have to wait until he was more open to emotional conflict- something that is so hard for him to handle.

Later, he asked for me to snuggle just before bed.  I asked him if we could talk about it.  No response- but no rejection, either.  So, I started.

About how my student Amanda has a child with intellectual and developmental delays and how she has said she would punch out the lights of anyone who insulted her daughter.  How it’s an exceptionality that is not the fault of anyone.  How my JOB is helping people understand exceptionalities and respect people with them.  How “that” word used to be a medical term and is now considered an insult because it is used to describe someone being “stupid”.  How EVERY human being deserves respect.  How hurtful the word is to people who love people with differences. How hurtful it is for people WITH differences. How I signed a pledge at Spread the Word to End the Word.  Did he want to sign the petition, too? I asked.

“No,” he grunted.

But he snuggled back up to me and said “I didn’t know.”

And so another child is educated.  And I will knock the block off of the kid who taught it to him- ok, maybe I’ll just educate him, too- for Amanda, and everyone like her.  And there will be only 29,999,998 people left to educate.   Will YOU spread the word?

March 23, 2010

No Good Choices

Filed under: ADHD,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 2:32 pm

After being excited about the possibilities of guanfacine, turns out it’s not a good choice after all.

We met with the pediatric neurologist today about Ray and she did not recommend guanfacine as a first choice- she said it “zombied” the kids out.  Her recommendation was to try Daytrana, a patch that provides medication on a steady dose and can be ripped off if he needs it.

Ray could not have acted more like a kid with ADHD if he been method acting for the part.  He was all over the place, interrupting, jumping up and down and squirming.  If I had never met him, I would have immediately pegged him.  The problem was that there was not a tic to be seen- until we got in the car.  The neurologist said that it looked to her like the ADHD was more of a problem than the tics, especially if he’s having problems in school.  I explained that he had anxiety and she said that “If you can’t remember and you can’t pay attention, and you lean towards anxiety, the pressure of a test is going to send your anxiety off the charts.”  She explained that having anxiety, Tourette’s and being “dusted with autism” were “confounding factors” and that while there were medications for each of the issues, they often contradicted each other.  She explained that parents often have to go with the “worst” issue and monitor the others.  Separate the child into diagnostic parts, in other words.

The problem with any of the ADHD medications is that they can increase tics.  And they can decrease appetite- something we have fought for years with him about.  Being positive, the neurologist said that sometimes, kids on stimulant medication can pay attention longer in order to eat- they can focus on what they put into their mouths.  And she said that 1/3 of kids with tics are helped, while 1/3 get worse.  There is no way of knowing what category Ray is in.

And therein lies MY anxiety.  I know that we have to do something.  I like the idea of the patch so that we can try it in small doses.   But I am so afraid of the side effects exacerbating the problems we already have.  I am so afraid of playing the medical game of “Whack-a-mole” (as my fellow blogger Mom-Not Otherwise Specified says).  I am so afraid of starting my 7-year old child on amphetamines.

I’m afraid that I caused this.  An ADHD system is a system that is under-stimulated.  People act hyper because they’re trying to wake up their systems.  Ritalin- most of the ADHD medications- act as coffee does for my husband in the morning- allows him to focus and regulate.  When I was pregnant with Ray, he moved ALL the time and I was anxious- a lot.  I had Elizabeth, a toddler who wasn’t talking and was colicky and irritable beyond normal.  I had a child not yet diagnosed with autism.  I drank gallons of chamomile tea- gallons of it.  It calmed me down and I figured that it was good for him- I was hoping for a groovy baby.  Did the chamomile cause this?  I’ll never know… but I wonder.

But mostly, I am so afraid of him failing again- and getting used to failing.  And not becoming the unbelievable kid I catch glimpses of every now and then- the one with a wicked sense of humor, the one who reads 5 grade levels ahead, the one who wants to help others.  I want him to know that child- I want him to be able to find that child when he needs to.  And so, we look to medication to help him lay down those neurological tracks so that he can get familiar with that feeling of being whole.

I want that.  And I am afraid of this, or any medication, splintering him even farther.

March 22, 2010

Time Zone Shuffle- 3:30am

Filed under: Autism,Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 11:43 am

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind of travel and I’m in such sympathy with my children.

On Wednesday, I was up at 3:30am- East Coat time- after the time shift the previous weekend, so I wasn’t completely adjusted yet anyways.  My flight to San Antonio left at 7:00am from Jacksonville, an hour away, so crack of dawn found me zipping down the highway in my car.  Flew to San Antonio wedged in the back corner of the plane, saw family, did the book store signing, and ate Mexican food- overall, a lovely time, but rather sensory-overloading.

On Saturday, I was up at 3:30am- Central time.  My flight to Los Angeles left at 6:00am, so dark of dawn found me zipping down the highway in a rental car.  Flew to Los Angeles wedged in the back corner of the plane, surprised one of my very good friends for her 40th birthday, played Putt-Putt, ate chicken satay and coconut shrimp and waded in the Pacific ocean.  Overall- a wonderful time, but rather sensory-overloading. 

On Sunday, I was up at 3:30am- Pacific time.  My flight to Jacksonville left at 7:30am, two hours away, so crack of dawn found me zipping down the highway in a shuttle car.  I flew home, propped up against a window- finally!   Ate nothing all day.

By the time I landed, I was a shaking, shivering mess- completely sensory-overloaded and ready to cry because all I wanted to do was crawl into my own bed- wrapped in MY blanket and hugging on MY children and husband. 

I also realized how much sympathy I had for my children.  I felt like a hedgehog- prickly and sensitive and overly aware of all of the emotional intensities around me.  I was tired of being aware of family tensions and dynamics – my own and family not my own.  I was tired of strange food and strange oceans.  I was tired of trying to show to others how much I truly appreciated them and the celebration, while battling fatigue and words not coming easily.  I was tired of trying to talk to so many people.  I was tired of not knowing what time it was.  I’m not ungrateful and I love all of these people.  I’m just … tired.

I cried on the way home, hugged my children and husband, enforced the rules that had been “forgotten” in my absence, downloaded with my husband, wobbled close to a melt down, and went to sleep- HARD!

All the way until 6:30am.  Ahhh… life is good again.  And I am so deeply grateful that all it takes for me is a good 7 hours of sleep to get out of the time zone shuffle.  My children?  Sleep certainly helps all of us.  But some understanding, some love, and some time to crawl under the bed in a dark, quiet spot, are all good ideas. 

Back out from my covers…  and singing Matchbox 20.

It’s 3 am I must be lonely
When she says baby
Well I can’t help but be scared of it all sometimes
Says the rain’s gonna wash away I believe it

March 21, 2010

Signing in San Antonio

Filed under: Book- Parent's Guide — Teacher Professor @ 9:03 pm

Well, I did my first ever book signing this past Friday in San Antonio… and it was a- well, different experience.

When I present at a conference, there are rows of chairs all facing me.  For about a half hour or an hour, I talk.  I generally have a power point with “talking points” and some visuals, some points of humor and a conclusion.  People come to hear me because they want to learn something that I have researched or have thought through, and it will help them in their own research or their own teaching processes.  This… wasn’t that.

When I teach, students are in small groups and I am at the front of the room or walking around, facilitating their learning, setting up activities for them to come up with their own answers, their own meanings, their own way of doing things.  I am a ringmaster, with the students actively contributing, but I direct them, coordinate the timing of things, and ask for responses to questions I have planned ahead.  I am trying to take them somewhere, to master a set of objectives.  This… wasn’t that.

When I talk with fellow parents, we sit in a circle or across a coffee table from each other.  Everyone is equal and the conversation flows.  One person asks for opinions, for information and we poll the group to get the best responses, to explore the wide experiences that everyone in the group has.  We talk about our day, our concerns, our hopes and share moments.  This… wasn’t that.

What is was… was a strange amalgam of all of these.  The chairs were in rows facing me, but I was not there to lecture.  I had passages from the book highlighted, but no power point.  I was extremely happy and honored there was ANYONE there!  Most of the people there were my family, who are interested in what I have to say, but only vague interest in the topic.  My editors were there- who knew the book better than I know it myself.  And some parents were there.  I talked with these fellow parents, found out why they were there, why they came out on a Friday night.  I asked questions, and I facilitated responses.  I shared what I knew and I heard from the other parents of experiences that are not my own.  I made recommendations of other books besides my own.  I talked about the book, some, but I talked about the experiences of parenting a child on the spectrum.  I formed a small support group.

And I learned.  I learned about one dad, who is struggling with his 8-year old son with Aspergers and his worries that the support system came too late, and how the pain of the diagnosis is harder on him than on his son.  I learned about one mom whose son has name-the-label and her struggles with the school system and medical professionals to think of him as one child, not many labels.  I learned of one mother who has multiple family members with autism and is struggling to raise her children.  I tried to facilitate, to share, and because it was my job being there at Barnes and Noble, to discuss my own book.  However, I found other books that they needed to read as well, more resources that they needed to tap.  “Calvin and Hobbes” came up more than once- as analogy, as a book to read, as a support for their own child.

I left exhausted.  I know the role of professor- I love presenting and teaching and writing.  I know the role of parent- I love sharing and commiserating and dialoguing.  I’m not sure of my role of “author/book signer”.  I found myself craving the familiar, the routine: the language I use when I’m a professor and the language I use as a parent.

Afterwards, everyone clapped.  One parent left, book in hand, but no signature.  Did she buy?  I have no idea.  I misspelled the name of the dad who handed me a book he had bought, in ink.  I wrote “oops” next to the misspelling.  I felt terrible.  I signed books that my family bought out of family pride and one book for an aunt-in-law who could not be there , but has a son with high-functioning autism- ready for college.  They have already lived the diagnosis/fighting with the school/treatment routes.  My book comes too late for them.  I signed more books for the bookstore to keep as “Autographed by author”.

Next time, I’ll stand in front of the table, rather than sit behind it.  I’ll learn about more parents.  I’ll share some information/facts/suggestions in my professor role.  I’ll share with fellow parents.

My mother asked me if I had “fun”.  I’m not sure… but I know that I’ll learn even more… the next time.

Louisville, April 1st.  Barnes and Noble at the Summit.  Hope to see you there!

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