Archive for the ‘The Anderson School for Autism’ Category

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
~ Albert Einstein

Okay so I promise to not quote any more Nietzsche in rash moments of angst.

I’ve just come to the conclusion that if I want to get to the bottom of my son’s aggressions I’m going to have to do it myself.  Should that have been exceedingly obvious to me a long time ago?  Here I am waiting for the professionals to put all the pieces together.

For years, the schools have tried to chart his behaviors, to associate actions with causes, to figure out why he acts out and when – sometimes, even, he aggresses right after he has just been given a reinforcer (reward) or is in the midst of a preferred activity.  And he’s gotten worse.  And he’s getting older – he’ll be 11 on Thursday.  Now he’s figured out that he has an arsenal of weaponry at hand 24/7: a built-in play-doh factory of crap to sling and smear.  All of this everything that makes no sense HAS to make sense to somebody.  I just have to find this person, these people, the neurologist somewhere who will discover a medical, fix-able reason for all of it.  Or do I?

There has to be a reason. Or does there?  I know autism itself doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but there is usually consistency within its world.  Or is there?  I’m questioning everything I think I know.   I need to figure out where to start, to really start helping my son.  If I can help.

Always I secretly judged the autism parents who flew their kids to doctors all over the country, searching for an answer.  I assumed they wanted to “fix” their child or “cure” them of autism.  Maybe they are just like me.

When Jonah was at a day school for kids with autism, I secretly judged the parents who “shipped their kids off” to residential facilities because they “didn’t feel like” taking care of the child anymore.  Now Jonah is at a residential facility.  And of course before I had a child, I had a million notions of parenting that were better than yours. 

God does hath a sense of humor.

Now I have to do something or go crazy with the merry go round of hope and despair.  I want to help my son.

This past Saturday, Jonah was pretty good:  he only slapped me in the face once with a soapy backhand and, minutes later, got out of the tub and ran dripping to grab at my mother, who was sitting in the kitchen.  No real harm done in either case, and neither incident lasted very long.  Of course, we couldn’t figure out a reason for any of it.  We rarely can.

Here are some pictures from Saturday.  And a video.  I welcome all comments.  Suggestions.  Judgement.  I’m evidently working off some karma.

Jonah and his birthday present Scare-Me-Not, Fearless Fred

Jonah and an early birthday present Scare-Me-Not, Fearless Fred.  Boo will be 11 on March 7th.

I love the top of his hair in this picture!

I love the top of his hair in this picture!

Jonah’s wisdom at the end:  More brownie?

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“Before you speak, ask yourself – Is it necessary?  Is it true?  Is it kind?  Will it hurt anyone?  Will it improve on the silence?”
~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

How hurtful we can be without meaning to be.  You’d think I’d be used to being hurt, both physically and emotionally, but I’m just not.  And ’tis a horrifying thought to know I also have spoken quickly, without thinking, without asking myself these questions.  We all do it, I imagine.  This quote is so wise, whoever Sri Sathya Sai Baba is.  I learn lots by researching the person who uttered a quote I love. 

I saw Jonah on Wednesday at Albany Medical Center for his pediatric rheumatologist appointment.  E and J are back as the team who drives Jonah to and fro, but they do so much more than that, as I’ve mentioned.  I love these people and look forward to seeing them almost as much as I look forward to seeing Boo.  He did well at the appointment, mostly, but part of that was due to the caring doc’s speed and efficiency.  No waiting.  None.  We go straight to a room and as soon as she sees him, Dr. B is on her game and handling everything.  It’s refreshing.  I don’t know how she does it, but I’m more grateful for her than she will ever know.

I should have taken pictures but I keep forgetting my camera, or forgetting to charge my camera, so I’ll end the post with some more random pictures.  I like putting pictures in my blog post.  Tomorrow I’ll remember the camera when I go visit Boo, I promise.  I wish I had it at his doc appointment.  He was parroting in classic echolalia form.  “Jonah, sit on the table.”  Over and over.  He’d had enough at the exact moment she finished gently pulling and prodding his joints.

There are so many things I wonder about my boy.  I know the other kids like to cuddle with the caregivers on the couches and watch TV or play Wii, but Jonah doesn’t like it.  I know that much.  He wants to stay in his room a lot.  They coax him out when they can, it seems.   I hate thinking about him alone in his room.  If that’s what makes him happy, should I be more okay with it? 

I wish I knew more about what he likes to play with, and who he wants to be with, and things he says/does/sings.  They don’t tell you a whole lot beyond basic information but I want anecdotal stories.  I want to hear about it when he does good things, or funny things…not just whether or not he had “behaviors” that day, or how many, or what he had for dinner and whether or not he threw his plate.  I want to know more about my son. 

I know he is sick right now and I want to hold him close and let him lie on me and suck his thumb while we watch Barney or the Wiggles.  Of course I just described a fantasy.  Even if he were here in my home that scenario is highly unlikely, unless he were really, really sick.  He’d hit at me, pull my hair, scratch my face.  Is he angry at the world?  Is he angry at us all because we just don’t get it, whatever it is?

Some weeks it’s easier to have gratitude than others.  Sometimes I don’t sit down to add a blog post until I’m motivated by a hurt, worry, depression, shame, anger, or some other emotion that drives me to write.   I guess it means every blog post is skewed by its catalyst emotion.  I can’t do much about that, but today’s emotion, even though it’s Friday, is soul-tired.

I’m praying for a lot of people.  A lot.  They all have serious needs, problems, grief.  I don’t know what good the prayers do but I like to send them up anyway.  I’m a little unconventional with that, but I do pray from my heart and my heart always answers back you are not alone in your hurtYou are not alone.  And that’s the gift you get back when you pray for others; it’s all mirrored back at you, offering perspective and empathy and, if you dig deep enough, peace.

Blah blah blah.  Some pictures:

Me and an unidentified large bear, outside the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri.

Me and an unidentified large bear, outside the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri.

his mama's bony body and his daddy's tan

Mama’s lean body, daddy’s tan skin

old days, exploring in the forest near home

old days, exploring in the forest near home

the waterboy


daddy holds Jonah's hand and grandma walks beside them - away from his residence and across the campus to the car.

daddy holds Jonah’s hand and grandma walks beside them – away from his residence and across the campus to the car.

Mama will see you tomorrow, Boo.  Sleep tight.

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I’ve been kind of sick for too long a while.  I’d rather be sicker and have it over more quickly.  There is simultaneously optimism and fear inside me – and a disheartened kind of grief.  A good, gracious man I know died on New Year’s Eve; he was only 61.  I’m not sure what’s going on inside my head but I need to watch videos like this and seek out information like you get here in order to continue to have faith in humanity

I have to remind myself there are so many amazing things. 

I forgot to bring my camera on my trip to see Jonah yesterday, so I’ll have to share older pics.  Jonah was a good boy.  He didn’t want me to sing, though, even though he was in a parroting mood.  Andy had on the radio and Jonah was humming snippets of the top 40 music and saying things to himself… then suddenly he’s quiet, moving his thumb easily and naturally into his mouth as he turns to look out the window.  It was a warm day – maybe even 40.  My mother and I were quiet on the ride home as she tolerated my music:  things like Kula Shaker, Paul Simon, Radiohead, and Death Cab for Cutie, this day.  I won’t subject her to Greenday or the Grateful Dead; I know where to draw the line.   It was a good visit tinged with the usual feeling that comes inside when you are driving farther and farther away from your innocent ten year old son. 

Today I made chicken cacciatore and M and I are watching Dick Proenneke’s Alone in the Wilderness.   It’s such an amazing documentary that tears come to my eyes as I watch it.  This man built a cabin in the middle of Twin Lakes, Alaska (where he was the only human) and lived there for thirty years, 1968-1998, until he was 81 years old.  He carved spoons and bowls out of wood in a matter of hours.  He could chop down 40 trees and shape them into useable logs to build the cabin, all before noon.  Amazing things.  He built carriers for food and moss.  Caught fish and avoided bear.  Somehow didn’t go insane even while so literally alone.

The things he accomplishes – the way he thinks, the way he moves through the world — it’s so mind-blowing sometimes I have no reaction but to laugh out loud in astonishment.

He builds tools, tables, chairs;  intricate, near-perfect hinges; neat, even boards for shelves and working surfaces.  He narrates most of the movie, sets the camera on a tripod and films himself measuring, building, climbing, chopping, carving, cooking, gardening.  Everything handmade.  A plane would come only, I think, twice a year to bring him very basic supplies.  Are there still people like him, people who know civilization but choose to leave it, with talent and skill and that true harmony with nature?  I am in such awe of it.  No wonder I love Laura Ingalls Wilder.

For me these people speak of possibility, and resilience, and determination.  

It’s good for me today.  So here are some random things while I make my exit to watch some more about Mr. Proenneke:



Silly Me

Silly Me




ScareMeNots recycle!

The Hudson River in March 2002Rhinebeck NY

Baby Jonah...Looking right at me.

Baby Jonah…
Looking right at me.

Gustav Klimt'sThe Kiss

Gustav Klimt’s
The Kiss


my child of the water

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“oh ho, alas alas” ~ john berryman

my first ever no-capitalization post, i think.  i am playing e.e. cummings for a few paragraphs and oscar is dead.  i write only because i need to release a few things tied up inside me…

andy picked jonah up at anserson this morning and the other children in his house had been picked up the night before (we have yet to even attempt an overnight visit), and the ride up was okay.   quickly things went south, though, once they got to albany, and jonah spent the majority of his time weeping uncontrollably, despite presents from santa and bath and turkey sandwich.  he wanted a car ride to the train (which never came) and at some point during the ride, inexplicably, his face froze and melted into sadness, anguish, pain.  he wept and wept, then threw his coat, shoes, and socks at andy – most of which i was able to deflect.


Eventually there was nothing to throw.  So Jonah kicked the back of the seat, hit hard at his window.

Andy pulled over so he could hug Boo, but Boo pleaded mama? so I got out of the car and I opened Jonah’s door and leaned in and hugged him tight.  Then tighter, giving him sensory pressure, loving him loving him loving him, until finally he un-tensed, collapsed into me, and wept harder – crying and sobbing.  We cried together, the back door open on the side of the road.  Then we’d calm him down and we’d get 500 more feet down the road and it would happen again.  No go back to Anderson?  Hot dog?  Bath?  Pa comin’? — confusedly, desperately.

Andy drove, and I cried, and Jonah alternately calmed down (and even giggled once) before again becoming angry and then falling backward into something like despair.

Inside my mother’s house, after the car ride, he punched me hard in the face and and kicked me in the ribs.  He head-butted Andy, trying to bite, enraged and frustrated.  We had to just lie with him on the carpet for a good long while

and whatever it is I’d pay a million dollars to fix it.  He breaks my mother into a thousand pieces, every time.

There is too much to say and who the hell wants to read about this anyway on Christmas Day?

I will post something better, later. Funnier.  I’ll be David Sedaris.  Just not on this particular December 25th.  Lo siento.  And I cannot forget Connecticut; I pick at its horrific entirely like a scab, imagining the families, those familes and their unthinkable Christmas pain.

We sometimes mourn for what we do not or cannot have any longer, or at all — for things and concepts; dreams, wishes, and people – we mourn for what is irrevocably gone.  But also we mourn for what will go on and on and on and on, painfully and unceasingly beyond our capacity to fix.


I’m so sorry, Boo.  Mama loves you.

God please help him.

Help all in despair this day.

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Dear Boo,

Mama is so sorry, sweet angel, but it looks like you are going to need another eye surgery, and soon.  See, the one they would normally do requires the patient to avoid touching the eye for two weeks, and we know you can’t do that, and we can’t explain it to you, so we have to try something else, and these laser eye surgeries are the something else.

This might not even be the last surgery.  The surgeries aren’t helping so far, and what we’re trying to do is make sure you can continue to see.

People with autism are usually visual learners, and you seem to be one as well.  Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin explains this somewhat, and if you could read it I would give it to you and see if you agree.  I don’t really even know if you can read.  They talk about the sight words you know, but even illiterate people know what the STOP sign says.  I don’t know if it matters that you can read, even.  Sometimes I wish you understood more and sometimes I am grateful for your ignorance and innocence.

Have the eye appointments and surgeries become part of your normal?  I guess they must be, by now.  You tip your head back for the eye drops like an expert and read the eye chart like a brave little man.  You are as patient and tolerant of the neurotypical people around you as you can be.  I have no idea how difficult it is, to be surrounded by people who do not understand you.

I’m so sorry, sweetheart.  Mama and daddy are doing their best to make sure you are not in pain, that you have eyes that are healthy, a strong little body, and a calm, peaceful, happy mind.  I’m sorry you don’t have many of those things and I’m sorry there isn’t anything I can do but trust and pray and hope.  I can research, and listen to my instincts.  Hold you close for as long as you’ll let me.  Breathe you in.

You amaze me, Jonah Russell.  Daddy and I will do the best we can for you, for as long as we live.

Mama promises.

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Unless you just stumbled upon this blog, you know my son Jonah lives and goes to school at the Anderson Center for Autism.  We could no longer keep him home because of his violently aggressive behaviors.  Jonah has come a long way in the year he’s been at Anderson!  So many parents like us depend on this school for their child’s fundamental education.  Anderson is holding a Fundraising Gala on October 6th.  The idea is to raise money for the school.

I am not one to ask for money often, but today I am.  For Jonah I will.

I am so grateful to the Anderson Center…

If you can give any amount, I will appreciate it very, very much. (Choose gala donation when you get to the donate page). Your information will be kept private and your donation will be processed on a secure server, though you will be acknowledged in the Gala Program and of course can use your donation as a charitable contribution on your taxes.

And if there happen to be (or if you know) any owners of restaurants, Bed and Breakfasts, stores, hot air balloons, art centers, museums, bookstores, grocery stores, amusement parks, gyms, hotels, airlines, spas, hair salons, gas stations, toy stores, resort properties, etc. reading this– or if you have a superfluous surplus of iPads, those things/gift certificates/gift cards would be amazing to have for the silent auction.

May your kindnesses come back to you a thousandfold!

I’m starting my blog vacation now…be back in town on the tenth.  I am so excited I am almost shaking just to think about crossing the threshold of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home, kept just as she left it when she died three days after her 90th birthday, on February 10th, 1957.

(Yes, I know what a geek I am).

Some Jonah pictures and maybe a video until I return:

Isn’t this a great picture of Jonah and Grandma?

A video of Jonah being on-purpose bad and somewhat gross and us not doing much about it.  We choose our battles.

solving complex algebraic equations

disappearing into a dive

Bye, people who use vacation time to go to beaches on oceans and lakes instead of the center-of-the-USA Missouri Ozarks home of a dead children’s book author!  You’re missing out.

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A year ago today, Andy and I dressed Jonah in a green “Hi!  My name is Jonah” shirt, drove him to the Anderson Center for Autism, dropped him off, and left him to live and attend school there.

I have a good memory for dates, so this was an easy one to remember – aside from the fact that it’s the day Elvis died (35 years ago today).  I woke up this morning with a strange feeling of dread, as though I were going to have to go through the whole thing all over again.

And yet something saved me from turning into the weepy self-pitying woman I, left unchecked, have the tendency to be.

That something was a boy.  And a box.

Someone on Facebook commented on the Scare Me Nots page (I am their facebook “mommy”) – and when I saw the name, I was compelled to look at their page.  The page is for a little toddler who enjoyed 3 months of health before seizures led to a discovery that his little brain is essentially degenerating – and there is nothing they can do.  I wrote to the boy’s mom and asked for her address so I could send her the Scare Me Not she liked.

Then, last night, I spent hours filling and decorating the box, all sides of the box, with pictures from books and magazines and calendars in my crafting basement.  I used a whole roll of packing tape and carefully adorned the box as though it were a gift in and of itself.  The process distracted me from thinking about how I haven’t had my Boo with me for a year.

This mama may not have her little boy at all for much longer.  There’s nothing like perspective to keep you from self-absorption.

When I got to work with the box in my passenger seat, I felt an urgency to get the box to her for her boy.  So I left work and stood in line when the post office opened, and I mailed it the fastest way I could.   Now I feel like I love her boy as well as my own.  I pray for him as I pray for Boo.  And after I mailed that box, I was no longer so worried, so pained, so obsessed with thinking, wishing, complaining, crying about my own boy — and I let go of holding myself bow-string tight.

Instead I felt humbled, and no longer alone in my sadness.  Pain is pain.  Loss is loss.  Everyone has to have some.  None escape grief and trouble.  We all have crosses to bear, some of them terrible.  Unimaginable.

Yet there is a hope we all must hold, that things will get better, that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train but rather a beacon of sunshine.

That on the other side there is beauty — and others – even strangers – who really do care.

“All that matters is what we do for each other.”
  ~ Lewis Carroll

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