I’ll wager a guess that parents of typical children look forward to school Christmas concerts. Not us. Blue Eyes and I have been dreading this year’s concert ever since last year’s took place. We called our RDI Consultant, John, to talk about it:

YM: We’re worried about Joseph’s school concert. Last year, Joseph stood on stage and flapped his hands like a wild man. The other kids sang and did motions to the songs, and Joseph flapped. He never sang, not even once. He looked soooo autistic.

John: He IS autistic.

YM: I know, I know…

John: Tell me more about the flapping. Was he nervous up on stage?

YM: Not at all. He knew we didn’t want him to flap. He looked us in the eye, grinned a wicked grin, and started flapping.

John: Ah! So he was doing it to bother you guys. Sounds like a typical kid to me.

YM: We’re thinking to let him do the dress rehearsal and call it done. What do you think?

John: I say, don’t leave out this experience for Joseph just because you and Blue Eyes will be uncomfortable. Experiences like this are really valuable for him. If you guys can live with the discomfort, I think he should do it.


Sigh. Sometimes you have to use the psychic Samurai sword to slash away your own wishes and do something for your kid’s growth.

We spoke to Joseph’s teacher about our concerns, and she got the whole music team on board to brainstorm. They ended up putting an egg shaker in his hand. At the concert on Tuesday night Joseph was busy keeping the beat, and sometimes he even sang. No flapping; not even one little wriggle of the hand.

Have you ever noticed that, if you’re willing to be uncomfortable, you will often be excused from the actual dreaded experience?

The concert was therefore, in our eyes, a huge success. And that wasn’t the only high note of the week.

Joseph has a crush on a girl in his class named Fiona. He sure knows how to pick ’em — she is a cutie. On Monday Fiona came over for her first playdate.

When Joseph was maybe four years old and I was trying to interact with him, we’d play this game where he’d run into his room and slam the door shut. I’d bang on the door, protesting, and he’d laugh like crazy.

This was called “interaction” at that phase of his development. The trouble was, when potential friends came to play, Joseph would do the same thing to them, expecting them to come bang on the door. But, of course, no one ever knew they were supposed to do that. And Joseph wondered why they didn’t. It was puzzling on all sides.

I resigned myself a while ago to the fact that I might always be a part of Joseph’s playdates, because he may not be capable of coming up with things to do with a friend, or of even remembering to include the person in his activities.

It was different with Fiona. They ran down to the play structure and, well, played. After a while they came back for snack. Then they went into the hot tub and played some more. When it was time for Fiona to leave, she was sad. She’d had such a good time.

Playdate #2 took place on Wednesday and consisted of John’s two boys. John was blown away at how Joseph took the initiative, suggesting they kick a ball around together and then play some musical instruments. They went to a store together and Joseph clowned around trying to climb into a mini-refrigerator, to the amusement of some customers. John was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Joseph’s progress.

Playdate #3 happened yesterday. Joseph got invited to Carl’s house. When I picked him up afterward Carl said, “It’s about time my best friend came over to play.”

Best friend??? Be still, my beating heart.

John has recently graduated a girl from the RDI program, pronouncing her recovered. She has friends seeking out her company. She is understanding subtle social nuances. This is a huge deal. Our regional agency, the one that funds interventions, told John that they’ve never had one of their kids come so far. They want to make this girl their poster child for what intervention can do.

I try not to fan it, but having had a week like this one, and hearing John’s enthusiasm for Joseph’s part in the play date, and knowing that it’s possible because it happened to someone else, the quiet flame in my heart that whispers, “Maybe Joseph could recover” is burning a little more brightly just now.

Sometimes I get a glimpse of what Joseph would be like fully recovered. He’s such a neat kid with autism that I can only imagine how amazing he’d be without it. With the ability to process more easily, to communicate more fully, to interact more deeply.

Trying to breathe and be present. To be okay no matter what. And, really, I am. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hope. Because I do.

Most of the time I’m not even aware of the quiet, hopeful flame in my heart anymore. But it burns steadily on, through rough times and regular times and amazing times, and I appreciate that.

May the flame in your heart, whatever it burns for, rise up and warm you during this holiday season.