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Hi Yoga Mother.

We are reading the novel Holes by Louis Sachar in English Language Arts. Joseph had some difficulty remembering some of the details of the novel when we were doing a quiz on some of the chapters. (The former aide) suggested he take the book home and have you re-read, and/or “front load” the book with him… I will send an extra copy home with him if you think reading and discussing the book would be helpful. Thanks.

I get emails like this fairly frequently from Joseph’s school.  To me they scream two words: Executive function. This is the part of the brain that’s front and center: Sitting just behind our foreheads, it’s a really, really, really helpful area.

executive-function-brown

We spent part of this past weekend going over some chapters from Holes. Sometimes I can step out of being Mom and step into the part of me that wanted to be a psychologist (I started college with that goal, but changed it when I realized how long I’d have to stay in school). When I do this, instead of being frustrated or despairing, I find it soooo fascinating to see  how Joseph’s brain works.

For instance, he read a chapter that was only a few pages long and that described a fun story that had occurred in the life of Stanley’s great-great grandfather. I asked Joseph to tell me, in his own words, what he’d read. The mumble-jumble that came forth was — here’s that psychologist’s word again — fascinating. He started toward the end of the story, jumped into an incident or two toward the beginning, and left out most of the important details.

And he was trying.

What to do? Perhaps some real psychologist could tell me how best to approach this, but since s/he wasn’t there, I took over. Borrowing on RDI’s idea of shared perspective, I lent him my more-organized mind’s perspective. Go to the beginning and then onto the next steps, I coached. End with the end.

Isn’t it funny that this has to be explained? Those of us with strong executive functioning grasp this intuitively from a very young age. But the autistic mind (and many others) has definite executive function challenges. It simply can’t do this.

So we work with executive function. When Joseph tells a story from his own life, we have him describe who, what, where, when, and why. When we talk about decorating for Christmas, or heading out to do errands, or getting ready for school in the morning, we often ask him, “What’s your plan?” We try to keep executive function in mind and to help it develop in many ways.

Slowly, slowly, oh so slowly, we see it helping. Research shows that executive function isn’t fully developed until the late 20’s in males. Time is still on our side.

In the meantime, I expect to see many more notes from school, and mistakes at home, and strange conversations, that scream executive function challenges. Bring ’em. The more we see, the more we can work with.

buddist-statueInterestingly, the meditator is coached to focus on the point between the eyebrows, and studies have shown that this area grows and develops in the brains of regular meditators. This must be part of why a meditator can generally control their emotions, regulate themselves, and concentrate well.

It also makes sense that someone without much executive function would find meditation to be a very difficult and frustrating activity. If you can’t concentrate well, how can you concentrate enough to meditate? Ironic.

Learning about executive function has helped me a lot in working with Joseph. Instead of blaming him, I listen hard to what his brain is missing. Then I work to fill in the gaps.

Maybe I should have stayed in school. Psychology is fascinating.  😉

Yesterday I bumped into a friend. It’s funny; I can’t say she is a close friend because I see her only rarely, and yet, when we do stop to catch up, there is no small talk. Instead we go immediately to the depths of our journeys, sharing the challenges, the growth, the roads we’re on now. What is a close friend if not that?

Janine watched her husband slowly and painfully lose his mind, his voice, his body, and finally, just over a year ago, his life. Now she and the kids are carving out new footholds, healing the raw aching places, and moving forward. As Janine says, that chapter of their lives is over now and it’s time to see what’s ahead instead of what was behind.

I think about that with Joseph. I remember how, after getting through four years of not sleeping, a year of enemas, intense years of medical and alternative treatments, we saw some great breakthroughs. A dear friend said, “The worst is over.” I didn’t believe her — but, from this vantage point years later, I think she was right. The worst appears to be over.

While Joseph took a shower tonight, I ran to the piano and started to play. He’s started lessons lately and it’s inspired me to play again, the piano being one of my great loves. But I knew I could only play for a short time because, in the past, Joseph would scream and yell bloody murder if I tried to play. This time he finished his shower without me knowing it. When eventually I stopped playing, he asked if I would please continue.

(Who are you? And what have you done with my son? On second thought, never mind. I’ll keep you instead.)

One of the things I’ve deeply grieved was that I wouldn’t be able to speak of spiritual things with a child who has autism. Au contraire! My son has declared himself to be a Christian Yogi, like his parents. He is earnestly and deeply interested in spirituality. Today, after months of his urging, I finally drove him to the Catholic church so that he could see inside it. While we were there, he asked if we could go for service to every church and temple in town, so that he could see what they were like. How can you say no to a request like that?

dressed upHe’s got a big crush on one of the girls in his class. With only a little encouragement from us, he’s decided to stop picking his nose, start washing his hair, and learn to cook and clean so he can be a more eligible husband. He is even dressing up for special occasions!

While the thought of his hopes being crushed stabs my heart, all I can do is encourage him to go for it. Joseph is full of surprises, so who knows what will come?

So here, in this new chapter of our lives, I let go of the terrors of the past and turn to experience this moment. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest meditation.”

Big exhale.

Wherever you are in your journey, I wish you hope, trust, comfort and presence.

Joseph started a social skills group last week. We are calling it a playgroup but nonetheless it is a social skills group, led by a Speech Therapist named Daphne.

Joseph has been having some trouble parting from me when it’s time to go to school. It had become something of an issue, even bringing me to tears as he would cling to me outside his classroom, crying and pleading with me not to go. Picture the anxious kindergartener clinging to their parent on the first day of school, and you’ll get the picture. Except that Joseph is in third grade and it’s been happening every day this year.

This shifted recently, and the only things I can credit that to are time and the fact that I shifted, as well. I decided not to get anxious when Joseph got anxious, but to calmly kiss him, tell him I loved him and I’d see him later, and leave. This actually made a big difference, and I’ve been feeling really good about it.

So. We go to the social skills group for the first time. It’s just Joseph, Daphne, a boy named Luke, and a teenage helper. Luke’s mom stays in the waiting area, which is a very short walk from where the kids are meeting.

Joseph, however, will have none of that. I have to walk over to the room with him, which I do. Then I try my kiss-and-go approach, with the reassurance that I’ll be right in the waiting room.

Joseph will have none of that, either. Clinging, crying, embarrassed but determined, he says, “Don’t go, Mom! Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”

windowI don’t want to stay in the room with the group, so Joseph comes up with a plan: I am to sit outside the room in the hallway, facing a window that has the blinds drawn, so that he can occasionally pull the blinds aside and make sure I’m still there.

Sigh. I pull up a chair and sit in the hallway. I listen to the muffled sounds inside the room. I can’t see anything around the blinds. I am very thirsty but I don’t dare walk to the lobby for some water, in case he looks out and I am gone. I have no book, nothing to do but stare at the window for the next hour.

So I sit there and contemplate the fact of suffering.

Suffering, Gangaji says, comes from an idea we hold of being a victim. Whether it’s God we hold accountable, or circumstances, other people, ourselves or whatever, we have the idea that we’ve been wronged. Whenever we remember the wrong/s, there is thought, emotion, and momentum around it. What would happen, she asks, if we just let it go. Yes, we’ve been wronged — sometimes terribly so — but maybe it’s time to stop punishing the tormenters, even if they don’t deserve it!  She invites us to experience putting an end to victimhood and feeling joy instead of suffering, just for a change. That way, she says, if we want to go back to suffering, at least it’s a conscious choice.

So, the window seems to ask me, what’s it gonna be? Is this an hour of suffering or a chance to relax with me and enjoy some quiet contemplation?

It is tempting to feel wronged. Wronged by autism and wronged by an anxious kid who makes me sit and stare at a window for way too long. But I kind of choose the latter. I mean, it wasn’t too bad, really, sitting there for an hour. Eventually I even got someone down the hallway to bring me a glass of water.

What I’m saying is, I’m really looking at suffering and victimhood. I know that if I can work with my inner narrative, then no matter what is happening externally, I can be content. Yoga is all about living from the inside out, rather than the outside in.

It’s a funny thing, listening to Gangaji. The people who come up to speak with her are often full of suffering. They have stories of great sorrow, or mighty struggles going on in their lives. But by the end of their talk, they almost always end up laughing. Really laughing, I mean. Like they see it’s actually hilarious. Like they finally are in on the joke, and what a joke it is.

I fully expect to be staring at that window again this week. But this time I’m coming prepared. I’m bringing water, a book, and even more conscious choice. I want to laugh hilariously! I want to put an end to feeling like a victim and embrace the joy beyond the story. It is a great story — and what would I post about without great stories? — but, like the lady says, how wonderful to be conscious about whether or not one buys into the suffering.

Two days ago, Joseph and I were headed for the grocery store when he asked if we could buy him a Lunchable for the first day of school.

For those of you blissfully unaware of what a Lunchable is, suffice it to say that it is a pre-packaged, highly-processed container of “food.” Lunchables keep our children slim, healthy, and on top of their game — NOT. But they are really tasty and they include a sugary treat, so of course kids love them.

Joseph’s been feeling nervous about school, so I thought, What the heck. At least he’ll have something about his first day to look forward to. And I told him yes.

We get out of the car and walk through the parking lot. Suddenly Joseph looks at me, smiles a wicked smile, sticks his hand down his shorts and grabs his you-know-what.

This is his thing lately: Act in inappropriate ways in public for the fun of it, and also because it pushes Mom’s buttons.

So I give him a consequence. I tell him we’re not buying the Lunchable.

He is immediately reduced to tears. Can’t it be his last warning? (No — I’ve done way too many of those.) Can he have another chance the next time we go to the store? (Yes — but it doesn’t help his upset.)

Oooohhh he is upset. If I weren’t totally determined to buy my 5-lb bags of carrots for my morning juice, which I am completely out of, I would turn around and go right back to the car. As it is, I decide to drag my totally messed-up autistic kid through the store with me.

Joseph cries. He moans. He buries his head into the crook of my arm, which is where it stays for the duration of the shopping trip. Everybody looks, of course. I grab the carrots, mentally dropping all the other items on the shopping list. I drag him, sobbing and groaning, into line. Naturally, the lines are very long, but a kind woman standing at the next register comes over and asks if I want to go in front of her. Whoever you are, caring woman, may you feel the repercussions of your kindness every day for the rest of your life.

We make it to the car, carrots and all. I put on my sunglasses, start the car, and cry as I drive home. It never gets easy having a child on the spectrum.

A big part of it, I think, is that I am used to being successful. I pick an undertaking, or it comes my way. I give it a lot of thought, prayer, time and energy, and it almost always comes out well. I am good at manifesting. I am good at relationships. I am successful at generating money. I am a great yoga teacher. I am just plain good at stuff.

But I am not successful at turning my child into a normie. I have given Joseph more time, energy, thought, and prayer than everything else combined and still he is not who I want him to be.

Ha ha! Isn’t it great?!! It’s just what the yogis say: Give something your full energy and then let go of the outcome.

And it’s also just what the Buddhists say: The mind loves to compare. “This is not as good as other parents have it.” “Why does my kid have to be so different from other kids?” The comparing mind hates to come up short against anyone else. Hates it.

I get sucked into the darkness, but eventually I remember what to do. Up my meditation time so that I can calm that comparing mind and re-identify with my (and Joseph’s — and your) true nature. Add in some juicy prayer time where I can deeply let go and let God. Bring in more yoga postures, because they bliss me out. Spend time with good friends so that I can laugh and enjoy myself. And stop doing Facebook for a while.

I get in trouble when I do too much Facebook — FB, to its close friends. The comparing mind really jumps in. Photos of happy kids on happy trips with other happy kids. Posts about children who say and do amazing things. Awards the children win for being so normal and nice and good at stuff. And, of course, all the happy parents, as well.

Attachment to outcomes and a comparing mind are misery-making. Trust me, I know. So just for today, I stay in the present and allow life to be what it is.

Just for today, I tuck into my heart the words of John Milton from Paradise Lost:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.

* *

Update: In this morning’s meditation, the first lines of the 23rd psalm came to mind. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. I’ve always thought “I shall not want” was a reassurance, but perhaps it’s not! Maybe it’s a commandment. Reign in our desires; be content with what we have. The Lord is our shepherd, and so there is no reason to want for anything else.

This is the kind of thing that meditation brings up, and it is the reason I love spiritual practice! Wishing you (and me) a glorious day of not wanting.

Blue Eyes talks about a period in his life where his neck would go into terrible spasms — so badly that it would make him lose consciousness. He went to the hospital, where they ran him through a myriad of tests, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. The doctor finally told him that it was, simply, stress. Massive stress.

“Stress?” Blue Eyes looked at the doctor in surprise. “I’m not under any stress!”

But as he went home he started to look at his life. A very sensitive young man, Blue Eyes was far from home, working with a really rough crowd of guys. He didn’t fit in and he couldn’t fit in, but he felt stuck in the situation. Yes, he had to admit to himself, he was stressed. Massively stressed.

This is how I felt after my first appointment with Sheri, the therapist, last week. “Stressed? But I’m not under any stress!”

With Sheri’s guidance, I looked at my life. If I’m not with Joseph, I’m almost always doing something “useful.” I work or I go to meditation or I attend a spiritually-oriented class. Even my weekly date nights with Blue Eyes consist of going to meditation. Which is great, but there’s got to be a balance there somewhere. Or so I’m told.

With Sheri’s encouragement — really, almost at her insistence — I spoke with Blue Eyes about an upcoming “date” to go to a spiritual class. Our amazing respite worker, Karen, agreed to come earlier than planned, I picked up Blue Eyes at his work, and we spent a whole afternoon and evening at the river. Our area has the MOST beautiful river, so clean and healing and nurturing. We swam and we napped and we read and we talked. As the sun began to set we hiked out, feeling alive and grateful and fed.

I have been seeing Joseph as a problem, a nuisance. The problem here, I believe, is that I haven’t had a big enough vision about my child. After all, I didn’t have a kid in order for him to win popularity contests or get straight A’s. I had a kid, and I think God gave me this kid, in order to for him to go out and make a positive difference in this world.

Kahlil Gibran says:

imagesYou are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

* * *

My job: To let God bend me with gladness. To shoot the arrow straight, swift and far. Straight to God’s purpose, whatever that may be. Probably something in “the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams,” (Kahlil Gibran).

Mom and JosephJoseph’s future is not even my business. My business is to focus on bending (and part of the bending, happily, seems to be having more fun!) and becoming a straight-shooter. My dear little arrow is already fearfully and wonderfully made, and it is tremendously egotistical to think that his development is all on me.

In truth, Joseph already makes a positive difference in this world. People who interact with him are touched, impacted by his sweetness and caring and humor. For many, he is the first person with autism who can engage quite well with them.

So maybe I can relax and realize that the arrow is already going straight. These kids are God’s own, just like all of us, and so I give mine back to God.

Which, of course, is where he is anyway.

Sometimes, just before Christmas, I go to an eight-hour meditation. It’s always a stretch, but many years ago I attended one that went beyond being a stretch to become  a nightmare.

What happened was that I sat for eight hours of meditation without being able to meditate. My mind simply would not be still. I did my pranayamas (breathing techniques). I practiced my mantra. I prayed. I worked on my kriyas. But my mind kept running on and on. There was nothing I could do to calm it down so finally I stopped trying, and spent the better part of the day just watching this crazed, obsessive, unhappy mind.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The meditation finally ended and, while everyone else filed out happy and relieved, I staggered out feeling I’d just been engaged in a long, intense battle. And I’d lost.

But as I stepped out of the temple, I received this amazing realization. It was about fear. I suddenly saw, in detail, how fear had run my entire life. I felt how fearful I was in that very moment. I realized how much power I’d given to fear, how many decisions I’d made because of fear, and how fear was in charge of me, rather than the other way around.

You know when it’s a real insight, vision, whatever, because it shifts you permanently — and this one did. Since that time, I’ve been much more observant about fear – more aware of it. I haven’t always been able to get past it, but at least I’ve had more awareness about it, and it hasn’t run me as much.

What does fear have to do with autism? Ha! Even the word autism can inspire fear in people’s hearts. I believe that there is massive collective fear around autism — especially in parents of autistic children. Certainly I have had relentless, unending fears around Joseph and his autism. Fears that wake me in the middle of the night for months on end. Fears that hurt my health. Fears that cripple me in subtle, invisible, but destructive ways.

I’ve been considering these fears lately, and have realized something more: At the end of every fear, there is a question mark.

The fear can be about anything, but for me, it’s often around autism. Perhaps I’ll be running one of my familiar fears, like this one:  “Nobody will take care of Joseph after we die.”

When I dive under the layers of this fear, or any other fear, I see the question mark hanging on the end of it. The question at the foundation of every single one of my fears is…

God, are you really here with me?

That’s it. That is the question mark hanging on the end of every fear. So I’m shifting the way I deal with fear. Now it’s not about the fear. It’s about getting to know God better. It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. I am focusing on deepening that relationship.

It’s something of a Catch 22: If I’m fearful, I can’t trust God and therefore God can’t make Him/Herself fully known to me. But the way to truly let go of fear is to let God in. Heh heh. One of those divine ironic twists that God seems to be so fond of.

The master, Paramhansa Yogananda, says, “When the consciousness is kept on God, you will have no fears; every obstacle will then be overcome by courage and faith.”

Putting my reliance on God doesn’t mean I don’t do practical things to take care of Joseph. But it does mean that, rather than acting out of lack, I act in faith and with courage. My Father/Mother/Friend is with me, now, and besides that, there are legions of angels just waiting to be called on.

I am calling on them! I am taking God at his word these days, and I feel the shift. Because I am more aware of God, I feel more abundant in every aspect of my life. And as I become aware of how I am loved and looked after, then I know that Joseph, you, all of us are loved and cared for just as much.

God is so much bigger than any of my stupid stinking fears. I’m going to be on the lookout for those fears, and for the question marks hanging on the ends of them.

Keeping my consciousness on God is no small thing, but I think of the Warrior pose in yoga. It involves strength and focus, as well as relaxation and openness. I’m going to be that Warrior, on and off the yoga mat.

I think that fear cannot exist in the same space as pure love. So when those autism fears come up, I’ll be striking the Warrior pose, relaxing into the Love that is, and watching those question marks fade away.

At five this morning, I was awakened by the sound of Joseph coughing in his room.

Not so long ago, this would have shot a lightning bolt of adrenaline through my body. He’s awake already! my mind would say. Today is going to be a very rough day. He’ll be sleep-deprived and he’ll be out of control with autistic behaviors.

The prospect of my going back to sleep would then have been impossible.

This morning I still felt the shot of adrenaline, but it wasn’t a lightning bolt. It was a mild electric shock that came and went. I dozed a bit more, woke up and went down the granny flat where I do my spiritual practices.

When I sat for meditation, I watched the disturbance in my mind. I have set up a strong pattern of allowing Joseph to disturb my equanimity. Since awareness is half the battle, I didn’t do anything but watch closely, almost admiring how very much I’ve allowed what Joseph does and doesn’t do to affect my mind and my emotions.

Yoga talks about how much attachment and desire can take us off-balance, and that is what I was witnessing this morning. I am attached to Joseph getting sleep so that I can have a good day. I strongly desire him to not act autistic, so that I won’t be embarrassed.

There they are: attachment and desire. The root of all suffering.

Having witnessed these things, I then took my attention to the Divine.

“You know what a screw-up I am,” I said to Him/Her. “I would like to be more even-minded, but this is what’s going on right now. No sense pretending otherwise.”

My vrittis (attachments, desires) were really whipping up a storm. My mind responded by making up what appeared to be a very realistic story: What a horrible day it was going to be. We had a social occasion with NT’s (neuro-typicals) that afternoon, and Joseph was going to be a total mess because of sleep deprivation. He’d stim, scream and say loud, inappropriate things. I’d have to spend the whole time trying to calm him down and would be completely humiliated. I should probably just cancel the whole thing.

Fact is, this all used to be true. When Joseph didn’t sleep because of gut troubles, he behaved as if he was severely impaired. It was excruciating for me.

What I was experiencing wasn’t present-day stuff, though, and I knew it. But I couldn’t keep the trauma in my being from playing out, so I watched it. Fear, worry and terror washed over me in crashing waves. I stayed present to it, as best I could.

Then it was done. Some traumatized part of me had needed to be listened to, and I’d managed to listen. I landed back in my body, breathed some, prayed some, and gave God a deep pranam (bow).

It was around seven when I walked into Joseph’s room. He came down for breakfast and then said he was tired. He crawled into bed and slept for two hours. The rest of the day was great.

Last night I dreamed I was a war veteran. I don’t know much about post-traumatic stress disorder, but I wonder if I have it. No matter. I trust the process. I honor the process.

If this is how I am to let go of the past and move forward, then so be it. Bring it on, God! I am ready.

I knew it the moment I saw him this morning. Something about the angle of his head, the placement of his eyes. The way he went directly into the living room and started humming, humming, lost in his own world.

Regression.

Blue Eyes and I had been hoping to go as a family to the monthly potluck that our friends have — to celebrate each other and this beautiful spring day. When we mentioned it to Joseph he cried, saying he didn’t want to go, he couldn’t go, he was scared of the dog, he wanted to stay home.

We couldn’t go. It would have been ridiculous to drag him, in this state, to a home filled with people on the inside and dogs on the outside.

I don’t know quite how to describe the panic and moroseness that we, as Joseph’s parents, go into when he regresses.

First off, we try to solve it. We think, what brought this on? Is it because we let him have a tiny bit of salad dressing with dairy in it yesterday? (Could the tiniest bit of dairy really do this?) Did he sleep really badly? Is it all the pollens floating around? Or, we ask hopefully, is he simply on the brink of a developmental surge?

Next we try to bring him back into our world. We get him to do chores with us, to run and play with us; we try many ways to engage him. Nothing works.

He’s so very autistic-looking. His gait, his posture, his eye contact — everything is off. It feels so hopeless.

Late this afternoon we went to our local co-op. While I was getting some potatoes, Joseph started pushing the shopping cart along. He didn’t notice that he was getting in people’s way, banging their carts with ours, squeezing one poor woman against the wall.

I was calling to him in that stressed-out, pissed-off voice of the parent, trying to get his attention, when these arms went around me and hugged me.

I turned around to see an old friend, a fellow yogi. He looked at me with all this light in his eyes and I suddenly felt the dark cloud that was around me. The light coming through him magnified for me what a dark place I was in.

Ugh.

Sometimes we think that there is no limit to Joseph’s future. We envisage him being a professional musician, having a wife and children and friends and lots and lots of happiness.

But this evening it was different. Blue Eyes and I discussed putting Joseph into a home when he turns 18. Maybe some kind of halfway house for disabled adults — something where he could bag groceries during the day and have a place to live at night. We grieved all the time and energy we are putting into him — the difficulty of our lives — when it is going nowhere.

And that, folks, is how we respond to regression. It is hard. So very, very hard.

I’ve never asked this before in my blog but, if you’re inclined to pray, would you be so kind as to pray for Joseph and Blue Eyes and me? We could use a little extra help right now.

Thanks.

When your kid gets an early diagnosis of autism, one of the questions that looms in front of you — that wakes you up at night and ruins your meditations and taunts you for never doing enough to “fix” your kid — is this:

Can my kid make it in a mainstream classroom?

Making it in a mainstream class stands for so much: normality first and foremost, and functionality, and competence, and capability — to say the least. There is a lot riding on making it in a mainstream classroom.

But, having been in mainstream kindergarten for three days now, it looks like it really stands for a lot of other things. Things like following directions, sitting still, watching the teacher, raising hands, answering questions, working on your own, working with others, and speaking only when spoken to.

I’m going to hazard a guess that, eventually, Joseph will be able to do most or all of these things. In only a few days he is already getting the routine, learning to raise his hand and pay more attention to the teacher. The aid stands over him and works with him constantly, and he is learning a lot from her.

So I’m supposed to feel happy — aren’t I? It’s kindergarten. It’s not just the ideas about the thing, but the thing itself. And it looks like Joseph will be okay at it.

But here’s one other thing:

One of the yamas that yoga discusses is ahimsa, which translates into English as nonviolence. The obvious practice of ahimsa is not killing, hurting or maiming other creatures. But ahimsa can take place on very subtle levels —  including the practice of not harming another person’s enthusiasm.

And as I watch the teacher and the aid shushing the kids yet again, or telling a kid (usually a boy) to sit back down, or to keep their eyes on their paper, or to put the pencil down and wait, or to scoot up to the table, or whatever, I feel, well, torn.

I mean, of course the kids need to learn their manners and discipline and the art of listening. But “eyes on the teacher” doesn’t mean they’re actually watching. And “pencils down” when they’re quietly doing something fun and creative just seems wrong. When did we get so controlling and conformist?

There is another special needs kid in the room. She has been told what to do so much that you can see she just wants to explode. She is just barely holding it in. Some of the kids — boys, in particular — look so bored. Is this Joseph’s eventual fate: suppression and boredom? Is this what we’ve worked so hard for him to do?

It’s interesting to see the difference between what RDI teaches (“Oops! You forgot something!”) and what they do at school (“Remember to push your chair in!”). RDI wants the kids to observe, to reference, to think for themselves. The school? They want the kids to push their chairs in.

Certainly Joseph can learn to follow orders and to do things “right.” That’s not usually a high-functioning autistic kid’s problem. Can they — will they — slow down and let him figure something out by himself? Can they — will they — encourage him to pretend? Can they — will they — scaffold him during recess, when he doesn’t know how to interact with the other kids?

I don’t want a teacher who just controls and instructs. I want a teacher to fall in love with my kid’s potential.

I’m being harsh. I’m being Mother Bear, up on my hind legs, feeling protective of my cub.

Let’s start again: Joseph is in kindergarten. He likes it! He told me today that he’s got a new girl he loves (he loved someone at preschool). The other kids seem open to him. What surprises me is that quite a few other kids have special needs, too — though not autism — and he fits in a lot better than I expected. He is adjusting. He is hungry to learn. He keeps bragging about the fact that he’s in kindergarten now.

So the problem lies not with Joseph. It’s me who is having existential angst. And maybe, after a year or two, when Joseph can go without an aid, we can transfer him to one of the more alternative schools around. One that helps his mind to blossom, exercises his body and nourishes his soul.

God willing.

Just now I laid by my son as he fell asleep. I turned to watch him as his eyes closed and his breath evened out to sweet, rhythmic ebbs and flows. I felt such love in my heart for this amazing soul, and deep gratitude for the very difficult but profound journey we’ve had with him.

In some self-growth group I was in — can’t even remember which now — we used to say, “Trust the process.”

That’s it, isn’t it? Trust the process. Trust the journey. Trust God.

Trust.

Not ideas about the thing, but the thing itself applies not only to kindergarten. For me, in my journey, in my life right here and right now, it needs to also be applied to trust.

Not ideas about trust, but trust itself.

*title originally created by the poet Wallace Stevens

I have a large, lovely, crazy, wonderful extended family. When we get together for the holidays, there is usually around 30 people. ‘Most everyone is happy to see everyone else, and there is lots of conversation, laughter, and catching up.

In any gathering like this, you can see that some people get more easily overwhelmed than others. You can find a brother-in-law sitting alone reading, or a teenager lying on the couch listening to her ipod.

But what do you do when your kid is really, really sensitive? And shy? When s/he gets overwhelmed very quickly? And doesn’t know how to fit in?

We managed to avoid most of these difficult questions this year, because we missed Thanksgiving. We were in Maui.

But when we came back, I started to miss my large, lovely, crazy, wonderful extended family. So we called my older brother, Dan, and invited ourselves to his house for an overnighter.

I prepared in advance for this visit by listening to an RDI Webinar that gave  tips for holiday visits. One of their strategies was to make sure that the child with autism had a quiet place to retreat to.

Hearing that was a real “Ah ha!” moment for me.

You see, my younger brother, Aaron, has two lively young girls. As much as we love them, when we’ve stayed there I’ve seen Joseph get very withdrawn. He gets w-a-y overwhelmed and there is no private, quiet space for him to recover. He always sleeps badly.

I haven’t known how to explain to Aaron why we can’t stay with them, but now I have the words: Joseph needs a quiet place to retreat to.

Dan and his wife, on the other hand, have kids who are grown and gone. So half of  their house feels like a peaceful sanctuary.

Another plus is that Dan has a dog. Normally the mere presence of a dog would make the whole visit unthinkable, as Joseph is terrified of them. But this is no ordinary dog: this is a chihuahua. All four pounds of her.

Because she is so tiny, Joseph is not really scared of Randi. Randi is the one and only dog in our acquaintance who has this distinction, so it is no small thing. She is a great practice dog for us.

The RDI Webinar said to find roles for Joseph as much as possible, as it’s not always easy for people with autism to know what to do — how to fit in — among other people. So I got him involved in drawing and then giving the drawings to people. When it was dinnertime, he helped with table setting and various other things.

It worked really well. And then he slept beautifully.

Yesterday there were only the five of us, and then this morning two of Joseph’s cousins (the grown-up kids) arrived. At first, Joseph kept his distance. But eventually he felt comfortable enough to join us at the kitchen table.

Later, when it came time to go out, he requested that his cousins ride in our car, one on each side of him. This was big.

When they first sat beside him, he covered his eyes (he is both autistic and shy. I don’t know which was happening there — maybe both.) But slowly the hands came down and he connected, smiling and talking with them.

So there it is. Nothing monumental, but these small steps in connecting are huge steps for Joseph.

My hope is that, as Joseph makes these connections with members of his extended family a bit at a time, it will eventually be easier to be with more of them at the same time.

*            *         *

Joseph isn’t the only one in our little family who needs a quiet place. That’s one of the main reasons I meditate. My teacher says to create a portable paradise of peace within, and I don’t know what I’d do without that peaceful place.

Since Joseph was born to parents who meditate, we will, when the time is right,  teach him to do it as well. So perhaps he’ll learn to access the peace that passes understanding within his very own self.

Wouldn’t that go a long way in being able to stay centered and unshaken in crowded gatherings? We wouldn’t have to stay only in houses with quiet places when Joseph comes from that quiet place inside.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Joseph learns to turn inward for his solace — to turn to God for the calmness, peace, and serenity he needs.

I find it absolutely invaluable to live my life (as best I can) from the inside out, where my internal world defines my external world. It gives me much more serenity than living from the outside in, where what’s happening externally determines my level of serenity– or, more often, my lack thereof.

So what will happen when Joseph learns to live from the inside out? What will happen when autism meets yoga?

Stay tuned, dear reader, stay tuned.

In our sleep, pain, which cannot forget,

falls drop by drop upon the heart,

until, in our own despair, against our will

comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

— Aeschylus

I have a friend, Brooke, whose sister had cancer. The cancer spread steadily until it had filled her entire body. The pain was terrible to witness. For hours, sometimes, she would scream with the agony of it.

Finally one day, when Brooke couldn’t stand to watch the struggle any longer, she asked her sister, “Why don’t you just die?

Her sister looked at her and responded with a remarkable question. She asked, “How do you die?”

You see, she’d tried. She’d surrendered. She’d let go as best she could. She’d tried to leave her body. She’d prayed to be released. But she didn’t know how to die.

I can relate.

Not about the dying part, but about the truly surrendering and letting go part.

Sleep is, after all, like a little death. And, since the day we got Joseph’s diagnosis, sleep has been difficult for me.

It’s anxiety. When you have a child with ASD, anxiety gnaws at you with the consistency of a rat who has discovered a rotting corpse all to itself.

If you’ve practiced prayer and meditation or other techniques for staying centered and present, then daytime is relatively easy. But when you sleep — ah, then your defenses go down. That’s when anxiety can rear its ugly, poisonous, fang-toothed  head.

In the last week I have stopped running from it. Instead of popping a pill and leading myself through deep relaxation after the dream or the sudden awakening, I have chosen to use instead the light of awareness. I am journaling, asking, why did I wake up this time? What triggered it? What did I dream? Where did my mind go then? How am I feeling?

The findings: at least half the time, it’s a nightmare. Filled with anxiety, terror, and panic.

About Joseph.

In my last nightmare, I was so tired and zombielike that, when I passed by a couple of women and looked at them, my deadened eyes led to them having nightmares.

Wow.

My cousin, Lisa, who also has a son on the spectrum, tells me that there’s chronic anxiety and then there’s situational anxiety. But what if it’s a situation that’s chronic — like autism?

Chronic situational anxiety? asks Lisa.

Whatever its official title, I am amazed at how deep the anxiety goes, and it’s the same for every single other parent I know who has an ASD child.

I know what hasn’t helped: running from the anxiety. Popping a pill to cover it up without even trying to look at it.

Working with the light of awareness is proving to be an amazing thing. It’s like I’m stepping aside and allowing this spotlight to go where it will, to show me what it wants me to understand.

I am humbled to see that, just like every other mortal in this situation, I am so very worried, scared, and fearful.

I am also vulnerable, open, and absolutely sure that I don’t know all the answers.

It’s a mixed bag, just like the rest of life. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — but, in this case, strength isn’t about squaring your shoulders and pretending it doesn’t hurt. Strength is about looking into yourself with compassion and awareness. It’s about honoring your process — and it leads to empathy with the process, the journey, of every other human being on this planet.

For me, there is now a new willingness to be aware of the deepest, darkest anxieties. Where it will lead me, I don’t know.

But I am trusting the process. The light of awareness is indeed a light — and isn’t that an aspect of God, after all?

Will this new approach teach me how to let go and sleep again? For three nights in a row now I have closed my eyes to sleep and not opened them again until morning. It’s the first time in over three years that this has happened.

So I think maybe I’m on the right track.

I am also discovering that, when those formerly dark corners are flooded with light, they don’t look nearly as scary.