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A couple of nights ago, I had a scary dream. The details are sketchy, but somehow things were closing in on me, squeezing me, smothering me.

I gathered everything I had and yelled, “HELP!!!” Immediately things started shifting, softening and giving me some space.

Then Blue Eyes took me from the dream: “Yoga Mother! It’s okay. You’re dreaming!” I looked at him, wide-eyed. “You heard me yell for help?” He nodded affirmatively, and then he drifted back off to sleep.

As for me, I laid there feeling surprised and grateful. In some far-off post I’ve mentioned that, for many years, I’d dreamt of terribly dangerous situations where I’d be unable to call for help. I might try calling 911 but the phone line would be down. Or I’d try to scream and only a whisper would come out. I could never ask for help, and help never came.

Every now and then, I’d still have a dream like that. But this time — wow! I’d called for help so hard that it was heard and responded to not only in my dream life, but also in my real life! What a lovely shift.

on drumsAs always, the inner reflects the outer and the outer reflects the inner. Life has shifted a lot since I wrote that first post six years ago. Joseph still has autism, of course, but he’s a pretty different kid from the one he used to be. He’s made it to 5th grade in a neurotypical class. He can hold a fairly good conversation and he has good eye contact. He is making his way in this tough old world, and I am so proud of him. He’s still a pain in the butt and probably a lot more work than your typical kid, but we can live with that.

I feel like we’ve worked on everything: Eye contact and leaky gut and nose picking and voice regulating and social skills and fear of dogs and sleep disorders and gluten sensitivity and severe constipation and general anxiety and taking responsibility and appropriate stimming and self-regulation and co-regulation and crowd-tolerance and noise sensitivity and sensory defensiveness. And on and on.

But since, thanks be to God, much progress has been made in all these categories, now we get to work on what the experts say autism is: A processing disorder.

no planetTake, for example, Exhibit A on your right. This is a beautiful picture of a great variety of animals standing around the planet. In the center Joseph has written, “No planet is mine except home.” He showed me this picture with tremendous pride, and I, not wanting to shoot down his confidence, admired it greatly. In private I pondered how to help him to sort out the sentiment in the middle without shaming him in any way.

“Joseph, I love this picture,” I said to him. “I love it so much that I want to buy a big poster board and have you draw it again, painting all the animals. Then I want to hang it on the wall. Would you be willing to do that for me?”

What’s a kid going to say to that? He nodded proudly, and I continued. “What you wrote in the middle, can you tell me more about what that means?” We discussed it, and it meant what I suspected it meant: This planet is home to all of us. Then I kindly explained that it didn’t make sense the way he’d written it, and could he put it the other way on the big painting. No problem; he agreed happily. It was a non-issue, I am happy to say.

When he says, “I’m embarrassed!” Blue Eyes or I will say, “Embarrassed is when you’re ashamed. You don’t seem to be embarrassed. What are you really?” He’s getting better at this now; he’ll respond, “I’m mad (or whatever)!” Helping crossed wires get uncrossed is a pretty hefty undertaking, but I am thrilled to be here.

We couldn’t have arrived even at this place without all the amazing help we’ve had. I know without a doubt that one of my soul lessons was to learn to ask for help and to let myself be helped. I’ve still got a ways to go, but without this journey of autism I wouldn’t be near as far along as I am. So today I give thanks for progress, for challenges, for vulnerability and for help.

The Buddhist outlook toward challenges is to know that karma is so complicated that one can’t possibly understand why the situation is the way it is. And it includes the understanding that, for now, it cannot be otherwise. In other words, it is the way it is. Until it isn’t. Then it’s some other way.

Relaxing into that. Wishing the same for you.


Our RDI Consultant taught Joseph how to use a bow and arrow today. As Joseph held the bow and pulled back the string, he felt the tension in it and said, “OWWW!”

John asked, “Did it hurt?” and Joseph answered, “No. I was scared.”

This engendered a conversation between them about how you say Ow! when something hurts and how you do something else, like inhale audibly, when you’re scared.

These are the kinds of things you talk about when your kid has some wires crossed in his mind. John calls it disorganization — which, when you think about it, means you’ve got things in the wrong place and it feels chaotic. A pretty good description for what happens inside Joseph’s mind at times.

For years I’ve tried to distinguish for Joseph the difference between hearing something and seeing something. The other day he said he’d heard thunder and seen lightning, and I thought, “Eureka! It’s finally connecting!”

So nice when, after much effort over time trying to flip the switch, the light finally shines.

There’s still much to work on in terms of getting disorganization organized. For instance, Joseph might call from downstairs for Blue Eyes, asking where he is. Blue Eyes will answer and his voice will clearly be coming from up the stairs, but it’s not clear to Joseph. He’ll turn around and start looking in the wrong place.

Or I’ll have Joseph’s clean laundry on his bedroom floor, folded and ready to be put away. When I bug him to put his laundry away, he’ll take it and put it — sigh — in the hamper.

I see disorganization a lot when I watch Joseph in swim class. Take yesterday, for example. Joseph’s swim teacher gave the kids some instruction about how they were forming two teams with three kids on each one. She touched the heads of each kid as she said their names. “Mark, Joseph and Lita, you are team one. You swim to the other side and back, and then tag your team member two to go.”She chanted, “Ready, set, go!”

The other two kids swam off quickly. Joseph just stood there. He looked at the teacher, confused, and asked, “Am I on team one?

Anyone can miss things now and then, but this happens a lot with Joseph.

Disorganization. It must be really hard to have the wires crossed within one’s brain. I would feel like a stranger in a strange land if I couldn’t grasp concepts as quickly as others. Though not a neat freak, I really dislike it when my life is disorganized. I can’t imagine how frustrating it would be if my brain were that way, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to change it.

No wonder Joseph doesn’t hold conversations at length. He does try, and often times we have to unscramble a few things to make sense of what he’s saying. He said something almost backwards the other day, and our respite worker, with infinite kindness, restated it correctly for him. This is the value of having experienced people around him — people who understand the problem and who work with it with patience and care.

What I hope and pray for is that Joseph gets this: A processing disorder is not the same as being slow or stupid. In the future, I want him neither to accept others’ abuse of him for this nor for him to abuse himself.

At least the brain experts have changed their mind about when the brain stops developing. Whereas they used to think that nothing much changed after childhood, they’ve decided that one’s brain can continue improving throughout its existence. Very kind of them to have proven such a thing as Joseph turns 8.

We’ll continue to sort through the disorganization as best we can. Grateful for the respite support we get, because it can be exhausting trying to help a disorganized kid act like the majority of relatively organized humans on this planet.

Autism and Spirituality: the Dance