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School psychologists through the years have warned that, as Joseph grows in awareness, autism will get him down. They’ve predicted insecurity, incompetence, depression, anxiety, drug addiction and suicidal tendencies. Whether due to a lack of awareness on Joseph’s part, a reasonable ability to overcome challenges, or his supportive school/social environment, we haven’t seen this happen.

I strongly dislike these dire proclamations, but despite that, some underlying part of me has been on the lookout for their emergence.

At the moment we are face-to-face with something that could bring it on:


Not the lovelpinnoccioy, slow, supportive basketball for kids of all abilities that Joseph’s participated in previously. Like Pinnoccio he wants to be a real boy, and that means school basketball with typical kids who have typical executive function and motor skills. And not young kids, either: 6th-8th graders only.

Joseph is on his second week of practice, and yesterday Blue Eyes showed up 15 minutes before it ended to watch. Picture it, if you can: ten kids playing fast, dynamic basketball and our Joseph standing out on the edge, his body turned partly away from the kids as if to block out such rapid-moving action. He sees his dad, runs to him and says, “Let’s go straight home!”

Ugh. Is this the time when he sees that he is not like the others, will never be like them? Is this when self-doubt and low self-confidence start their evil, insidious path inside Joseph’s head and heart?

“You’re being way too dramatic,” I tell myself. “Everyone has things they can’t do. It’s time he found some out.” I myself was lousy at group sports and swore it off without a complete breakdown. But what if, what if, what if this is the thing that cracks the lens and suddenly Joseph can see how his disability limits him…not only in basketball, but in so many other ways. And then what if he looks to his future and suddenly his dreams of productive work and a wife and family — of happiness, for God’s sake –seems way out of his reach.

And if he wants to quit basketball, what do I do? Do I coach him that quitters never win and winners never quit? Do I teach him about executive function and the limitations he faces? Do we just gracefully bow out?

Perhaps it’s not Joseph those psychologists were talking about; at the moment it seems to be me drifting into insecurity, incompetence, depression, anxiety, drug addiction and suicidal tendencies.

Thank God for my spiritual foundation. At times like these I turn within, and Spirit brings to my mind a story originally told by the Buddha:

There was a Zen master who, while out walking one day, is confronted by a ferocious, man-eating tiger. He slowly backs away from the animal, only to find that he is trapped at the edge of a high cliff.

The tiger snarls with hunger, and pursues the master. His only hope of escape is to suspend himself over the abyss by holding onto a vine that grows at its edge. As the master dangles from the cliff, two mice – one white and one black – begin to gnaw on the vine he is clutching on.

If he climbs back up, the tiger will surely devour him, if he stays, there is the certain death of a long fall onto the jagged rocks. The slender vine begins to give way, and death is imminent. Just then, the precariously-suspended Zen master notices a lovely ripe wild strawberry growing along the cliff’s edge. He plucks the succulent berry and pops it into his mouth. He says, “This lovely strawberry, how sweet it tastes.”

Ah, the beautiful, lovely, amazing present moment. Nice to be back, where danger is no longer imminent and where I trust that, if I can stay open, I will be guided to say and do the right thing at the right time.

strawberryThis lovely strawberry, how sweet it tastes.


When your child is nailed as a special needs kid, the school system gives him or her an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. Once a year the parents get together with the teachers, the principal, and any and all therapists, psychologists, etc who have been working with your child. And you talk. How the kid’s doing at school, how s/he’s functioning on the playground, socially, etc. Everyone gives a report.

Here I sit, an hour and twenty minutes away from Joseph’s IEP, and I’ve got the jitters. They did a comprehensive testing this year, even hiring an outside psychologist to evaluate my son. Gasp. I’m sure glad they don’t examine me like this every year!

This school year I’ve helped out in Joseph’s classroom every two weeks, and it’s been an eye opener to see him in action. Last Thursday, for instance, he was out for testing with the Special Ed teacher. When he came back, he was supposed to join some of the other kids over at the kindergarten to help a kid read.  His teacher, Mrs. Crosby, explained this to him and said she’d watch out the window as he went.

But Joseph wasn’t having any of that. He stopped, rubbed his face, and looked dismayed. “It’s — it’s — it’s too much,” he said, anxiety creeping into his voice.

Mrs. Crosby couldn’t leave, as she had other kids in the class. The aide was already at the kindergarten. Naturally, I volunteered to walk him over, and I did.

I just didn’t know he’d need help walking from one building to the next.

It was a 30-second walk.

These are the kinds of things I’ve learned from being in the classroom one morning every two weeks.

I’ve learned that Joseph really does needs his aide. Not all the time, but when he needs her, he needs her. It’s hard for him to pay full attention to everything he’s supposed to pay attention to. He needs more movement than many of the other kids. The aide keeps him focused and also has him get up from his seat to go to a quiet corner of the room for something like reading. He gets to use the white board for stuff sometimes. Just that little bit of moving around and standing to write helps him out.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in such a supportive school. They make it work for Joseph. He’s doing well academically — not brilliantly, but well enough. I know that school will get harder as the years go by, and I hope and pray that Joseph can keep up — not only academically, but socially, as well.

I guess that’s what the jitters are about. Are they going to tell me that my kid — my beloved, amazing child — has problems I’m unaware of? Are they going to take his aide away for next year? Are they going to see him as a “case,” with data and facts, while I see him with a mother’s loving heart? Am I going to cry in front of them? It’s such a vulnerable position for a parent.

Well, time to breathe myself back into the moment. Time to quiet my mind, open my heart, and claim my trust in God.

Oh, yeah. Breath. Trust. Quiet.

Steady, girl. Here we go.

Autism and Spirituality: the Dance