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How can love always be present when you can undeniably feel each and every absence of love? The problem is in the perceiver rather than the perceived. Each time you feel a lack of love, it comes from within yourself. — A Course of Love (ACOL) – 25.5

Blue Eyes and I are world travelers. But autism, with its difficulty with transitions and unpredictability, can add an interesting twist to traveling. Although hubby and I would rather travel immersed in different cultures with backpacks on our backs, we have long wondered if a cruise might work for Joseph. We’d always stay in the same room, additional family members (including cousins close to his age) wanted to go, and there would be a swimming pool. Google didn’t have much to say about autism and cruises, so we took a deep breath, and literally jumped on board.

7 days, Seattle to Alaska and back. From the standpoint of day 6, I can say that it’s been pretty good. The kids have had a blast together, and the food has been amazing. Fortunately, Joseph’s cousins are on a non-sugar diet and that has influenced him in a positive manner, yeast being a common problem with autism. We’ve had FUN, real true fun! There have been moments, of course, when it’s not been so fun, but overall it’s been beautiful, spectacular, and awesome.

Today we are on the boat all day, so Joseph’s cousins went to the Kids’ Club for the first time. I pulled the manager aside and explained that, even though he is 13, Joseph has high-functioning autism and will only be comfortable hanging with his younger cousins, ages 6 and 8. I was told that they’d need to contact the manager onshore to get this okay’d, and that they’d be in touch in a couple of hours. So, while the younger boys went happily off to play ball games, Joseph howled about having to leave with me. It was a not-untypical semi-meltdown, but it hadn’t happened before in front of other family members, and I found it humiliating.

Joseph didn’t want to do anything else – just have downtime in our stateroom. I can understand that: There is lots going on in this huge boat full of thousands of people, and downtime can be a balm. But A Course of Love gave me an exercise to do a couple of days ago, which was to watch for feelings of a lack of love. And — wow! — it came up big time through this little episode of explaining the autism situation, being put off (hopefully just temporarily) and then feeling exposed with the meltdown.

As I look more closely at that, I see how much lack of love I have around autism and Joseph behaving like, well, someone with autism. First off, I feel really alone. Then I feel resistant, upset, wishing yet again that I didn’t have this in my life. I feel out of control when I really, really, really want to be in control. I don’t want this uncomfortable life, where my kid can unpredictably bring me to these hugely embarrassing experiences.

Attempting to exert control over learning situations is a reflection of belief that you have nothing to learn. Control opposes openness. – ACOL 23.27

(Insert expletive here.) If my life is indeed a curriculum designed specifically for me, then opening to it is my best chance of learning from it. Yes, Joseph has autism. Yes, sometimes it takes us in different directions from the normies. Yes, I find it difficult and therefore want to make it safer and easier.

Resign as your own teacher. The desire to control is the desire to remain your own teacher and/or to choose your teachers and learning situations. Neither can occur if you would truly choose to change your beliefs and move on to the new or the truth. – ACOL 23.27

I want to resign as my own teacher, really I do. I guess this particular teacher, which we shall call Autism, feels that public humiliation is just right for me – and therefore delivers it on an irregular, but fairly frequent, basis. This will help me out of my need to be in control, and probably in a lot of other ways, as well. I surrender. This time.

There is always an upside to the downside. Joseph can’t stand to be alone in the stateroom. So, while he’s been having some downtime inside the room, I’ve been sitting outside on the balcony writing this. I keep having to put the computer down because pods of dolphins are swimming by and, my heart in my throat, I have to stop everything and marvel at them. I mean, we are way out in the ocean, and there is so much life and beauty here.

The ocean’s gone from glacier-green to sea-blue in the last day. We’ve left the whales, who like to feed in the cold Alaskan waters, and found the dolphins. The sun is at last showing itself, and the endless blue of the sky mirrors the huge blue vastness of the ocean.

It is a big, beautiful world and, as I look out at it, I open to its beauty. The view from our balcony looks like love made manifest — and I am opening to the fact that it all is. Everything, from autism to Joseph to the glory of this moment — comes from love. And love embraces all things, so, in that spirit, I open to allow it. What a beautiful teacher is life.

 

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As spring break loomed on the horizon, Joseph began asking about going to Arizona. He’d never been there before and he wanted to see Sedona and the Grand Canyon. He also wanted to see Las Vegas, which is on the way.

I had recently quit my regular part-time job and am hysterically happy about having spare time.  Blue Eyes was up for going, and we like to encourage adventuring in Joseph…so a vacation was born. We’d spend about a week and a-half driving to and from, and exploring the wild west.

Friends told us we would have a wonderful time. Arizona was one of their favorite places and it would be amazing. To most of them, I smiled and said I was looking forward to it. To one of them I explained that Joseph could have a hard time with change so it would probably be challenging. To Terese, who has an autistic kid of her own, I said that Joseph could be such a pill on these trips that it would no doubt be difficult.

Perhaps “a pill” wasn’t quite the right expression. Sleeping in new places is usually difficult for Joseph, going to new places (especially crowded ones) is difficult, and not getting his way is also hard. All three of which are happening on this trip to some extent. Add to this the fact that Joseph had recently finished a round of antibiotics and was displaying pronounced symptoms of autism and candida (much flapping, fingers constantly in mouth, etc), and we were headed for quite a time.

Yesterday was day three and was supposed to be “his” day. We had made it to AZ and had booked a train ride up to the Grand Canyon. Challenge #1 occurred when Joseph went to sleep late and woke at 4am, resulting in three straight nights of sleep deprivation. We arrived early at the depot to watch the cowboy shootout but, as soon as the first “shot” rang out, Joseph screamed and cried and would not be calmed down. Blue Eyes quickly ushered him out of the bleachers amidst the looks of curious families.

My impression of age 13 is that the volume’s been turned up big time. Joseph’s always been one for constantly making noise (“verbal stimulation” in the vernacular), but it’s really gotten worse lately. Walking around the incredible, breathtaking Grand Canyon naturally inspires a reverent silence — but my constant companion was a nonstop noisemaker which was, to put it mildly, draining. And disappointing. Yogananda used to say that, if someone got your goat, they got your inner peace — so don’t let them get your goat. Well, my goat went galloping down the canyon and I haven’t seen it since! So my disappointment was for both the experience of the canyon and in myself for losing that goat. ;-(

At one point, in a small crowd, a little chipmunk appeared. Of course everyone was thrilled to see the cute little guy. Everyone else, that is. Though he was quite a distance from it, Joseph started screaming in anxiety and the only way to calm him down was to find a quiet place in which to sit for half an hour.

I sound like I’m blaming Joseph but I also blame myself. Before the Grand Canyon trip, I forgot to pack nutritious snacks and had let him load up on carbs (hotel breakfast, anyone?). Things have been quite good with Joseph — many breakthroughs this year — and so I thought this trip would be easier than it is. I didn’t prepare myself for a difficult day, so the fall was greater. The idea that expectations set us up for being disappointed at some future point certainly applies here — but the expectations were so unconscious that I didn’t realize they were there until, well, now.

Speaking of now, it is 2:20 in the morning and I am in the hotel bathroom, typing away and dreading the fact that Joseph may wake up anytime and give us yet another difficult day, tainted by sleep deprivation. Is it an autistic thing that he simply can’t nap during the day unless he’s deathly ill? And if positive expectations bring future disappointment, what does dread bring? As my own private guinea pig, I hereby postulate the following effects of dread: Insomnia (did I mention 2:20am?), negative mindset, and separation.

Ah yes, separation. Where is God in all of this? Of course I know that God IS — but I’m not feeling the Love. What if I just take a moment to soften my body and open my heart. What if I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and release some resistance.

Then I realize that the thoughts are not my thoughts. They come from I know not where and they go I know not where. They are there, but who I AM is something much greater.
Jaw softens, shoulders drop. Heart remembers.

And then, oh gloriously then, there it is: The felt inner communion. The spaciousness of Spirit, more breathtaking than any grand canyon. A shared silence filled with understanding and even amusement. A remembrance that this is just a tiny blip on the radar of life, and especially of life beyond. The reassurance that always, always I can come to this place – no matter what is happening externally. In this I can rest. Time to go back to bed.goat

Hello, little goat. Welcome home.

horseback ride halloweenOne of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten from a fellow autism parent was this:

Figure out what you love to do and then be persistent at getting your kid to do it too.

This mom is an avid cross-country skier, and she did not want to give that up just because her son was severely impaired with autism. She spent two years pushing him up snowy hills and holding on to him as he went down the snowy slopes. Eventually he got it, and now the whole family cross-country skis together regularly.

Blue Eyes and I wanted to travel as a family. Travel, of course, requires lots of changes and being out of the routine — both things that autistic people don’t take easily. When Joseph was turning three, we wanted to bring him to New Zealand to visit his nanna and other relatives. I was freaking out about taking a young autistic kid on such a long flight, but our counselor said this:

It won’t get any easier if you wait.

This, too, was good advice. We took him on that flight, and he’s been traveling with us ever since. Hotels were difficult at first — I have vivid memories of packing up and checking out at 3:00 one morning because we knew he’d never get back to sleep — but now hotels are one of the best parts of traveling for him.

Joseph is pushing the limits himself now. He nagged me incessantly to go ice skating recently. When you’re dealing with autism, anything different is good, so off we went.  The rink was great because you could stack up buckets and hold on to them as you skated. It was a perfect first visit, and we’ll go again sometime.

He hopped up on a big horse on Halloween and rode around as bravely as any other kid. A huge step for Joseph.

After six years of trying, after six years of being terrified that he might fall, last week Joseph finally rode his bike all by himself. Oh, he was so proud and happy. He even fell a few times and realized that he didn’t die.

Now, as winter begins to whisper in the wind, Joseph is talking about skiing. Our 23 year-old nephew is visiting from New Zealand, and he is a very enthusiastic skier. Then we have Joseph’s friend DJ who, with his family, is way into skiing – so Joseph’s getting influenced on all sides. The guys went to a ski sale yesterday and bought used ski gear for the whole family. So I guess we’re going skiing.

When Joseph was five, I watched friends put their five year-olds into ski lessons and thought that Joseph would never be able to do that. He’d scream. He’d panic. It’d be too strange, too unusual for him. He didn’t have any sense of balance. He’d fall a lot, and he was panic-stricken about falling.

Amazing what a difference a few years can make, because now he is ready. He put on his skis, poles and boots this afternoon and “skied” on our lawn. “See? I’m good at it already!” he said to me.

Music to my ears.

The Buddha said we make our own prisons, and I believe it. I have put limitations around my kid and his condition; I think he’ll “never” do this or that. Now I’m thinking I’d better remove “never” from my vocabulary.  It’s like this reverse-advice from Richard Bach:

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.

I’ll leave you with one famous piece of advice. It comes from Winston Churchill and is very relevant, not only to parents of special needs kids, but to everybody everywhere:

Never, never, never give up.

Blessings.

Joseph is really into animals, so last week we took the loooong drive  to San Diego to show him one of the world’s biggest, and best, zoos.

The idea alone was so exciting for him that, a few days before our trip began, he started waking up at 4am just thinking about it. Now, Joseph is not the most quiet of children, so we all started waking up at 4am. Blue Eyes and I were therefore just as eager for the departure date as Joseph. 🙂

We had three days in San Diego, and the first day at the zoo was really fun. Joseph decided that the first animal we had to see were the hippos, because they were most playful early in the morning. From there we saw many wondrous things, and learned a lot as we went.

Before the trip, Joseph had made the occasional comment that it would be too crowded and noisy for him, and I wondered if it would be. But it’s a quiet month at the zoo and Joseph did GREAT. We stayed from opening ’til closing, Joseph made a friend at the crocodile exhibit, and we all had a terrific day.

RDI has a concept they call Productive Uncertainty. If you can envision a graph that is a hill, then Productive Uncertainty is the part of the hill that rises up to the peak. That first visit to the zoo was new for Joseph, but the uncertainty was productive: fun, pleasant, and educational. It helped Joseph to feel competent.

We gave Joseph the choice of another day at the zoo so, after doing other things on our 2nd day in San Diego, our 3rd day saw us back at the zoo. But this time it was different.

From the opening minutes, Joseph started doing odd, jerky, movements accompanied by flapping and singing. I call it his “weird dance,” and indeed it does look, and sound, weird. I got on his case, snapping at him to stand normally and keep his arms at his side. All morning we tussled about it.

He also chewed like mad. His shirt collar and sleeves were soaked with his saliva. I kept jerking things out of his mouth, my frustration mounting.

Looking back — which is always the best vantage point — I can see that Joseph was, for whatever reason, stressed and anxious. But even with all that weird dancing and chewing, neither Blue Eyes nor I thought about stopping and regrouping.

When we sat down for lunch, Joseph lost it big-time. He screamed and screamed, sobbed and moaned, said over and over that he just wanted to sit inside the car. I held him for about 15 minutes of this, aware but not really of curious onlookers, while Blue Eyes and I tried to decide what to do.

I’m learning that Joseph knows best how to calm himself down (“self-regulate” is what we say in the trade), so we finally gathered up our food and ate lunch in the car. What should we do? Blue Eyes and I asked each other. We’d spent a lot of money to go to the zoo and we’d like to be there. Besides that, we’d like it to end up as a positive memory for Joseph. But Joseph insisted he wanted to go back to the hotel. We were confused.

While Joseph settled down and ate, I closed my eyes and asked for help. The Productive Uncertainty graph popped into my mind, and I realized we’d gone past the productive peak of the graph, moving downward to the point of  Threat and Unproductive Uncertainty.

It looked like it was all downhill from there, but I shared my understanding with Blue Eyes and wondered aloud if we could get back to Productive Uncertainty.

I am grateful that Joseph has a keen sense of humor. We probably spent an hour in the car, and then we started teasing and joking with Joseph, who laughed and laughed. We took that happy energy and swept him out of the car with the promise that we’d simply watch the sea lion show and then leave for the hotel.

After laughing through the show, Joseph wanted one more trip on the Sky Tram. Then he had to see the petting zoo one more time, and one thing led to another. It was late in the day when we left the zoo, with smiles and happy memories all around.

RDI is big on reflection and, looking back at this whole experience, I see that I blew it by not catching the signs that Joseph wasn’t doing well. In fact, I made it worse by being on his case. But, on the positive side, we made it through a breakdown — and a large one, at that. We shifted from Unproductive Uncertainty to Productive Uncertainty, leaving us all feeling more competent, resilient, and a little wiser as well.

Lastly, I have in the past considered myself to be unintuitive, but my view is shifting. When I asked for help and got the image of the graph in my mind, I realized that intuition is simply having the door open. Most of us go around without asking for help, and it seems to me now that there are angels and guides who can’t WAIT to help. But they won’t come uninvited; we need to ask.

My prayer is to keep that door open all the time. Especially when Unproductive Uncertainty looms.

The path to God takes many forms. St. Francis courted Lady Poverty, early monks went for suffering (self-flogging and other such pleasantries), many aspirants fast, and yogis retire to their caves for years of silence and seclusion.

Well, I’ve got one that, as far as I know, hasn’t yet made the list. But it should, it really should. It’s the Path to God through Embarrassment.

Wait — don’t touch that mouse until I explain.

You see the photo here? This is Joseph, as happy as can be, sitting at Starbucks and just starting into his caramel apple cider.

Earlier I’d picked him up from school and explained that I needed to stop at the grocery store. Sometimes this brings a storm of protest, as the sensitive boy has had enough of people and needs to lie low. But this time he readily agreed, and off we went.

I marveled at his ready agreement, and then I marveled still more when he started singing to a new CD I’d bought. He never sings along to music, so this indicated a surge in development. Yippee! I thought. Life is good. Then, instead of wanting to go home, he asked to go to Starbucks afterward! Life is great, I thought.

We interrupt this narrative to state that people with autism often have a very difficult time when they make a mistake. I have no idea why. Joseph has gotten better about his goof-ups through the years, but we still deal with it.

Back to Starbucks. This happy photo was taken mere seconds before the top fell off of Joseph’s cup, spilling a full glass of warm, gooey caramel apple cider all over my purse and all over the floor.

Joseph started to yell. Extremely upset, he continued to yell. As he took in the full extent of what had occurred, the volume increased to full-blast yelling.

And then it happened:

Everyone Looked.

Hanging around Joseph, it is not such a rare occurrence to have Everyone Look. It happens maybe once every two or three weeks. You’d think I’d get used to it.

But here’s the thing. A few decades ago, I longed to be good friends with a woman I knew. She, however, scorned my initial attempts at friendship. It was only much later, when we’d managed to actually become good friends, that she confessed her reasons for putting me off: she thought I was too together.  I always looked composed, I dressed nicely, I was fit, and — this was the example she used — I could bring a batch of homemade cookies to a party and not eat even a single one.

(What she didn’t know was that, harboring an eating disorder in secret, I’d already helped myself to the entire batch of cookies that didn’t make it to the party. Beware of people who seem all together.)

This, ladies and gentlemen, this is what Joseph brings to me: a general announcement that neither he, nor I, is all together. And, since we live in a small town, you can’t go anywhere without running into someone you know. At Starbucks today, we saw Andi and her father from swim class, as well as that nice man who takes his kid to the same school as Joseph and who always says hello to me.

They were part of the Everyone who Looked. Add three more people to the list of those I know who are now absolutely certain that I am not all together.

Isn’t this great? Can you see how God lies at the end of the Path to Embarrassment? Who needs to fast or pray or self-flagellate or go into silence when she has Everyone Looking at her?

This morning, in my meditation, I had just finished my preparatory techniques and was letting go into stillness when I noticed that an insect had bitten my thumb. I got that itchy, stinging sensation and I noticed the irony. What do I do now, I wondered, put my attention where it wants to go, on my painful thumb, or try to draw my energy back into the stillness?  Ultimately I had to settle for a little of each.

And so it is. God lies in the embarrassment, God lies in the developmental surges, and God most especially lies in the ego having no pride left to hide behind.

Life is good. Life is definitely good.

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.

We’ve been back from Maui for two days now. We came home, packed away our shorts and tank tops, and put on our long underwear. Yesterday evening we watched the first snowfall of the winter turn our yard white. It was pretty.

But just for these few moments, I ask to you join me once again in lovely, warm Maui, where the breezes blow such soft sweetness into your mind that you are unable to hold even the slightest of grumpy thoughts for more than a moment.

My last post had Joseph and me hanging out together at an expensive resort. After our healing time in the hotel room, we sauntered back out to the pool. This time it was a little easier for both of us. I stopped wishing that Joseph would just relax and enjoy himself like the other kids, for God’s sake, and he stopped — what? Feeling my resistance and reacting to it? Being as scared because he’d already gone to the pools once?

But it still wasn’t easy. In particular, there was a water slide in the pool — an easy, gentle one — that had Joseph scared to death. He’d watch smaller kids shoot down it — he’d stand there, watching, for long periods of time — but he couldn’t go down himself. I forced it once by pulling him on my lap and taking him down with me, but he screamed bloody murder and I got those looks from the other parents: Stupid mother! Abusive, uncaring woman! And I gave it up.

Eventually we got into the hot tub and Joseph got a little more courageous, swimming by himself small distances and just having fun. It wasn’t long before Blue Eyes joined us. Then evening fell and we watched a magical Hawaiian ceremony that Joseph still talks about.

But here’s the thing: when we left the resort, he was still scared of the pool, scared of the little slide in the pool  — just…scared.

One of the ways autism can present is in this kind of fear. There’s some evidence showing that the primitive part of their brains is not as well connected to the rational part, so all that primal fear comes up unabated. I’d say that, in Joseph’s case, this is probably true.

This fear presented strongly around the ocean, too. Joseph was very afraid of going in past his ankles But one day I just forced it…gently. I scooped him up and carried him into the water, holding him tight and trying to make it fun. He actually enjoyed it for a bit.

Blue Eyes saw it happen and took up the theme, giving Joseph a piggy-back ride right into the ocean. When Joseph protested I showed up behind him, wrapping my arms around him and pronouncing him a Joseph sandwich. Somehow this made him feel safe, and he actually enjoyed being in the ocean for quite some time.

Then, RDI style, we very consciously spotlighted what had happened, showing Joseph how far out he’d been in the water and how well he’d done. We even took a photo so that we could remind him with a visual once we got home.

In subsequent visits to the beach, we progressed to Joseph doing some assisted swimming from me to Blue Eyes and back. And when he was on his own, he’d venture in waist-deep. Everyone felt more competent.

Being more confident in the ocean must have felt so good to Joseph. Before that I would watch him watching the other kids in the water, quite a few younger than him, and I know that somewhere, perhaps not even verbalized into thought, he was wondering what was wrong with him that he couldn’t get into the ocean like that.

A few days before we were to come back home, Joseph started talking about the resort pool again. He said he wanted to go back; he wanted to go down the slide; he wanted to put his head under the water this time.

It looked like we didn’t have time to do this, and then a little Divine Choreography occurred: the people we were house sitting for called. They were delayed; could we stay an extra day? Thank you, yes. So, on our last full day in Maui, we drove the long drive to Lahaina and snuck into the resort’s pools.

Normally Blue Eyes and I have a lot of integrity. Normally we would not use a hotel’s facilities without paying for them. But our son’s special needs make us bold sometimes. He seemed to need closure on his fears, and we were curious to see what would happen. We wanted to help him. So in we snuck.

Joseph got onto a boogie board and swam around the entire lagoon twice. Then he went to his nemesis: the slide. He sent his boat down. He outright refused to go down on my lap. He sat at the top of the slide and, making sure that Dad was at the bottom should anything go awry, he slowly let go.

Many times. He conquered that damn slide. Then he put his head under the water. Then he swam on his own a fair distance.

When we left those pools (having constantly dodged the lady with the clipboard who was throwing non-guests out), we had by our side a competent, satisfied child.

Today was Joseph’s first day back at preschool. His teacher couldn’t believe it: Joseph used to have a paralyzing fear about going sledding down the long hill at the school. But this time he sat in the front and rode the whole way, twice, having the time of his life.

The moral? Never give up on your kid. Things may take longer than they do for typical kids — heck, they may not even happen in this lifetime — but when you run out of patience, remember that you can draw on the boundless patience of our Divine Mother/Father.

Most importantly, no matter what the obstacles may be, do everything you can to help your kid feel competent. That way, the (shudder) free-fall of incompetency and fear can be replaced by riding high on an upward spiral of competence and confidence.

I have an ongoing love affair with the Hawaiian islands. They have captivated my heart ever since my first visit at 18. I’ve been to Hawaii as a tourist, a backpacker, a honeymooner and a mother-to-be, but never before as a mother of a special-needs child.

The last time we went to Hawaii my belly was 6 months swollen. We knew it would be our last real vacation for who knows how long, so we milked it for everything we could: lots of snorkeling, going to the movies and out to dinner, lying on the beach, and reading books uninterruptedly. Since then, I have pined for the islands — the fresh winds, the warm ocean, the lush jungles, the whales and turtles and tropical fish, the relaxed atmosphere.

So when some friends offered to let us housesit at their place in upcountry Maui, we jumped at the chance. We are even missing Thanksgiving, and, trust me, my extended family is not pleased with us. But having an autistic kid is a huge challenge financially, and the opportunity to do Maui on the cheap (bonus miles air tickets, even!) was too irresistible to pass up.

I consciously tried not to lean on old memories of Hawaiian vacations. I reminded myself that Joseph has trouble adjusting to new people and new places, and that this would not be easy on him. I knew I would see other kids his age doing things with enthusiasm and joy, whereas he would be timid and withdrawn.

But, try as I did to steel myself, I wasn’t prepared for being in Hawaii with autism.

Parts of it have been okay – good, even. Joseph has surprised us in his willingness, happiness even, to hike long distances along rather difficult trails. He has some sensory defensiveness going through overgrown places – God forbid a fern should brush against him – but, overall, he copes pretty well.

Staying in one place has been a real blessing. After the first couple of days, Joseph was quite comfortable in the house. It’s quiet and peaceful here, and that has made a real difference to him.

The beach has been hard. For some reason, Joseph has always had trouble with the beach. He just doesn’t know what to do at it. He’s somewhat frightened of the ocean, so swimming is out. Unless we set him up in a role – “Joseph! Let’s build a sand castle!” – he resorts to doing his strange autistic dance with sudden, sharp movements, and singing the Pirates of Caribbean song over and over again. People look strangely at him. It’s embarrassing.

Blue Eyes signed up to finish his scuba diving certification here, which meant that, for two days, Joseph and I were on our own. I had the bright idea of us going to Lahaina with Blue Eyes for his 2nd day of diving, and staying at a resort. This way, Joseph and I could play in the resort’s pools during the day, and Blue Eyes could join us when his training was over.

So we splurged and went to one of the more fancy spots for a night. A beautiful, lagoon-like pool snakes around, inviting you to swim, relax and enjoy yourself.

But Joseph didn’t receive the invitation.

We went first to the kids’ pool. Other children, some much younger than him, went running in, jumping in, shouting and laughing with enthusiasm and joy. They splashed, they swam; they called, “Mom! Watch me!”

Joseph and I spent the morning with me trying to get him comfortable enough to enjoy the wading pool. He resisted. I resisted him resisting. He felt incompetent. So did I. A good time was had by everyone but us.

We finally retreated to our hotel room, where Joseph said he wanted to spend the rest of the day. It was 1pm.

I railed inside. Here we were in Maui, having spent a lot of money to be at this fancy resort, and he wanted to just stay in a hotel room? And play with his trains?

Ok, I reasoned to myself, let’s give him an hour. He needs some time to chill. I turned on the TV and watched Seinfeld while Joseph played. Seinfeld was funny; I laughed – I needed that – and started to let go of my judgments of Joseph and my resistances to being on vacation with autism.

It wasn’t how I wanted it to be. But, I asked myself, was I going to base my happiness on whether or not life was behaving the way I wanted it to? Or could I choose to be happy, content, with what was being given — and not given — right now?

As I got more grounded and centered in my heart, I was able to turn off the TV and be present with Joseph. I was able to love him for who he is. We sat on the patio together while he ate a snack.

I looked at him, feeling the love in my heart. He looked back; we communed deeply with our eyes. Then, suddenly, he chanted a long “Aaauuuuummmmm” and, still chanting, placed his palm on my ajna charka at the spiritual eye. He held it there for about 30 seconds before taking his hand away and smiling at me.

He’d never done that before, and I don’t know where he got the idea to do it. But it lifted me to a new place, where I realized anew that this is a great soul acting out a role. And that this is a role he has taken on as much for me, for my growth and learning, as for his own.

I’ve always loved the Sanskrit phrase smritti, meaning divine remembrance. That little act of Joseph’s has reminded me to look beyond the surface of this life – to see that the embarrassment, the resistances, the heart’s contractions – the messiness of life in general when you have an autistic child – are all leading to a place of openness, strength and ego-unraveling. A place where the channel of love can flow more freely and more fully.

So, yes, on the surface we are simply – and frustratingly — on vacation with autism. But just as diving beneath the surface of a warm Hawaiian ocean allows one to become aware of a whole different world, full of wonder and harmony, we also have the invitation to experience our vacation in a vastly different way.

This is one invitation I don’t want to pass up.

Later that afternoon, we made it back to the pools. More on that in my next post.

Aum, shanti, and aloha.