The Greatest Gift of All (#177)

We have a pine tree in our backyard; Jim strings it with lights and it becomes–’tis the season–our live Christmas tree. We always spend Christmas with my family in California and usually keep decorations to the minimum, since we are not home. As my parents are renovating their house, we will be spending our first Christmas in New Jersey.
I have already had my Christmas, with Charlie back in school, and in a school appropriate for his needs. The peace and confidence that the boy we wave to on his bus (still not sure about the aide who does not really speak English but so far so okay) is off to a good day of learning is slowly seeping in. Transit strike? Jim runs for trains stuffed with commuters all the way to the Bronx. Backlog of projects–webpages to create, stacks of paper to organize, letters to write, certain books I’d better read? I look forward to sitting at my desk tomorrow and doing the work that I do.

It was almost exactly a year ago to the day that Jim and I picked up Charlie early from school and drove to the airport. Charlie had red rug burn on his forehead: In library with a class of second graders, he had "suddenly" gotten out of his seat while the librarian was talking and hit his head on the floor. He was marvelous on the transcontinental airplane ride, walking round the Chicago Midway airport hand in hand with Jim, brown eyes beneath that ugly red taking it all in. When we returned, I taught Charlie to read a list of sight words and Jim and I looked forward to a 2005 of learning. Instead we found ourselves on the phone and at the email and writing letters and going to meetings, meetings, meetings, to get Charlie into an educational placement truly appropriate to his needs. Arguing. Demanding. Imploring. Hoping. Questioning. Refusing certain things. Requesting certain things again and again.

And we have been lucky–found the right people and school for Charlie–and things have gotten better.

Autism never takes a holiday and, though Christmas and New Year’s are fast approaching, the three of us have been at our usual routines, of school, work, and therapy sessions, as our best antidote to the disruptions holidays can cause. Jim’s and my and our relatives’ gifts to Charlie are things he needs –a touch screen for his computer, help in providing him with all of those therapy sessions.

No tree adorned in tinsel and ornaments and piles of gifts? The gifts already opened so Charlie can start using them immediately? Therapy sessions instead of parties and holiday shows? What’s going on in Autismland?

A lot of fun and laughter, as at our clinic meeting tonight with our Lovaas consultant and ABA therapists. Charlie had had a good day at school and moved forward on his programs (despite having trouble going to sleep and getting out of bed just as the bus was pulling up). Charlie is slowly working his way through matching words to words; he can select the right answer out of a field of nine cards, though perhaps this was a bit much, as Charlie yelped suddenly and cried out. Perhaps Charlie was protesting about being challenged yet again at 6.45pm. The therapists and I paused a beat, then talked about how to proceed with Charlie’s reading program and he soon was sitting back at the table and responding to the SD "bang block" vs. "bang crayon" (to promote Charlie’s understanding of verb-noun combinations) and trying out a two-token schedule of reinforcement. We clapped and cheered and exchanged observations of how many crumbs can be ground into the carpet as Charlie ate a gluten-free brownie.

Charlie’s face wears its full panoply of expressions when he is doing ABA, when he’s learning and knows he is–the searching eyes, full cheeks, little crinkle to his nose and forehead and at the corners of his mouth, the hopeful grins, the smiles–and it’s Christmas anyday soon as you see that rainbow of looks.

It is the greatest gift of all, a gift of joy and peace and love.

One Response to “The Greatest Gift of All (#177)”
  1. Eileen says:

    You & Jim have the best Christmas present ever!!! I love the “live” Christmas tree in the backyard idea!

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