Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

From Where I Sit

From where I sit in the early morning, huddled under an aging green fleece blanket by the large, drafty, front window of my friend’s apartment on 21st Avenue, I hear the gulls screeching their way down Judah. They seem to follow the streetcar out to the Pacific like so many screaming, swirling children. If I glance over my shoulder, I take in a long line of row houses in various shades of yellow, pink, blue, and beige. Thick coils of unattractive power lines criss-cross from one enormous street light to the other and then dart over to the houses themselves, bringing the power required to light the Christmas trees and yellowish front porch lights, clouded with spider webs. There is no grass in this view, only city sidewalks. The more attractive homes boast shrubbery or unusual small trees out front. There are no large, leafy deciduous trees, other than what can be seen of the beautiful foliage in Golden Gate Park, peeking over the rooftops, located just two blocks south.

I distinctly remember seeing this neighborhood for the first time when Matt and I moved to San Francisco in 1997; I found it aesthetically displeasing to say the least. A friend of mine likened it to some strange world in a Dr. Seuss book – and she had spent her life in Berkeley, just across the Bay. Ironically named the Sunset neighborhood - being the foggiest piece of land of San Francisco - it did boast more affordable rentals, proximity to the park, and an impressive business district around 9th Avenue and Irving Street filled with fantastic cuisine, excellent coffee, and wonderful independent shops. So when Baxter was a little over a year old and we realized that raising a child in Marin County (where I was working) did not suit us, we found a relatively (for San Francisco) affordable 2-bedroom here in the Sunset. And this is the neighborhood we happily called home until moving to Chicago eighteen months ago.

This window I sit by, it could easily be overlooking the last street we lived on in this neighborhood, which is 5 blocks directly east. It’s even located in the same spot on the west side of the street. We have had the mind-blowing good fortune of staying here – rather than a hotel - while my friend is on a ski trip with her husband; they are allowing us to use their flat as a home base for the San Francisco portion of our California vacation.

And so we walk by the school where Baxter went to kindergarten on our way to a favorite restaurant or to visit friends who still live just a couple of blocks away. Matt sees the school’s garden, completed, and marvels over all that has been created around some large rocks he once volunteered to haul over to that part of the playground, where visionaries planned a garden that didn’t yet exist. Until now.

With the kids back down at my parents’ for a couple of days without us, Matt and I walk down Irving St. and express delight over tiny shops that are somehow still in business, and shock over old favorites that no longer exist. Quietly, we take in new awnings and business logos. We eat dinner in a fabulous new restaurant that just months ago was a favorite cafe, sitting now at a table that has a familiar view of the park but has been completely transformed. Looking out at the same intersection of 9th and Lincoln while eating beautifully prepared fresh fish instead of a scone and a latte.

And so, as I sit under this green blanket and listen to the familiar N-Judah roar by, seagulls screeching in its wake, I am acutely aware of what San Francisco is to me now. It’s a beautiful city full of friends, family, and memories. But also a place where I now have an almost constant inner struggle: how can I take in all that is new - and simultaneously appreciate all that is old?

If I were a person who was purely fueled by nostalgia, I would have refused to go into that fish restaurant last night; there was a part of me that resented the cafĂ© for closing down, for not warning me in Chicago that this was going to happen, and somehow blamed the restaurant for my loss. It’s easy to resent the sense of surprise we feel about the changes that occur in a beloved city that we only visit once or twice a year. But we’d heard that it’s a great new restaurant – friends in the neighborhood are excited about it – and when I stopped to think about it, I realized that at the end of the day, I would prefer to grow and change right along with San Francisco.

Even from afar.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

We Made it! (Or: Guess Who Got a New Camera?!)

We're here! We're all healthy, the 4-hour flight was unbelievably easy with the kids, and it's a sunny and 60 degrees here. It was a rocky night's sleep due to jet lag and excitement, but both boys have been napping for over two hours this afternoon, so tonight ought to be much better.

Matt surprised me with a Nikon digital SLR and then surprised me further by telling me that it was not my Christmas gift (huh?) - turns out, he sold an old Mac iBook we don't use anymore and was able to buy a wonderful camera for us with the proceeds. (Thank you, Mac products, for retaining your value.) So here are our first shots with the new camera - the blog photos will be much prettier from here on out! (Oh, and I did bring my laptop - Matt's work laptop hard drive melted down just before our trip.)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

We're Outta Here!

Okay, now I think we're leaving soon. Tomorrow morning at 5:30 am, in fact.

Wish us luck!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

What I anticipated today to be like:

Matt would take the boys out to the suburbs to visit with his grandmother in the nursing home. They would then have lunch with Matt's good childhood friend and his family, who are in town for Christmas from Brooklyn. My guys would return around 2 or 3 pm. I, back at home, would have completed some work at my desk and gotten the bulk of the packing completed in delicious solitude.

What today has been like:

I have washed load after load of laundry and cleaned the food out of the fridge, all the while trying to appease the very loud and insistent three-year old who is following me around, talking non-stop. "One...two...three...five...six..." he counts, choosing some of the 30-some Christmas cards lining the chair rail in the hallway. "Twelve! Just twelve days till Cissmas!" he shrieks. In the other room, I hear the sounds of my 7-year old, retching yet again, with my husband calling for another cool washcloth to clean him up.

Not a single item has been packed.

If we can't leave early tomorrow morning it won't be the end of the world, I'm sure. If we don't get to California by Cissmas (where Santa has already sent all of his gifts), we're screwed.

Baxter will be okay by morning, right? And no one else will get sick? Promise me.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Do you hear the whoops and hollers coming from the snowy, cold flatlands of Chicago?

That would be us.

Because it's VACATION!! You hear?! Christmas. Vacation.

Today I worked my arse off for hours getting paperwork done at the clinic so that I can truly leave work behind for two weeks - did you hear that? Me! Not working for two weeks!

We were invited to the home of neighbors-who-are-becoming-friends for dinner tonight (they are conveniently located across the hall) and friends-who-happen-to-be-neighbors tomorrow night (located across the alley). There is so much that is great about this, not the least of which is not having to cook on these nights before our big trip. But do you know what I decided might possibly be the actual best part about these dinners? The fact that I can wear YOGA PANTS to both of these gatherings. Ahhhh, the comfort of yoga pants and a big warm sweater in wintertime.

I am so happy right now.

(Can you tell that I already had some celebratory wine? And we haven't even gone a-visitin' yet!)

This Sunday we'll be taking off for California at 7:30 am and we'll be in sunny, 60 degree weather by 10 am Pacific Time. We'll stay with my parents in Pacific Grove (about 2.5 hours south of San Francisco) at the beginning and end of our 10-day stay; we were offered lodging at my friend's apartment in our old neighborhood in San Francisco for a few days in the middle. Matt and I are filled with nostalgia as we plan a few days with the kids back in our old stomping ground. We are completely booked with time to be spent with old friends - these visits are well-organized around meals at our favorite restaurants. Then my parents will take the boys back down to Pacific Grove for two nights, and Matt and I will spend that time on our own in the beautiful city where we lived together for almost 10 years. We can hardly believe our luck.

At the moment we're consumed with which favorite French restaurant we should call for New Year's Eve reservations.

So I'll be trying to hide my shiny new Chicago accent (that's another post!), "brushing the sauerkraut out of [my] hair" as Matt hilariously suggested this week, and heading back to California. In an unheard-of nod towards relaxation, I am leaving my laptop at home. If I need to read blogs or post something, I can always use someone else's computer.

I have no idea if you'll hear from me every day or not at all over the next couple of weeks. But wish us luck traveling in the winter and over the holidays with these young boys - and pray for me that it might feel more like a vacation than it did last year.

I really need it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All Done

It's over. The Ransom Notes campaign - which last week was still slated to hit three more cities - has been pulled.

Here's the skinny from always-on-it Kristina Chew, PhD over at autismvox. Let her tell the story.

Props to the special needs bloggers. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today's Sitemeter

It's been a busy day here on my Sitemeter - a little feature that I find endlessly amusing. Here are a few of today's searches that have brought people to The Wonderwheel:

1. warm sexy robe - Good luck, sister. If you find one, come on back and tell me all about it.

2. Santa's elves are watching - Yes, they are. I'm pretty sure they're at your window right now. (You wouldn't believe how many times a week this one shows up - what exactly is there to learn about this? I'm starting to suspect it's porn-related. Maybe I'm just cynical.)

3. should i go to work with bronchitis - I had no idea that I was providing such a public service when I wrote that post. Apparently bronchitis is going around, and everyone's wondering if they should go to work. (I thought this was really strange until Matt just told me that he quite nearly Googled "can i drink coke with strep throat" the other day. So I'm not sure what that proves, but there you go.)

4. child over attached to mom - Boy, if I didn't think I was on to something with that post to begin with, now that I've seen how many people actually Google those words every day, I am a believer.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Blogging with Neighbors

The other day as I was unsuccessfully hurrying out the door for work, I was also trying to tell Matt that many people in our condo building were interested in making a group donation in honor of a neighbor who died last week. (I'm organizing the donation.) Given my frazzled state, I was having a bit of a word retrieval issue.

Me: "Sounds like most of our neighbors are interested in doing a..." (and here I faltered, so a long pause ensued)

Baxter (filling in the blank from the breakfast table): ""

Not only was this funny because, well, it's just hilarious to hear the word "blog" from a child's mouth (although it was even funnier when my 86-year old grandmother referred to it as my "blob" today on the phone), but because the very idea of our condo neighbors writing a collective blog just killed us.

Think about it: if your closest neighbors were to start a group blog, what would it be like? Do tell.


One year ago, my friend Cara showed up at our apartment with a plateful of delicious Christmas cookies. They were from her church's bake sale. Cara excitedly shared with us that she and her husband had recently found this fantastic Unitarian Universalist church that happened to be close to where we were living. As she described it to me, I felt that flash of recognition: this is something we need.

We visited Second Unitarian Church the following Sunday; as I've written about before here and here, we found it to be the missing piece. I watched as the Children's Choir walked up to the chancel in their dark pants and white shirts to sing, wishing that my kids were among them.

Today I walked into Second Unitarian Church with a bagful of Christmas cookies that the boys and I had baked yesterday for the bake sale, and I watched with delight as Baxter walked up to the chancel in his new black pants and white shirt to sing with the Children's Choir.


A year ago this week, Matt and I went out for the first time ever with a realtor to look at condos here in Chicago. On our first day out, we pulled up in front of a beautiful brick 1920s building in Rogers Park, right on Lake Michigan. "This is my first choice for you guys," said our realtor. I looked out the window of his car and took in the wrought iron gate, the stained glass windows, large seasonal planters, and the beautiful fresh greenery and white lights that tastefully adorned the front door. I held my breath. A week later, on Christmas Eve, our offer on that unit had been accepted and we were celebrating.

This weekend I have spent hours in the kitchen of that home, listening to George Winston's December, drinking Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread tea (yum!), and baking Christmas cookies. Cookies that will be given to, among other people, the neighbors who put so much effort into the fresh greenery, white lights, and seasonal planters that have been placed anew out on the front porch of this grand place we call home.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Murky Waters

My three year old exclaimed joyfully over the gift he received from Santa at my clinic's holiday party today. As he pulled out one Cars character and then another, a father watched with interest from across the table. He happened to be one of the few parents I'd never met, because his child only comes on a day when I'm not working. Turns out, his young son, also intently watching Lyle open "Lizzie" and "Boost", is a big Cars fan. Very few people - even among the fans - know a lesser-known character like "Boost", who shows up in the film for about one minute.

"Oh, we know our Cars!" the dad emphasized, giving me a knowing look. It suddenly occurred to me that I was getting the "our kids share this obsession" look from a parent who most likely thought that I was the parent of a child with special needs, not one of the hosting therapists.

This doesn't bother me, but it is always an interesting exercise for me to see my kids through the eyes of other parents who assume - because of the context, where we are - that one or both of my boys has special needs.

I remember the first time this happened, which was when Baxter was almost three and we were waiting to sign in for the Cure Autism Now: Walk Now event in San Francisco in 2003. There were precious few families around us who had only neurotypical kids. I realized this and looked over at Baxter, curious to know if he was wondering about any of the out-of-the-ordinary behaviors that barely register with me anymore - only to find him toe walking and twirling, and watching as he crashed into his father on purpose to stop himself. I giggled over the irony at the time, but also found it fascinating to realize that, put in the context of kids with sensory processing and communication disorders, my neurotypical child fit right in, by all appearances.

It's true. Baxter toe-walked his way through life until he was about 4 1/2 years old; only when he was excited but, truth be told, he was pretty much excited all the time. He was also under-responsive to touch, needing a lot of proprioceptive input to his body. He could spend hours jumping and crashing non-stop, and to this day (to a much lesser extent) seeks that out. When Baxter was four years old, I suffered through some very long Music Together sessions where he ran in circles around the room (which encouraged other kids to follow him, of course) and eventually crashed so that there was a huge pile of preschoolers on top of him. (Remember that, Stacy?) This while the rest of the class sat tamely banging two red sticks together to "Little Red Wagon". Thankfully - and to Music Together's credit (I love that program!) - the teacher had enough training to know that developmentally that's how some kids process music, and it was fine. (For the record, I'd be very uncomfortable with any music class for young children that insisted they sit to participate. Don't laugh - they're out there.) With my introduction of a modified ALERT program, Baxter learned to calm himself and participate more conventionally. Eventually. (And now I'm a little freaked out because - did you notice? - the Music Together and ALERT program websites look oddly similar!)

At the same time, he was over-responsive around his face (i.e., tactile defensiveness) and literally gagged when we put on sunscreen. He still can't stand any lotion on his face and barely tolerates the application of it all summer.

And while to me all of this raises huge red flags for sensory processing disorder, and I treated each of these symptoms as I would in a client (with input from OT colleagues), he is a typically developing child.

Then there's Lyle. Lyle, who is three now himself, demonstrates none of those same characteristics but, as I've recently discussed, has his own set of challenges.

I'm not sharing this because I think that as a parent I am in the same boat as my clients' parents. I do not believe that my experience is the same. At all.

I am sharing it because I truly understand when the mom of a newly-diagnosed child with autism says, "I guess I thought all kids did those things," or a dad tells me, "We thought he was just quirky." But the most difficult of all is, "How do I know if this issue is a typical part of development, or related to his special needs?"

It is murky. Downright murky, indeed.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I left for work late today, running out into the 20-something degree morning with Baxter in tow - hair still damp, not a trace of make-up on my face, with God-knows-what thrown into my bag for lunch, and (fingers crossed) the work files I need for the day.

The only reason I'm even inside the clinic right now is because Matt was willing to dig through the kitchen trash to look for my set of keys. And, yes, that's where they were.

All I can say is, it's a damn good thing that Lyle was on another floor of the house, busily engaged in a fun game with his babysitter, or he would've eaten his whole shirt by the time I got out of there this morning!

TGIF, everyone.

PS: An update from the Ransom Note front...there's an article in today's New York Times about this ad campaign, and some of the best bloggers on the subject are quoted! Check it out - and the comments section gives you another opportunity to voice your opinion if you are so inclined.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Surviving the Holidays with Sensitive Kids

Both of my boys are sensitive guys. I believe that, in the long-term, this is a good quality in the males of our species, I really do. In the short-term it can be a bit tough, however. Among other things, it means that Baxter cries easily and was afraid of segments on Sesame Street until he was about 6 years old. I mean, truly, there is never any doubt about how that boy is feeling and it's been relatively easy to help him learn to manage his emotions.

But Lyle, though probably even more sensitive and finely-tuned than his big brother, has been much harder to read. Rather than crying when he's scared or his feelings have been hurt, he is likely to feel confused and hide behind what I think of as his "wacky" behaviors: moodiness, hitting, sudden shrieking, twirling in circles, and jumping on top of his brother.

I see children through an uncommon lens, because of my training. I'm sure this has pros and cons for my family. In my book, children's behavior is highly meaningful - they are communicating something with their actions, and our job is to watch, listen, and interpret the message in order to respond appropriately.

So when Lyle's "wacky" behaviors began to escalate in the past week, I took it very seriously and watched carefully. In addition to the usuals - which were significantly heightened - he began to bite his shirt collar or jacket a lot - and a couple of times even bit his own hand earlier this week.

Now, listen up: if you are my child and you want me to go into Full Alert Mode, just start biting your hand. I'm all yours.

I watched. I listened. I talked to Matt. I thought about it a lot.

Let's see, what's going on for this shy little guy...Christmas is coming (exciting)...Santa is coming (scary and exciting)...he was invited to his first school friend's birthday party (scary and exciting) work party is this Saturday, complete with a live Santa (scary and exciting)...Mommy was a stress case the last two weeks (scary)...there are new decorations all over the house - and everywhere else, for that matter (exciting but different from the norm)...we'll be going to California in less than two weeks (exciting). And on and on. No wonder the child is completely dysregulated. That's a lot for a small boy to handle.

So here's what I've done.

First of all, I quickly gave him a substitute to bite. Because think about it - oral input is the most primitive source of comfort and self-regulation we've got. Consider breast-feeding, sucking on a pacifier or a thumb. Many adults use food or cigarettes to satisfy that need. If we say, "Stop biting" but give the child nothing to substitute with, we are probably causing him more discomfort and then what's going to happen? Probably more biting.

I have a collection of oral motor tools that are safe and durable, and I offered Lyle an assortment. He took to one of them. I encouraged him to get all the oral input he wanted with that - while we read stories, when he watched a video, or when he was starting to experience heightened emotions. It helped. Forty-eight hours later he isn't biting anything else and isn't even using the tool much.

Second, I worked extra hard with him to identify what he was feeling. When he began to bite his shirt or shout, I slowed him down and asked, "What are you feeling right now?", helping him to differentiate between excitement and nervousness so that we could identify other ways to deal with those feelings. This worked very well. Tuesday afternoon I took the boys over to Starbucks for hot cocoa in the afternoon. Lyle was starting to get really wired, and I raised my voice to get his attention before he bumped into someone. He immediately bit his shirt - but then stopped and said to me, "I was surprised because you spoke sharply to me." He then climbed on my lap and allowed me to comfort him and explain why I spoke sharply. This self-awareness led to an immediate decrease in the undesirable behaviors in that environment.

Third, I slowed down his world as much as I could. I started to speak slower and more quietly to him, and kept our schedule as calm as possible. I made an extra effort to sit down and focus on pretend playing with him more often, which always gives us more opportunities to connect emotionally and play out difficult situations.

Fourth, I made life more predictable. I drew a calendar of the next few weeks for the kids. On each day, I drew simple pictures to identify Lyle's school days, days with the nanny, when exactly the parties are, when we go to California, etc. When life is busy and routines change all of a sudden, many kids (and probably adults) need some extra predictability and external organization. Both of the boys are checking their calendar multiple times a day; it's posted on the refrigerator.

This is an exciting time of year. That's as it should be. It's fun to dance in the kitchen to Frosty the Snowman, treat the kids to some holiday fun, and enjoy the season.

But for kids who are not so sure yet about how to express their feelings, 'tis also the season for some extra support.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ransom Notes

Have you all heard this flap over the NYU Child Study Center's "Ransom Notes"?


I haven't been this mad in a looong time.

There's a wonderful post MOM-Not Otherwise Specified has written about it - it's listed over there on the right under "Read these great posts", and now Susan Etlinger has tackled it in her eloquent way on Momformation - read it here.

Don't miss it, folks.

And if you have an opinion, let them know.

I sure did.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

My Guys Do Christmas

Some fantastic combination of dessert, XM Radio's Christmas channel, and pre-Christmas insanity took over all three of my guys tonight. Thankfully, the video camera was handy. Enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Christmas Traditions

We gather at the dining room table, lights dimmed almost to darkness. The cranberry candles from Thanksgiving are nearly melted down to their silver candlesticks. A handmade wooden star is lit in the window, made by a distant relative of Matt's in Germany. The boys and I eat a simple dinner and talk about Christmas. Lyle names the six Cars toys he wants most in the world and asks if Santa will bring them. Baxter, ever the pragmatist, offers, "Well, that's a pretty short list, Lyle. Santa will probably bring them all to you." Lyle turns to me rapt, and passes this information on to me as if I hadn't been sitting there just three seconds before. "Baxter says Santa might bring them all!" Just when I thought his saucer eyes could get no bigger.
In fleece snowman pajamas, the boys cuddle on either side of me for story time. We have two large baskets of Christmas books that only come out in these weeks leading up to Christmas. Lyle chooses 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. When Santa and those "eight tiny reindeer" land on the rooftop, Baxter is barely breathing. "Is this a true story?" he asks. Not answering, but holding him closer, I continue to read. He chooses The Glorious Christmas Songbook, a beautifully illustrated and very complete treasury of Christmas carols. With Baxter warbling joyfully off-key directly into my ear, I try to maintain the melodies of Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and a few of his other favorites. When Lyle joins in for the first time on Jingle Bells - three distinct and uneven melodies contributing to the Green Couch Choir - I am in heaven.
We saved the last two songs for their bedroom. I sang Up on the Housetop, which prompted a can-can routine from the raccoon, puppy, and bunny up on the top bunk railing. Sensing some fun, Lyle jumped out of bed to watch. Finally, with the boys tucked into bed and slightly calmer, I sang one of my personal favorites, The Holly and the Ivy.

Eventually, they fell asleep. There are visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads tonight, no doubt about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Newsflash: Wheels Back On!

Last night I was pretty sure that the wheels really were falling off the proverbial bus.

I still hadn't gotten all of those reports done, and my November paperwork had not gone out to my clients yet. The work was overwhelming, I'm working all day Saturday, the nanny was out sick with the flu, and I'd agreed to work at Lyle's co-op nursery school this morning to help someone else out (I'll be grateful for that come next week when she is working in my place). When I lost the three hours set aside to get work done yesterday afternoon (due to the nanny's completely legitimate illness), I saw the first two wheels loosening - poised to drop at any moment - and I started to feel true panic rising.

I was talking to a reputable local psychologist yesterday and we were discussing the hell of over-scheduling oneself. "When that happens, I just cease to function," she said knowingly. All I could manage was a "Yeah...", knowing that I'm in the midst of that right now and feeling stuck.

Today I turned things around, however. During the day, while I was working at the co-op and caring for the boys, I focused my mind on some positives about work. I've had a few really interesting opportunities come up in the past week - I wrote an article that is about to be picked up by both a local online parenting network and a new BabyCenter blog, and I had the chance to help a novelist-who-shall-remain-nameless work out a tough plot line that required some professional expertise. This was a challenge unlike any other and it was so fascinating and fun for me! Thinking about these new endeavors really helped today.

I then also arranged a way to get out of the house and work tonight. When Matt got back from work, I high-tailed it down the block to this fine establishment (heard of them?), which is as close to my house as this:

Turns out, the "out of the house" part of that equation is key. I'm also not about to pay for their wireless connection (those stingy buggers) so I'm "off the grid" when I'm there, as Matt would say. Of course, having no access to email or the Internet really does make a difference in terms of my, um, attention to task. I was able to complete two big evaluation reports in a few hours.

And so, at least for now, the wheels have affixed themselves to the bus once more. There's a lot more to do, but the most challenging things are off my plate. I am not a big fan of this situation, and am actively working to remedy it. I know what I've done wrong in my schedule this fall and winter, and will just need a little time to shift things enough that some of this pressure will be released. But I'll do it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Snowfall in Chicago

Doesn't Seem Worthy of a Raise, Does it?

Last week, a local news station informed Chicago area residents via closed captioning that the Feds would not be getting the 12.5% "cost of lynching" raise they expected.

Just in case you were wondering what they've been up to.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Date Night

After a long day yesterday - one that began when I stepped out into the dark, frigid morning at 5:30 to work out and continued through a full day of clients, one of those days when every break between clients involved a scheduled call - the best part of my day arrived. Date Night!

No, Matt and I didn't go out. In fact, I stayed at work. Matt and the boys had dinner, played games, and watched a video together back at the ranch.

Lorell (good friend, very talented colleague, and faithful Wonderwheel reader) and I hosted the first-ever Date Night at the clinic last night. This was an opportunity for the parents of our clients to drop their kids off and go out for about two and a half hours. For only $5 per family (just enough to cover the cost of the food), we did art projects, fed them pizza (we made a gluten-free casein-free one for the kids on that special diet, and ordered pizzas for the rest of us), showed a couple of videos, and generally let them run around and have fun. The mood was festive - they all love coming to our clinic during the week, and coming at night (and some of them in their pj's!) was a huge, exciting adventure. I wish I could show you the photos of these super stars from last night - so cute!

We took 10 kids (about half clients, half their siblings) and there were 7 adults volunteering our time. At times, we were really grateful to have that many adults! The children ranged in age from 5 months to 7 years old. As you might imagine, so many parents were interested that we have most of the 10 spots filled for the next one - and we haven't even set the date yet.

If you don't have a child with significant special needs, you may not realize what an enormous gap this would fill. While so many of us complain that it's difficult to find a great babysitter we can trust, and often impossible to afford the $12-15 hourly rates, parents with typically developing kids have got it easy. Imagine the difficulty involved in finding someone you can trust to care for a child with little to no language, a special diet, unusual sleep habits, and behavior that is often confusing for those who don't know him/her. Think about if your child had idiosyncratic communication habits and you knew what he wanted only by reading the most subtle cues - and not meeting his needs would result in a tantrum of massive proportions. Would you easily leave him to go out for a fun dinner with your partner? Now imagine that you pay an enormous sum out of pocket every month to cover therapies. Would you be able to rationalize spending the money on a sitter and that dinner or movie? I wouldn't. And neither can most of our clients' parents. Those without family support nearby reported that they hadn't been out together in a very long time. Some weren't even sure what they could do - we went so far as to suggest a great local restaurant and talked them through how it would work.

And yet. These parents are under more strain than anyone can imagine. Divorce rates are said to be higher among parents whose children have autism than in the rest of the population. They need a break, some fun, and time to connect with friends or their spouse - and they need it yesterday. Or maybe last year.

This is a win-win situation. We adults truly had a wonderful time with the kids. The children had a blast - our 7-year old (who walked in and said, "I'm ready to PAR-TAAAYY!") declared at the end, "This was the best party in the whole world!" The parents had a chance to catch their breath and reconnect, and all of them thanked us with tears in their eyes.

It was an incredibly meaningful evening. One of the best events in my career.

This morning we're planning the next one.