Every Appointment an Adventure

Raising a child with autism can turn ordinary experiences into adventures. Ezra has been taking a medication (unrelated to autism) that requires regular monitoring of his blood chemistry. As it happens, he’s also one of those people whose physiology makes drawing blood a challenge.

Once a month, I accompany him to a doctor’s office, where a nurse struggles with a needle to coax the blood from his left arm.

“How are we doing today?” she said this morning.

“Fine,” Ezra mumbled, looking down. It’s not that he was being unfriendly; these kinds of social exchanges simply don’t come naturally to him.

When she enters the room, he’s often in a giggly mood. Perhaps it’s his nervous reaction to stress. Instead of sitting upright as she requests, he lies back or even curls up in fetal position, chuckling about whatever is on his mind. (Today it was the next movie he’s eagerly anticipating.) Sometimes I try to see the scene from the nurse’s Read More »

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Thinking About Labels and People and Cheese

For the last several days, a question has been reverberating in my mind.

I first heard it when I spoke to a group of teenage volunteers who spend time with peers who have special needs through a program called Friendship Circle. I had been invited to talk about raising a child with autism, to provide a window into the kinds of children these teens might encounter.

After a number of excellent and insightful questions, one girl in the front raised her hand. “If you meet someone you don’t know,” she asked, “how can you tell if the person has autism?”

I began to answer with examples of the symptoms people with autism might display: repetitive behaviors, lack of eye contact, narrowly focused interests. But then I stopped myself.

“The truth is,” I said, “you can’t tell. It’s Read More »

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The View from Sixteen

My book describes a decade in my son’s life, from the time he was three (and first showing signs of autism) until he was 13. So readers frequently want to know what’s happened since then.

At a talk I gave last week, a parent told me she’s rasing a younger child with autism, and spoke of her own apprehension as her child approaches adolescence. “How,” she asked, “does the teenage Ezra compare with the younger Ezra?”

It was a timely question. As it happened, Ezra’s sixteenth birthday was last week. He was eagerly anticipating the day. Ezra enthusiastically celebrates the first day of every month and the first day of each season—just because—so you can imagine his Read More »

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The Last Red Day (and Other Memories)

When you go out and tell your story in public, you never know what people are going to ask. I was speaking in a bookstore in suburban Chicago the other day when an older woman in the front row raised her hand with a question.

“Can you tell me about Ezra’s school?” she asked.

I told her that Ezra attends a school primarily aimed at students like himself: kids with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome and related challenges. It has what it calls a “social skills curriculum.” He’s been there since fourth grade.

“And psychotherapy?” she asked.

That seemed a bit personal. Following Ezra isn’t primarily focused on therapies or treatments. In writing, I carefully avoided anything clinical, except where it seemed necessary. I explained that Ezra, like many children with autism, can Read More »

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A Washington Post Essay: ‘I Just Know’

(This essay appeared Dec. 12, 2011 in The Washington Post.)

My son Ezra was 4 or 5 when he began asking people their birthdays. At first it seemed like a typical child’s question. But then months later he would encounter acquaintances — or even whole families — and reel off the birth months with perfect recall as he pointed at each person.

“Steve, April. Janice, November. Shayna, August.”

Driving him to school one morning, I heard him in the back seat reciting what at first sounded like random dates and names. Then I realized what he was doing: listing the months in calendar order, each followed by the names of everyone he had encountered whose birthday fell in that month.

It was an early glimpse of what I came to realize was an extraordinary — even superhuman — memory. Ezra, now 15, has high-functioning autism. Experts will tell you that the disorder’s most significant characteristic is difficulty communicating and forming relationships. Ezra knows he has autism, but to him one of its primary characteristics is Read More »

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