Monday, April 3, 2017

Always Have an Escape Plan

As anyone with an autistic child knows, in any new, public situation, there is the plan and then there is the escape planThe plan may be to go see the latest blockbuster animated film.  The escape plan involves taking seats on the isle, just in case the movie was mastered at "Voice of GOD" levels and your child starts to try to burrow under the seats to escape the noise.  Or, the plan might be to attend a dear friend's wedding.  The escape plan involves sitting in a less-populated pew, in the back of the church, again on the end, in case your child's inability to understand the protocols of church cause the need to exit quickly.  As time goes by, you find you need the escape plan less and less.  It might almost make you forget to make one.  Don't.

Last night, we attended what we hoped would be a cool experience for Liam, especially with his newfound interest in organ music.  We went to Walt Disney Hall to hear organist Felix Hell, perform a Bach concert.
Walt Disney Hall

The concert hall is an architectural masterpiece, a sweeping, soaring building on the outside and an interior designed to naturally amplify and reflect the tiniest of sounds. Visually, the space was captivating and normally the sonic sensitivity would be a dream-come-true for someone wanting to taste every note of a delicate piece of music.  The seats are designed so that no-one is ever blocking anyone's view.  In fact, everyone can pretty much see everyone else when the house lights are partially up, as they were in this performance - a fact I would later come to regret.

My husband said he knew we'd made a mistake when he read the evening's program: "Goldberg Variations, BWV 988."  Did you know that the history of this piece is that it was written to help the Russian ambassador to Saxony with his insomnia? Yes.  It is lovely, well known, popular and so goddamn tranquil that it only took about 10 minutes before trouble started.  Don't get me wrong, the organist was brilliant, but this piece, full of gentle, quiet passages was death-on-toast for an autistic 11 yr. old who loves the booming, soaring Bach of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor."

The hall amplifies EVERY sound - not just those on stage, but a quiet rustling of a jacket (did I mention Liam was wearing a windbreaker?), a cough and of course, my son saying "I think I might have an allergy."  With those words, it felt like a prison-yard search light had been turned on us. We started whispering quick directions to Liam that he couldn't talk during the concert AT ALL.  He nodded and began to fidget instead.  His feet tapped on the ground behind what was, in Disney Hall's seating, the head of the person behind him.  Both John and I put our hands on his legs, and whispered to stop, which only escalated the fidgiting, the rustling of his windbreaker sounding like a thousand candy wrappers adding to the thumping of his feet.  We tried again to still him, which only resulted in his plainly spoken, "why are you saying "SSSSSHHH?" We were in real trouble.

And we were completely trapped.  I'd purchased the tickets on Goldstar. Part of my "new experience" strategy is to buy discounted tickets to events, to make the possibility of ditching less painful.  I had not had the option of choosing our seats, which were smack-dab in the middle of a row of about 15 people on either side of us.  There was no extra space in front of our feet to scoot out past the people beside us. Also, the folks in the row were mostly elderly, so asking them to move or even making them aware they'd need to move was going to be next to impossible. I was keenly aware that before the show even started it took about 10 minutes for an usher to explain to a very elderly couple in front of us that they were in the wrong seats and another 5 for the gentleman to stand, shakily and move down a seat.  Glancing at the row of white heads to either side, I could not imagine a quick or quiet exit that way.
Interior of the music hall for a different concert.  If you start at the top of the picture, center and look in the second row of the balcony, you can see where we were sitting.

Meanwhile the writhing and stomping had increased and was about to reach critical mass.  Liam was grabbing onto us, pushing his head into our bodies and we were practically laying on him, both to give him reassurance and stop the stomping, but I could hear small noises rising in his throat and see a panic creeping onto his face.  He could not contain himself at all and we couldn't help him.

I knew that whatever we did next would be seen by a nearly full theater of people,  but not doing something would result in ruining the rest of the performance for everyone there.  My husband and I sent urgent glances to each other.  We could tell we were running out of time.  We waited for a slightly louder passage in the insanely quiet music so we could make a plan.

He leaned in and whispered, "I see a way out," glancing behind us at open seats that extended to the last row of the balcony about 4 rows away.  "I see it too.  Over the top?"  He nodded "yes."  The music dropped again to a quiet passage and Liam was holding John's hand over his mouth. Liam knew it was a bad situation too, but he was about to lose it.  I watched him contort his face as he tried to contain his mounting anxiety.  I slid the Etch-A-Sketch Liam had been holding into my purse and snapped it shut.  The snap sounded like a bullet. 

Finally - another loud passage.  "Now or never,"  John said, hoisting Liam over the back of the chair, and with his extra-long limbs, carried him over the rows of seats - straight to the last row and out the exit.  Thankfully the people to either side made no disparaging remarks. They wanted us gone as much as we wanted to go.  I was able to climb over the first seat, but my short legs weren't going to make the other 3 rows.  One woman leapt to her feet and tried to pull me over the next row.  I thanked her but said I wouldn't make it.  Instead, I saw that there were only about six people in my new row.  By this point, there was no need to alert them - they all saw me coming, stood quickly and accepted my whispered apology "so sorry, we're leaving!" as I dashed down the row and followed my family out of the hall to the lobby where we regrouped.

We made it to our car and back out onto the highway.  "OH MY GOD, THAT WAS STRESSFUL!" he said - bursting with relief.  "I've never felt so trapped!"

"I know.  I kept hoping we could make it to intermission. I'm glad the people were helpful about getting us out of there!" (note - when we got home and studied the program, I saw there was to be NO INTERMISSION - see below).

We got home, made a shaker of martinis and went over the events, while Liam went happily back to playing Angry Birds on his iPad.

We didn't blame Liam for not being into the music - with apologies to all Bach/"Goldberg" fans, we weren't really that into it either.  It was insane to ask any kid, let alone an autistic one, to sit perfectly still for that.  We concluded that, after experiencing the incredible acoustics of the hall, we wouldn't bring Liam back there, unless it was a loud performance and we had isle seats.

For those people for whom we caused a distraction, we are sorry from the bottom of our souls.  But at least they'll have a great story.

And from now on, the first thing we'll do in a new space, is look for the emergency exits.

Footnote: In relating this story to my mother-in-law, I found out that at least one of her friends was AT the concert last night.  I guess I'll find out what stories others will tell about us, after all.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


The organ teacher asked him to play.  So Liam sat down to play his version of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on the Steinway piano in the church.  He seemed to be enjoying the perfect tuning and rich tone of the instrument as he worked his way through what he knew of the piece.  He still uses odd fingering and his pace is all over the place.

I watched Liam and I watched her face.  Wonder and concern flitted across her features in turn.  We talked about the difficulty in getting him to practice skills outside of a piece itself.  She reached around him and demonstrated a simple piece of music to work proper fingering.  He followed her clam, insistent hands.

She invited him to join her at the organ.  He could finally hear the piece as it was intended, on the full organ.  She showed him how the stops worked and he played with sounds, finally letting loose with all stops out.  Aware of the folks working in the church office, the teacher tried to push some stops back in, but he would have none of it - he wanted that big, full sound.  Sonically, as usual, he made it sound good, but technically, as usual, it was a slippery mess.

After some time, my husband and I discussed her assessment.  "He's very talented - such ears! And I want to work with him, but I worry, in my heart, that I won't know how to reach him."

"Oh, that's fine." I said, "We feel that way every day."

She smiled, but still looked a little worried.  "If you'd rather not take him on, I understand, but you should know that every teacher who meets him feels the same way.  You will find a way to reach him.  Just be direct and insistent.  Make the boundaries clear, and he will learn to follow your lead.  We don't know where it will lead, either, but if he's excited about something, you can use it to your advantage!"

We agreed to go for it and see if they can find their groove.  When he finished his first lesson, Liam shouted from behind the huge instrument, "I'm an ORGANIST!" then raised both arms with thumbs-up.

And so we've added another teacher to Liam's life, with another set of keys.  I know from experience that all teachers (myself included) spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to unlock his potential.  Sometimes it feels like coming home late on a Saturday night with no porch light as you fumble to find the right key and get it into the lock, before either dropping the damn keys or scratching the hell out of the door.

But I also know that with patience, and persistence, talent and imagination, potential becomes reality.  Liam's art teacher Linda, at Pastimes for a Lifetime, has helped him grow in this way.  His raw talent is apparent, and now it's taking form in ways that other people can enjoy.  Here are a few of his recent works, unlocked by a teacher who found the right keys:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The One Even Less Traveled By

Two roads diverged in a wood and I
I took the one less traveled by
Until my son grabbed my hand
And together we made a third path
Where no-one else had been

Walk with me.

I'm listening to my son's piano lesson in the next room, as I write this.  Last year, he started teaching himself Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor," by ear.  About the same time, he joined a rock band class.  The bond with his band teacher, Dan West, allowed him to transition back into private piano lessons at home.  He had hit a wall in playing the piece and needed to learn technique to proceed. Dan also directed his band, P.A.N.D.A., and Liam was able to see that practicing songs led to playing with others and playing for other people. It gave music a "why." 

Now, bit by bit, he follows his teacher through the piece, improving, goofing, learning.  It will be rewarding to hear him wander over to the keyboard later in the week and play it, just for pleasure.

Recently, we got a notice from Goldstar Tickets about a Pipe Organ Concert at Disney Hall.  Liam has been watching performances of "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on YouTube, featuring amazing organists.  (In fact the technical skill of those players made him want to play at the same breakneck speed - a hard habit to break). I showed him a video of the featured organist and he ran over to his keyboard saying, "I want to play the organ with my feet!"  He proceeded to play his piece, while pretending to play bass notes with his feet on the floor.  I bought the tickets.

It got me to thinking, I used to sing in a choir, directed by one of the top concert organists in town, Christoph Bull.  I reached out and asked if he, or anyone he knew, offered lessons on the pipe organ.  As it turned out, one of his former students, Dr. Namhee Han, was giving a concert at Our Lady of Angeles the following day.  I wrote to her and asked if she might consider meeting Liam as a prospective student.  We went to the concert and Liam listened and watched and asked if he could play that organ.  I told him he'd have to wait to have a lesson and we agreed to meet with Dr. Han at her church in Westwood the following week.

The steps that led to these discoveries began long before I even met my son. Because I sang in a choir 18 years ago, I knew a brilliant organist.  Because I have been improvising since the late 80's I know that "yes" leads to far more interesting options than saying, "no."  And because we chose to allow Liam to lead the way, all of these past experiences have converged into a new path.

On days it feels like we are wandering in the woods, I remind myself that this is not the road I imagined, or the one most others take, but that makes all the difference.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Accidentally Perfect

Letting things happen, as opposed to making them happen, has its share of magical moments.  Last week, the Natural History Museum had another free homeschool day on a day we happened to have free.  We hadn't been in a while, so we grabbed our TAP passes and headed out to the Metro train station down the block.

Liam listened to the announcer and decided to re-announce each stop as if it were a bumper for a TV show.  "Hollywood and Highland, coming up next - part of the Red Line family of stations."

When we got to the museums, the rose garden approach to the NHM was closed and we were closer to the Science Center.  Since the California Science Center is always free, I had planned to visit the NHM first, but decided to take advantage of proximity instead.

As we entered, we were greeted with signs announcing a special exhibit of the art of Pixar animation.  Holy crap - how perfect could it get?  The exhibit cost extra, so we hurried to the ticket booth and threw down for two tickets.  Let's just say, we never made it to the Natural History Museum.

Liam stopped to play at every station.  Digital animation incorporates math, science and art.  Liam doesn't think about the mechanics, but he intuitively grasps visual concepts.  At each station, there was a visual puzzle to solve and he was in Heaven.

Designing a virtual set

Programming the visual effect of grass

Making robots from various shapes

In this simulation, the visual effect of Miranda's hair was added and taken away, which Liam found to be endlessly funny.
Here, Liam plays with lighting colors, effects and sources in a scene from "Finding Dory."

Playing with extruded 2D shapes to create 3D objects

Listening to descriptions of the various character models

Working at the stop-motion station to create the video below

At the end of the day, we exited through the park and back to the subway, taking a moment to enjoy a natural wonder.
Proving once again, that the most beautiful discoveries are often made by accident.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Pimple of Doom (or Autism and Adolescence)

My son got his first pimple.  "Well, here it comes," I remember thinking.  And it did.

If you asked an adult if they wanted to go back and relive any part of their early life, I'd be willing to bet nobody would choose the middle-school years.  Nobody.

I knew that pimple wasn't just a blemish, but a bright, red sign, signalling the start of the Hellscape known as puberty - new interests, new passions and new hormones making everything more dramatic.

Life was about to get. . .exciting. . .

It started in a way which would annoy anyone - an operating system update.  I'd been pressing the "remind me later" message for a few weeks on my own phone.  It never occurred to me to tell Liam that he might want to do the same.

A few days ago, I heard "IT'S UPDATING THE SYSTEM!!!!" from my son's room.  I thought he was upset because the iPad wouldn't respond while the system was updating.

"It's OK," I said.  "It will work again as soon as it's done."  I removed it from his room for the update and then returned it when it had finished.

A few moments later I heard, "It's OS 10.2 - I don't like 10.2!  MAKE IT 9.4!" 

"It's just a system update.  There is nothing wrong with your iPad.  Try it like this for a while!"

"Put it back to 9.4 please, put it back to 9.4 please, put it back to 9.4 PLEEAAASSEEEE!" With each "please" he was getting more and more upset.  I even went online to see if it was possible.  I tried the suggestions I found.  I tried three different suggestions.  None of them worked.

"I'm sorry, buddy, but I can't change it.  It can't be put back."

"FUCK you!"  he shouted.  My husband spirited him away to his room, letting him know it was not OK to say that to Mom, but afterwards, we smiled.  Why?  Because it was a clear, direct expression of how he felt to the person he needed to hear it.  He didn't say, "through the park," an expression of discontent he uses, by equating his least-favorite way of getting to Urban Homeschoolers with whatever unpleasantness is happening at the moment.  He dug deep and let me have it in the way every 10 year old has (at least under his breath), for all time.  It showed that there were new connections to us and to his own emotions.

To be clear, I don't relish verbal abuse from anyone, and we made it clear that it wasn't OK to scream that at people, but we did acknowledge his frustration - something I'd have to do for the rest of the week, because he's also holding onto things longer.  The difference between his childhood meltdowns and now seems to be his attempt to manage it - himself.  He does keep trying to get me to fix it, but after each rebuttal, he goes muttering off, then finds something to cheer himself up.  He's learning.

Now we jump off of the big cliff.  The precipice of adolescence, where most people start to use justification and rationalizations to handle the bigger problems that come with a more complicated relationship to the world.  But for Liam, those concepts of "justification," "rationalization,"  and sometimes even the more general "cause and effect" are meaningless.

He posts his visual effect video clips on YouTube where there is a whole community of kids modifying and re-posting the same clips.  And he's even learned to write descriptions for others to read (he didn't realize there were other people watching for the longest time). But he doesn't understand the difference between posting his own work and re-posting someone else's work (and why that might piss someone off).  I still have to monitor his channels and moderate the comments and explain some angry responses to him.  He's started to add new channels, but originally, he just hijacked mine (with permission).  Most of the effects were created in Sony Vegas Pro:

Now we have to help him grow his talents, grow his new-found communication skills and find new ways to bridge the gaps in his understanding to allow him, if not empathy, then at least a sense of the "rules" of the game.

Music is also helping him forge some bonds.  He "gets" music and how to listen and be a part of a musical dialogue - much more easily than engaging in a verbal one. Band rehearsals have been bumped up to once-a-week and they even entered a video audition for "America's Got Talent."  I never dreamed he'd be writing songs and playing in a rock band.  Here's the "official" band picture included with their audition.
All of the kids picked their own outfits for the photo shoot.  Liam picked a graphic tee and wore a necklace I let him choose on Etsy (it's imprinted with the coordinates of our house).  It looks like he's found his "cool." Usually, when we take a picture, he fixes a goofy grimace. We also set up a YouTube channel for their songs, so the producers could hear them playing in front of an audience:

While puberty scares me, it also holds the seeds of adulthood and I'm very excited to see what kind of man my son will be. 

In the meantime, I guess it's time to get him some facial cleanser.  It's going to be a "bumpy" ride!


Monday, December 19, 2016

A Steady Gig

Liam singing with P.A.N.D.A.  He's on the far right, singing on the song he wrote.
Like many parents of kids on the spectrum, we wonder what Liam might do for work, or if he will be able to hold down something resembling a job, or contract work. He has crazy skills, but planning and executing a project, especially one that someone else initiated, is still out of reach for him.  Lately though, he's been taking small steps out into the world and sharing his talents.

I began to receive email notifications, asking me to take the final step to upload my video to YouTube.  Since I haven't created YouTube content in ages, I realized Liam had figured out how to upload his Adobe After Effects projects, using different effects on his favorite television bumpers.  So far, he's uploaded over 70 videos. He even has some subscribers (who aren't spammers).

The most collaborative thing he's been doing, is playing in the band that formed over the summer (see the post entitled "Tribes."  They all worked hard and ended up sounding good enough to be asked to join their teacher on actual gigs around town.  So far, P.A.N.D.A. has three covers and five original tunes and Liam wrote one of them. They're planning a recording session in January, to lay down all of their originals and will be playing a show on New Year's Eve. Not bad for a band ranging in age from ten to thirteen years old. 

He's continuing to grow his talents as an artist, beyond his favorite digital mediums. Right now, he's working in acrylics and loves using the paint itself to create texture.  He just went to a birthday party at an art space that teaches graffiti art and stop motion animation.  When we left the party, he said, "I really like that place." After I finish this post, I'll be signing him up for the winter session. Some day, one of these things may turn into a steady gig for him.  For now, I'm happy to encourage the exploration.

With schools all over the country dropping art programs for lack of funding, I love that Liam's passions turn the traditional model on its head.  What happens when your academics serve your art? And can your art, in turn, power your future?  We're going to find out.
Liam giving himself a stencil tattoo at Art Rebel in Sherman Oaks
Liam's latest acrylic painting from Pastimes for a Lifetime in Van Nuys

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


"Ponat!  That's Liamese for pine cone!"
Liam was swinging on our neighbor's swing and referring to a large pine cone in their yard.
"Eesh ta Ponat.  That is a pine cone,"  he continued.

What had started as an inside joke for words Liam made up, had suddenly gelled into a fully-conceived language.  He began to recite the Liamese alphabet, as he swung back and forth.  It sounded like a synthesis of all of the languages he had listened to over the years, French, Russian, Cherokee, Spanish, Polish - all of the sounds combined into "Liamese."

I started pointing to other things around us.  Gesturing to a chair on the porch I said, "what's Liamese for "chair?"

"GHRES,"  he said, without hesitation.  The first sound was throaty as in Hebrew.  We had fun naming things.  This morning, while petting the cat, I said, "Jake likes to have his pets - how would you say, "I like pets" in Liamese?"

"Ee loo paas."  Verbs.  Cool.  In a million years, I couldn't have predicted that Liam would take his interest in other languages and invent his own.

It makes me wish I could watch his brain forming all of the new pathways that come with adolescence.  Lately, there have been many more "a-ha" moments.

One that felt like the sky breaking open, was Liam agreeing to use the Roto Clipper I'd bought from a TV ad, to trim his nails.  Nail trimming has been a problem since he was old enough to pull his hands out of mine.  For a wee while, I could sneak in a trim while he was napping, but soon, he learned to curl his hands into fists while asleep.  Therapists tried.  I tried.  Eventually, I let him bite his nails.  He is even flexible enough to be able to bite his toenails (gross, but impressive).  He would agree to use a nail file on the rougher edges, but it wasn't pretty.   

Yesterday, he was changing clothes and when he pulled off his socks, I could see a few nails that were getting too long.  "Time to file," I said.  I went into the bathroom and reached into the drawer where we keep the files and saw the Roto Clipper. We'd tried it once before and only succeeded in munching a small hole in a shirt (yes, it will eat fabric).  I almost left it in the drawer, but decided on one more try.

I came in, trimming one of my own nails.  "You should really try this.  It's so easy- and better than the other file."  I'm not sure what prompted him to take it from me.  He first held it up to a fingernail and pushed the nail into the little slod.  "It doesn't tickle."

"Nope. Try one of your toenails - the big one.  Then I'll leave you alone."  I guess the prospect of Mom getting out of his face was enough for him to try anything.  He started to work on his nail and he kept at it until it was a reasonable length and smooth.  I suggested he look at the next nail.  In no time, he'd done one, whole foot.

"I did it!"  He said, more as a cue for me to leave than in triumph.  I knew it was risky to push it, but I had to try.

"Yes - you did a perfect job, but you have two feet!  You need to make them both look good."  I guess that made sense enough to go ahead and tackle the other foot.  My husband's face appeared in the doorway for a moment.  I smiled and shooed him away - afraid to break the spell.

When Liam finished the last toe, I told him what an excellent job he'd done and told him he'd earned a treat.  Liam chose Gummy Tummies.  I gave him the treat and his wish - I left him alone.  Then I did a happy dance!

Last week, in World Literature at Urban Homeschoolers, the kids were using staffs they'd made to drum out the alliteration in a Viking play (have I mentioned how freaking cool this teacher is?).  Unfortunately the wooden dowels were not so smooth and Liam was the second kid to get a splinter.  It obviously bothered him, but he didn't cry or scream.  He tried to work it out, and when it was clear that the splinter would be the all-consuming focus, I took him to the office to beg a pair of tweezers.  I offered to take it out, but he refused and carefully, deftly took it out himself.

I had long suspected that things which were frightening for him would become easier when he developed the dexterity to deal with them himself.  This is the year that dexterity has met desire and created confidence.

Patience is hard, for all of us, but it has been the key to his growth.  In his own time, in his own way, he's developing skills in language, communication and self-care.

Excuse me, I think I feel a happy dance coming on again.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Change of Clothes

I once joked that, with my luck, my son and I would hit puberty and menopause at the same time.  I really need to be more careful when throwing those ideas out into the universe!

Due to menopause, my body has gone through some interesting changes (see the post "Mom Reset" for details).  At the same time, Liam had his mid-ten-year-old growth spurt, and began to have very clear ideas about what he would and wouldn't wear.  I bought us both some new, better fitting clothes and assembled bags of our used things for the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.

Digging deep into the front closet for out-sized coats, I found a forgotten plastic bin full of hanging files and plastic baggies.  It was the box we hauled to Liam's ABA clinics every month from age three to age eight-and-a-half.  There were sheets to track his programs and Sharpie-labeled bags full of pictures related to people, transportation, school-related objects, actions, gender and more.

Despite the fact that it has only been about three years since we discontinued ABA and began to homeschool Liam, it feels like we have been away much longer.  Or, maybe it's that we've come so far from the thinking we had at the time we started with that therapy.  Much of it had been focused on getting Liam to interact in "an appropriate manner."

When we left therapy and school, we decided to discard the word "appropriate," both in education and in personal development.  In the post "Free Falling,"  I noted how terrifying and liberating that choice had been.  It would take some time of growing into our new life choices, to see how they would fit.

Now, instead of choosing from among those things proscribed by the school district, or the state or the insurance companies, we choose from among those things that make us happy and work for us, as a family. Accepting Liam's growth, as it happens, as a natural consequence of him following his passions, has allowed us to let go of anxiety over where he is, compared to his peers, in education or personal development.

Without that tried-and-true (or not so true, but accepted) road map, we have to find our own way.  We accept that our lives will not be like other lives and we will not celebrate the milestones we were expecting to celebrate.  When I saw my Facebook friends' posts about their children's plans to graduate from 5th grade and go on to middle school, I will admit to a momentary pang of "oh, yeah, Liam would be in that group."  But beyond the image of him in the auditorium, "graduating," there was the memory of the overbearing curriculum, and the knowledge that his peers would soon expect even more of him socially, as they entered the painful middle-school years.

By allowing him to participate only in classes where he has an intense interest, among other homeschooled kids of varying ages, there is a greater deal of acceptance, a joy in learning and budding friendships born of common interest.  He is also developing relationships with clerks and baristas and the staff at the bank, who seem to really enjoy him and even ask after him, if he isn't with me.

As a menopausal woman, it would be foolish for me to expect my body to look like those of the twenty or thirty-somethings that take my spin classes.  I am a fit fifty-two, but I am fifty-two. There's no sense pretending otherwise.  Likewise, it would be a mistake to expect my autistic son to look and behave like someone who is not autistic.  He is sweet, brilliant, funny and talented, but he is autistic.  There's no sense pretending otherwise.

Freedom from expectations has brought a number of changes, but one of the nicest is that we are now much more comfortable in our skin and our clothes.  It just occurred to me that this discovery came, almost to the day, on the third anniversary of our journey.  I can't wait to see what's next.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Sometimes life appears to me like swirls of dye suspended in oil.  The patterns shift, coalesce into beautiful patterns, then bleed into visual noise before coming back together again.  It is never fixed - always fluid and dynamic.  Today, on Thanksgiving, I see jagged eddies around the edges of this life, but in the center, something truly beautiful has emerged.

I am grateful for so much right now.  That I am here, in this house, with a cat curled up on the pillow beside me, my son and husband sleeping peacefully nearby.  We are healthy, we are together, we have food to eat and clothes to wear.  And we are all able to pursue our passions.  My home is filled with instruments and art supplies.  Two days ago, we drummed together in a community drum circle.  In three weeks, Liam will perform again with his band.  And tomorrow, I will be honored to teach a spin class.

Just now, the pattern has shifted again, as my son has joined me on the bed, the cat has moved to a nearby bench and dawn creeps around the curtains.  Soon, a parade will begin and kitchens will fill with the smells of sage and butter.  There will be turbulence in the oil, as people reach for respite from the lingering malignancy of a bitter election in familiar rituals and tradition.

But as comforting as traditions can be, I'm grateful for the communities of people that our non-traditional choices have brought into our lives, and the friends and family who have supported us from the beginning. I'm ever hopeful that my words, shared in groups like Unschooling Special Needs, Homeschool/Unschool Bloggers and Secular Homeschoolers, help give some support to parents who haven't found it close at hand.

And in the constant ebb and flow, I hope everyone can find a few moments of pure beauty. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Variations on a Theme

The letter "Q"
One of the reasons we walked away from behavioral therapy when we left traditional school was ABA's focus on working away from areas of intense interest (the clinical term would be "perseverations") and towards more "age appropriate" activities.  With ABA, his areas of interest were often used to entice him to do other things which would connect more with his peers, or make him function better in a classroom setting.  While introducing Liam to games like Mario Brothers was a hit and definitely expanded his universe (and every kid gets it), he's never lost his love of alphabet and number sequences.  We had a choice - worry that our kid was fixated on what would be a preschool aged interest, or allow him to enjoy something that obviously still brings him great pleasure.  We went for door number two.

At times my husband has said that he wished he could be as excited about anything as Liam is about numbers and letters.  I honestly didn't know if there would be any practical applications for his interest, and it's only now that I can see the growth that happened at every stage, as he explored his passion:

In preschool, this interest led him to develop extremely delicate fine motor skills as he would cut various alphabets in all shapes and fonts from paper and draw them on anything and with anything.

Between ages 5 and 6, he realized that he could create his own alphabet videos, which led to him learning how to do stop-motion animation and teaching himself video editing software including VideoPad (around age 8) and Adobe After Effects (around age 9). 

And looking at different alphabet videos of course led to "related videos" in other languages.  This has been ongoing since about age 3.  On his own, Liam learned to decode and read Japanese, Spanish, Russian and recently Cherokee (at one point he could count in as many as 20 languages).  His Mandarin teacher was amazed at how quickly he picked up both the written and sound sequences of Chinese. And last semester, he surprised his Urban Homeschoolers teacher by demonstrating that he already knew the entire Greek alphabet and could speak/decode it as well.

Eager to see different alphabets expressed in unique fonts (in English or other languages), he's learned how to create fonts in iFont Maker.  He started taking photos of found-object alphabets, then imported the images into his font program and created usable, fonts based on the photos.  He's memorized thousands of Fonts and will often point out the fonts on signs around town or in ads on TV.
The font Liam created from photos

The reference photos before he imported them to iFontMaker

The most important thing about all of those achievements, is that they were self-initiated.  During traditional school classes, every task was prompted and monitored.  Liam happily works for hours on his ideas on his own and will come out to tell us to "come into my room" to see some really cool work.  I even caught him in his room, watching an instructional video on how to create a specific font, and another one on pixel art.  He's learning to find and use tutorials to further his skills.
A pixel art Yoshi that Liam drew while watching a how-to tutorial.  I gave him some graph paper and he came up with the idea to do this, after creating a few on his own.

What might not have been evident in a clinical setting, is setting the stage for what may become his life's work, or at least, his life's joy. On the iFontMaker site, I found his creations and discovered many similar variations on a theme (or a font).  Looks like he was perfecting, experimenting and refining each time.Check out another font he created.  Very cool.  And it looks like 37 other people thought so too (see below). 

For anyone else on this journey who worries about screen time, or one, single "obsession" that seems to drive your child's life - instead of judging it, watch it, study it, try to understand it.  If you can introduce something to add to it, try that.  Otherwise, relax.  You may be amazed at what's growing in those minds.  Here are a few of my favorites, from the alphabet photos, blown up to see the detail.  Enjoy!
The letter "M"

The letter "P"

The letter "W" (also happens to start with "w" so bonus points there)

The letter "X" (which took a long time to make in iFontMaker, as he had to use vectors to get the curves right)