About four weeks ago we started something new with Sweet M — we started something called Brain Engineering.
Brain Engineering was developed by Dr. Cheri Florance, a speech-language pathologist and psychologist whose son Whitney was diagnosed with classic Kanner autism, and is now functioning well in as a chemistry major in a New York college. Florance writes about her son and his evolution in a book called Maverick Minds, which I read about two year ago.
The program involves building on the strengths of high-visual learners and borrowing from that strength to develop the auditory channel. The sessions, which Fathersvox and I do at home under Dr. Florance's instruction, are almost disarmingly simple. And for the first three weeks we didn't notice much, if any changes, in Sweet M's behavior, though we did notice that her mood was improved. We were cautiously optimistic since we've tried so many things to help Sweet M develop greater flexibility in her thinking, from vitamins to PCIT, from pharmacotherapy to probiotics. With the exception of pharmacotherapy, nothing seemed to help her much, so we were wary, but also willing to give it our all.
Then last week, all sorts of things started to happen.
• When Sweet M comes home from school lately she chooses to look at her books instead of playing with her Gameboy. In fact, I don't think she's taken the Gameboy out of its recharge cradle for at least two weeks, maybe longer. She is very very interested in her books, which is radically new.
• On Friday she came home from school and was making up a song about how "I love [name of the boy she has a crush on] and [name of the boy she has a crush on] loves me, I can read and do math too because I'm so smart all the kids love me." I didn't quite get the words . . . it wasn't rhyming . . . but she was making up a song about how great she is. That is a change.
• Tuesday she came home and said "Mom, what's a benefactor?" I wanted to say that's what we need for your school tuition for next year, but I skipped that. When I told her that a benefactor is someone who helps you achieve your potential and ambitions by supporting you with money and guidance, she said, with obvious comprehension and satisfaction — "Oh, so that's what a benefactor is." I asked where she'd heard the word and she said she heard it on a cartoon – Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends – and had been wondering about it for weeks.
• A little later in the same conversation she asked me why there are toys for girls and toys for boys, and I said because people have strange ideas about what boys and girls should do, but that if there are boys' toys she wants, she can have them because they're really all just kids' toys. She said, "Oh no, I can't have boys toys, I'm a girl." I guess I'll have to do a little more work on that!
• On Wednesday she asked me why the city of New York can't be painted pink and purple (her favorite colors). I said I didn't know, maybe we should write a letter to Mayor Bloomberg to ask him why. She said that's a good idea but I don't know him, does he know anybody? I said he probably knows the Governor. She said, Great, I've got it, we can write a letter to the mayor from the governor, and then he'll answer. I said I think he'd answer if you wrote him and she said, "Of course he wouldn't . . . I have to pretend I'm the governor." She's probably right about that. But she said, "If I wrote a letter and pretended I was the governor that would be sneaky." Yes, I said, that would be sneaky.
• On the weekend she said, "Hey Mom, Can I ask you a question?" I said sure, and she asked, "How do people get rich and have private jets and big cars?" My answer to this was a bit too long, but I didn't give her the entire first five chapters of Capital or The Wealth of Nations.
• Her school insisted that she go on Field Day last Tuesday. In the past two years we've kept her home because she tends to meltdown when she's outside on a hot day and asked to participate in competitive sports. (Exactly like both of her parents, no fans of ESPN in this household.) Anyway, we were reluctant to let her go because we didn't want to risk a meltdown when her spot at school is so precarious, but it seems to have gone okay. The teacher made her photography assistant for the day, so she got to be doing something special and didn't have to do boring sports. And she had fun in her special job!
Also, two weeks ago she asked if she could have ballet, ice skating and piano lessons, so this past weekend she started ice skating lessons. She was on the ice for 30 minutes with two instructors helping her get her skating legs. We're trying something new, and she's eager to try all sort of new things now.
Fellow autism-mom Kyra of This Mom wrote a moving post about Remediating the Autism . . . struggling with the idea that even as she adores her son Fluffy just as he is, she works long and hard to help him have every chance for the fullest, richest life.
With kids on the spectrum, this means taking chances on various therapies and diet regimes (for Kyra and Fluffy) and other sorts of interventions among so many of us . . . psychotropic medications, special schools, intensive behavioral or communicative interventions. And for parents who believe their kids have mercury poisoning, biomedical interventions.
Parents struggling to make the right decisions for their kids, whether neurotypical or not, is an old story. We all do it. We all make decisions on behalf of our children with the very best information we have on hand, sometimes with a bit of speculation and faith. We try to find them the best possible school setting. We take them to best doctors we can find. We do whatever we can do to help them have the richest, most delicious lives they can have.
Sweet M is out on the ice, getting her ice skating legs, and we're getting our Brain Engineering legs . . . we'll keep you posted on how it goes as we glide towards something new.