Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?

I saw the movie Frozen the other day and quite enjoyed it.  (The title of this blog entry is the name of a song from the movie.One of the messages of the story is that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.  In order to be free, to live the life you were meant to live, you have to be open and honest about your fears, your secrets. You have to be vulnerable. 

Vulnerability was also the topic at the last Adult Forum at my church.  The class watched a TED talk by Brene Brown in which she talked about how people who were honest about and accepting of their vulnerability were happier and healthier.

This double message has inspired me to share the truth of my own fear. I hadn’t been able to put words to it until this morning when I heard myself say to a friend, “I have been afraid I am losing my son to his Autism.”

Gavin has always been a light in my life.  He was an easy birth, an easy baby.  Even as his behavioral difficulties began to manifest and often brought me to tears of frustration, his enormous heart, infectious laugh and joy of living far outweighed the challenges.  We recognized his atypical behavior early, even though we did not get an Asperger’s diagnosis for several years, and he had amazing support from the school district from the very beginning. He had friends and was academically successful. There were good years and bad years, leaps forward and frustrating setbacks. But he always remained Gavin, at least at home. Sweet and funny and full of life.

The transition to seventh grade has been a train wreck. We had no indication from his general performance in elementary school that he would tank so completely.  We had to pull him from the school we preferred and put him back in the local district.  He is now in a Level III setting—small group, contained classroom; the least “mainstreamed.”  I have no idea how he is doing academically, and I don’t really care at this point: each day the phone doesn’t ring is a victory.  I think he is settling in nicely, at last.  I love his case manager/primary teacher, and the district has, once again, deeply impressed me with their commitment to him.  I am trying not to kick myself for trying to move him this past fall in the first place.

But even as things have been going reasonably well the past few weeks, I have been worried.  Gavin hasn’t eaten much.  Hasn’t smiled much.  Won’t talk to me.  As it is, he spends the majority of his free time on technology: it’s calming and it’s what he enjoys.  But I have been feeling like he might be dealing with some depression, yet I can’t get any communication from him.  Don’t get me wrong: he’s never been chatty about difficult things. But he’s always been able to talk to me.

I have been afraid I am losing him to his Autism.

Then yesterday, as I was waking up from a nap, I heard the garage door open.  Gavin was home from school.  I waited to hear him come up the stairs, grab a snack and come into the bedroom to use the computer.  Nothing.  Some thumping downstairs and then a door slamming.  I waited, figuring he was stopping off in his room for something or other.  But the minutes stretched out and, still, I didn’t hear him.

At length, I pushed myself up and stumbled into the kitchen for my own afternoon snack.  I let my fears whisper in my ear.  He’s in his room, depressed, non-functional.  He’s left the house and won’t come back—nah. He’d miss the computer.  Reality kept the fears at bay.

Then another slam.  Some more thumping and rustling.  And finally Gavin came up the stairs.  His hair was a mess, his eyes bright, his cheeks red, and he was wearing a huge grin.  “Mama, guess what I did?” he asked cheerfully.


“I built a snowman!  I saw how the snow was and I said to myself, ‘it’s not gonna be this perfect again.’  So I got on my snow pants and boots and went out and built a snowman. It had to be done.”

My heart swelled with relief. My sweet, funny, joyful kid was still in there.

I recently started a support group for parents of kids with Asperger’s through a Yahoo! group called “Eden Prairie Special Kids.”  Our first meeting had eight moms in attendance, whose kids range in age from 5th grade through college. It was amazing just to sit and listen to the stories. To be authentic and vulnerable.  To know I am not alone.  We will meet monthly and hopefully, we will be able to help one another accept what is, access resources, and share in the little joys like snowmen.


  1. If the world had more parents like you, we'd be a lot better off. A LOT better off.

  2. As always, Tom, you are very kind. :)