Just before Christmas, I was sitting on the bench at my son’s gymnastics class, chatting with my friends.

A mom and dad walked in.  They were holding the hand of their young daughter.  She was tiny and full of energy, her blond hair flying around as she bounced up and down in front of her parents.

I smiled at the little girl and listened while the instructor told the parents about the class.

“Each kid is matched up with a helper to move with them through the class.  We do stretches and then go through the circuit and we end the day in the big foam pit.  Let’s have her join the class and see how it goes.”

The little girl took the instructor’s hand and they walked together to find a spot in the circle.  The mom and dad huddled together, watching their daughter nervously.

I leaned over.  “Just checking out the class today?”, I asked.

They nodded yes.

Instantly I was transported back to January 2010.  That first day when I walked in nervously with my son.  This special needs gymnastics class was the first place we went after Howie’s diagnosis.  I was on edge, only three weeks post-diagnosis.  That class was the first thing I ever publicly wrote about Howie’s autism.  It was picked up the next week by Autism Speaks’ In Your Own Words Blog:

“Is your son on the spectrum?”

The question was slightly jarring to me. My son and I had just walked into a gymnastics class for kids with autism. We had received his diagnosis only three weeks before, and we hadn’t shared our news with anyone except for close friends and family. It was the first time we had been anywhere that was just for kids like mine and I wasn’t really ready to talk to a total stranger about it.

“Yes,” I answered, trying to keep the conversation short.

“Hi, and welcome! That’s my son over there, and my name is Sandy. How old is your son? Do you live in town? How long have you known your son was on the spectrum? What was his diagnosis?”

I really didn’t want to answer her. I wasn’t even sure we belonged at this class, and all I wanted to do was pay attention to my son to see how he was responding to the class. I watched the other kids as they came in – six boys and one girl – and my first instinct was that we were in the wrong place. One little boy was crying, another was spinning in circles, and another one was running in all different directions. My son‘s not like that, I thought to myself. This isn’t us.

And then I looked at my Howie. I watched him hold tightly to his one-on-one helper’s hand as they walked on a low balance beam, but he wouldn’t look her in the eye when she talked to him. I watched him try to run away to jump into the comfort of the sensory foam blocks and become so focused on that foam pit that he couldn’t move onto anything else. I listened to him babble while he swayed back and forth on the rings, and saw the terror in his face when the noise level got up too high. The tears welled up in my eyes. We did belong here. This is the right place for him. We had found a safe place for him to exercise and develop his muscles in an environment that understood his special needs. For so long we had avoided the “regular” gym classes, music classes, and playgroups because of his behavior. No one here was giving me the usual disapproving looks we get when we’re out places and Howie starts to act up.

Two years later.  Here I was.  Asking these parents the same questions asked of me.  Watching them wonder if this was the right class for their daughter.  I wanted to welcome them in the way my now very good friend welcomed me that day.

“It’s a great class,” I said.  “We’ve been coming for two years.  It’s been great for my son.”

Sitting on that bench with my friends, I remembered how hard it was to be there that first day.

This other mom was reaching out to make a connection – to find someone else who struggles on a daily basis like she does – something I myself had been desperate to do for weeks and months. I was instantly welcomed into a community of people who “get it.” No one batted an eye when Howie buried himself under the foam blocks at the end of class so he didn’t have to leave. I got comforting looks of understanding from all the parents and teachers when he had a major meltdown leaving the gym, and big thumbs up from everyone when we finally got our shoes on and went out the door. These were moms and dads who shared my daily difficulties of just getting out of the house. Finally we were somewhere that felt like we belonged.

I remember feeling so alone before that moment.  Now I sit on the bench with the women who are now my lifeline.  Part of a community that understands me and my son.

Howie and I went bouncing hand and hand out of the gym when the class was over.  The dad was getting the details on paying for the class when we were leaving.

“Will we see you next week?” I asked.

“Yes, most definitely.” he replied.

“Will we see you next week?” asked the mom.

“Absolutely,” I replied.

**********

This Saturday will be the first Saturday in two years that we will not be on the attendance list for the special needs gymnastics class.  Howie’s recent behavior changes have made it difficult for him to participate appropriately in class.  He’s becoming more aggressive and non-compliant.  We’ve had to leave the class early two weeks in a row, the last time because he hit his one-on-one helper.  He needs a break.  I need to figure out what is causing these changes before he or someone else gets hurt.

Howie probably won’t care, since we’ll make sure to see his friends from class in other settings.  I am sad.  Very sad.

It’s not just because it’s the one hour a week I get to talk with my friends while our kids are occupied, although that it a huge part of it.

This was our place.  The very first place we felt accepted.  Our very first community.

That little girl and her parents walked into gymnastics to find a place for them.

We’re walking out of gymnastics having found that place.

We may be leaving the gym, but we’re a part of this community forever.

And it’s so hard to do
And so easy to say
But sometimes
Sometimes you just have to walk away
Walk away
And head for the door” – Walk Away by Ben Harper

I found my place yesterday.

For a long time I’ve been searching for that one special place.  Somewhere where my kids could just “be”.  No judging eyes.  No sideways stares.  They could run and play and laugh and spin and be themselves without any worry or thought about who was around them.

We found that yesterday at Colt State Park in Bristol, RI.

We were there for the Southern New England Walk for Autism Speaks.  Our team of 22 – 13 adults and 9 kids – came together for a cause:  to raise money to support research and awareness for people living with autism spectrum disorder.

What we came away with was so much more.

The one mile loop took us through this magnificent park on a trail that started in a forest and ended along the ocean.  We walked at first as one big group, taking pictures and remarking on the beauty of the day.

We chased after each other’s kids and held their hands along the ocean rocks.   The kids ran and then stopped to pick up seashells.  Our kids could walk beside us.  Hand in hand if they wanted.  Or not.

hand in hand - no complaints!

We stopped when our kids wanted to stop.  We did what they wanted to do.  We were on no one else’s time schedule but our own.

At the halfway point, we were cheered on by some local high school boys.  They gave our kids high fives, handed them each a lei, and told them they were doing a great job.

Our kids high-fived them back, accepted their new treasure, and ran on.  Free.

It was at that moment that I knew I’d found it.

This was the place.

No judgement, no worries.  Safe and secure but free to be themselves.  Jumping, stimming, yelling, running, dancing, spinning, signing, scripting…laughing.  Siblings, parents, uncles, cousins, and friends – all together in one big group watching out for each other.  Having fun.

Dancing to the band

quiet sibling times

so much room to run and play

Just being ourselves.

For me, it quickly became one of the best days I’ve ever had.

We arrived separately :

my friend who came with her two boys just because she cares,

my uncle and cousins and their daughter who where there to support us,

my mother who would do anything for her grandsons,

my friend (my son’s former teacher) who understands our kids better than any person I have ever met, and

my three autism mom friends and their boys …who spent the whole day smiling…

Our team of 22 became a family of one.

The day was no longer about the disorder that can pull our families apart.  This day was about hope, friendship, and creating a family that supports each other no matter what.

I walked that day wearing a pin given to me by one amazing friend.  It was from the Brady Rymer Band. It said “Love Me For Who I Am“.

In this place, our kids – ALL of them – were loved for who they were.

love me for who I am

That gives me a new spring in my step.

I've Got A New Way To Walk

Already planning for next year.

It’s a little bit of strut and a lot of smooth
And a little bit of bouncing fine
My chin is up, my feet don’t stall
When I walk my walk, I walk real tall

I got a new way to walk
(Walk, walk)
I got a new way to walk
(Walk, walk)
I got a new way to walk
And it shows how good I feel ” – I’ve Got A New Way to Walk from Sesame Street (performed by Destiny’s Child)

Why am I walking?

Two weeks ago, when I registered for the Walk for Autism Speaks, I wrote this on my donation page:

“It’s not only okay to be different, it’s FANTASTIC!”

Those words were on the wrapper of a Dove Chocolate Bar, given to me by my son’s teachers.  Ask him how his day is, and he’ll say “fantastic”.  Every single time.

When our son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in 2009, we didn’t know where to go or who to turn to. We didn’t know what the phrase “PDD-NOS” meant. We didn’t know if our friends and family would still be by our side.

Fast forward two years later, and here we are. Our family stuck by us. Our friends are still with us. And along this journey, we’ve made some new incredible friends that have become our family.

We found hope and a new beginning for our family. And it all started here.

We’re walking for all the kids like our son. For the 1 in 110 children on the autism spectrum. For the 1 in 88 military families living with autism.

For the child that was just diagnosed yesterday, and the one that will be diagnosed tomorrow.

We’re walking for hope. And for a bright beginning to their new futures. We’re walking to show that being different is pretty fantastic.

Join us. Please.

When I wrote this, I didn’t know that the child diagnosed yesterday would be my own.

So now, I’m walking for another.

I see the spectrum in my own children.  I see the spectrum in my friends’ children.  I see the spectrum of mothers and fathers coping with this diagnosis any way they can.

We need money to help our families.  My friends need access to doctors, information about scientific research studies,  respite care, support groups and increased availability of services.

My friends need hope and community.  I need hope and community.

I’ll be joined on walk day by my family and by the people who have become my family. We’ll have a picnic at the park and walk by the ocean.

Together we will show the world who is affected by autism spectrum disorder.  It’s me.  And my boys.  And the people who love and care about us.

Wait until you see how powerful we can be when we walk as one.  Join us.  Please.

footloose

“You’re playing so cool
Obeying every rule
Dig way down in your heart
You’re yearning, burning for some
Somebody to tell you
That life ain’t passing you by
I’m trying to tell you
It will if you don’t even try
You can fly if you’d only cut
Loose, footloose
Kick off your Sunday shoes ” – Footloose by Kenny Loggins

Click HERE to find a walk in your area

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled Hopeful Parents posting day to pass along an important letter from a friend of mine.  Jess, who writes at A Diary of a Mom, wrote this amazing letter to President Obama.  She’s asking him to “Light It Up Blue” at the White House on April 2nd for World Autism Awareness Day.

She asked those of us who support this idea to comment on her letter.

I’m asking you too.

Here’s the comment I left:

Jess speaks for the thousands of us parents out here looking to you to lead the way. Showing your support by “Lighting It Up Blue” would not only show parents that you are with us, but our children too.

Mr. President, my eight year old son needs to see that you understand what we’re going through as a family. His four-year-old brother has autism, and he sees the challenges his brother faces and asks constantly if there’s ways we can help. My oldest child alternates between being frustrated by his brother’s behavior and being protective and supportive. He has done it in silence because he doesn’t want any of his friends to know about his brother.

But just recently, for the first time ever, he asked his teacher how they were going to commemorate Autism Awareness month in April. For the first time, he’s going public with it.

Mr. President, if my eight-year-old son wants to Light It Up Blue, don’t you think you can too? If only to show the siblings that autism is nothing to be ashamed of? That there’s nothing more important than supporting their brothers and sisters in their daily struggles?

Thank you.
Sincerely, Alysia (mother of three boys)

Please join the hundreds of people who are urging the President to Light It Up Blue, for just one day.  Together, as one voice, we can make a statement for awareness.

Click Here for Light The White House Blue

Tonight, more thank yous…

First, a huge thank you to all my family and friends who supported us today in our Walk for Autism Speaks.  Our family raised over three times our goal for donations, and our team raised almost six times more than our original goal.  Today, my family walked with about 20,000 others – all affected in someway by autism spectrum disorder.  Our team was comprised of all first time walkers.  For those of us with kids on the spectrum, this was our first time “going public”, so to speak, and certainly the first time asking our friends and family to support a cause like this.  I am so proud to have been walking side by side (or in some cases separated by a few thousand people) today with such amazing friends.

Speaking of that, I was extremely humbled to have had my cousin and my very good friend walk with us today.  Neither one of them have kids on the spectrum, but they were there to support us.  I am honored that they chose this event to come to with their husbands and kids and walk with us.  A huge thank you from me to them.

And now, more thank yous…

Over the past few months that I’ve been writing here, I’ve been blessed to have “met” some fantastic writers along the way.  I’m learning that one of the ways that we bloggers like to support each other is through “awards”, given to each other on our blogs to encourage others to go to our favorite sites.  I’ve been lucky enough to receive a few of these awards from some of my favorite sites: Training Happy Hearts, Floortime Lite Mama, Life in the House that Asperger Built, and I Should Have Named Him Calvin.  Yes, I’ve been saving them up, partly because I keeping forgetting about it, and partly because I couldn’t figure out how to put in a picture into my post.

Both problems solved tonight.

So idea behind the Versatile Blogger Award is to write seven things about yourself that others might not know, and then pass the award on to seven other bloggers (kind of a blogging chain letter but without the photocopying and postage stamps).  So here goes:

1.  I was a Geography major in college, but still have a terrible sense of direction.

2.  My husband and I met at work, and I fell in love when he helped me figure out the lyrics to “Only Want to Be With You” by Hootie and the Blowfish

3. My two favorite Broadway plays are “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” and I can sing along with every song.

4. One of my biggest regrets in life was quitting piano lessons in 7th grade to play softball.

5.  I used to be a politician.  Now I just complain about them.

6.  The first concert I ever saw was “Huey Lewis and the News” in Lake Placid, NY.  A huge thank you to my cousins who went with me because my parents wouldn’t let me go without them.

7. I have yet to get through an episode of NBC’s “Parenthood” without getting weepy.

Now the next step is to list seven of my favorite blogs so others can check them out.  Now, two of my favorites “Welcome to the Madhouse” and “Spectrummy Mummy” have already received the award, so I can’t put them on my list.

To honor of the 30th Anniversary of the SPD Foundation, the first set of blogs are all my friends from my SPD blogger network (in no particular order):

Pancakes Gone Awry

Special Kid, Special Parent

Our Life With SPD

Brotherly Love

These next three are ones I read every time they post because they are interesting, provocative, and a great way to pass the few quiet minutes I have to myself:

Asperger Ninja

Partly Sunny, Chance of Rain

Autism is Not a Four Letter Word

Of course, I have a list a mile wide and I’ve added some blog sites to the giant list of favorites, including my new friends Cheryl, Dawn and Graeme at The HMEA Blog, the new blog site for our local autism resource center.

So thank you for letting me say thank you here, both to my friends and family for the walk today and my cyber friends and family for all that you’ve given to me.

You’ve been so kind and generous, I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness, my admiration
For everything you’ve done, you know I’m bound, I’m bound to
thank you for it….
” – Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant

I just registered to walk for our local “Walk Now for Autism Speaks“. I’ve known about the walk for a while, but just today got up the guts to actually register for the event.

The guts, you say? It’s a one mile walk around a race track. What guts does that take?

Well for me, a lot. When I first read about the event, I decided we weren’t going to participate. I had a million reasons as usual. I would have to schelp the whole family into Boston early in the morning. It’s the week before my first 5K and I didn’t want another thing to have to think about. I hate asking people for money. There would be a lot of people there, and I’d have to manage my family with the crowds. I hate porta-potties.

Of course, as usual, these weren’t the real reasons for my hesitation. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready yet to do it.

When my son was first diagnosed, we started getting a lot of information from our local autism resource center. One of the events they were promoting was a race/walk to raise money to support that center. Feeling bombarded and overwhelmed by everything, my husband and I decided we weren’t going to participate. The fact that it was happening on a weekend that we were going to be away helped that decision, but truthfully we couldn’t have done it even if we were around. It wasn’t that we were in denial, although there were still a few doctors questioning if our son had been misdiagnosed (our pediatrician thought he had ADD, our GI thought maybe it was bad reflux or an allergy). I think we just weren’t ready to announce to the world that our son was autistic. Or at least it seemed like that’s what we would have been saying if we participated in that fundraiser.

Fast forward to now, several months later, and it’s clear our son wasn’t misdiagnosed. Along the way our family has slowly come to terms with what his diagnosis means for him and for us all. Hiding in the shadows of our pride didn’t help anyone, especially our son. While still attempting to maintain our privacy, we’ve opened up more to family and friends about what his autism means and we’ve met some amazing people along the way. I’ve helped start a support group to reach out to other families in our town so we all feel less alone.

I write this blog, for goodness sakes. Can’t get more public than that.

But still the hesitation came when I saw the e-mail about the Autism Speaks walk. Why was it that I was still so uncomfortable about signing up?

It’s taken me until today to figure it out. As “out there” as I thought I was, through our group and through this blog, it’s still been within my comfort zone, surrounded by people I know or anonymous people in cyberspace. By participating in the walk, by asking people for money, by actually walking that day with my kids, I was no longer going to be a just a quiet voice in the corner. I would be out there with the potential to be photographed, interviewed, and questioned about my son. It brought me back to that first day when I walked into the gymnastics class just for kids on the spectrum. I spent that whole time wondering if we were in the right place until the end when I realized that we belonged there.

And it hit me. We belonged at the walk just like we belonged at the gymnastics class.

The Autism Speaks walk is the perfect place for us to feel like we’re among friends. It’s a one mile walk followed by activities and entertainment geared towards families like mine. No one there will care if we get there late because we couldn’t get out of the house on time, or have a meltdown on the track, or a tantrum leaving. I’m guessing we won’t be the only ones. This is also an organization that has given our family so much – it was the first place I went for information after my son’s diagnosis, and it was the place that published my essay about that gymnastics class. That essay is now included in their 100-day kit, which is sent out to families all over the world to help them understand what to do after receiving their child’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

Now that I’ve registered for the walk I’m hoping that a few friends will join me too. If they don’t, I understand completely. If someone had asked me last week if I wanted to walk with them, I might have said no. We all need to get to that place in our own time. I don’t want anyone to feel like it’s something they have to do. For me this is something I finally WANT to do.

If you’re looking for me there, I’ll be the one trying to blend in with the crowd.

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone.
” – You’ll Never Walk Alone by Rodgers and Hammerstein

I’m a pretty private person.

I know that seems weird to say, considering I write this blog now, but in the non-virtual world I’m pretty good at keeping things about me to myself, only sharing with close family and a few select friends.

This need for privacy is certainly something I learned from my parents, and especially my father.  Despite his very public political life, our family life was kept behind closed doors.  Nothing illustrated this more than when he got sick with pancreatic cancer.  Inside our house, we were a mess, scrambling to get him whatever help we could while attempting to understand what his absence would mean.  Outside our house, however, we all circled the wagons at my father’s insistence.  When asked how he was doing, our family mantra became “Yup, yup, we’re doing ok.”

But we weren’t doing ok. 

By denying this fact to the rest of the world – specifically our friends and neighbors – we were denying ourselves the ability to get outside help and support.  We closed ourselves off from the shoulders to cry on, the hands to hold when things were rough, or the understanding voice on the other end of the phone saying that they had been there too.

Fast forward to last year when we started to really notice that things were a little different with Howie.  As I’ve said before we knew for a while that something was going on with him, but when he started preschool we could really see that he needed help.  My privacy instincts kicked in immediately, and while we were waiting to get him evaluated I kept our whole story to myself, with the exception again of a few family members and close friends.  Living in a small town, it would be easy for one person to innocently share with one friend what we were going through, and then that friend would tell another, until the game of “Telephone” had been played to the point that Howie’s story would become something not even close to the truth.  I was already uncomfortable enough with the accommodations we had made to his schedule (increasing his school time from three to five mornings, having him enter school before the other kids, picking him up at a different door) – I didn’t need everyone in town questioning why we were getting seemingly special treatment.

Once we got Howie’s PDD-NOS diagnosis, however, I knew in my heart it was time to let it out.  Educationally, we didn’t really have a choice.  His autism diagnosis led us to a full day/full year preschool program and the need for an IEP.  We were now entering the school through a different door and picking up at a different time – clearly something noticed by all the parents who we had previously waited with before school started.

I first let down my guard with three other mothers who were dropping off their kids for the full day special program.  Introducing myself to them was not easy for me, but they were so warm and welcoming and understanding it was hard not to think that I should share more.  Howie and I attended a gymnastics class in town just for kids on the spectrum and I wrote an essay about it for Autism Speaks. When it was published on their website, our story was out.

Following that post, Tim and I spent a lot of time talking about how I had “outed” Howie to the world as being on the spectrum, without him having a say in it at all.  As I’ve written before, we came to the conclusion that this is who he is, and his behavior or quirks or whatever we may call it are explained by his ASD and we didn’t label him for life with something that wasn’t him.

But for me it was more than just that.  Sharing his story was the only way for me to get the help and support I needed to get through the day.  It was the only way I could feel that I was not alone.  Sharing led me to three new wonderful friends, to starting our local support group, and of course, to writing this blog.

I am still figuring out when to break through that wall of privacy around me.  I have a constant debate in my head when we meet new people about how much to share with them.  Do I tell the mom at the park when she’s staring at Howie when he’s making his noises?  The neighbor who calls to ask about a playdate?  The swim instructor who can’t understand why Howie won’t put his feet down on the dock? Considering the stigma that is still attached to the word “autism”, I don’t want him shunned from playgroups or activities, yet I want others to know why he behaves the way he does.

When asked by casual acquaintances and extended family members how things are going, I still find myself answering “yup, yup, we’re doing ok”, even when we’re not.  But I’m getting there.  Because I know that the more I share what’s going on in our house, the more others will understand Howie and spectrum disorders in general.  And because I know I need those shoulders to cry on and those understanding voices telling me that I’m not alone.

It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed
Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn’t matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
” – Our Lips are Sealed by The Go-Go’s

I have been reading food labels since my husband became a vegan eight years ago.  When my oldest son was diagnosed with milk/soy protein intolerance as a baby, my reading took on a new vigilance, examining each word on every baby food product. I knew every ingredient indicating the presence of foods they couldn’t eat.  But the one label I wasn’t prepared to read was the one given to our middle child – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

We had known for a while that something was a little different about him but we couldn’t put our finger on what it was.  Finally at age 3 ½ our developmental pediatrician told us what we had guessed – that our son was on the autism spectrum.  The CDC estimates that 1 in 110 children have ASD, and even though he didn’t have the classic signs we weren’t surprised by the diagnosis.  It was actually a relief.  We had tried to get him help, but without the autism “label”, the right services weren’t available.  Now many accommodations were accessible at home and at school that weren’t before.

Following his diagnosis, I shared this relief with family, friends and the autism community through an essay on the Autism Speaks website (http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2010/01/22/in-their-own-words-welcome-to-the-community/).  Using my son’s name and story I illustrated how amazed I was to be so welcomed into a family of people struggling with our same issues. I didn’t think how my need to share was potentially “labeling” my son for life on the internet.  I didn’t stop to explain to family and friends what autism spectrum disorder meant for our son.

I agonized over what I had done – “outing” my son as autistic without his consent or concern for his privacy. But in the end it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I realized that regardless of the stigma associated with autism, this is who my son is and will always be. Without that label, he could have spent years struggling with the most basic life and educational skills.  As parents our job is to help our son understand what his diagnosis means, and how it makes him special in so many ways.  And as my son’s mother, it’s my responsibility to help others get past their lack of knowledge, read his label, and see him for the remarkable little boy that he is.

(originally published on the Autism Speaks website)

“Is your son on the spectrum?”

The question was slightly jarring to me. My son and I had just walked into a gymnastics class for kids with autism. We had received his diagnosis only three weeks before, and we hadn’t shared our news with anyone except for close friends and family. It was the first time we had been anywhere that was just for kids like mine and I wasn’t really ready to talk to a total stranger about it.

“Yes,” I answered, trying to keep the conversation short.

“Hi, and welcome! That’s my son over there, and my name is Sandy. How old is your son? Do you live in town? How long have you known your son was on the spectrum? What was his diagnosis?”

I really didn’t want to answer her. I wasn’t even sure we belonged at this class, and all I wanted to do was pay attention to my son to see how he was responding to the class. I watched the other kids as they came in – six boys and one girl – and my first instinct was that we were in the wrong place. One little boy was crying, another was spinning in circles, and another one was running in all different directions. My son‘s not like that, I thought to myself. This isn’t us.

And then I looked at my Howie. I watched him hold tightly to his one-on-one helper’s hand as they walked on a low balance beam, but he wouldn’t look her in the eye when she talked to him. I watched him try to run away to jump into the comfort of the sensory foam blocks and become so focused on that foam pit that he couldn’t move onto anything else. I listened to him babble while he swayed back and forth on the rings, and saw the terror in his face when the noise level got up too high. The tears welled up in my eyes. We did belong here. This is the right place for him. We had found a safe place for him to exercise and develop his muscles in an environment that understood his special needs. For so long we had avoided the “regular” gym classes, music classes, and playgroups because of his behavior. No one here was giving me the usual disapproving looks we get when we’re out places and Howie starts to act up.

I took a deep breath and turned to the mom.

“Hi! My son Howie was diagnosed with PDD-NOS a few weeks ago. We do live in town. In fact, I’ve seen your son at the preschool that my son attends. How long has your son attended classes here?”

It took everything I had to have that conversation, but it was such a relief. This other mom was reaching out to make a connection – to find someone else who struggles on a daily basis like she does – something I myself had been desperate to do for weeks and months. I was instantly welcomed into a community of people who “get it.” No one batted an eye when Howie buried himself under the foam blocks at the end of class so he didn’t have to leave. I got comforting looks of understanding from all the parents and teachers when he had a major meltdown leaving the gym, and big thumbs up from everyone when we finally got our shoes on and went out the door. These were moms and dads who shared my daily difficulties of just getting out of the house. Finally we were somewhere that felt like we belonged.

“Will we see you next week?” asked the mom.

“Absolutely,” I replied.