Category Archives: parenting


“sig·nif·i·cant, adj. : of a noticeably or measurably large amount”

– Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

My son, age 15, is in a major transitional year, having begun high school three months ago. He has a new case manager and new teachers who are all still getting to know him, his strengths, and his needs. He has a full load of classes and a couple of self-chosen extra-curricular activities, including being on the school’s wrestling team, which he dreamed of doing for many years. I am, of course, very proud that he achieved that, and of everything he’s accomplished. He has come so far from his non-verbal, sensory-agony days.

And fortunately, I like his new case manager. She quickly assessed my son’s needs and has worked hard to meet them. I am very appreciative of her work and her attention to my son. She recently emailed me to go over a few issues, including how to help him participate more during wrestling practice. Among other things, she wrote, “[The coach] does not have a lot of experience with students with significant disabilities.”

And it hit me hard. That phrase – “significant disabilities” – is heavy. It was, of course, not meant in a negative way. But it smacks a parent in the face. It’s a harsh reality check, even twelve years post-diagnosis. That phrase takes my recent hopes for a possible semi-independent adulthood for my son and dashes them to pieces. It takes me back to square one, when he was three years old and we received a diagnosis of classic autism, and again at age five, with a different doctor and two years of intensive therapy under our belts – same diagnosis. My head reeled again as it did so long ago. Significant disabilities, even at age 15, even after all the work he’s done, all the years of continuous therapy, all the parental heartache. “Significant” must be somewhere in between “moderate” and “severe.” And “significant disabilities” do not induce much hope.

Days pass. I have been walking around in a melancholy haze caused by two seemingly innocuous words. They are truthful, after all. I realize that his case manager sees a 15-year-old who needs constant one-on-one assistance in all of his classes, two periods a day in the resource room for help with in-class work and assignments, daily pull-outs from his mainstream classes, ongoing social skills and speech therapy, daily medication for his behavior, curriculum modification, and various other accommodations that I am constantly grateful are available to him. I can’t deny that all of that does, indeed, point to “significant disabilities,” just as how his needs when he was first diagnosed pointed to the same.

I know that my son’s case manager meant no harm in what she wrote; she merely stated a fact, and I certainly don’t hold it against her. But she doesn’t know his history. What she doesn’t see is a 15-year-old who, despite great difficulty in learning to talk and filter severe sensory issues, despite enduring years of bullying, among countless other challenges, has always gone to great lengths to learn to work with his autism and to function as well as he does. He always tries. He wants to live his best life as much as I want him to. I find that significant too.

Vague Catharsis

Ed. note: Apologies for the cryptic nature of this post. And thanks for reading it anyway.

There are times when I think it would have been advantageous to have made this an anonymous blog. Times when I wish I could tap into the cathartic quality of blogging, write about what happens, what I struggle with as a parent. But sometimes I can’t. And this is one of those times.

It was discovered this morning that one of my sons committed an infraction against my other son, sight unseen. It was the type of thing to which some people would just say, “Oh, that’s what siblings do,” but that’s not what I say. It was the type of thing where the guilty party could blame it on certain organizational deficits instead of admitting fault. It was the type of thing that, if not stopped now, could easily grow into a problem that would later involve others besides his sibling. And it’s the type of thing that I will not specify because I don’t want to violate his privacy.

Of course, the morning rush is not the time to handle such infractions. Not only that, I needed a plan. What I wish I had was someone to bounce strategies off of, someone to whom I could say, “How do you think we should handle this?” That would entail there being a “we” involved, and since there is not, I somehow got though a busy day at work while bouncing ideas off of myself.  I allowed myself a quick moment of self-pity while checking my e-mail. And then I got my answer – at least part of it. It was the day’s post from Daily OM, and it was exactly what I needed. It was a way for me to start off by telling my son that even if something he does seems insignificant, it’s not. “Everything You Do Matters,” the title said, and the post described how our actions, both positive and negative, cause a ripple effect that spreads to many more people than we can ever realize. I printed it out to read to my son when we got home, and I spent the rest of the day coming up with ways to expand on it.

At home, the plan, which I had gone over in my head all day long, backfired. My son was defensive and vehemently denied doing what he’d been accused of, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, even though I’d approached the subject in a calm, diplomatic manner. I was not pleased. It was bad enough that he had done it, but then to deny it? Not cool. However, in a moment of what could only have been divine inspiration, I told him that we would be spending the next few days doing a certain thing that would either disprove his alibi or vindicate him. (I did not use those words while speaking to him, of course; I reserve all the fancy wording for the blog.) But what I said next was – I think – what made all the difference. I told him, sincerely, that if it turned out that he did not do what he’d been accused of, I would be the first to apologize for not trusting him. And then I left the room.

I sat at my computer, logging back in to do more work. I tried not to fume. I tried to let it go. The confrontation was over; I had done my parental best. But what if this was the beginning of a terrible habit? What if, in not wanting to be a Gestapo parent, I hadn’t done enough to stop it? Parental guilt gets me either way. I sat there in its grip, unable to reason, unable to see past the moment.

Fifteen minutes later, my son walked into my office. He sat on the floor for a few minutes, petting the cats and sighing audibly. “Are you all right?” I asked, still going for diplomacy. And then, I heard the magic words. “I have something to tell you. I’m just afraid you’ll be mad at me.”

Relief washed over me as I realized that maybe, just maybe, I’m getting through to him. We talked, and it was good. We talked about what it means to have integrity. We talked about doing the right thing. We both shed a few tears. Later, he apologized to his brother, and although I didn’t hear the exchange, I was told separately by both parties that it was positive. You know that saying about parenting being the toughest job you’ll ever love? Every day is a testament to how true that is. And if your wording is vague enough, you can blog about it anyway.