Archive for August, 2010

By Shannon Penrod

Last night, I had a dream.  I don’t know how everyone else dreams, but mine are very cinematic.  Sometimes it’s as though I have walked into the movie already in progress and I have to figure out the context.  Such was the case last night. When the dream started I was in an office, quitting a job.  I was angry and packing my stuff to leave, clear in the concept that my talents were underappreciated and it was time for me to move on.  As I made my way to the elevator someone was following me trying to convince me to stay, but I was self righteously determined that I was not going to stay where I was not appreciated.  From the elevator I stepped into a parking garage where my husband was waiting to pick me up.  I got into the car and as we pulled away he asked me what had happened.  Before I could answer I saw a blue convertible driving erratically through the parking garage.  My heart raced with fear that the car would collide with ours.  But when the car swung close to us I saw a woman with a car full of children and babies, she looked at me with horror and mouthed the words “Help Me!” 

My husband swerved our car out of the way and the blue convertible swerved and turned over.  The car went one way and the woman and the babies went another direction tumbling inone giant  mass.  Somehow I was outside of our car running as fast as I could trying to catch up to the quickly rolling jumble of woman and babies. 

Everything became a slow motion ballet.  I ran, the woman rolled.  As she rolled in slow motion she would tumble into random people who just happened to be in the parking garage.  The strangers would grab the woman in their arms and roll with her just long enough to save one of the many babies that the woman was clinging to.  The woman would roll on as I ran behind and saw that the stranger was now safely holding a healthy baby.  Relieved that the baby was okay I would run on trying to catch up to the woman and remaining babies.  Again she would slow motion tumble into a pedestrian whose arms would enfold her, they would tumble together for one revolution in a breathless dance, a baby would be saved and the woman would roll on.  This happened over and over. Baby after baby was saved by rolling strangers whose loving arms awaited. 

My legs were tiring but I knew I had to catch up to the woman or something terrible was going to happen.  Finally it seemed that her speed was winding down and I was gaining on her.  The woman tumbled into one last stranger who held on for two colorful revolutions.  The stranger’s arms released the woman but held a cooing baby, the woman rolled one more time and stopped at last.  In her arms she held a very small baby who appeared to be fine.  I ran the final two steps to catch up to the woman. 

She looked at me in wonder and said, “I’m okay.  Are the babies okay?”    I collapsed at her feet and said to her, “Do you know how many arms you were in?”   She looked at me and I realized that she was me.  That she was all of us.  This helpless mother careening out of control, terrified, unaware of all of the loving arms that were waiting….waiting to enfold her, slow her down, cushion the blow, and save her babies.  I put my head in my hands and sobbed great earth shattering sobs. 

It was so clear to me in that moment how often we think we are alone on our individual journeys when in fact we are surrounded by loving, waiting arms.  Sometimes the arms are those of strangers, other times they are friends or family.  Sometimes the arms are visible, sometimes they aren’t.  But in my dream I was clear that the arms are always there.  I woke with a sense of gratitude that I haven’t had in the last few weeks.  I found myself asking the question “Do you know how many arms you are in?” of myself.  The answer was astounding.  I have so many people who love and support me on a daily basis.  I guess I needed a dream to point that out to me.  

If you’ve read this far, I ask the question of you.  Do you know how many arms you are in? Have you recognized the angelic arms in your life?

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by Shannon Penrod

Four years ago my son, who was 2 1/2 at the time, was diagnosed with Autism.  I remember being devastated by the diagnosis but feeling almost immediate relief.  I naively believed that if we knew what to call it we could find a way to fix it.  Like so many other parents I turned to the internet looking for answers, what I found didn’t comfort me it simply added to my confusion.  I wanted, needed a happy ending.  I wasn’t finding it.

Then one day I watched The View with Rosie O’Donnell, you remember back in the days when The View was worth watching, and they did an entire hour on Autism.  During the hour Rosie interviewed a boy who had “recovered” from Autism!  I didn’t know what to make of the word “recovered” but it didn’t matter, the boy was everything I prayed for my son.  He was intelligent, kind and he could hold a conversation.  I wept…and then I googled his mother.  I wish I could remember her name, but it went bye-bye on a sea of information about the treatment the boy had received.  The boy had intensive ABA therapy following the Lovaas method.  Now I was googling Lovaas.  What I found was confusing, there were articles saying he had helped children to recover, but there were other articles that said he was a quack, that his study had never been replicated, that he hit children!  This reinforced what our Developmental pediatrician had said to me, “Promise you won’t do ABA with this child, it will turn him into a robot!”  I was so confused!  The little boy on The View hadn’t seemed like a robot. 

I prayed for an answer.  I don’t usually talk about my spiritual life and leanings but I got down on my knees and asked God to help me to know about this ABA thing, maybe show me a family with a little boy who had gone through it.  The next day, my job sent me to a house with a little boy who was 2 years into an ABA program and flourishing.  The parents sent me home with reading material and I delved into the work of Ivar Lovaas. 

What I learned blew my mind.  In the 1960’s Lovaas took the concepts of Applied Behavioral Analysis and applied them to a group of children with Autism.  The results were stunning.  All of the children showed marked improvement and over half of them improved to the point where they were able lead their lives like nuero-typical children.  They didn’t require aides in school and they went on to lead productive lives with no major difficulties.  After months of research with no hope I was thrilled with a number like 50%.  I was excited, I was hopeful, I was on board.  I became a Lovaas groupie.  He was my Autism Superhero.

Whenever someone would say that Lovaas believed in corporal punishment I would rail and tell them to read the research. ABA is about providing reward, not punishment.  Lovaas is the one who clarified that punishment DOESN’T work!  When people would say that his studies had not been replicated I would stamp my feet and tell them their information was old…Lovaas’ studies have been replicated many times now.  When people would use the terms ABA and DTT indiscriminately as if they meant the same thing I would re-educate them.  DTT is an element of ABA, it is not the same thing.  It is like saying a steering wheel and a car are the same, they aren’t.  And most importantly, I fought for my child to get ABA in our home.  It was a battle that took a lot out of me, but it gave me back my son.  There are no regrets here.

Each year the ABA movement grows.  As more and more children improve, Drs., Teachers, Politicians and Parents are beginning to accept that ABA is the “gold standard” of treatment for children with Autism.

Earlier this week Ivar Lovaas died.  It is the death of a Superhero for my family.  The good news is that his work lives on through his students and through their students.  Five days a week we are visited by Superheroes and Superheroes in training.  They come to our house and work with our son.  In the beginning it was to get him to speak two words together.  Now they work with him on understanding and feeling empathy.  And by the way, there is nothing robotic about my child.  Tell him a fart joke and he giggles like any other 7 year old boy in the world.  This is a truly lucious thing.

The world will miss Ivar Lovaas, but his legacy is great.  Thank you Dr. Lovaas for giving us hope and more importantly for giving our children back to us.

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