Sometimes dates make a difference.

August 2, 2006 is one of them: it was on this date that my older son, Jacob, received his official Autism diagnosis from Robert J. Rome, PhD of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center. At the time, Jacob was slightly more than a month away from his third birthday.

Receiving the diagnosis was an emotional experience, though it was not entirely a surprise. Actually, in many respects it was a relief because having the diagnosis allowed Jacob to receive an array of helpful services for which he did not previously qualify.

Jacob and MeAt the time of his diagnosis Jacob had very limited speech (3 to 6 word sentences were the extent of his verbal communication). He also lined up items, heavily stimmed and exhibited many obsessive compulsive behaviors. In addition he had many fears and also lacked basic social skills. Despite these challenges, he emanated a beautiful and loving spark that just needed some help to shine more brightly.

Since then Jacob has made remarkable progress, most notably due to early intervention services such as Applied Behavior Analysis services provided by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD).  Founded in 1990 by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh CARD is a leading provider of autism services.

Due in large part to CARD, Jacob’s inner light now shines brightly. He has truly emerged into the wonderful, thoughtful and intelligent little boy he always was. Grateful is a word that barely communicates how I feel.

He is fascinated with numbers and can calculate large sums. His favorite number is “infinity!” Not surprisingly he also loves Buzz Lightyear (“to infinity and beyond!”). For a while he could even tell you the day of the week on which your next birthday would fall! Actually, I suspect he still can, but his therapists have discouraged the behavior.

Jacob and MeHe also loves to tell bad jokes — specifically those in the classic “knock, knock” variety. He is also a wonderful artist who loves to draw and paint. Although I am his Dad, I can honestly say he has an impressive talent.

It makes me smile that he can now not only communicate verbally but artistically as well. Occasionally he enjoys playing music with his brother, Max.

He is also an “old soul” and has engaged me several times about topics seven-year old boys don’t often ponder.  Once he asked me “Dad, do you have to be dead to be in heaven?” I replied, “I suppose you do.” His response: “But God is in heaven and he isn’t dead!” Nietzsche retorts about God possibly being dead aside, I was stunned that this little boy was thinking about such big concepts. More recently he asked me what is on top of heaven!

Impressively, Jacob’s success story is more common than it is rare, as evidenced by the inspiring 20th anniversary video from CARD, below:

Looking to the future,  one of my goals is to eventually create an organization called the “Ourtism Association.” The mission of the organization — named to recognize how autism affects everyone in a family and that it is “our” responsibility as a society to help — is to provide supplemental income to families and adult individuals with a diagnosis.

Right now it is only a dream, but I am working to make it a reality someday. My “big harry audacious goal” (nod to Jim Collins) is to raise enough money to provide $50,000 to 50 families each year.

I suppose that isn’t outrageously audacious (it is “only” $2.5 million!), and 50 families is the tip of the iceberg, but my own experiences have inspired me to make a difference. This would be my contribution to that noble mission.

Jacob and MeOn a personal level, I will continue to encourage Jacob as the unique individual he is.

I enjoy experiencing educational activities with Jacob, but also recognize his need to be silly. Despite his uncommon maturity, the last thing I want to do is rush him into adulthood.

It is my hope that Jacob can always exist in his ebullient essence.

I remain committed to Jacob’s enduring progress and will forever be his most ardent ally. I continue to make the most of my moments with him and my younger son, Max, and celebrate his achievements every day.

Speaking of Max, the other night when I called to say goodnight to him, Jacob told me a “knock, knock” joke:

“Knock, knock!”

“Whose there?”

“Max.”

“Max who?”

“Max no difference!”

Just a few hours after I took this picture on April 14, 2009 events transpired that would forever change my life.Two years ago yesterday I posted my last blog post.  A week later, I found myself (to paraphrase Buddy Holly) “learning the game.” A month later, an unexpected discovery revealed I was the one who had been gamed.

Without revealing too many details, this discovery delivered an exceptionally financially and emotionally expensive education on all sorts of dichotomies:

  • conditional love vs. unconditional love
  • co-parenting vs. parental alienation
  • espoused ethics vs. ethics-in-use
  • fact vs. fiction
  • faithful friendships vs. false friendships
  • honesty vs. dishonesty
  • legal ethics vs. legal procedures
  • moral certainty vs. moral relativism

I had previously assumed the events and behaviors I witnessed only happened in Desperate Housewives, LA LawLifetime Movie Network films, soap operas and The Twilight Zone. While you’re at it throw in some Benny Hill Show and Beverly Hills, 90210.

Despite my natural inclination to find the humor in my recent adventures, there is a very serious tone to it all. Given my profession as a teacher and trainer, these past two years have revealed to me an important nugget of knowledge that I express as follows:

‎”The toughest, but truest lessons we learn don’t come from a book; they come from the people, places, and predicaments in our lives.”

Sometimes those lessons involve heartache and sleepless nights, but hopefully we emerge as more complete individuals. Trying times can reveal the worst of people, yet they can also reveal the benevolence of others. It quickly becomes clear who you can trust and who really cares about you when you are in your time of greatest need.

I am endeavoring to move forward from my experience and leave behind me the distractions and drama that filled the past two years of my life.

With storm clouds clearing, I am looking ahead to a positive new future on a wide open ride of life! While I won’t use the word grateful, I do feel that these past two years helped me to grow and mature in ways that would not have happened otherwise. My recent experience  is a tool with which I will build an exceptional new life.

I will also remain deeply involved with the two most important parts of my past life who are also the center of my present and future life: my sons Jacob and Max.

On a practical level, my “enrollment” in this endeavor has prevented me from updating this blog as frequently as I would have liked while also impacting my plans to pursue a PhD as I had originally planned.

I am reminded of the following words by Langston Hughes:

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

I refuse to let my PhD dream “dry up, fester, stink, get crusty, sag or explode.” Quite the opposite: once the dust settles I will focus forward on a doctoral program that will provide me with the skills to produce research while ensuring my success as college professor

Likewise, I will begin posting to this blog again.  It might take a few posts to get the rust out but I look forward to once again actively engaging in an educational and informational dialog.

Onward and upward!