Saturday, December 29, 2007


I was sitting in Ben's room, taking turns with him building blocks at his little table.

"Your turn," I said to him.

"Your turn," he mimicked.

"Ben, look at me." His blue eyes met mine. "Listen, and wait," I told him. "Your turn - you go." I put my finger to my mouth as if to say "shh" and Ben was quiet. He then took his turn.

"You.." I prompted.

"Your turn!" he squealed. I giggled. He did too.

I put the blocks away, then asked him, "what's your name?"

"Ben Donaldson."

I lifted him up out of his chair and threw him up in the air until he was laughing uncontrollably. “Yay!” I shouted. “You said your FULL name!”

I heard Lisa laugh from the other room. Then we all laughed together. Then I remembered. Time was ticking.

What, I thought... what was I going to do without this child in my life?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

After The Fact

I continued my time with Ben, and couldn't believe the progress he was making. Throughout the next couple of weeks, Sally would call, but I wouldn't answer - just as I was advised to do. Ben never failed to shock me with things he knew, his eagerness to learn, his desire for an interaction with me and the rest of the world.

He blossomed into a happy, cheerful, playful child -- it was almost hard to tell he had a diagnosis.
But yet, we continued to work, and he continued to strive. He flew through his programs, and started speaking three and four word utterances. His new programmer, Janet, did an exceptional job keeping his book up to date. I never did tell her though, that Ben and I did our own thing together. That we had a special bond. That I cared so much for him. At work I did my job; it just meant so much more to me than just a job.

The weeks flew by, and summer approached. I started getting nervous. I knew that when Ben turned three, our time would be up. What would happen then?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My Sista's Back

FYI: My sister has finally started posting on her blog again. It's "flutist" on my blogroll. She changed the website but I now updated it on my link list. I invite you all to check out her blog!

~ Psyched

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Revealing Phone Call (Part 2)

It all made sense now. Every last bit. But how could I have not seen it before??

I think I did, though... on some weird level. Sally never sat right with me, but domestic violence? Images flooded my mind, of Ben watching fights.


I was scared.

I cleared my throat and found my words.

“I am so glad Ben is safe now.” (Was that all I could manage to spit out??)

“He is, although you are not allowed to answer any of Sally’s calls. She will try and get hold of you, as she has done with us.”

“I won’t,” I replied.

“This is serious, Mindy. No one is to hear of Ben’s progress but Lisa and her husband.”

“Okay.” I managed to choke out.

And with that, I hung up the phone.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Alone Inside Themselves

Trapped in a world - So misunderstood

The warmth in the eyes - Says all that it should

Although sometimes silent - Express loud and clear

Their needs, wants, desires - A friendly face to be near

Their shape has no preference - Nor age young or old

To teach them to triumph - Your heart they will hold

Someday perhaps science - Will bless us with cure

Till then we will nurture - May our patience endure

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Revealing Phone Call

I returned home in a great mood after my first session back with Ben. As I pulled my car into the driveway, I was still smiling, and all I thought about was how happy I was to see him in a safe and loving environment.

I walked into my door, and before I had a chance to even put my things down, the phone rang.

"Hello?" I answered.

"Hi, may I please speak with Mindy?" the woman on the other end asked.

"Speaking," I responded. "How may I help you?"

"Mindy, this is Anita; I'm calling from the Department of Social Services.

My stuff dropped to the floor, and I plopped into a chair.

“How can…um, how can I help you?” I stammered.

“Do you have a few minutes?” She asked. “I really need to speak to you regarding Ben Holmes.”

My heart started to beat fast. I told Anita that I had all the time in the world. She proceeded to tell me that Sally had been harassing the department for information regarding Ben, and that I was not allowed to answer the phone if she called me. Of course I had asked why, but didn’t expect this response:

“Mindy, Ben was witnessing domestic violence in the home. We pulled him and Emily out as soon as we were privy to this information. Sally, his prior foster mother has been lying. Apparently she hid it quite well.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

First Session Back

I don't quite remember exactly how long I was holding Ben. It seemed like an eternity, but when I let go, it wasn't long enough. I threw him up in the air and he giggled.

“Ben! I’m so happy to see you!” I exclaimed. Truthfully, what I really meant to say was, “I am praising the Lord that you remember me!” That had meant the world to me. If only I could’ve expressed to Ben how much I had been thinking of him over the last three months, and how I’d been praying for his wellbeing… but the truth was, the smile on his face said it all.

“Go show Mindy you’re room, Ben,” Lisa said. Upon hearing that, Ben took my hand and although he didn’t meet eyes with me, said, “c’mon!” and pulled me in the direction of his bedroom.

I was….baffled. Was I delirious, or did Ben just initiate contact, respond to a command, and want to interact with me? Oh, and appropriate language, might I add??

Never had I imagined the last three months resulting in this kind of behavior from Ben. This poor child, at two years old, had experienced a series of traumatic events, but still smiled, still laughed, just wanted to play with me and enjoy life. I couldn’t help but wish I could be like him; to only take the good out of life; to appreciate the fact that I’m alive and breathing, and not let extraneous circumstances bring me down. This child was just happy to be in the world.

I opened the door to Ben’s room and he trotted right in. He seemed excited to show me his new room. “Wow, Ben!” I said. “You have a new room! I love it! What’s this?” I asked, as I pointed to his bed.

“Bed.” He responded.

“That’s right, Ben! It’s your bed, and what is on it?”

He made some sort of a “pfhsh” approximation, and with that I high fived him and said, “That’s right! It’s fish.”

Lisa had decorated his room adorably. He had a Finding Nemo theme, cute table and chairs, a bed filled with stuffed animals, and a large toy chest. The woman is going straight to heaven.

I spent the rest of the session getting reacquainted with Ben. We played on the floor, at the table, just enjoying each others’ company. Before I knew it, the hour was up, and after discussing the new program book and scheduling with Lisa, I left.

I was thrilled.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shaya Hits A Homerun

This short film brought tears to my eyes. I hope it has an effect on you as well.

(Ben's story will continue...)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Back At Last!

I stared at the email for another minute, and then reached for the phone to call Ben's new foster mom. No, that's a lie sorry. First I did a little dance.

A very nice woman answered the phone. I could hear a lot of screaming children in the background, but there was something about the woman’s tone that put me at ease. I introduced myself as Mindy, one of the therapists who worked with Ben. We spoke for a few minutes, and then I set up a time to come over to the house.

Boy, did I count down the days. I was also extremely apprehensive, and when the day finally came, I was a strange mix of excitement and nerves. As I headed towards Ben’s new place, I was worried that he wouldn’t remember me. What if he didn’t want to see me at all? What if he showed no emotion? What if he was a changed child? I honestly had no idea what the poor child had encountered over the three months since I had last seen him… not knowing it would be the last time for three months. I suppose if I’d have known, I would have somehow said goodbye for now. I would have created a special signal between just us, so he would be reminded of me when we met again. The thoughts were flooding my mind, and I realized it was time to block them. The bottom line is, Ben was back, and I was on my way to see him after all this time. A miracle!

The real miracle, however, came a bit later.

I knocked on the door. A really friendly woman answered, introducing herself as Lisa. She was holding a three month old little baby boy. She walked me up the stairs and I saw two cribs, each containing toys, stuffed animals, and a twin girl. As I walked into the room, the girls grabbed onto the bars of their cribs and stared wide eyed. One of them had dirty blonde hair and big blue eyes. The other had curly black hair and striking brown eyes. I almost didn’t believe they were twins.

“Their names are Lynn and Danielle,” Lisa said.

I walked over to their cribs and started to talk and smile at them. I took one of their stuffed animals and playfully pretended to have it kiss them on the neck. They didn’t know if they should laugh or cry. I took a step back.

“They were abused children, Mindy,” Lisa told me. They were badly neglected. They just need time to warm up to you.

I felt my heart breaking for the girls. Lisa also told me that Jordan, the baby, was born to a mom on drugs. “That’s why his limbs are stiff,” she explained.

I couldn’t believe it. How could parents do this to children? I was angry, sad, shocked, and personally hurt all at the same time. I just wanted to take these kids home and give them everything they wanted. I felt a tear escape from my eye as I watched them, almost forgetting why I had come to the house in the first place.

But then, I heard the pitter patter of feet. Ben appeared at the top of the next level of stairs. I turned slightly to meet eyes with him, and gave him a huge smile. “Ben!!” I cried.

No response.

I put my bag of toys down and waited. He slowly walked over, his eyes cautiously on mine.

And then he ran. Into my arms. I held him tight and didn’t let go.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Plea and Promise

I'm a person forced to belong in a world I do not understand.
I respond to that world with behaviors, which you do not understand.
Here is my plea.

Approach me gently and quietly.
Present your world with compassion and kindness.
Be patient with my rejection, respect my world.
And at least initially, allow me to find solace in that world.

Never give up on me.
Never give into my autism.
But believe in me as a fellow human being.
Take time for me, be kind to me, entrust your compassion to me.
And we both shall gain.
You too, will find your world more joyous.
For together we will be challenged to confront life.

With strength of character and determination of spirit,
You will find new meaning to your world as I challenge you.
To teach me, it is worth entering.
Your mission will not be an easy one.
The rewards along the way will be small and few.
But together we shall walk hand in hand.
Facing your world with delight.

Your life will be enriched because you have touched mine.
I promise you.


Monday, October 1, 2007

A Very Exciting Email!

I was home from my vacation for about a week, when I woke up one morning and sat down to check my email. There was one message from my supervisor at work. The email was very short, sweet and to the point; thus, not very explanatory. However, I didn't care. Not one bit. Maybe that's because the email went something like this:

"Mindy, Ben can resume services. He is now at 1267 Carabou Blvd. His Foster mom is Lisa."

She proceeded to list her phone number at the end of the email.

I stared at the email, unable to blink.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Does Anyone Else Have a Heart Around Here?

Of course the minute I got home, I called my supervisor. I was so confused; I didn't know what to believe. As much as I wanted to believe Sally, the way she spoke was always strange, and the last thing she had said left me more unsure and confused than ever.

My supervisor had no answers, as she hadn't heard from anyone. "As far as we're concerned, Mindy, he's off our records for right now," she had said. "If you want, I can place you with another child to make up your hours."

Wow, even my own supervisor didn't know me at all! It wasn't about the hours at all. I couldn't believe I had lost Ben, and in such a confusing way. I didn't even know my last session would be the last. How unfair!

As another two weeks went by, I found myself keeping in touch with Sally over the phone periodically. She was still feeding me a story that didn't add up and when I continuously asked her what was going on with her lawyers, she always had an excuse. It was either "he won't tell me what's going on," or "I haven't heard back from him." Didn't she care enough to track him down and get some answers?

During this time I also realized something very interesting -- she never seemed to wonder where Emily was; just Ben.

At the end of the month my husband and I took a vacation to Disneyworld. Though I had told Sally numerous times I would be unavailable, she still called me during that time. As much as I wanted to get away from it all (I usually do NOT -- or at least try to not bring work with me on vacation), I jumped when I saw her name on the caller ID. I always thought she would have some answers for me but of course, never did. This time, she was grilling me for answers.

"Have you heard from anyone? Your supervisor? I'm dying to know where Ben is, please can you find out?" she had asked.

"Sally, no I haven't, and did you forget I was on vacation?" I asked.

"Oh I forgot you're in Florida! I'm sorry!" was her reply.

"It's okay," I reassured.

I told her once again that I hadn't heard anything, and we'd be in touch when we got back. Only thing was -- we weren't. That was the last time I spoke to Sally.

I'm Finally Back!

Hello, all you patient bloggers out there.... I know I haven't posted in a heck of a long time, and once again I truly apologize for that. I went through a crisis in my life that prevented me from keeping up this blog, but I finally am slightly back to myself and with internet access (that was a problem for a while, as well).

Just wanted to post this so you all can see that I will (or at least try to) be posting on more of a regular basis now.

Thanks to all of you who didn't give up (hope some of you are still coming back to check!) -- and I'm looking forward to continuing to share my story (stories!) with all of you!

Next post coming soon...........

~ Psyched (is psyched to be back!) ;) sorry - I guess being away for a while has turned me slightly corny :P

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

To Tell the Truth?

Yes, we were finally getting somewhere indeed. I froze for a moment, then tried to think of what to say next.

"Sally, what happened? You know, I really feel like I'm the dark here."

Sally stammered, looked at the floor for a moment, and then looked up at me, but our eyes never met. She stumbled on her words before she said, "well, something happened, and AJ told his teacher..."

"What?" I asked. I was almost scared to hear what she was about to share, yet was so anxious to finally hear some explanations.

Sally continued to stammer and appeared very nervous as she spoke. She walked into the kitchen and I followed her, and then she began to speak.

"A glass container of mayonnaise fell on the floor, off the counter... I slipped and fell, AJ got scared..."

"Sally, I am not understanding." I told her.

"Well AJ thought his dad was hurting me, and I really just fell from the mayo on the floor. It was no big deal, Mindy. But AJ was scared, and he went to school and told his teacher... and you know how that works, the minute a child tells them something, they go nuts with accusations."

The truth was, no I didn't know. Something about the way Sally spoke, as usual, just didn't sit right with me.

I left her house, drove home, and to put it mildly, was awfully confused.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Last visit to Sally's house

Sally and I kept in touch for the next while on and off. I told her that she should call me as soon as she had any updates. After some time though, I started noticing some weird signs. I asked her if I could come by the house because I had realized she hadn't signed my paper last time I was over. Billing time was approaching, and I had to send my paperwork into my agency in order to bill the state for services. I also wanted to get it over with as soon as possible because going into the house hurt me; it made me wonder where Ben was all over again.

Sally opened the door for me, and I couldn't fully read her expression. She didn't seem to be suffering from depression, but it was clear she was upset Ben was gone.

It was so strange to be in the house. It was completely quiet. Her older children were at school, Sophia was taking a nap, and the atmosphere felt so empty without Ben and Emily around. (I always wondered why Sophia was not enrolled at school. What five year old doesn't attend some sort of preschool or kindergarten??)

I sat down at the kitchen table with Sally. It was slightly awkward but I took out my papers and had her sign them right away. Then we began yet another conversation that left me dumbfounded. Sally claimed she still didn't know why Ben had been taken, and according to her, the lawyer was simply taking a long time to get back to her. I thought that was very interesting considering Ben had been gone for just shy of a month now.

"Jessica told me not to give up," she told me. "She said she had a scare too, with her son."

I stopped writing, and looked up at her. Now this was some interesting news!

"Jessica's son was taken by social services?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she replied. "She fought for him back. They're horrible people, social services. One violent scare and they take drastic measures. I mean, come on. There are so many other people really being abused, they don't do anything to them."

My eyes bugged out of my sockets. Aha! We were finally getting somewhere.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Life Goes On

I have to admit, I did just that. I couldn't help it - what else was I supposed to do? I had no support system whatsoever. I didn't give up; I promised myself I wouldn't. I guess you can say I just tried to go about my daily life so that my days wouldn't revolve around waiting around for an update.

It was a good thing I didn't, because the only person that called me regularly was Sally. If I didn't hear from her for two weeks in a row, I would call her. She never had a real update for me; it was always the same "I don't know why they took him" kind of stuff. It still made no sense to me, but I kept the connection to her because it helped keep Ben in my mind. My days were never the same without him.

About three weeks after Ben was taken away, I had a conversation with Julie, the autism administrator of my agency. I told her how distraught I was, and that it killed me to see what happened to this child. She didn't know what the full story was, nor did anyone else.

Aside from pain on a personal level, I was having such difficulty knowing that Ben would now be regressing. I tried to explain this to Julie as professional as possible -- not an easy task, considering I had gotten really close to Ben on a personal level.

I wondered what had caused Ben to be removed from the home. I assumed it must have been serious because in essence, they had taken a special needs child away from his familiarity and stopped his therapy cold turkey. That wasn't fair to Ben. I pleaded with Julie to speak to social services so that I can at least resume therapy with him wherever he is now. After all, I wasn't his only therapist; there was Jessica, and also Bob, his speech therapist.

"That is not my department," Julie said. "I know it's unfair and I agree, but right now there's nothing we can do."

In the meantime, I kept busy with my other clients. I actually got really busy with one little boy named Scott. (I'll get into more details when Ben's story is finished. Scott's really worth mentioning - another little enigma!)

We were now in January. (Ben had been taken right before the holidays, the month before.) I began to look forward to a vacation I had planned with my husband for the end of the month. And that was pretty much it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Am I the Only One Who Cares?

I left Sally's house about 45 minutes after I had arrived thinking I was going to have a session with Ben. As I walked to my car, I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't received a message from Jessica, or even the autism coordinator of my agency. I would have thought the normal thing to do would be to touch base with me. Why had I heard this all from Sally directly? After all, she had told me Ben was taken away days before. Come to think of it, why hadn't Sally called me before my session??

I couldn't help but feel angry. I was angry at everyone - Sally, Jessica, Social Services, and my entire agency. I was angry at the world for our messed up system. What did they all expect me to do? I had been working with Ben for about five months now. Was I supposed to just forget he ever existed and say "aw, poor kid, got taken away, oh well. On with life!" Grrr, that made me so mad.

I had no choice but to take initiative myself. I put a call into Jessica when I arrived back at home. When she called me back she let me know she had known Ben had gone with Social Services. I wanted to ask her why she didn't call to tell me, but I held back. After all, what was the point of that? No use crying over spilled milk.

"I guess we'll be in touch," was Jessica's last sentence before our goodbye.

So apparently I was expected to just move on. Interesting.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Putting the Pieces Together

Feeling numb is a strange feeling. It's like your mind is racing, but your body is in slow motion.

Needless to say, I forced myself to speak. I don't quite remember exactly how the words came out, but I'm guessing it went something like this:

"What happened?" I asked. "Tell me the whole story."

Sally began to speak. She didn't give me details, but at least she gave me an idea of what was going on. Apparently, Social Services had come to speak to Sally the other day. I thought for a moment, then remembered that there was indeed a woman at the kitchen table last week speaking to Sally when I arrived for my session. I didn't think much of it at the time, but perhaps I should have!

I sat with Sally for a few minutes, dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say, but I didn't want to leave either. There were just too many questions left unanswered. I didn't want to force her to confide in me, but I felt like I wanted answers. I know I wasn't their social worker, but I WAS Ben's therapist and I thought I had a right to know where he was, and why he wasn't right here, ready for our session.

"Can you tell me more?" I asked. "I still don't understand why they took him."

"I don't know," was Sally's response. "They didn't give me a reason, and when I asked them for one, they refused to tell me." She resumed her sniffling. Meanwhile, Sophia arrived into the kitchen and parked herself at the table. It was too quiet. I suddenly realized Emily was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's Emily? Is she still napping?" I asked, confused. I looked at my watch and realized it was lunchtime.

Sally blew her nose and then lit up another cigarette. "No, they took Emily, too." She almost said that matter-of-factly.

"What?! Why?" I couldn't stand being in the dark about this. It was all too strange. I wanted answers!

Sally left to get another box of tissues, and I waved away all the smoke - it was starting to get to me. Sophia sat at the table like a perfect angel, taking it all in. I wondered how much she understood. I didn't think it was so appropriate (nevertheless, ethical) to be speaking of all this in front of her - after all, she was only six years old.

On her way out, Sally answered my question. "Told ya, I have no idea," she said.

How could that be? If I was their mother, I would've demanded answers! Something wasn't right.

I thought of Ben and wondered where he was. Was he with a strange family who didn't know anything about him? Was he in some shelter somewhere? Wherever he was, was he being taken care of? Was he scared? Was he crying? Was he okay?

I thought of his bright blue eyes and how they twinkled when he smiled. I thought of his little smirk and how he giggled when he was being silly. I thought of his desire to always learn new things.

At that very moment, I promised myself I wouldn't ever give up. I told myself that under no circumstance would I stop trying to uncover the truth. I simply cared too much.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Where is Ben?

Things continued to progress as we continued with our routine. Then, the unthinkable happened.

One ordinary day, when I arrived at Ben's house, I got out of my car, popped my trunk, took out my therapy bag, and skipped over to the door. (Yes, I did skip... generally I was excited for my sessions with Ben!)

But when I knocked on the door, there was no answer. I knocked twice more, anxious to get in, as I was freezing cold outside in the snow.

Still no answer.

Finally, the fourth time, Sophia opened the door, but just enough to let her little head through the crack. "Hi, Sophia..." I began, waiting for her to open the door enough to let me through.

When she didn't, I started getting anxious. I wasn't really in the mood for her games. "Sophia, it's cold. Where's Ben?" I asked.

She finally opened the door a drop more. "Ben's not here," she said, matter of factly.

"What? What do you mean, he's not here? Where is he?"

"Lady, I SAID, he's not here!"

Nope, not good enough, Sophia. I went from despising her games to praying this was one of them. But as I walked into the house, there was no sign of Ben. No giggle making its way over to me, no pitter patter of feet at the sound of my therapy bag shaking up and down. I walked into the living room and asked again, "where is Ben?"

Sophia rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders dramatically. As she walked away, she shouted, "I don't know!"

I didn't know either; I had absolutely no idea I was about to find out what I did.

I walked into the kitchen slowly, to find Sally sitting at the table. One of her hands held a cigarette; the other covered her eyes. She removed her hand and barely looked at me, but it was enough for me to see the tears.

"Sally! What happened? Where's Ben??"

She turned away from me. "They took him."

"Took him?! Who?! What are you talking about?!"

Before she had a chance to answer, my stomach fell to my knees. I felt sick. But one second later I felt even sicker.

"Social Services. They took him." Sally puffed smoke into the air, and then blew her nose.

I went numb.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

My Little Sponge

"Hey lady, can I come in today? Hmm?"

That was Sophia, of course. She has called me "lady" since day one, and I never corrected her. I guess I didn't really care, nor did I see a point. Plus, Sally would laugh every time she did it, which only encouraged her.

(I felt bad calling her annoying, but she truly was.)

"You can come in at the end, Sophia, like you usually do, okay? Right now Ben and I need to work without anyone else around."

I got the usual "hmph" as Sophia marched away from me, and then Ben and I entered the room.

We began to work at the table, then took a break. I sat on the floor with Ben on my lap and began turning the pages of a "touch and feel" book. Ben LOVED those books, as well as my prized possessions -- "touch and feel" flashcards. (Those flashcards have worked wonders with every one of my clients!) As I turned the pages, Ben would spontaneously point to something, and label it. They weren't always word labels, but he would at least verbalize associations.

"Ball!" he announced, completely out of the blue. I stared at him in disbelief. "Yes, that's the ball, Ben!" I validated.

"Lookidat!" he said, as he pointed to an umbrella.

Did Ben just say, "look at that??" I was stunned! This child knew so much, and every day we were together, he would prove that more and more. Nobody was gonna tell me this child wasn't smart - No Jessicas, no Sallys.

Ben was like a sponge - he took things in from his surroundings throughout the day, and they would creep out habitually. If only I could've squeezed him to get it all out at once!

As I sat with him on the floor, I'd reach into my bag and pull out one book after another. I didn't want to stop, and all I could think, was "wow."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Run That By Me Again?

The weeks flew by. Ben took very small steps, but there was noticeable improvement. Some days he would happily enter the room ready to work, and other days he would persist indefinitely. There was really no way to tell what mood Ben would be in upon my arrival, however I did continue to enjoy my sessions with him because he was so engaging and loveable. Every moment of our session I would wonder how such a child could be put into foster care. What mom wouldn't want this child??

Before I new it, the weather got chilly and Thansksgiving was approaching. Sally called to cancel our Thursday session. Cancelling on a holiday made perfect sense, but now that I thought of it, she had cancelled numerous times. I never questioned her reasoning, but our conversations were quite strange. She would always call at the last second and give me some lame excuse - it almost seemed as if they were made up on the spot. Something never sat right with her - but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was.

I sort of had mixed feelings about Ben's foster family. Here was a couple that took in children from all walks of life - including one with special needs - but then something weird would happen that would cause me to question them entirely. There was just something unesettling there - maybe even trashy.

The following Monday after Thanksgiving I arrived bright and early for our session. As I was getting my things ready, Sally began talking to me about how she had gone out shopping on Black Friday for some bargains.

"I met some Jewish guys in Wal-mart at 6 in the morning," she said. She tried to stifle a laugh, then remarked, "they were just being so funny!"

Uh, okay. Not sure what that was supposed to mean! As usual, our conversations made me feel slightly uneasy, but my job wasn't to sit and talk to her; it was to work with Ben, and so off I went.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Perfect Enough For Me!

And so, a communication system was implemented. Of course there were plenty of times Ben didn't comply, but we worked through them. We had a system going, and that's all that mattered.

When he was ready (attending and compliance somewhat controlled), we began working on colors. I had been eagerly anticipating the day we'd finally start working on his receptive language, and alas, it was here. Now that Ben would point on command, I knew he would be able to let me know when he knew a correct answer.

We started with the color blue. I laid a bright blue flashcard on the table, met his eyes, and said, "Ben, touch blue!" He started to giggle. This was a no brainer for him. He slapped his hand on the flashcard and rolled his eyes as if to say, "c'mon Mindy.. this is peanuts." I gave him some verbal praise, and wondered...... if this was so easy, does it mean he already knows his colors? Thinking quickly, I placed a yellow, red, and blue card on the table. "Ben, where's the blue card?" I asked. He looked at me like I was from Mars, then slapped his hands on all three. "Okay, not ready," I thought. But the only way to know was to try.

While Ben mastered the colors quickly in isolation, he struggled a little when I laid out a distractor. The first distractor I tried was the picture of a dog. I figured if I put down a color together with something that wasn't a color, it would be less confusing. "Ben, point to the blue card," I said. Without hesitation, Ben grabbed the dog, and started imitating a dog's bark. I was baffled. There was so much this child knew. We just had to find a way to get it out.

I'd once observed a child who responded quite similarly in a situation just like this one. When faced with two very different cards, the child grabbed the picture he recognized, and his therapist corrected him. I didn't correct Ben. I didn't think he did anything wrong. Sure, he didn't point to the blue card, but he didn't even hear me. He was too busy being excited that he recognized something he knew, and he was sharing that with me! Why would I reprimand that?

Of course, Jessica the programmer disagreed with me. "....But you reinforced the wrong thing," she said.

"I didn't," I said in my defense. "I told him 'yes Ben, that's the dog! The dog says woof woof!' I reinforced what he knew, and then put the cards back down and stressed the word blue. He got it the second time around."

"These children are very concrete; they aren't going to learn that way," Jessica stressed.

"...But if I saw that he was fixated on the dog," I argued, "I would have errorlessly prompted right away..."

...And then I stopped. Why bother explaining all this to someone who obviously did not share the same viewpoint as me? Apparently I was having a debate with someone who barely even showed for a session.

What was the point? I didn't need her to tell me this child was different. She obviously didn't see the way Ben was eager to learn, eager to smile, and eager to make ME smile. He laughed, he played, and he thrived. While things weren't always perfect, it was fine with me, because nothing in life is ever perfect.

But the truth is, in my eyes, Ben WAS perfect.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


It all depends on the way something is viewed - a lesson for life.

After two weeks of our "pointing problem" I wondered if it was really a problem. You see, Ben was communicating with me. He wasn't avoiding eye contact or interaction; he was playing a game. When he'd run away to the table, he would look for my eyes, and when they'd meet, he'd smirk and bury his face in his hands.

Ben just wasn't reinforced enough at the table - this little game of his was much more fun! Now my job was to make table time even more exciting.

I constantly reinforced his nice sitting and sang songs with motions with him - he loved that! Soon our little pointing mishap was history.

No words can describe just how tickled pink I was the very next day.

I pulled out a magnet book and bubbles, and asked him "Ben, what do you want?" I watched his little index finger form into a point, and he moved it toward the bubbles.

I screamed "hooray!" as I lifted him into the air and blew bubbles around him.

Ben looked me straight in the eye, and smiled.

Pointing Problem

Ben and I continued to progress, despite the annoying programmer problem. He also remained genuinely reinforced by the toys and games that I brought, as long as I'd rotate them accordingly. We finally established a system where Ben would come to the table when it was time to work - a huge accomplishment.

We did have one little problem, though, in regard to pointing. I always found this program essential and a priority, because if pointing wasn't established, the children would just grab things - not good. And of course the point of the therapy setting is to generalize learned skills outside the therapy room. Pointing was one of those important ones, because many of these children are non-verbal (especially at 1-3 years) and pointing allows them to communicate appropriately.

Ben did have the fine motor skills to point, because I had seen him do it on ocassion. In addition, nothing had given me the idea that Ben couldn't do it, because I watched how he would move his hands and fingers when he'd play with some of my toys. For example, he was able to pick up a puzzle piece just fine, grabbing onto the little peg at the top.

Yet every time he wanted something, he'd moan and try to grab it. Immediately I would physically prompt a point with his cute little finger, and then he'd get really mad at me. Sometimes he would tantrum and throw the item on the floor, or run away from the table. I didn't give in because I knew Ben was aware of what my purpose was, and what was expected of him. He was so smart, he knew exactly what he had to do. He just refused.

In the past I would often make it obvious that I was ignoring the child during behavior like this - but it does depend on the child. If I deemed it necessary, I would insist on prompting through the child's screaming (I'm not heartless - I promise!) and then cheered until my voice was gone, when the task was complete. However, Ben knew he was being silly, and so I didn't bother. I'd just make it very apparent that I was ignoring him, because when he'd run from the table, he'd try and meet my eyes with a nasty grin ;)

This went on for about two weeks. Sally (his foster mom) would always say things like "oh, Ben was bad today" or "wow, I guess he doesn't like you" or even "I guess therapy isn't working, huh" -- all comments that are extremely common for parents/caretakers to mention when things didn't run 100% smoothly.

I explained to her that his screaming or even tantruming doesn't constitute failure. If he wouldn't scream or persist, what was my purpose? I am there to teach him proper communication and necessary skills, and that's a difficult thing to do. Stumbling blocks are expected. You just have to know how to handle them. And I was prepared.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Where is the Programmer?

Okay, don’t get me wrong here – I love my job, but it often leaves me stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was trained as an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapist before I was able to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree. Therefore, although I knew the programs cold, I couldn’t implement them myself; I could only follow them. I also tended to become frustrated when the programmer would ask me for advice when it came to troubleshooting because I’d get this fabulous idea and then the programmer just didn’t see things the way I did. This kind of goes back to my early years, when my piano teacher tried getting me to read notes, and I simply would not. I wanted to play songs by ear, the way I knew how to play best – why on earth would she try and change that? Whatever, guess that’s just my stubborn self talking . . .

Annoying programmer issues aside, Ben’s programmer – get this – failed to show. Let me also add here, that there are many programmers I work well with. I simply have one request: I just ask that you do your job. Many of them do, but Ben’s programmer was already on my bad list because, well, she didn’t.

I soon learned two things about Ben’s programmer – that her name was Jessica, and that she was super savvy when it came to excuses. In the meantime, I just worked on the basics with Ben, however, after four or five sessions, I was feeling kind of strange, considering I’d been doing my own thing. I became extremely frustrated since I longed to just program the thing myself. Oh well, what could I do.

After three weeks, Jessica finally showed for a half-hour session, and left me a measly note that basically stated I was doing a good job, and that I should keep continuing. Oh, and she left some graphing sheets.

Of course, my note back suggested a team meeting, but I knew it would be a while before I got a response, let alone a date.

In my previous experience, I had found that a supportive family (e.g., parents who are willing to work with me and not stand aside while I “cured their kid”), as well as a dedicated programmer was the recipe for success. Looks like I was in for a real challenge with Ben, because I had neither of those. Yippee.

The Transition

My next two sessions with Ben were spent in the living room just as our first session was. I felt that no matter how Ben presented himself on that first day, it was still important to establish rapport with him and not rush into things too quickly. ABA therapy is intense and not always fun for the children. I didn’t want him to get overwhelmed and scared. After all, he wasn’t even two years old yet.

Our living room sessions occurred with me sitting on the floor, and Ben sitting either next to me or on my lap. Our toys would be around us, and well, so would everyone else. Sophia, for one, was really starting to get on my nerves. She didn’t stop talking for a second, and would grab all the toys she could at once, interrupting our “session” numerous times. I was anxious to get into a quiet room with Ben so that our therapy sessions would be more effective. At the end of the third session I spoke with his foster mom, Sally, and explained to her why it was important for Ben and I be alone in a quiet room for the session, and how distractions made it difficult for Ben to focus. I added that perhaps at a later date, I would allow Sophia to come into the session so that she can facilitate things like turn taking. (I also said that because I figured it would buy me some time without Sophia constantly in my face. That, of course, didn’t stop her from attacking me at the door when I arrived for every session to follow, asking, “Can I come in today??”)

The following week, Ben and I graduated to a quiet room. His foster mom set up a cute little wooden table with two chairs in the corner of her bedroom. Ben was fine with the new change, and was content as long as my toys were there. He was genuinely so reinforced by everything I brought – I was so captivated by that. Sophia, on the other hand, wasn’t too thrilled. I offered a compromise: Rather than having her join our sessions, I allowed her to come in and play with the toys while I wrote my notes at the end of the session. Every few minutes, though, I would hear knocks on the door, and then I’d have to gently remind her that it wasn’t time yet.

For the remainder of the week, Ben and I worked on turn taking, three-piece puzzles, eye contact, pointing, and compliance. That last one was sort of a challenge for him. Once seated, Ben was pretty much fine, but he simply wouldn’t come sit at the table when I asked him to. Typical almost-two year old ;)

And so, our first week in our new room was successful. However, a problem remained intact….

Truly an Enigma

My job is probably the most rewarding job out there, but it tends to take time for me to feel accomplished. The work is tough; it often takes a while before goals are met. The length of time, I think, adds to the feeling of accomplishment. It definitely can be frustrating. I’ve had instances where I’d try teaching a child the color blue for two months, but the day that child pointed to blue on command (upon my request), I threw a party.

The entire way home from his house that first day, I thought of Ben. I thought about the smile he put on my face almost immediately. I thought about how genuinely happy he seemed to be. I thought about how different he was from most of my other clients.

After dinner that night, I sat down on my couch and took out Ben’s IFSP and former evaluations. My agency is technically supposed to mail me the child’s records as soon as I inform them I will be taking on a case. Usually though, I was lucky if I received them after I have been seeing a child for a week. In this case, my things came in the mail the same day I met Ben.

Most of the time, the records indicate what I expect to see; lack of speech, tantruming behavior, poor eating habits, and so on. When I began to read Ben’s history, my jaw dropped. Ben was put into foster care five days after he was born. Apparently, his teenage mom had threatened to jump off a building holding her newborn baby. Now there’s something you don’t read every day.

I continued reading and learned that not only had Ben been diagnosed with autism, but he was also deaf in one ear. His left ear canal had not fully developed, and was closed. I thought back to earlier in the day and realized I hadn’t even noticed that.

Immediately, I had a million questions. If Ben’s life truly was the way it had been documented, how was he so happy and jolly? If he was deaf in one ear, had he not heard me? If he had autism, why did he stare me in the eye?

Ben's Story: How it all Began. . .

My hands gripped the steering wheel tighter as I glanced at the clock: 9:57. My session was to begin at 10:00. I turned the corner and read the street sign: Knotty Court. How ironic, I thought; my stomach was filled with knots.

It’s always the same story. Last night I took out one of my therapy bags and dumped its contents on the floor. As I kneeled in front of the bag surrounded by toys, books, flashcards and reinforcers, I wondered what to re-stuff the bag with. What would Ben enjoy? Would he be high functioning, or on the more severe end of the spectrum? Would he cry when he saw me? Would he be yet another client that doesn’t realize I’m there to help? These were just some of the thoughts that flooded my mind. Frazzled, I threw in a set of picture flash cards, a touch and feel book, a peg board, and bubbles, then zipped the bag shut.

I drove down Knotty Court with my therapy bag safely stowed in my trunk. I looked at the clock: 9:59. Perfect timing, I thought, as I pulled alongside the curb right in front of the house numbered 26.

I gathered up my courage and walked up to the front door, clutching my briefcase and my therapy bag over my shoulder. I knocked on the door, gulped, then put on my best “therapy smile.” The door opened, and a cute little Vietnamese girl answered. “Hi!” I said, with my biggest smile. “Hi!” she replied. “I’m Sophia! Who are you? What’s in your bag? Can I open it? What’s your name? Why are you here?”

Geez, this was going to be a fun one.

“I’m five an a half,” Sophia flaunted, as she tried to hold up five fingers. I proceeded to tell her I was here to see Ben. “Is Ben your brother?” I asked. “Uh huh, he’s in here,” she replied, and then grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the living room. The house reeked of smoke. A disheveled blonde woman entered from the kitchen. She was carrying a baby in her arms. "Emily, can't I put you down for one second?!" she barked, in desperation.

“Hi, I’m Mindy,” I introduced, as I extended my hand. “Nice to meet you.”

At the sound of an unfamiliar voice, another child entered the room from the hallway. He was of African American descent, and appeared to be around eight years old. “I’m AJ,” he told me.

Then it dawned on me; these were all foster children. I stood there for a minute or so, taking it all in.

“BEN!” the woman called. “Get in here!” I sat down on the floor and laid my things next to me. As I was fighting for custody of my bag with Sophia, the cutest, most angelic child came running into the room. He came close to me, flashed his beautiful blue eyes at me, and smiled. I was completely blown away by his eye contact, but mostly by his intense beauty. He looked like a porcelain doll.

“Hi Ben!” I exclaimed. He giggled, then jumped on my lap. Okay, now I was officially confused; this child was supposed to be autistic. For the remainder of my hour and a half long session, Ben was able to keep focus. He was a quick mover, though, and I needed to keep up with his need to change tasks fairly quickly. Upon completion of the session, I let Ben run into the other room to play, and proceeded to write my end of the session notes. I took out my pen and began to write how our session went great; especially considering it was the first.

Ben and I connected right away. I was eager to come back and really implement some programs to challenge him a little bit more. For now, however, I was pleased. Ben was probably one of the only children I had seen in six years who hadn’t cried or tried to run away from my attempt at interaction.

Wow, this was incredible, I thought. Little did I know just how incredible it would be. Little did I know just how much Ben would accomplish in a year and a half’s time. Little did I know just what was in store for this little guy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Mission

I'm just a human being; a nothing, a nobody.

Yet one morning, eight years ago, I opened my eyes and thought, "I want to make a difference." Let me begin by stating that I really don't have a big mouth. In fact, I used to never speak up, state my opinion, or raise my hand in class in high school. I just got lost in the crowd and did my thing.

But when I made the decision to make a difference, I knew there was no turning back. I knew I wanted to help children, but more so, I wanted to change lives.

I began working with children on the autism spectrum, determined to break through the invisible barrier and into their world. I, of all people, was going to get them to speak, to learn, and to learn HOW to learn. And so, my journey began, and eight years later, I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Psychology. So you see, it *can* happen . . .

But I won't stop here. I'm determined to tap into the system, and to do anything in my power to make a difference in the lives of children. That means visiting a young girl in the hospital and getting her to smile; helping her realize she is not alone. It means persisting until a selectively mute child utters a word, and watching a smile form on his face, in satisfaction, at the thought of overcoming a fear. It also means removing a young boy from an abusive situation in order to provide him with a more stable, loving environment -- a better life.

The stories posted on this blog are true, however names have been changed to protect identities. I invite you to read and to be inspired, for these children have changed my life, even though I had originally set out to change theirs.

But, as I've mentioned earlier, I won't stop here. I'm on a mission; a mission to change the world.