AlterNet's Joshua Holland on Swine Flu "Hysteria"
Kathleen Sebelius: “Autism Now Hits 1 in 100 Children. We Have No Idea Why.”

The School Yard at 3 p.m.

Playground see saw By Cecily Ruttenberg

The schoolyard at 3 p.m. seems enjoyable for most. Kids run to their friends after a long day in the classroom and parents seem happy for 15 minutes to chat with each other. Playdates are arranged, soccer cleats are secured on feet and sleepover plans discussed.

For us autism moms, well pick up is a whole different story. I literally give myself a pep talk as I walk from my car. "Whatever he's doing," I tell myself, "It's okay. "He is doing the best he can, and I will be calm, I will be loving and I will be at ease." I repeat this mantra, or some version of it, over and over as I pass first the yellowing grass, then the pebbly path, past the Kindergarten play yard and onto the big yard.

My eye scans the crowd, stopping in the likely spots. Sandbox, no. Spinny swing, no. Climb structure where his sister usually plays, no. Water fountain, no. My eyes scan until I see a boy alone in the far field, miming some indecipherable action for much to long. Bingo. I take a deep breathe. "Calm, peaceful, accepting." I walk hurriedly past groups of his classmates playing tether ball, ball wall, foursquare. I hope they don't see him out there, in a solo miming frenzy. I realize I am holding my breathe, as if I can stop time and keep the school from noticing him as long as I don't breathe. Without relaxing my stride I force myself to exhale. When I am in shouting distance, I begin to call his name, feeling the heat rise to my face. The pantomiming continues. Ugh.

Finally hearing his name he turns, eyes downcast. I try to glare at him, but he sees only the pavement. I force myself to breathe, to wait for his eyes. He takes forever to look up. By the time he does, I have calmed myself down....but not that much.  "What were you doing out there," I drill, knowing the question is useless, mean, without a passable answer.
"Pretending to have a lemonade stand," he answers innocently.  "By yourself?" I continue. Ugh, why do I harass him like this?  "I was playing with Alex (his sister)," he tells me. I glance over to see Alex on the jungle gym with several other girls.  I sigh. "We don't play alone at school," I say firmly, sticking with the line we have used since kindergarten. Of course playing alone sometimes is fine, but he cannot distinguish this. Therefor we say school is a time for friends, home is a time for relaxing and being alone.

"Sorry," he offers. I start towards his sister, knowing the rebuke accomplished nothing, changed nothing, taught nothing. He follows, eyes downcast.

We pass a group of his classmates smashing a ball against the handball court. I get my daughter and head towards the parking lot, forcing myself to look up and smile a goodbye at the other moms.

We wind our way off the big yard, past the Kindergarten yard, down the pebble path and across the dying grass. I feel the anger start to rise again into my face. And so I restart my internal pep talk. This time I remind myself to be grateful.

He is healthy. He is beautiful. He is trying so hard. He has come so far. He cuddles with me at night. I love him so dearly. Thank you God for my beautiful son.

Cecily Ruttenberg is a writer and editor who lives in Santa Cruz, California. She is the mother of an eight year old son with high functioning autism.



Everybody is a critic. Right or wrong your intentions is to help your child. That is right Tinkerbell, her intentions for her child is more intense than anyone elses in the world!

I can not say I am proud of one incident between my and my son.

He was six, and instead of improving with his speech it was becoming worse. I think it had gone for weeks and weeks and I had not heard him utter a word.

I turned to him one day and said can you talk or not? A dog or an animal cannot talk? Are you a dog?

His eyes welded up in tears and he struggled to speak. His little lips trembled in hurt feelings, but he spoke a complet sentence.

"I am not a dog!"

Bitter that I hurt his feelings, but sweet that if I could upset him enough, make him mad, hurt his feelings he could talk.

I hate that I said it, I hate that I did it. But after that he did seem to make an effort to talk, and he talks today.

WE, should not have had to go through that!Bless his heart, every time I think of that I have to go and hug him.

I have got to go right now and hug him.
Damn the medical profession that made the damn shot, damn the doctor that gave it to him, Damn the whole CDC.


Why DO you harass him? Good grief, woman. Get a freaking grip.
From reading this, your son was perfectly happy playing by himself until you rebuked and shamed him. Square pegs do not fit into round holes. The sooner you figure this out, the better.


Sarahsam, I have no baggage about "further down the road," but your rage indicates that you do. In fact, all that is coming through your posts is rage, so much so that you seem to be unable to see anything valid in any critical comments made here because you are so enraged by the use of the word "neurodiverse."

Now, I never us that term myself, and I don't agree with that particular perspective, but I will defend others' right to use it if they believe it fits.

And when speaking of a child who is OBVIOUSLY not only verbal, but conversational AND is able to engage in pretend play (rather than a severely autistic, non-verbal child), I can understand why someone thinks that the label "neurodiverse" is appropriate for that child.

But this isn't about labels, and that's where you are so caught up in your rage, you're not seeing the forest for the trees.

This is about teaching and learning.

Cecily even says in her post that her "rebuke accomplished nothing, changed nothing, taught nothing." And she's absolutely correct. Because teaching an autistically hard-wired child to translate from Autistic to "neurotypical" takes just as much--or more-- time and patience as teaching any other foreign language and culture. It's not accomplished by ordering a child to behave a certain way and ignoring the validity of his current feelings and needs.

I'm NOT saying that we should be satisfied with watching our children spin, stim, and ignore others. I AM saying that, like many who have posted here, I am seeing something really, really harmful with Cecily's approach as described in her post.

It's very difficult to find a way to point this out while still remaining supportive. I have tried very hard to do so, but probably didn't succeed, and for that, I apologize to Cecily if anything I said seems unsupportive to her.

But as I see it, you and Mr. Maggard are doing exactly the same (destructive) thing. You are each genuinely horrified by what you see, and your response is an attack--a very personal, unnecessarily vicious attack--rather than an intelligent discussion. Your insults are obviously directed at Mr. Maggard rather than the label of "neurodiverse." In the very same post where you insist the opposite, you use the word "cretin." That's directed at people, not at labels. Can YOU grasp the distinction?

The saddest part of all your vicious attacks is that they weaken the whole community of parents of ASD kids, not just the individuals you disagree with or dislike.

Yes, of course I value some perspectives and experiences over others. That's a given for any of us. That's what perspective is all about. For example, I do not value the perspective and experience of a Neo-Nazi white supremacist. That doesn't exactly make me narrow-minded.

Sarahsam, your whole tone is rude, condescending, and downright nasty. Your use of phrases like "Understand?" "GET IT?" is confrontational in the nastiest way, as is the name-calling.

Whatever validity there is to your perspective is utterly lost in the storm of your rage.


Look taximom, You do understand the "insults" you refer to are directed at the label "neur-odiverse" when used in relation to children with autism and not at Mr Maggard right? Can you grasp the distinction as it is rather important.

I will not have a serious disability reduced to a benign sounding catch phrase like neuro-diverse. Obviously we all have our own perspective and mine requires me to confront negative crap throwers like Mr Maggard when I have time and inclination. Understand?

As far as the phase "further down the road" having any competitive meaning-well that's your baggage. It is used as a compliment suggesting the writer is more self aware and mature than many and I stand by it.

Now perhaps Mr Maggard was having a bad day and vented here, god knows I've done it many times-but I'm calling him on it and fail to see why you are commenting on it.

Perhaps to you some perspectives and experiences are more worthy than others?

I enjoy reading posts like Cecily wrote here but who the heck would put themselves out there when they can count on some cretin attacking them and belittling their childs disability?


sarahsam, it's not a competition to see who is farther down the road than most.

We all have different experiences and perspectives.

No, the original writer did not ask for advice. I am hoping, however, that she(and everyone else reading this page) might be able to find valuable information and points of view in what EVERYONE here has posted (yes, including Mr. Maggard).

We have enough "experts" from mainstream medicine completely dismissing our perspectives. Can we please refrain from the name-calling ("claptrap," "garbage"), even if we don't agree with each other?


Since the peanut gallery is open-I find Mr Maggard's label"neuro-diverse child" insulting claptrap nonsense.

A vaccine injury doesn't make one neuro-diverse-it makes one vaccine injured.


The foolish statement by Maggard that "Your son's fine. You're the one that has a problem." is the ultimate insult to a parent seeking to recover a child from the abyss that autism is. He is far from fine Mr Maggard. I fear for your daughter Mr Maggard for it appears from your mean and foolish post you have lost your soul.

I see tons of projecting from posters here that know nothing about the situation they are pontificating on. It's quite surreal.

The writer writes of a 10-15 minute part of one day and several experts here have her whole life figured out and know just exactly where she went wrong and what she should do now! Incredible. I guess I missed the part in her post where she asked for advice?

I contend that anyone that could write about such personal and troubling things in such an honest way is much further down the road than most.

We are swamped with garbage like this everywhere and now this site is infected with the neuro-diverse kooks too.


Okay, I have to say that I agree that Mr. Maggard's comments were unnecessarily harsh and unsupportive, and the last dig about calming meds was inappropriate and downright nasty.

BUT--I also have to say that I agree with everything else he wrote.

PLEASE, Mr. Maggard--can you possibly find a way to make all those excellent points without being so hurtful?

It also occurred to me that many of us probably have bits and pieces of the autistic way of processing things in our own make-up, and I CERTAINLY include myself.

How many times have we seen an autistic child obsess about someone's behavior not being what they expect--to the point of becoming angry? Ms. Ruttenberg, isn't that what you are doing to your son?

How many times have we seen an autistic kid blurt out the bald, unvarnished truth as he sees it, regardless of whose feelings are hurt as a result? Mr. Maggard, isn't that what you are doing to Ms. Ruttenberg?

Debbie Mylander

Okay, the person who said that the author had "serious issues" is not being helpful and I believe is out of line. We are all in this journey together. There are times when each of us has felt sad, frustrated and at our wits-end. At the end of the day all we want is our children to be able to live a full life, with people in it who care deeply about them and to reach the end with as little damage done to their precious souls as possible. Let's support one another here...we are fighting enough battles as it is.


Mr. Maggard, maybe you are new to AoA, but this blog provides a forum for parents all along the spectrum and the unique challenges each face parenting our unique children. Sham on you for personally attacking Cecily. Just because her experience isn't as difficult as others, doesn't make the pain she feels trivial. Please keep your harsh words to yourself. A post of apology would be in order.


Cecilia- I have a 19 yr old son, diagnosed PDD-NOS at 3. He sounds very similar to your son. I'd like to give you some advice I wish I'd been given 16 years ago to optimize my son's life experiences (He is now in a treatment facility for severe depression).
I can't stress unconditional acceptance enough. You are going to be his constant through the years, and he needs to be sure that he at least can always be loved deeply and unquestionably by you. For now, at this young age, he is happy in his play world. But the time will come when he wants to be like his peers and will feel the rejection and you need to be his cheerleader.
Social skills classes, social skills classes, social skills classes!!! We did them, but stopped after a year,(cost) and it is a profound regret.
Believe me, I know how hard it is to be an Autie parent (my other son is non-verbal autistic), but as I read your entry, I couldn't help but feel that instead of your heart being heavy for your son and his plight, you are concerned about his strangeness and how the outside world perceives your family. I was left feeling immensely sorry for your little guy.

My son's self-esteem is abysmal, and we always tried to buoy him up; I fear for your son's self-image if your feelings don't change. He will pick up on it. Please take this as it was intended: a concerned parent with a retrospective view, trying to help you avoid undue grief.

Jason Maggard

Wow, I guess the author has some serious issues...

This is just disturbing. You're trying to force your neuro-diverse child into playing the role of a NT. All the while telling us about how embarrassed you are by him?

May daughter is who she is. We work on some things, but I don't force her to pretend to be someone she's not. I have never once been embarrassed for myself when someone gives me a disapproving look, I feel embarrassed for them. They're behaving far more poorly than my daughter.

And in my community, the daycare we took our daughter to was delighted to have her. They saw this as an opportunity to talk to their current students about how you treat (well) people who are different.

Seriously... You have to calm yourself because he was playing by himself?

"forcing myself to look up and smile a goodbye at the other moms. I feel the anger start to rise again into my face. And so I restart my internal pep talk."

The other Mom's in your school don't know about your son? My biggest issue getting my child out of school is being drowned in moms and kids all saying goodbye to Ronnie even though she doesn't look up at them or say anything back.

For a child on the spectrum, it sounds like yours is in good shape. Maybe you should can the rage and save it for parents who arrive at school pickup to find their child still screaming in the calm room, or arrive at school to find that their little girl has decided to go naked today. Mine is 8, and I wish she would even answer me what she thinks she's doing.

Once you're done "feeling the anger" rise up, why don't you take a step back and think about what other parents are going through and what your child is going through. It sure makes a small thing like "being embarrassed" because your child is playing peacefully by himself seem awfully stupid.

Your son's fine. You're the one that has a problem. May I suggest GABA and Isonitol? They're calming.


Just to depress everyone out there...

"How Children View And Treat Their Peers With Undesirable Characteristics"
ScienceDaily (Aug. 3, 2009)

A few choice quotes:

"This study provides some evidence that if a child feels that an undesirable characteristic is under some sort of personal control, they are less likely to respond favorably to someone who displays that characteristic," Livengood said. "The study implies that if a child doesn't have experience with that particular undesirable characteristic, they are less likely to respond favorably to someone with that specific quality."...

... The findings showed that the more the children agreed that the peers were at fault for their characteristic, the more they agreed that they would tease those peers, and the less they agreed that they would like or help those peers if they needed assistance...

Maybe it isn't that Cecily's school isn't supportive, maybe it's that her son's disability isn't so obvious and understandable to the other children.


Cecily - Thank you so much for sharing. You are very brave to face "us" and to share your frustrations and your course of action. "We" are as diverse as our children (and as opinionated). Our experiences, biases, biomed, non-biomed, what colour of ABA we chose (or not), etc., etc. You are VERY brave to face this crowd.

I too am with you and brace myself when picking my son up from school. A different fear: my son (very HF 7 year old) actually loves to play tag games, etc. with other kids... BUT, he doesn't always understand the rules in the ever evolving game of extreme joint attention (e.g., thinks that they are all pushing him, confused when the rules change, etc.) and can suddenly erupt with extreme anger/tears. He appears to be at a "1" the first minute and suddenly he's at a "5". Where really, he was at a "4" and no one knew it but him. This really is an extreme sport for him - and I am so proud of him for even trying - but am ever fearful of his inappropriate tears of frustration (inappropriate to all the other NT moms & kids out there).

And, I'm going to pre-empt you all out there... yes... we've read the "Incredible 5-Point Scale: Assisting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Understanding Social Interactions and Controlling Their Emotional Responses" by Kari Dunn Buron.

Someone suggested this to us when we joked he "goes to Eleven" - like Nigel Tufnel from "Spinal Tap"

Anyway, Cecily, thank you for sharing.

donna  nunn

My heart broke when I read this story and thank you Cecily for telling it. My beautiful son was just like that and worse some times. We lived in an apartment complex when he was little. He was very echolaic and parroted behaviors and language. Just like Cecily's little boy, he mimed as well. He wanted so badly to play with the other kids in the apartment complex, but when they would see and hear him do these kinds of things they would run away, often making fun of him. My heart broke for him and I knew that I had to do something to help my boy because I knew that he couldn't help what he was doing, but I had to act in order for him to learn any social skills. The biggest issue with the parroting, miming, etc. was him acting out cartoon characters such as Looney Tunes characters, etc. His world centered around cartoons, he was obsessed with them and while they are fun to watch they were causing my child to alienate himself from others, so I did the only thing I could think of. I grounded him, so to speak , from watching cartoons, period. Sound extreme? It was but I was desperate. And so was he.
It was no lie- A living Hell! Every day for months and months, sometimes all day off and on, non-stop tantrums because he wanted to watch cartoons. But I didn't give in. But when he began to improve with other children I used cartoons as a reward for his good progress and my God! It worked! I was so happy and so was he. But while we still limited his viewing of cartoons he would replace one obsession with another to ease his frustration for not being able to focus on his other fixation, which was and still is to this day, a challenge. He went from cartoon characters to video game characters, who ironically look just like toons. Ha! So, again, he was only allowed to play video games as a reward for positive behavior and this went on until he was in his teens. He is a beautiful young man who will soon turn 21 and it is scary and new in itself, this adult who never ceases to amaze me. Even more amazing is the fact that he is a cartoonist and a published author of his own comic book. The very thing that once hindered him is now a great way for him to express himself. So Cecily, don't give up. You will find a way to help your boy. Thanky you for your lovely and revealing story and God Bless you both.

Cherry Sperlin Misra

Wow, such wonderful replies- such terrific ideas. Taximom I love some of your approaches.I very much agree with the writer who suggested that if a negative situation is repeating itself time after time, one needs to look for a different approach or some kind of change. We need more topics like this and perhaps one day a book to help parents. One thing I am sure of is this- many of you are one day going to see your children evolve into being more sociable. It will happen. The body does heal itself.


The hardest thing of all is to be patient, isn't it? And we have all already used up so much of our patience reserves.

It took MONTHS of telling our son, "go say "hi" to that child on the playground" before he actually did it--and then he didn't know what the next step was. So we acted out playground scenes, and yes, watched TV to see examples of appropriate playground conversation.

And it still took two YEARS after that before he got to the next step.

But then, when he was 6, our 3rd child was born, and I just couldn't manage the 45-minute drive to speech therapy any more. So we enrolled him in a children's theater program instead--and it turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made.

I thought speech therapy was wonderful for him, indeed, necessary--but the theater classes taught him the same skills, but in the company of neurotypicals (mostly--there were kids with all kinds of issues as well, as nobody was turned away until the class was full).

He's been involved in theater ever since, and was just cast in the high school fall play.

Most people now have no idea that h was ever diagnosed (though most here would guess pretty quickly!) He still needs to swing on the swingset for at least half an hour a day, and when he is stressed, he still needs to be non-social--he needs to process things, deal with things HIS way. And that's fine with me.

I'd rather see him find his own way that works for him, yet still allows him, for the most part, to more or less fit in rather than following someone else's prescription of what he should and shouldn't do.

If you run out of patience, borrow some from a friend, or pray, or whatever it takes, because more is always needed! And don't be afraid to try a different route to the same destination, if it feels right to you.

bad apple

Taximom’s advice hit home for me. When my youngest son’s teacher spoke with me about her concerns about my son’s lack of social interaction (he, as all of my children, are undiagnosed), I told her that I didn’t feel it was really doing him any good to try and force him to interact. I suppose I could liken it to how in the old days (according to my mother), the teachers would try to force left handed people into using their right hands. It just didn’t work, and only made the children miserable. Except that I might, at least from my own recollections of my own situation in grade school and high school, more accurately compare it to insisting that a child in a wheel chair get up and walk. The idea that I might make small talk (and let’s face it, from about second grade on ‘playing’ really means talking) was about as ridiculous as the notion that a pig might fly.

I’ve often told myself that well at least it’s a little bit different for my own son, in that he at least is not alone. I know that there are others like him in his school. Altho I frankly don’t think they ever get together the same way that Taximom describes with her son.

I did speak to my son’s teacher about our concerns—I believe it was his third or fourth grade teacher, and this was six or eight years ago now. I told her at that time that I only hoped that she wouldn’t do anything to make him feel bad or ashamed about the fact that he is so very quiet. “If he’s anything like me”, I said, “there’s nothing he can do about that.” I told her though that I did believe that it was a very good idea if she were to try to encourage him to interact, and to encourage others to interact with him, but only if she thought she could manage to do that without shaming him. (I frankly didn’t have any idea how that might be done but heck she was the teacher so I hoped she might…)

I have always suspected that the woman who turned out to be my best friend growing up was a child that a teacher spoke with at some point, and planted an idea in her head -- “Go, try to talk to that little girl.” On our walks home (I think we were about eight) she was quite persistent, and eventually I was able to forget, at least with one person, that I was unable to make casual conversation. And although I never found out for sure if it was an arranged friendship, I think that even if it was in the long run that didn’t really matter to either of us.

I’m not sure how much effort the teachers have put into doing this sort of thing with their students. At any rate, when they reach the age that mine are now (teenagers), there isn’t much that they can do, I think, to try to foster these relationships. I only hope that the aspies out there in the schools, now that there are more of them, manage to find each other and relate somewhat.

Stephanie Weiss

Wow, sounds like you and your son are not in a very supportive school or community. When my 8 yo non verbal son and I or his Dad walk in out neighborhood kids run up to him and talk to him all the time (even tho they don't get a response) They also follow him at the park to play with him and even tho he doesn't play back many of them will just follow him around and do what he does, not to mock him, but to be with him. When he played Tball at 5 yo kids from the opposing team would take his hand to run the bases. I credit a school system that cares with all this outpouring of love. School time is the least of my go with me to the drug store and I cringe as ADULTS stare at us waiting in line and my son decides he's not waiting anymore and wants to throw himself on the floor, that's anoher story.......


My son is corrected every time he throws food on the floor, climbs up bookshelves to reach a DVD, shoves, hits, pushes and slams doors. I don't let him run in the streets or parking lots, I insist we hold hands and walk looking "both ways."

Ben recently started school and after a week of half days I came to pick him up a little early. I saw that the teacher had lined the kids up, there was my son standing in line waiting patiently for the line to start moving. How could this be possible? Ben standing in line, patiently? No way, but it was!

"I know that he didn't have the faintest idea HOW to play with others, and the neurotypical kids didn't have the faintest desire to play with him."

I totally get what you are saying taximom, but when your son is making a decision to play alone he has done so based on certain rationalizations and perceptions based on his understanding of the dynamics, dynamics that may be extremely flexible and can be manipulated. You made a great point about attempting one on one play dates etc. and I'm not so certain that Ms. Ruttenberg hasn't done that, in fact I imagine that she must feel as though her son is capable of playing with others because she was disappointed he was playing alone and somewhat surprised not be find him in his "likely" spots, spots where other kids were playing, where his sister plays. She was embarrassed that the "school" might notice him playing the way he was.

"My eye scans the crowd, stopping in the likely spots. Sandbox, no. Spinny swing, no. Climb structure where his sister usually plays, no. Water fountain, no. My eyes scan until I see a boy alone in the far field, miming some indecipherable action for much to long. Bingo. I take a deep breathe. "Calm, peaceful, accepting." I walk hurriedly past groups of his classmates playing tether ball, ball wall, foursquare. I hope they don't see him out there, in a solo miming frenzy. I realize I am holding my breathe, as if I can stop time and keep the school from noticing him as long as I don't breathe."

I don't want to come off wrong, I'm not arguing, each of us handle things differently, we do so because we know our kids. To me if a child can do it once he can do it a million times.... or so it is reasonable to hope. I feel that Ms. Ruttenberg's account is that of disappointment, and a confession of human emotions that she is not proud of. I'm not brave enough to admit my self perceived short-comings much less post this post under my true name. I admire Ms. Ruttenberg's courage and I respect her because she said, "He is healthy. He is beautiful. He is trying so hard. He has come so far. He cuddles with me at night. I love him so dearly. Thank you God for my beautiful son." and I believe her.

(anonymously posted)


I should add that my son, who at age 3 looked very autistic when at school (he was much better one-on-one), and continued to look autistic for several years, now (at age 14) has friends, is invited to parties, and talks on the phone with his friends, as well as texts and Facebook.

But it didn't happen overnight, and I didn't force him to be someone he didn't want to be.

I think of it as though he were from another planet, and my job is to get him to function comfortably here on earth. I had to explain all of our strange Earth Customs, and their reasons for being customs, and I had to map it to his own way of thinking so he could translate from his own language to Earth Language (and remembering that Earth Language has body language and facial language, while autistic language does not).

Thinking of it as translation means that I'm not making him feel like he's broken and needs to be fixed. He's just learning a foreign language/culture.


while autistic kids thrive on rules, I don't think that giving a kindergartner a rule that "we don't play alone at school" is either helpful or realistic.

I never gave my son that rule, because I know that he didn't have the faintest idea HOW to play with others, and the neurotypical kids didn't have the faintest desire to play with him.

I also realized that after a long day of trying to fit in and follow rules, he needed down time.

What I did to was organize lots of one-on-one playdates, and play with him myself.

It wasn't until he was in 4th or 5th grade that we realized that he had the uncanny ability to walk across a room crowded with other kids and pick out the only other autistic/Asperger kid here, even though they'd never met before.

And they would talk with each other , and UNDERSTAND each other. And they would play--and look like they were normal.

Parenting and teaching supposedly normal children is extremely complicated, because there are so many ideas about What Is Right--and it's the same with autistic kids.

We hear about ABA, Lovas, mainstreaming, special Ed, and each method contradicts some other method.

When it comes down to it, you have to listen to your own gut instincts. Just because some Expert says that your child needs to play with others doesn't mean that he CAN , or even that he should. Why should he have to do something that is obviously NOT rewarding for him , when the other kids get to do what they want to do at that time?

Forcing him to behave socially isn't going to teach him social skills, but it will be a source of frustration for him.

Why not set up a playdate for him that guarantees some amount of fun for both him and for the friend? For example a trip to the MacDonald's climbing room, or making cookies or edible playdough? Then he can learn that playing with another child can be something to enjoy--even if it's more side-by-side play rather than back-and-forth play.

If he has an aide at school, or even just a teacher aware of his dx, they could (and should) facilitate his playing with others, either one-on-one, or incorporating him into a group game.

I do think there's something wrong with setting it up so that you are disappointed in him when he doesn't play with others a pick up time--especially when he can feel your disappointment and feel he has to apologize!!

And you are obviously so stressed about pickup-I'd say that something is not working and something needs to change.


I found the story you shared haunting and beautiful and powerful and REAL. You don't need any advice from the peanut gallery here.
Thanks so much for telling your story and thank you AOA for putting it here.
If we don't tell our stories who will?


My son is mostly recovered, but last year he totally melted down in class over an assignment, writing a few sentences about "My Favorite Friends" as part of a book they were making about their favorite things. Apparently, he's been putting off completing this part of the assignment. Favorite foods? No problem. But favorite friends? He was completely gridlocked and in tears, wanting so much to have friends -- and to be able to complete his assignment -- and realizing that he didn't. I happened to be there helping in the classroom that day, thank God. It took the entire recess to talk him off the ledge while the rest of the class was out playing. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't been there.

Cherry Sperlin Misra

I much appreciate the self honesty of this article. One principle that we are looking at here is this: When a child feels that he is unsatisfactory and you are disappointed with him, he feels guilty and sad, but at a young age is unable, on his own to make changes. This burden of feeling unsatisfactory comes on top of all else that he as an autistic person is experiencing.
Oh, if only our doctors and health officials could understand how tough it is to be autistic. !


Kim, I have found people are very willing to learn also. I am very fortunate that my nonverbal daughter loves to go places and does not get stressed around people the way some children like her do. People usually really like her also. I do admit to feeling like Cecily does sometimes that she cannot play normally at all, though. Especially when all her siblings are milling around the house interacting with each other on a Saturday morning and she is talking to the vegetables on the side of an empty can of V8 juice.

I wonder sometimes what she is doing when she does things like that. I wish that she could tell me what she is thinking about like Cecily's son can.


When I pick my son up I often find him playing happily in a corner by himself immersed in his own imaginary world.. I realized the other day he is very happy with who he is and it is I that has to learn to that it's okay.

K Fuller Yuba City

What I see in this story is a school not doing it's job. Where is the facilitated play? There is nothing more painful than arriving at school only to see your child isolating themselves in the corner of the playground. They need to be shown how to interact, and now that the admitted number in Autism is 1in100, the other kids need to be on board and learning how to bring these kids into play.
Our son wants friends so badly that he is constantly creating play in his mind, speaking in all of the voices like a play.
And I tell him to look around, everyone is not talking to themselves, they are talking to each other. But no one wants to talk about what he wants to talk about. No one wanted to pretend there was a lemonade stand for your boy either.
We are not ashamed of the way they act. We want them to fit in!
Every single moment is a teaching moment for our kids. We were also at a funeral last weekend, maybe I should have let him sing Amazing Grace as loud as he wanted to. Maybe that would have been a teaching moment for everyone else.

mary peck

it's frustrating. My son seems to be happy being alone and i don't understand it.


Please don't lose hope. We have a daughter who has Down syndrome and autism. She's 16 now. She became severely autistic after her 2nd MMR, though we didn't understand what had happened to our beautiful little girl at the time. She would sit alone, sifting sand for hours on end, had no interest in any kind of interaction with anyone any more and screamed constantly (sounds familiar, I know). She was completely lost to us. It wasn't until she was 8 years old that a wonderful OT came into our lives and mentioned the word "autism" and told us about a DAN doctor she knew. Fast forward to today, after dietary changes, supplements, chelation, etc. She is, once again, a very social little girl, who loves her family, people at school, going to her siblings sporting events, restaurants, movies, and many other things we simply couldn't do when she screamed all day. She is not as high functioning as we'd like, probably because we started our biomedical journey so late, but she continues to improve and learn. Most importantly, she is happy and enjoying herself, and able to interact with people again. All we can do is accept them for who they are, but never give up trying treatments that might make their lives better. As a side note, her brother also became autistic after his MMR, which we unfortunately gave him just prior to our visit with the DAN doctor. We started his treatments immediately, and he is totally recovered today (top student, all star athlete, no social problems, a true success story). Never lose hope!


I dream of the day when pick-up is that normal. Yes, normal. I've always called my son's autism high functioning but he's nowhere near as high as yours. Pick-up is a toss-up. Is he out playing with others or inside in the calm room screaming? He's come a long way but it is hard on those days when I have to go inside and sit with his teacher in the hall until he calms down. Maybe I do have it easier that he can seem like every other kid in his good hours, but the other hours... Keep focusing on the next day, it WILL be better.

Diane in TN

I can relate - I cringe every day as I wait in the car pick-up line, hoping and praying that our 11 year old had a good day and is fitting in with his typical 5th grade peers. Yesterday, when I reached the 5th grade line, our son was yelling "I DO believe in fairies! I DO! I DO!" (repeating over and over, like in the movie PAN). His friends were laughing at him, and shaking their heads. When I got him into the car, he told me that he told his home room class that the tooth fairy gave him $5 last night for his tooth. Peers told him there IS NO TOOTH FAIRY, and he's been repeating the mantra off and on all day, because if they don't believe, the tooth fairy will die.

At age 11, we're having to burst his balloon that not everyone believes in the tooth fairy, santa claus, the easter bunny, etc., and these beliefs need to be kept private. So sad, for a child who has come so far on his autism journey, to take the wind out of his sails....


This was very poignant for me. It's like seeing a day in the future for my 5 year old.

I think the message of reserving certain behaviors and activities for home is a good one. I use it myself for stimming (my son lays on the floor and rocks). He has been drilled with "you can only stim at home" for years, and this year it has finally sunk in and has for the most part disappeared at school. It's about the seemingly never ending repetition of the message and finding the right currency. For my son, he has been ready and waiting to go to Kindergarten for the past year, and the thought that he might have to go back to preschool if he doesn't behave like a Kindergartener is a big motivator! :)

It IS good to remember that you are fortunate to be able to actually talk about playing alone with your son. That he is healthy and beautiful. But at the same time, higher functioning autism comes with it's own unique set of challenges. And can be a heartbreaking, frustrating world of it's own.

Great piece!

A Mom

I would never subject my child to that kind of pressure in public. And certainly not at their school in the presence of their peers.

Not allowing a child to decompress when and where he needs to, I think, would exacerbate everything else.

This is just another parent's point of voice.


Dear Bad Apple,
I get what you're saying, but I'm not sure that it is shame when you want your child to just "fit in" as much as it is just wanting a little bit of "normalcy" (that means different things for different people) in your life and your kids life. When my son would spin things or play by himself and he was old enough to understand what he was doing, I told him..."no spinning" or "that's not appropriate to play with a toy like that." When he stayed by himself on the playground I told him, "it's more fun to play with friends." It's part of behavior therapy. Now, he plays with toys appropriately. That stimming behavior has been extinguished. Sometimes we need to reshape certain behaviors. I'm not saying in every case. It is different what you tell a four, five, or six year old compared to a thirteen year old. I'm so glad I kept telling my son how much better it is to play with friends. Now, he would rather play with the group than be by himself. He is a lot happier and smiles a lot more on the playground, too. sometimes our kids want to be a part of the group, they just don't know how.


Bad Apple, this post is just one parent's point of voice. And it explains how she felt at that playground. It takes guts to share these stories.

I take my girls most everywhere. We even went to a funeral this past week - church only, not the wake. They were well behaved until the noise of the luncheon got to one of them. So we left. But every parents deals differently.

I tend to tell the world, "Hey, this is who we are. I'll explain the situation to you if you're willing to listen." And people mostly listen and are happy to learn.


Bad apple

When, when, when WHEN are you people going to stop blaming yourselves, and especially your children??!!!???

Why do we say ‘school is a time for friends, home is a time for being alone’??

Do you have any notion how difficult it is to be friends with people when you are unable to make small talk with them? Let alone make eye contact, focus on what they’re saying rather than on the discomfort in your gut or the discomfort from the background noise? All you have to do is watch some of these children for a little while in order to understand. THEY CAN’T HELP IT!
Ok maybe when I was a child, forty plus years ago, nobody understood why I was the way I was. Ok fine maybe they might have been justified in presuming that I was ‘refusing’ to interact with the other students because I was ‘stuck up’. Maybe the attitude that “you can talk to people if you really want to, you just aren’t trying!” was excusable. And maybe even ten or twelve years ago when my own youngest and somewhat autly son was a toddler, the attitude could be excused. But now? With anyone who’s not been dead or under a rock for the last ten years aware of the ever rising rates in autism??

Oh puhLEASE…

Why, why, why why WHY do we continue to make people feel as though they’ve something to feel guilty about simply because they aren’t interacting on a strictly social level with their schoolmates? Or even if they have more severe autism? I have seen sooo many people in recent years with so very VERY much they have to be ashamed of. BUT NOT THESE CHILDREN.

Please please please PLEASE parents of vaccine damaged children, whether high or low on the spectrum, PLEASE stop feeling ashamed of your children. There is nothing they’ve done that is deserving of shame. There is nothing that YOU’VE done. It is the people who’ve profited off of the administration of these toxic vaccines who need to be held accountable and who need to be made to feel, finally, some shame for what they’ve done, for what they do and what they don’t do.

Stop keeping your child with severe autism home simply because you don’t want others to see. Why shouldn’t they see?? Your child was supposedly sacrificed for the health of everyone, for the health of the herd! Let them see what they’ve done in the name of the herd! It’s different if it’s just too difficult, for you or your child. But if you’re keeping your child under wraps out of shame I don’t know how I can scream this loud enough.

!!!!!!!! …. JUST …. STOP ….. IT … !!!!!!!

And please, please please puhleeeease, stop making our children feel guilty simply for being what they are. They were never given a say in the matter.

I watch my own fifteen year old son come home day after day from high school and I know what his day has been like. And I know that he hates me simply for ever speaking the word ‘autism’ publicly—as though things would be different for him, easier for him, if I stopped, if I just shut up about the whole autism/vaccine thing. But how can I do that?

I’m not angry at you, Cecily. I am angry at the people who’ve made you feel the way you did walking across that schoolyard.


I know that feeling and that internal pep talk all too well. No matter how improved our kids are doing, we always want more. On one hand, you don't want to seem ungrateful to those moms who would be happy to have their child where yours is, but what I have found in speaking to other autism moms, is that once you get to one want more. It's okay to want more. We deserve more. Our children deserve more. Until then, we continue to give ourselves the "talk", put on a happy face, and breathe deeply.


I remember when I was first learning about autism, watching my son on a playground, alone, by himself wondering what it would be like for him when he is 7 or 8.

It was one of my first questions I asked of the psychologists, pediatricians, behaviorists, DAN doctors and therapists, do kids with autism know they are alone? The answer was usually that they did not have any sense of being alone, but I started asking parents, the answer was different, the majority of them said that they felt their child knew they were alone and preferred it.

There's a big difference between the two, being unaware and feeling the security of being alone. The difference is that my child is suffering if he chooses to be alone, it is a cognitive act that requires some aspects of reasoning that "professionals" say is not possible in a child with autism.

I know people will be reading Cecily Ruttenberg's story wondering why she would be so hard on her son's solitary play, Cecily, I know why and good for you!

I guess this is all about that part in "I am Autism" that freaks some people the hell out, that some parents will pound their bare fists against a brick wall trying to free their child from the solitary confines of autism. I mean it couldn't be about a child on a playground full of laughs and screams, kids running chasing each other, sitting on picnic tables talking about "kid" stuff with each other. It couldn't be about that child scared, sensory overloaded, resistant, reasoning in his head that he is safer, more comfortable, processing his life by himself, alone, inside his trapped world. After all that would be suffering, pain, frustrating, and correctable and some people don't see it that way.

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