Ever since Charlie started his new school and we figured out that the "red school bus" can get him home by 3pm at the earliest, Jim and I have been in a state of near panic about 15 minutes of Charlie's day twice a week.
Because our speech therapist and best babysitter (she has been with us for three years) can get to our house at 3.15pm after she gets off work, but not earlier. Because Charlie, being Charlie my son who has autism, cannot go to any old after-school program or just have any old babysitter babysit. Daycare--not only respite services--for special needs kids is not exactly readily available. Charlie attended an afterschool program for developmentally disabled children and adults in the fall but he was not happy there.
But what to do about those 15 minutes?
Jim works in New York City and the last class I teach a couple days a week ends around 3pm--and I am a half-hour away if I employ Autism Working Mom In An Extreme Extreme Hurry driving procedures. We hoped that it would take "a bit of a while" for Charlie's bus to drive him home. On the first day, the bus took almost 2 hours--and thereafter, around 37 minutes, sometimes 29.
Charlie is again a happy schoolboy and had a busy schoolday. (Despite an awkward start to the day when the bus driver asked me to "help her out" by driving him one day--Doesn't a bus driver, by definition, drive the bus?--I said, No.) Charlie has started the Edmark reading program and did plenty of talking ("May I have more green apples?"). He had a ten-minute tantrum sometime in the afternoon, sat in a chair to calm down quickly, and went on to do video modeling.
But those 15 minutes?
Jim and I have been calling and scheming and asking people, to no avail. Then yesterday I called my neighbor; we've bought Girl Scout cookies for the few years from her daughter. I explained the situation: "We just can't have anyone with Charlie."
"I'll make some calls," she said. "How does he like his new school?"
I felt a quiet joy in saying, "Loves it."
As Charlie did speech today, my neighbor called with the name of a mother who had been a lunch aide for a child in one of Charlie's special ed classes a few years ago; the mother came over, we talked, she remembered Charlie........... and not only 15 minutes twice a week but 15 minutes three times a week of Charlie's days are covered.
Is it when you start asking for help that help comes through the door? Only connect.
Charlie and I got into the drive-through line at McDonalds behind a dented green minivan with an Autism Awareness ribbon, then drove up to a clinic meeting with our ABA/Lovaas team (in which he manded a lot and played Colorama independently as we discussed how to redirect his stimming and scripting). He curled up next to one therapist on the couch, and squeal-smiled when another one gave him a surprise tickle--yes, very cute. He helped carry back his reading-writing board to the car and, after rocking himself in his little beach chair atop the big blue pillow and listening to music and playing with Model Magic, took himself to bed.
I can sleep a bit easier knowing that I have 15 minutes times 3 less to worry in the coming months. But I'm haunted knowing that true luck has come my way and it could as easily not have. Autism Working Moms and Parents, and Autism Parents in general, do not have many options when it comes to childcare. I have chosen to keep working through all these years of raising Charlie and there have been many benefits and many headaches (what happens when Charlie is sick?), just as staying at home and being his chief therapist would have also had both its benefits and challenges.
15 minutes in Autismland can be a really long time.