Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Burts!  We hope that 2011 has been a good year for you and your families.

SB is now 6 and in 1st grade.  We are so proud of him, and of how well he is doing at school!  He is still in a mainstream class with an aide.  He is pulled out of class a little each day for assistance in areas where he has difficulty, mainly reading comprehension.  He continues to flaunt his skills in memory and math, and even gets pulled out of class once a week to work on math with the school’s “Advanced Academics” teacher.   Interacting with other children is still hard, and we are constantly working on the complex world of social skills.  But every time I visit him at school, he is always surrounded by the little girls in his class.  They seem to want to help him and mother him, which is pretty sweet.

As I have mentioned in previous letters, I started worrying about autism and little AB before he was even born.  By the time he turned 2, he was talking and playing so normally that I allowed myself to stop worrying.  We spent 2 years just feeling happy about SB’s progress and AB’s lack of symptoms.  Once AB hit 4 however, we started to worry again.  We switched to a new daycare in the fall, and soon we got reports from daycare that AB seemed to prefer to play alone.  At home, we also started to notice AB enjoying the same repetitive things his brother enjoys.  And although he began to talk at an early age, his language at age 4 was now noticeably less sophisticated than his peers.  So in November we trudged back to the Developmental Pediatrician, this time with AB, and again walked out with an autism diagnosis.

Of course we are sad.  And disappointed.  And worried.  I could probably list adjectives all day.  But strangely, we are not devastated this time, and I think there are a number of different reasons for that.  The first is that I am not pregnant and hormonal this time around.  Also, AB’s condition is considered mild – his place on the spectrum is less severe.  Third, we have seen firsthand how much therapy can help, and we recognize that we do not have to start at “Square 1” this time with basic communication.  And finally, we do not have the fear of the unknown like we did 5 years ago.  We’ve traveled this road before, so we already know what to do, where to go, and who to contact.  But of course, it’s still a little daunting and scary.

Both boys keep busy with their activities.  They take a Tae Kwon Do class that is adapted specifically for kids on the spectrum, and they love it!  They also take swimming lessons, although both are still a little afraid of that big step of putting their head under the water.  They also enjoy the children’s activities at our church.  And SB keeps busy with therapy, which we will soon be adding for AB.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to make time for them to just go to the playground, ride bikes, and just plain PLAY!  We are thankful that although there are social difficulties in both of them, they seem to be best buds, playing together and fighting with each other the way all siblings do.

After 10 years at his previous middle school, Charlie changed jobs this fall and became the Band Director at Sidney Lanier Middle School in Fairfax, VA.  He is very happy with the school and the students, and is enjoying the year a lot.  He is also happy to be receiving invitations to judge and guest conduct bands around Virginia and North Carolina.  I am still a clarinetist in the Air Force Band, some days enjoying the work and other days counting down to retirement.  (5 years 7 months!)  The most exciting thing in my year was that after 30 years of wearing glasses and contacts, I had laser eye surgery and am now free of corrective lenses.  We took a fun family vacation in July to Hershey, PA, a place with an abundance of two of my favorite things, roller coasters and chocolate!

As I sat down to write this year’s letter, I was feeling pretty down about recent events.  I thought of some my past letters and decided to reread them.  And I realized that when I’m feeling overwhelmed about this new challenge I’m facing, what I really need to do is take my own darn advice!   2007 – “There are times in life when you have done everything that you can, and the only thing left to do is wait and pray.”  2008 – “I cannot make either of my children something that they are not.  I need to accept them and love them as they are.”  2009 – “I can only hope that my family will continue to thrive, and that I will learn and grow from all of my experiences, good and bad.”  2010 – “Reflecting back, it feels good to list all of the things SB has accomplished, how much he has changed, and how much Charlie and I have learned.”  Sometimes I need to remind myself to wait and pray, to accept my children for who they are, to remember how far we’ve come.  And sometimes, I just have to remind myself to BREATHE.    The Burts family wishes you a very happy holiday and a happy and healthy 2012.