Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me, "It must be so hard to raise a disabled child." They have a point -- Peter is a lot of work, and he can silently spread a six-ounce container of yogurt farther than most people could possibly imagine. Still, it's hard to see him as "disabled" when more and more often, his unique mental wiring means that something goes unexpectedly, perfectly right.

In my life outside the house, I am a professional accompanist. This means that people sing or play instruments, and I play the piano along with them. At the moment I am employed by a local college whose talented instrumentalists outnumber their piano majors. It is part-time, it involves playing lots of classical music, and best of all, when it's time to perform, somebody other than me has to be under the spotlight with two hundred people looking at them. It is an ideal job for me, but it is not one that blends well with my day job of being a mom.

This afternoon I rehearsed with one of these students, a senior oboe student named Emily whose talent is (fortunately for me) matched by her easygoing nature. I normally hire a babysitter for all of my music work, but today Peter's sitter's class schedule meant that he had to join me midway through a rehearsal. I apologized profusely to Emily, knowing that my attention would necessarily be divided during our practice time. I was further chagrined to discover that I had forgotten to bring a coloring book and crayons for Peter, and he would have to endure 45 minutes in an uninteresting room with little to entertain him.

I knew, though, that even the coloring book probably wouldn't have helped much. Feigning interest is not a typical skill among five-year-old boys, and Peter is no exception. He rarely wants to color, and I knew that the rehearsal would probably end early and in frustration. Emily was gracious, but I confess I snickered to myself, "Yeah, well, let's see how things look in ten minutes when he's emptied your purse onto the floor."

Emily and I resumed our practice, and Peter predictably lost interest in the crumpled recital program and ballpoint pen I had scrounged up for him. He wandered from place to place in the practice area, pointing out chairs, wall panels, and a cluster of metal music stands in the corner of the room. For the next quarter of an hour, I labored to simultaneously answer Peter's questions, keep him relatively quiet, and accurately forge through a wilderness of staccato chords and elaborate baroque trills. I consider myself a decent multi-tasker, but this was stretching it even for me.

As we wrapped up our rehearsal, it seeped into my consciousness that Peter had been very quiet for quite some time, allowing us to work much longer than I had anticipated. I gathered up my music and turned around on the bench, only to discover that Peter had carefully extended each of the heavy black music stands to its full height of nearly six feet, and then quietly spaced them evenly across the unused part of the room in a visually striking display that would be completely at home in any of the world's more avant-garde art museums.

I don't know if I'll ever be able to say I'm glad that Peter is autistic, and honestly, I'm not sure that's a goal I want to set for myself. But today, I got to see my son's inexplicable focus on inanimate objects turn a frustrating scheduling conflict into something surprisingly successful, and transform a bland rehearsal space into a whimsical modern art display.

Disabled? Not in a million years.