Issue No. 53, May 2014

“The object of teaching a child is to enable him to get along
without his teacher. ”

~ Elbert Hubbard


The two-word mantra for IEP meetings

During my son’s IEP years, I took a framed photo of him to meetings and placed it in the middle of the table. If the meeting started to veer off course, I would tap the photo and say “This person.”

The list of reasons why IEP meetings veer off course can fill pages. Conflicting views on goals, methods and services can send voices and blood pressure soaring, as can individuals overstepping or sidestepping their responsibilities, engaging in the blame game, refusing to consider alternatives and choices. Some meetings slide into gripe sessions, sometimes contentious, sometimes comradely, about school policy, or about perceived enemies and villains not present at the meeting. Some meetings derail in irresolvable cycles of he said-she said.

I felt blessed that most years, the photo on the table at our IEP meetings invoked only smiles and agreement. But one unpleasant year, I had to tap the photo until the glass all but cracked. An outsider inserted herself into the IEP process, trying to dictate arbitrary limits on services without regard for my son’s individual needs. She misjudged him and tried to belittle and intimidate me and other members of the team. One phone call from me to the district office removed her from the team. I had to bounce her, not because I disagreed with her, but because she was a disgrace to the definition and spirit of the word “team:” a group of people with different skills, tasks and responsibilities who support each other in working toward a common goal.

I might extend my two-word prompt a bit for a recalcitrant or reluctant group, but I could still do it in less than ten words: “This person will be an adult in ____ years.” Because if the team’s mutual primary goal is not helping our child with autism create the sound social-emotional sense of self that will sustain him in living a meaningful, productive adult life as independently as possible, then that team has lost the ball in the high grass. If we can’t see every child with autism as capable, interesting and valuable, no amount of therapy or education layered on top is going to matter.



The one-frame graphic mantra for IEP meetings

And, just in time for IEP season, this chapter summary from my book Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew went viral on Facebook last month. Why? It doesn’t offer any specific instructions for writing an effective IEP, or for achieving specific IEP goals.But it struck a chord as an attitudinal guide, a generalized version of that photo I placed on the table every year. Thousands of comments rained down, many with the same theme: “This is true for all kids. Post in every school and home.”

And it brought heart-warming admissions from parents and teachers alike: “Thought I already knew it all, but this is really insightful.”

You can share through Facebook or Pinterest.

© 2014 Ellen Notbohm




From my blog...

Who are they calling a lost cause?

“The greatest tragedy that can befall a child with autism is to be surrounded by adults who think it’s a tragedy.”

That’s my most widely quoted affirmation, and while it draws overwhelming agreement, it also brings out the 1% naysayers. “Well, it’s no blessing,” comes the retort, to which I reply that not everything in this life has to be a duality.

Going on a decade ago, I heard from a reader who said she “dismissed” my attitude toward my son’s autism as “crazy” while defining autism as a “curse,” and deeming “autists” “a lost cause.” Today, the lost-causers have lost a lot of ground (huzzah!), but the attitude still lingers in the recesses of even some well-meaning souls.An item recently came across my desk reminding us that the Bible tells us to love the lost cause.

Advice columnist Ann Landers famously said that no one can make a doormat out of you unless you lie down and allow yourself to be walked on. I’ll throw down a similar gauntlet: no child, regardless of ability, can be a lost cause unless the adults in his life give up on him.

The blank canvas has no means of becoming art without the artist. The racecar, however powerful, can’t even start the race, let alone win it, without the driver. The yarn without the knitter will never become a sweater; the bricks without the builder will never become a house.

Who is the lost cause? A child with challenges, but also with the ability and the desire to learn and grow, if only the opportunity is offered to him through meaningful channels? Or the adults with an “I can’t,” or worse yet, “I won’t” or “What’s the point?” mindset?

To them I say, why can’t you? Why won’t you?

Why can’t you choose opportunity over tragedy? Why won’t you?

What’s the point? The point is that no child with autism matters any less to the planet than any other child, or any of us vaunted adults. For every person with autism deemed a lost cause, it’s the general population who are the real losers, because we may never discover the unique insights and contributions that need only an alternate path of communication to come to light. Their presence and percentage among us grows with every passing day. We had better be interested in what they have to tell us and teach us.

I won’t say that autism itself is a gift. But the manner in which having a child with autism forced us to slow down and evaluate what matters in life, and how that taught us to see everything from an entirely different perspective—that has been a priceless gift. “Happiness isn’t getting what you want; it’s wanting what you already have.” That’s me, and that’s the way I feel about my son. It is unquestionably the greatest gift I’ll ever receive, and there isn’t a day that dawns for me during which I am not grateful, grateful.

© 2014 Ellen Notbohm



This month in Autism Asperger’s Digest


“The Cat’s Pajamas: Demystifying Idioms for Concrete Thinkers”

Idioms and metaphors are so ubiquitous in our language that we rarely pause to wonder how on earth we ever came up with something as bizarre as “looking a gift horse in the mouth.” We toss around animal idioms in our everyday language like bulls in a china shop, without ever pausing to consider that they have the power to terrify our concrete-thinking children with autism. Ever tell your child that he has ants in his pants, or that you have butterflies in your stomach or a frog in your throat? You didn’t really put a bug in Aunt Kate’s ear, did you? Or open up a can of worms? Nor did you hit a bull’s-eye (or take said bull by the horns), grab a tiger by the tail, beat a dead horse, bark up the wrong tree, or have a cow. . .



This month on my Pinterest quotables board

Follow my Pinterest Quotables board for new pins to share each week, or browse my other boards of book reviews, articles, interviews and translations. Got an idea for a board you’d like to see? Contact me through my website or directly at


Downloadable PDF summaries of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew now available on my website.

Did you miss my last newsletter? Visit the archive on my website for past features.

  • Autism: One word, many truths. What’s yours?
  • Autism Misconceptions for Smarties
  • Autism Mad-Libs: How to fill in the blanks
  • Ten Things Your Child with Autism Wishes You Wouldn’t Share

Writing a book? Contact me about affordable rates for developmental editing and writer coaching at

Excerpts from all my books are on my website, including full chapters from Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew.

©2014 Ellen Notbohm | Third Variation Strategies