by J.L. Sloss

When I read Amanda Parry’s article, “YMCA Should Take Their Advice for Kids and Shove It,” in the Oct. 8 edition of the Local, the hackles went up. I wanted to write a point-by-point letter to the editor saying that she was being nasty, thin-skinned and ridiculously adversarial. But, when I learned in her bio at the article’s end that her son is autistic and her daughter has serious health and developmental issues, I stopped in my tracks.

Amanda talked about a large portrait of Jesus near where people exercise that made some feel uncomfortable. But she talked most about advice that the North Carolina Y gives to kids on little pieces of colored paper — like, being kind to others, being friendly, sharing what you have, never giving up and only buying what you need.

But dealing with parenting is hard enough. Then dealing with special needs children can put a parent right over the top! So I took a breath and decided to respond directly on Amanda’s blog — a more personal message instead of a “here’s what I think about that” message. Here’s what I wrote:

“Hi, Amanda! My first reaction when I read your YMCA article was anger. My daughter is a trainer at YMCAs in the Wyndmoor, Willow Grove, Abington, Roxborough area. I asked her, and she said there are no portraits of Jesus at the Ys where she works, and the only thing close to what you describe is a prayer box where, if someone wants to, he/she can write out a prayer for someone (or something) and put it in the box.

“But then I read your short bio at the end of the article that made things a lot more clear. My daughter has two sons with autism. The older one, ‘John,’ who’s 10, is high-functioning, although he definitely has some issues, one of which is anger (due to frustration, I think). The other one, ‘Matt,’ who’s 8, is at the very bottom of the spectrum. He needs constant monitoring and frankly doesn’t know what planet he’s on.

“He’s in a special class in public school and receives care several days a week from a therapist and is progressing somewhat. He was non-verbal but can now speak to a degree — and, can recognize things, minimally ask for what he wants (like cereal, etc.), but he’ll never develop much more than that. In fact, at some point, as he gets older, the likelihood is that he will need to be placed in a special facility to receive the care he needs.

“Meanwhile, my daughter has three other young children — all ‘normal’ (and, I use that word in quotes because there is no such thing as normal in my book, only average.) So, the challenges of life caring for the 8-year-old impact everybody.

“I think a good resource (if you haven’t already used it) is ‘Autism Speaks,’ not just for advice but for support. The 8-year old is scared of everything, particularly change. The other day my husband had to go to our daughter’s house to let the boys in after school because my daughter was working. The boys normally get off the bus and go up the sidewalk and into the house, but because he saw someone different waiting for him (and he knows his grandfather very well — hugs him, holds onto him normally), Matt would not come into the house. He just stayed in the front yard until my daughter got home.”

I understand a lot of what Amanda is going through — of course, not everything because it’s my daughter who faces these daily challenges, not me. And, she needs to parent on a very broad spectrum. Her oldest girl is 14. Her next oldest girl is 12 (one is in puberty with raging hormones, and the other is about to be), and the youngest son is 5, so it’s definitely a juggling act in their house.

I really think that the YMCA is trying to do the right thing with their messages — trying to instill kindness, fairness and other admirable traits in the kids who go there. And, it sure is important to keep a positive attitude and keep trying when you have a goal. In fact, I call myself an “alphabet planner.” If Plan A doesn’t work, there’s an infinite number of other options.

Amanda talked about parenting books in her article. Really, you could read a million parenting books and still not find a solution for the exact issue you’re dealing with right now with your child. The best advice for someone trying to help a parent is simple; just listen. Be a sounding board. Let the parents know they’re not talking to a wall. Once they put things into words, they can often find a solution that’s been elusive and masked in frustration.

J.L. Sloss is a musician and freelance writer who lives in Wyndmoor.