And so sometimes we feel a bit the victims of a 21st-century shunning. In the larger context, however, these are small annoyances from small people. The chair of my department invites J. to her yard so he can play in her outdoor pool and lets him vocalize to her neighbors, who do not complain. A mini-gang of too-cool teen boys walks by our short fence after school and always greets J. sincerely, as he calls out adoringly, "Hi, hi, HIIIIIIIIII!" I am grateful that the cannabis has given J. the chance to get out and experience life. If it sometimes punches him back, it also offers him flowers.

I don't consider marijuana a miracle cure for autism. But as an amateur herbalist, I do consider it a wonderful, safe botanical that allows J. to participate more fully in life without the dangers and sometimes permanent side effects of pharmaceutical drugs; now that we have a good dose and a good strain. ("White Russian" -- a favorite of cancer patients, who also need relief from extreme pain). Free from pain, J. can go to school and learn. And his violent behavior won't put him in the local children's psychiatric hospital -- a scenario all too common among his peers.

A friend whose child was once diagnosed with autism, but no longer (he attends school at his grade level and had three developmental assessments showing he no longer merits the diagnosis), wanted to embark on a kind of karmic mission to help other children. After extensive research, she landed on cannabis the way I had. "It has dramatic implications for the autism community," she says, and it's true. We have pictures of J. from a year ago when he would actually claw at his own face. None of the experts had a clue what to do. That little child with the horrifically bleeding and scabbed face looks to us now like a visitor from another world. The J. we know now doesn't look stoned. He just looks like a happy little boy.

And cannabis still can surprise us. We worried that "the munchies" would severely aggravate J.'s problems with overeating in response to his stomach pangs. Instead, the marijuana seems to have modulated these symptoms. Perhaps the pain signals from his stomach were coming through as hunger. J. still can get overexcited if he likes a food too much, so sometimes when he's eating my husband and I leave the room to minimize distractions. The other day, we dared to experiment with doenjang, a fermented tofu soup that he used to love as a baby. The last time we tried it, a year ago, he'd frisbeed the bowl against a tile wall. (Oh, smelly doenjang soup and the million ways it can make a mess.)

We left J. in the kitchen with his steamy bowl and went to the adjoining room. We waited. We heard the spoon ding against the bowl. Satisfied slurpy noises. Then a strange noise that we couldn't identify. A chkka chkka chkkka bsssshhht doinnng! We returned to the kitchen, half expecting to see the walls painted with doenjang. Everything was clean. The bowl and spoon, however, were gone.

J. had taken his dishes to the sink, rinsed them, and put them in the dishwasher -- something we'd never shown him how to do, though he must have watched us do it a million times. In four months, he'd gone from a boy we couldn't feed to a boy who could feed himself and clean up after. The sight of the bowl, not quite rinsed, but almost, was one of the sweetest sights of my parental life. I expect more to come.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee teaches at Brown University and is the author of the novel Somebody's Daughter, and is a winner of the Richard Margolis award for social justice reporting.