[From way back when]
Junior son and I have arrived early at school to pick up his brother from his Special Education Day Class, now that he is in First Grade. We’re early because it allows him to adjust to the ‘new surroundings,’ even though it’s been a few weeks now. It helps to be first because then additional people arrive gradually. We need to avoid the deluge of a crowd. Another mother and her child are also waiting outside the same door. We join her on the bench and I smile. It's reciprocated.
I make sure that junior is on the far side of the bench, as far away from her and her son as is physically possible. My son doesn't look at the other mother, nor her child. He might notice if it was a baby, but toddlers are in the same category as dogs and cats, small creatures that are unpredictable and need to be avoided. He starts to count the holes in the bench; it is a matrix of blue circles. His nose is two inches away from the bench, the holes and his fingers. He can touch it because it is smooth, not hot nor cold, because of the shade on a sunny day. Our awareness of tactile defensiveness and sensory integration grows. I’ve learned to appreciate these things as we cope with complicated matters like temperature. He counts in a whisper but explodes with “Barnacles!' when he realizes that he'll need to start at the beginning again, because he's not following a mapped path of holes.
The other mother's son beams hugely at me with large smiling eyes, heavily lashed. He's still in nappies [translation = diapers.] We mothers start to chat, as we have a good 15 minutes to wait. She tells me about her family, husband and two boys. She's very open. I know now that her child is not in the class room behind us but in a different, mainstream class. She tells me what a trial the little one is, so energetic “you wouldn't believe!” she sighs. I would.
Junior's body starts to push against mine. I know that my bottom is covering the holes that he wants to count. He's not going to ask me to move, he's just going to shove my weight out of his path; his 45 lbs is going to move my adult bulk by will power alone. I tap him on the shoulder to get his attention. He keeps pushing, oblivious and absorbed. When I don't budge, he eventually snaps “wot?” with a “tone of irritation.” Many autistic children respond, if at all, inappropriately, or out of proportion. Eventually he glances up at my huge immovable form with annoyance, his face scowls. I catch his eyes but before I can speak he realizes that he's lost count again “Fish paste!” he bellows hurling himself on the ground, beating it with his fists, kicking up the dust [ translation = dirt.] He wears long sleeves and long trousers in the baking 80 degree heat. He realizes that the bare flesh of his exposed hands, has come in contact with something that he would rather not have contact with. Immediately he is on his tippy toe feet, flapping his arms and rain dancing to shake off the debris. I make brushing gestures over him, being careful to avoid the head area. His head and shoulders are especially sensitive and strictly off limits. He slumps, crestfallen and chin fallen. His eyes fall on the bench and he flops on it to start counting again. This kind of persistence and determination, often form a mesmerizing form of “perseveration,” which is calming.
The woman next to me smiles, kindly “he's a funny little guy!” I pause and glance at her, trying to gauge if it's worth it. It would seem that I will see her often.
“Actually he's autistic.”
“Autistic, he's in a special education class, Pre-K. So is his brother, that's who we're waiting for, he's in Mrs. K's class.”
“He doesn't look autistic?”
I don't say anything. We both watch him counting holes; 203, 204,205. He will be five years old in a few months. Her son keeps interrupting, wanting her attention; Watch me! Watch me! Play with me! Play with me!
The loud haler starts crackling, warming up ready for the siren. I move swiftly to the other side of him ready to pounce. The end of the school day is announced. It is very loud, with lots of static. I check whether he is about to meltdown and cover his ears or whether he's disengaged from the whole world, solely intent on his task. It could go either way, but I'm ready to grab him if he goes hurtling off ears covered, to run blindly towards the traffic; 237, 238, 239. What is the American sporting game where you have to catch the ball just in time? Ah yes! Cricket.
“You'd never know, would you?”
I would now.