Fear but not loathing, in San Jose

Many people are fearful of autism. As a parent of two autistic boys it's not 'autism' that I fear, it is the 'unexpected' that comes with autism that gives me cause for concern. Although I understand my boys better than I once did, I still find that supervision and vigilance have to be my greatest priorities in certain situations. Luckily, I know what most of those situations are. Our home is no longer 'baby proofed' but it is safe for my children. Outside our house offers varying degrees of danger even though to most other people this might be hard to appreciate. So very often, it is not the obvious dangers such as roadworks surrounding a gaping hole in the sidewalk, flagged with orange cones, netting, ribbons and flags for the unwary, but much more mundane matters.

We begin to leave the restaurant.

It is commonplace in America to find a complimentary basket of sweets [translation = candy] usually mints or lollipops and tooth picks at the checkout. This is curious for a number of reasons. Firstly, you have just eaten so why would you need more food? If you are unlucky enough to have need of a toothpick, surely they should be housed in the bathroom [translation = restaurant] as surely no-one is going to walk or drive home picking their teeth? That aside, this combination, attractive preferred food place adjacent to a means of torture [translation = pointy, sharp toothpicks] is more or less guaranteed to provoke a meltdown of catastrophic proportions in my youngest son. The main issue here is the dichotomy between the desire to reach out a hand to take the lollipop and at the same time have the primal fear of being speared by a toothpick!

Fortunately we have had a couple of years to adjust to this pitfall. [translation = only one of the many dangers associated with eating 'out.'] Our current 'coping' mechanism is for either his brother or sister to select and then pass him the lollipop. This again, is not without it's hic-cups and drawbacks, but for now, it will do.


We exit through the first and then the second glass door without incident, or only a couple of minor incidents due to incorrectly calibrated compasses in one child, and poorly co-ordinated motor planning in the other. Outside the second door, I have a collection of children who bear a strong resemblance to drunks being kicked out of a bar at 3 in the morning. No-one appears to be able to find their balance as they are distracted by the lollipops which are encased in a plastic wrapper. This kind of substance is always a challenge for people with poor fine motor skills. [translation = dodgy fingers] The situation is made worse by the fact that the seleophane is transparent. [translation = they can see the prize but can't access it] The enhanced level of frustration accelerates. One bites off the wrapper and spits it out on the ground. For the other one, with oral defensiveness, [translation = sensitive mouth area] this is not an option. Junior can now see his two siblings enjoying their lollipops, the same lollipop that remains caged and off limits to him, which further fuels his rage. It is my experience that it is not possible to do an Irish dance, [translation = think River Dance] whilst screaming in a motor mouth fashion and expect your limited hand power to function. Recognising that you are in 'overload,' is also probably beyond your capabilities by this point.

The sidewalk [translation = path] is as wide as a country lane, but the four lanes of traffic are far too close for my liking. Imagine how your hands would react if I emptied a nest of baby spiders onto your bare skin? Your instinctive reaction exactly matches how my son behaves. Are you still holding the lollipop now that you've brushed off the spiders? No? You dropped it? Where is it? There it is, but off course it's brittle and it has broken. Now he veers off into a vortex, a combination of a fire cracker and a jumping jack. The noise is enough to shatter glass. He could shoot off in any direction. 360 degrees of potential danger. I have no other option than to scoop him up flailing. Six and a half years, and 54lbs of supercharged nerve endings. You can be as vigilant as you can, supervise every second, but unless you intervene at the right time, in the right way, then there is a heavy price to pay.

When I say unexpected dangers, they aren't really. I do know most of their triggers. We're so lucky that they older they become, the less frequently this occurs. Not several times an hour but merely a few times a day. When you also consider that now, these meltdowns are so infrequent, it becomes less and less likely that they will both have one at the same time. It is easy to see how they both blossom and grow. But that's just one of the many reasons that I love to live here, those wasteful, environmentally damning, beautifully wide, safe, sidewalks, that is to say.

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