No Compass

Now do feel free to stop me at any time when you've had enough, as I do have a tendency to go a little off track on occasions. I won't be in the least bit offended as I'm well versed in social blunders of this kind. When I first meet someone new, I have a inclination not to mention children, mine or anyone else's. Do I behave in this manner because I am ashamed? You'd be justified in that opinion, but you would be way off. Unlikely as it may seem, seeing as how I am a Brit, on the contrary, I like to think that I am being considerate to that person. Unless you, the listener, have unusually enhanced social skills, then if someone that you meet, such as me, tells you that they have a couple of autistic kids in tow, that might prove to be a little bit of a stumper. What is the appropriate etiquette when receiving such a piece of information?

I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that whatever the person says, they at least, feel that it was wrong.

Now I am sympathetic to their plight and that is why I keep mum. [translation = don't let on] As it turns out, after all this time, it doesn't really matter what the reply is, as I've heard most of them, some of them many times and I can honestly say that I am not in the least bit offended any more. I feel sorry for you, the receiver of the information, because hearing this piece of information makes you feel uncomfortable.

It's a tricky one though, if I leave it too long before I mention it to you then it can be even more of an unpleasant or disconcerting surprise.
I know that you're just dying to know what the most common reply is? Well, sorry to disappoint, but generally the one that happens most often is an 'oh!' and a combination of a shifty eyes and a weak smile, followed by either a lengthy pause or a rapid change of subject.

But this isn't really my area of expertise, seeing as how I hale from yonder small island, where 'body language' merely refers to rude hand gestures and there are no such things as social skills, merely rules, a hierarchy and a sense of decorum at all times. Now if my autistic children were hoping for a leg up [translation = advantage] in the realms of social interaction, then they basically drew the short straw. Since I'm out here, in Jolly Old California, rather than back there, at least I have the advantage of understanding the not so subtle messages that I exude. The tight face, stiff upper lip, brow frown and rigid shoulders, tell every one to keep their distance without me having to utter a single syllable. My diction may be first rate, my enunciation second to none, but that won't get me very far with an autistic child because my facial expression doesn't match my message. If you have a face like a poker, you are wasting your time trying to communicate with them. You need an animated face, a cheerleader's movements, an Italian's hand gestures and a tone of voice that is arresting. Without these tools you are wasting your time, you won't even get their attention let alone permit a message to transmit.

Yes, when dealing with an autistic child, whilst it pains me more than you can ever know to admit it, two particularly loathsome American terms come to mind; 'in your face' and 'on your case,' because 'would you mind awfully' and ' when you have a mo' just don't cut it. Fortunately, learning to be a 'citizen' out here has conferred far more benefits upon me than the mere permission to work.


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Food Police

“But I'm hungry!” he screams.
“There are grapes on the table if you're hungry.” He continues to stare at me, hands on hips, forehead thrust outward ready to charge. I keep my countenance bland, hoping that this will deflect the head butt.

Bull? [translation = full body charge] or goat ?[translation = head only.] My ribs may be bruised but there is no other indication of capitulation on my par. I am resolute and immovable. His nostrils literally flare, a skill I wouldn't mind acquiring myself. His shoulders shrug attached to rigid arms and clenched fists, “o.k. then, if that's gonna be how it's gonna be!” He stomps off past me, in nearly a huff, I think? Yes, I think it’s definitely a huff.

I think I like huffs. I think I consider a huff to be progress.


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One Man’s Work

One of the kittens is nose to nose with me, trying to catch the cloth as I scrub in a circular motion the length of the hall. [translation = corridor] He wants to play. I am not feeling playful. The burden of cat litter is akin to nappies. [translation = diapers] It is the kind of task that cannot be postponed. I am feeling hot and bothered. It's not that I'm jealous of course, it's just that he talks more to the cat that he does to me. He speaks long, fluid, mellifluous sentences, with perfect intonation and emotion to that superfluous, work generating fur ball. I have accepted my relegation with grace.

Meanwhile, we have been spending an inordinate amount of time on the latest campaign, trying to get Senior son to lighten up. [translation = not take things too seriously] Many autistic children have no sense of humour [translation = humor] or if they do, it is so obscure or literal, that it fails to have any impact on their audience, assuming they have an identifiable audience. Sometimes it may take a while to determine who that audience is? In our household, more often than not, it is the cats, two of them, who are the audience. The 'lighten up campaign,' is not a voluntary but one provoked by junior's current craze of telling jokes. This is how most of our campaigns begin.

We swim along contentedly in the flotsam until we hurtle into some debris that someone has dredged up. Suddenly we are faced with a meltdown provoking obstacle that needs swift action. In this instance, 'the joker' has come to our household with menaces. The unfunny ones are fair enough, he's not six yet afterall, but he also ventures into the realm of 'funny' taunts, such as 'you are a girl!' Whilst such behaviour should be discouraged, it is also another one of those burdensome learning opportunities which parents of special needs children need to exploit; 'don't take it so seriously, he's only kidding.' [translation = winding you up.] 'He's only having you on.' [translation = pulling your leg] The message we're trying to convey, is that a meltdown is not an appropriate response, or at least, it is too much of a response. A more moderate and smaller response, if any, will suffice. Of course the use of such terms, from either continent, only serves to provoke further angst; “Why you pull my leg off?”

Meanwhile, I am removing 30 feet of kitty litter [translation = grey cement] paw prints from the length of my house. Tedious, tiring and boring. I contemplate as I scrub. I am impressed that he gets the gist of it. When his little brother says 'you are a door!' to the universal tune of 'na na na na na,' he knows that it isn't a compliment. But last time I checked, being compared to a door, doesn't really rate in the great archives of personal insults. He should be able to brush it off or ignore it, but as yet, he is unable. If you exercise your freedom of speech, as every good American should, especially if you are considered non-verbal, and your attempts are rewarded with a spectacular meltdown by your older brother, this must be a most rewarding experience. A rewarding experience is self reinforcing, which means that you will do it more.

I glower at the floorboards. Every revolution of the cloth on the floor provokes an attack from my furry friend with the uncontrollable feet. I'm tempted to squirt him with hard wood floor cleaner, not that I habour any ill-will. My son appears by my side, an angelic avenger of felines, defender and superhero. He hovers as I scrub the last three foot of floor, so that I can get back to my original cleaning plan, as opposed to this additional diversion.

“Whattaya doin?” I sit back so that I can check whether he's talking to me or the cat, because I've been caught out far too often with that one. In one hand I have a floor cloth, in the other hand I have a bottle of floor cleaner. Until just now I was on all fours scrubbing. My brow glistens in the 80 degree heat, my glasses have slithered down my nose due to the fact that I have been in a horizontal position for the last 20 minutes. How many more visual clues does this child need?

“You're havin fun huh?” he questions. Fun! Fun? Has his sarcastic gene finally surfaced? His expression is doleful and dejected. I open my mouth to say something in reply, but I'm having trouble retrieving anything coherent as a prompt. His eyes flick between me and the floor cloth and the cat to ask “can I play too?”

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