Word play

I have been known to complain about my boys. It’s fair enough for them to have different personalities, characters and preferences, but I would much prefer it if their version of autism could be the same too. [translation = parental convenience] Because autism is a spectrum disorder, I often forget that whilst they have little in common, there are residual similarities that can flare up without warning.

My youngest son has an obsession with death, dying and the fragility of human life. As a result of this, we are careful to avoid the subject. It's not that we are not happy to discuss the issue in general terms. [translation = and have done many times] It's more when a word, or an association with that trigger word, slips into an otherwise ordinary conversation, that trouble soon follows. Whilst we have touched on this matter before, I do not expect mortality to attack me from other sources.

My older son as waited nearly 18 hours for his sister's gift. In his mind's eye, he has anticipated that she would buy him a 'transformer,' whatever that might be? He has been told, often, that it will not be a 'transformer.' Instead it will be something cheaper, probably something he will not like. We have told him this frequently, reminded him of his impending disappointment, since his sister's financial base is modest.

Her delight in being cast as the 'giver of gifts,' has only served to heighten the excitement. [translation = for everyone under the age of ten] For her, a gift, any gift, is a gift. For the boys, any gift, that is not a specific gift, is not a gift at all. In fact, not only does it cease to be a gift, it changes into an object of hatred.

It is hard to dampen my daughter's enthusiasm. [translation = I don't really want to, but I must, so that she in turn, will be prepared to have her gift shunned, her feelings hurt and cope with the disappointment]

It all happened so quickly, during the daily debacle, more commonly known as dinner. The noise is deafening, but fortunately we are in the garden. [translation = polluting our neighbours' peace] My anxious daughter needs reassurance too. We confirm that after dinner, we will take her to the shop to buy the treats for the last day of soccer camp. The boys will remain at home and go to bed. [translation = status and pulling rank as the eldest] Whilst it would have been preferable to reassure her out of earshot of the boys, sometimes you just have to take the heat.

The boys' protests rise a decibel or two at the outrage of exclusion.
“Boys! BOYS! BOYS!” she bellows with her hands raised high to catch they're attention. They stop. [translation = the magical powers of siblings] “Howsabout I get you a prize whilst I'm there? Wouldn't that be great? Would you like that huh? I'll buy em with my own money, so it'll be kinda little……..but only ……if you go to bed nice.” Her face is spread with a cheesy grin. [translation = so is mine] She bounces out of her seat and hugs me where I sit. [translation = the girl done good!]

So how can I burst this bubble? [translation = cigarette burns on a kitten] I have to deflate her a little, to take the edge off when they burst.

I take several opportunities during those 18 hours, to remind the boys about how to behave when you are given a gift that you hate. Since 99% of the gifts they receive fall into this category, they have had a great deal of practice.

Finally, her moment arrived. She presents herself with a flourish, clutching her Target bag to her chest in her hot little hand. She is ecstatic with anticipation. She sinks her hand in to whip out two little sets of cars, the kind that children are often given in party favour bags. Junior snatches his and disappears, shouting 'thank you' in response to my prompt to his rapidly retreating back. My other son points to the words on the packet, wordless. His sister reads them for him, even though he knows what it says: 'die cast cars.'

His scream could shatter every window in the house, as he grabs the packet and hurls it as far as he is able. My daughter is horror struck. My son collapses on the floor to beat it with his fists and kick the hardwood floors as he howls. I settle my daughter with Nonna and concentrate on my son. [translation = before he damages himself]

He remains incoherent for some minutes. Now he is eight, he is big. Now he is eight, he is strong, but his anger is usually internalized. [translation = self mutilation] I stay close because his injuries are swiftly inflicted. The minutes tick by as we wait. I did expect a negative reaction, but not of this magnitude. Slowly his body relaxes. The growls turn to sobs. When he lifts his face, I see fear not anger. I continue to massage his back as I await the return of words. Eventually, they come:
“She is not my friend?”
“Of course she's your friend! She loves you!”
“She wants me die?”
“Pardon?”
“She give me a toy to make me die?” Oh no, not him too! Is it contagious, this OCD fixation on death.
“Die can mean lots of different things. It can mean colour.” His eyes follow my finger as I point out all the different fabrics in the room, all their different colours.

I help him to his feet and lead him to the kitchen. I pull out an ice tray. “You can mould ice in this tray. If I put metal in it and the mould was shaped like cars, I could mould cars. That kind of moulding is called 'die' cast.” He looks at me dubiously, as his little brother bounces in, the little letter lord. His arrival gives me an idea. [translation = treason. Please don't deport me. I'll claim insanity and win.]

“Do you know what?” Both snap back with 'what?' Hallelujah! “When something isn't alive, that’s 'die.' All these other kinds of 'die,' making toys, colouring fabrics, that's a different kind of 'die.'” I double check that I have everyone's attention. Miraculously, I have everyone's attention. “You call it 'D,' 'Y,' 'E.' Not the same thing at all. See?” I waggle the ice tray with one hand, and flap my skirt with the other. Both boys' eyes travel from one to the other and back again.

I wait.

One shrugs his shoulders. The other offers, “I fink I am liking 'dye.'”

Both scamper off without a backward glance.

I only wish my 'OFF' and 'ON' switch, was as efficient as theirs. [translation = bad gene pool]

If they had glanced back, they would have seen a haggard old woman, trembling against the kitchen counter. I suspect that I shall pay for this crime of corruption, later in the school curriculum.

Post Script – I offer my humble apologies for my somewhat erratic visits to all your blogs, but now we are on Summer routine. [translation = a contradiction in terms]


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Dog eat Dog

The term ‘non-verbal’ often accompanies a diagnoses of autism. Just as autism is a spectrum disorder, the term ‘non-verbal’ covers a vast range of impairment. Some children do not speak at all, others are suspected of being an ‘elective mute.’ It is not a simple question of counting the number of single words a child ‘can’ speak. It is not particularly helpful to note that on ‘average’ a child may speak 6 words per day, especially if all those words arrive on the same day, to leave the rest of the week [or month] in silence.

It is difficult to tie cognitive abilities or measure an IQ by the complexity or simplicity of their vocabulary. For example if a child cannot say the word ‘green’ but can perfectly pronounce ‘Corythosaurus,’ what does that tell you? What if someone can verbally describe every train engine invented, differentiating each with precision, but is unable to name any foodstuff? These questions, and many like them, can torture a parent. Whilst a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, greater knowledge often makes the questions you want to ask more confusing still.

As my boys become less non-verbal, I fixate on what they do say and what they leave out or avoid. My youngest is 18 months ‘behind.’ His older brother is two and a half years ‘behind.’ Their frustrations lessen as more words become available to them.

Maybe we’re better off listening instead?

She displays her new 'pet' lizard with pride. The boys are initially dubious, but it's difficult, if not impossible, to ignore her enthusiasm. She transfers the lizard from the watering can to a box. A great deal of discussion about reptiles ensues. Each child has a monologue on the subject. No-one listens to anyone else's input. It's like three visiting professors, each in their own soundproof box, pontificating.

“What dey are eat?” pipes up junior. I resist correcting his grammar as he has voluntarily asked an indirection question about food, a coup for the “neophobic.” I want to say 'flies and worms,' but choose the safer vegetarian option of leaves, seeds and grains, because lizards know their food pyramid.

One person is motivated to name the pet. The boys see this as a pointless exercise and refuse any suggestion she makes. She lectures them about all the world's little creatures which they eventually warm to. Her choices are ridiculed. The boys select names that either rhyme with lizard or start with the letter 'l.'

The subject of 'escape' of the new pet, becomes the new topic, if not concern. Solutions abound. The necessity for 'oxygen,' is interjected by a fourth independent adult party. The information is received with shock. Yes, lizards breathe too. It is hard to reach a consensus of opinion. The options are, in no particular order of priority; a ring of mouse traps, a lid that is soft to prevent injury with holes to assist life duration, a cat to guard and keep it safe.

The fifth party adult, points out that cats are more than a bit partial to lizards. All are delighted to learn of the friendship between the cold blooded and the warm blooded. In the interests of clarity, a translator explained that by 'partial' their father means 'eat.' More shock and consternation rustles through the small audience, once the true nature of this pertinent but unwelcome fact, has been processed. The concept of “death” is always guaranteed to evoke a meltdown of catastrophic proportions in junior. I nibble my bottom lip and wait. Will he connect 'lunch menu' with “death of lizard?” That is certainly one particular fixation that I am careful to avoid reference to.

In this instance, a general denial filters through them. Clearly the information is false. Surely no right thinking cat would eat a lizard? Their father points out that cats, all cats in fact, are carnivores. Silence. Several people cogitate and process. The pampered pussy cats in our household eat dried food only, as recommended by their very expensive veterinarian. The poor deprived creatures have yet to even get a sniff of the tinned stuff.

The convention of youth continues in silent internal debate. Facts and evidence in support percolate. Junior voices an opinion on behalf of his siblings, “no, I sorry about it but you are being dah very stoopid person.” Both his parents delight at his polite but not deferential tone. “Our cats do not eat dah lizards, dey are being dah crunchivores.”

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