Notable Quotes and a quickie

My daughter to her little brothers:

‘You guys are just impossible!
‘No! We’re not guys! He’s a cat and I’m an “Uglyworm.”

My son – after a long, tortuous and circular argument:

‘I am Mister Understood.’

At breakfast, before I am truly awake:

‘You may wish to get some more cereal from the garage, the choice is a bit lean.’ He doesn’t move but continues to stare at the cupboard. I watch him and try again, with far too many words, ‘I’m sure there’s some new packets out there, pretty thin pickings in here.’ He remains rooted to the spot as he slopes into a 65 degree angle with his cheeks sucked in, although its unlikely to make him any skinnier.

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The enemy of my enemy is my friend

We survive the drama of the ripped hang-nail and a micro bead of blood. His wounded hand hides in his pulled down sleeve for protection, as his other hand crushes the blood flow.
“Which are you be likin betterer?”
“What’s my choice?”
“Anemones, the flowers?”
“Dey are be lookin like flowers but they are being dah sea creatures.”
“Oh. Of course you’re right, Anemones are animals.”
“Which are you likin betterer?”
“Anemones or what, what am I choosing between?”
“Nude….nude…. Nudibranchs.”
“Fancy you remembering Nudibranchs! The enemy of all free thinking Anemones.”
“They are predators.”
“So I’m choosing between Anemones and Nudibranchs?”
“I think I prefer Anemones to Nudibranchs.”
“Coz then you are on the right side.”
“The right side of what?”
“You’re one of the good guys.”
“I am?”
“Why am I one of the good guys?”
“Coz Nudibranchs are dah enemy, predators.”
“Anemones are beautiful. Did you know they’re called the flowers of the sea? Such lovely colors. I can see why you like them. You’ve always had a fondness for flowers.”
“You still love flowers, right?”
“I love Daisy flowers but I like Anemones because they’re invertebrates and…..”
His face glowers as he growls, Boris Karloff style, “ and they’ve vicious carnivores,”.
He releases the grip on his hand so that the fingers can wiggle free from the fabric. He examines the damage to the digit closely, without the use of a microscope,
“and if they lose a tentacle, they can grow a new one.”

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Children with Special Needs

I shall be diplomatic now because this isn’t my story to tell.

My son, the birthday boy and host is busy, occupied, as we order our drinks in the restaurant. His friend makes two strenuous attempts to request a beverage from the server. His voice is as clear as a bell and quite as piercing, but the message has failed to penetrate. I intervene:- “yes he’d like half Pepsi and half Sprite please?”
The server is perplexed and distracted as he mines for information. From a distance we look like any other party of 12. Close up, it’s different. It takes a different format in each child. Collectively it can be disconcerting. It’s as if we each have three heads, fluent in Swahili.
“Can you do that? Mix Pepsi and Sprite in the same glass please?”
“Er….well…” Throughout our exchange, our young friend repeats his request in a loop of ever increasing frustration, since my translation appears equally as useless.
“Do you think that would be ok.?” I ask as I try to arrest the server’s attention.
“Is he er…..does he…….is he…….does he have…..special needs?”
“Yes Sprite and Pepsi, mixed in the same glass please, special order.”
“Right.” He disappears without a murmur, to return shortly afterwards. We go round the table for the food order, until we reach our same young friend, “chicken nuggets please and no fries.”
“Would you like fries with that?”
“No fries.”
“It comes with fries. Would you like fries or one of these other choices, see at the bottom of the page?” Persists the server.
“No fries.”
“Would you like something else?”
“No, no fries.”
“You don’t want fries?”
Our young friend turns to me for full on eye contact, the faulty conduit, gives up on the server, to explain what should not need any further explanation. With an electrically charged tone of voice that carries over 10 tables in the noisy restaurant, “don’t give me fries, don’t give me anything with potato products or I’ll vomit.”
The server flinches, stabs himself in nose with his pen – a gasp and a laugh of relief as he skuttles off to the kitchen with mirth. My daughter watches him leave without initial comment, until she is quite certain he is out of ear-shot, “I never thought you need good listening skills to be a server.”
“It a much more highly skilled job than most people realize, at least if you want to do it well.”
“I wouldna believed it if I hadna heard it for myself.”

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Perspective taking – Nice but dim

I remember the festive season when I was small; my family confined together in cozy home with condensation on the window panes. My mother’s expression was one of displeasure with large blotches of annoyance – a message without any other clues. Being clueless, she added words – “why don’t you play in your room!”
Lots more toys up there.
“What do you think your bedroom is for?”
“Do you think you might do something to help?” Helping seemed like a good idea; I considered myself to be a helpful sort of a child. Given the choice between unhelpful and helpful, I’d definitely opt for helpful; who’d choose the negative? I thought, quite wrongly, that my beaming smile was an indication of willingness and readiness. I should have probably added words to match my demeanor, something like, ‘yes, here I am, awaiting orders.’
“Open your eyes!”
They were already, so I blinked, just to make sure.
“Look at this place! Look at the mess!”

I looked.

There were my toys, quite a lot of them. My little brother’s toys were scattered without any noticeable order – very messy. There was my teenage sister’s paraphernalia; boring stuff with very little entertainment value. My Dad’s papers, books, stamps, albums and equipment were neatly arranged on a small collapsible table, poised in front of his winged backed chair. Next to it was my mother’s winged backed chair, because they were a pair. On and around her chair were masses of bags and boxes, with a side table at arm’s reach. Every surface was piled high with knitting, embroidery, darning, mending, many books on a wide variety of topics, all open, not even stacked – a veritable mountain of mess.
“Shall I tidy it?”
“Yes you will!”
I stood alone in the room for a moment, pondering my mother’s lair. What, if anything, could be squished into something else? It was just as I was jamming the knitting into the basket that my mother returned and squeaked, “mind!” but I was ahead of her, I had no intention of impaling myself on the needles. “What do you think you are doing?”
She shooed me away as you would a chicken, flighty creatures renowned for their small brains. “For the last time!”
Last time?
“Will you pick up your toys?”
My toys?
Well why didn’t you just say so in the first place and I might have acquiesced to your unreasonable demand, I’m nothing if not helpful.

It’s my turn now because I’m the mum. I often misjudge – forget. Sometimes it takes me a couple of attempts. It’s usually just when I’m about to blow my stack with exasperation that I remember.

There’s a lot to be said for specificity and logic.

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There’s none so queer as folks [idioms]

He accosts me in the kitchen, burbling, the same phrase over and over.
“It’s not good dear. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. It’s sounds as if you have a mouthful of marbles.” He skips the next repeat, cups the palm of his hand before he spits out a large green stone, heart shaped, spittle covered, “does ‘my heart’s in my mouth’ be meaning ‘I’m in love’?”
“Yes, it does. Why? Are you in love with someone?”
“No… doesn’t work – I wuz just checkin.”

Without pausing for breath he’s off on another tangent.

“Ooo dats bad.”
“What’s bad dear?”
“Dat white stuff in yur hairs.”
“Ah, yes it exploded – I was lucky not to get burned.”
“Yuck it smells even badderer.”
“Yes, acrid charring is never pleasant.”
“Ooo dere is being dandruff all over your body.”
“I think I may as well give up and change, maybe shower.”
“Dere is being snow all over the kitchens – it is being like a winter wonderland!”
“You would never think that three exploding Chestnuts could do quite so much damage really.”
“Armageddon……..but smellier.”
I step to one side to retrieve the dust buster as my daughter skitters into the kitchen to whisper to her little brother, although not quietly enough:-

“Cun you remember what Mom said she’s cookin tonight for dinner?”
“Well? What’s she cookin then?”
“No. What’s it’s name? Chest Nut what? If I ask again she’ll have my guts for garters.”
“No. Not guts. I seened it wiv my eyes.”
“So what is it then?”
“Smashed to smithereens………….dah brains of small dead creatures.”

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Quotes – speech delays and diction

“Can we watch dah ceptions?”
“Deceptions? What’s that about? I don’t’ think I’ve ever heard of that before?”
“Yes you know.”
“I don’t, honest. Do you mean Deceptocons, from the Transformer thingummy do dah?”
“He’s right mom. You let us watch it yesterday.”
“I did? I don’t remember.”
“Sure you do. You remember.”
“I don’t, honest.”
“It’s dah cartoon with dah yellow people.”
“Yellow people?”
“Yeah. We watched it with Dad.”
“Really? Hey Mike?”
“What did you watch yesterday with the children?”
“Yes, I know, but which programme?”
“It had yellow people in it. Something from Animal Planet or National Geographic?”
“Something medical maybe…..jaundice?”
“You didn’t let them watch House did you?”
“No! Never. Ooo! I know!”
“The Simpsons.”

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Greater than the sum – Bird Brain


It’s the usual rigmarole, or rather it isn’t – a variation on a theme. I’ve not visited the Bird shop for a couple of years, so I am quite delighted on Christmas Day. The boys went there, with their Dad. It was as much an exercise in perspective taking as gift buying, more or less one and the same, although Dad footed the bill – the value of money is still a work in progress.

It’s a whole 24 hours later and there they all are, the most extraordinary collection of peculiar shaped items – gift wrapped. I’d understand if each one was the same as it’s fellows, uniform in shape, or size, but they’re not. If I had chosen something three foot long, the shape of a lollipop, I’d remember what was inside. Nor could I forget something heavy, like an upside down umbrella. There aren’t many things that are shaped like a triangle, metallic – but that’s just me. Me? I’m an expert at recognizing objects, just by the feel, renowned for my x-ray vision. It’s a big event, a huge step forward, so I make the most of it. The genuine surprise and delight is easy – the joy of giving and receiving – but the first niggles of distress are present. My ‘what could it possibly be?’ as I squeeze the package, provokes anguish. I’ve not had the practice. A rhetorical question translates to the third degree – the stress of forgetfulness. I back off but it’s already too late – set the ball in motion. Body squirms and hair wrenching are only the beginning.

I was taught the social norms until they became effortless, the gracious words of thanks, the smile that didn’t travel to the eyes. The drill – easy. Since then I’ve learned compassion – the crow’s feet don’t lie.

Its like a blip that doesn’t fit. If you show me the toe nail of Pachyderm, I can visualize the whole elephant. If I show my boys a minute fraction of an obscure Pokemon, a barely visible fragment of the Lego logo, their response is immediate and 100% accurate – visual acuity at it’s finest, but other things are quite baffling. If its excruciating for the outsider, how much worse for the insider? But I remember how much I’ve always hated game shows and quiz nights – finger on the buzzer – hide under the table. It’s the pressure, the need to perform, but within a given time frame.

It’s a complex tangle, as with many children, where different issues compete but it’s difficult to determine which one[s] dominate. I could mention specifics but they’d be different for every child. Here, there’s the fingers that don’t function as he would wish, an irritation that escalates frustration, difficult to ignore. He knows that he should remember, but it’s just out of reach. Everyone is looking, waiting, expectant. The position of power should help – he’s above me – but that only helps with conventional people.

He’s also acquired some notions, nebulous little hazy things, on the periphery, slightly out of focus. Social conventions that have been off radar until recently, things that most of us take for granted as – so ingrained. Deconstruction and translation of the conventions – explain and demonstrate in a meaningful manner – impossible in these few minutes.

It’s what my chum calls the ‘disproportionality’ of the incident. Her ledger would illustrate the imbalance – on one side there would be ‘the subject gives a gift to his mother for the first time, voluntarily’ – on the other side of the ledger would be a very long list of ‘issues’ that might interfere or affect the experiment. She would weight or rank each issue, but no matter their number or severity, none, singularly or collectively should result in an outburst. An outburst would be deemed disproportional. It makes me a little sad that she can sum it up so dispassionately, so dismissive.

So we compromise – a little paper rip so that he can peek inside while my eyes are averted, so he can capture recall, but it’s not enough; only when he can see the whole thing does the penny drop – failure stares him in the face.

We are both exhausted by the emotional explosion. Only a few minutes, but super charged. If we were ‘out,’ the situation would be exacerbated – socially inappropriate always requires public comment – but what do they know? But we’re not ‘out,’ we’re ‘in,’ and what do I know? Probably even less. All I do know is that this simple common place event should bring pleasure. Instead he’s robbed of the moment, the joy stolen, replaced with a slew of stress. Hobbled by the miniscule hic-cups of the every day.

We should expect them, we should be able to deal with them but so often we fall short – always expect the unexpected – which is why we’re off guard on down time. It’s home, it’s safe, or it should be.

I take him and the bird feeder out into the garden – change of scene, change of pace, chance to breathe – on a chilly bright day with a clear blue sky. Barely have I shut the door when he’s off, “look mom!” He bounds across the asphalt, over 50 yards away on a quest as he hurls himself down on the concrete, bare chested. I gallop after him, “what is it dear?”
“S’on it’s back. See dah legs? Its a lady bug.”

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Fools seldom differ

I’m not a great fan of ‘teachable moments,’ or rather I am in theory, it’s just the practice that’s time consuming and such hard work.

I learned my lesson a very long time ago. I think it’s basically a male thing, but I could be wrong. One wrong thing you can do, especially if you happen to be female, is to bounce into the room and sing “Ta dah! What do you think?” This is a universal invitation to disappointment. The response could be any one of the following: ‘I didn’t know you could sing / are you going to finish the rest of the song now / you really shouldn’t bounce like that wearing high heels.’


To flounce out in a huff is childish. Far better to give a hint, or a clue, or better still, a plain explanation. “Hi! Do you like my new frock, the one that I’m wearing right now?” Care should also be taken in other more vague areas. Instead of asking ‘do you like my hair this way’ it’s better to ask ‘do you like my new hair cut / dye job / hair style.’ In effect, there should be as little wriggle room as possible. In fact, in some cases, it’s better to feed the line, “I’m sure you like my new shoes as much as I do.”

Some may feel that this kind of extracted and contrived compliment isn’t worth the spittle of production, and I would be inclined to agree with you. Part of the problem is that in ordinary every day life, this kind of thing crops up all the time. Far better to equip our children with a rudimentary arsenal, for protection.

That of course, takes practice.[*]

One of the many funny things about autism, if you don’t happen to be autistic yourself, is that some fundamentals remain the same. I’m not saying that they don’t grow and change, more that some major underpinnings are always present. You would think that most people with half a wit, parents such as myself, would know this. And yet over and over again, I forget. While my children have a good vocabulary, [now] there are little holes in the lexicon, bits and bobs that just aren’t important enough to file away for future reference.

“Hey guys! What do you think of my new ear-rings? See here….my ears?”
“Yes, look at my ears. See these things hanging from the little hole?”
“Dey are not rings. Dey are being fish….fish……hooks with dangly bits.”
“Do you like the dangly bits?”
“Is is an ellipse.”
“Yes I suppose they, are sort of.”
“It is browny beetle colored.”
“I thought they were honey colored?”
“No honey is being golden. Dat is not being golden.”
“Right. So do you like them then?”
“I fink it is sight pleasing but are brain hurting.”
“I fink it is bad to put sharp things in your body parts.”
“Hmm. Right. Fair enough.”
“But it’s o.k. mum!”
“Is it? Why?”
“Coz peoples are likin and dislikin different things.”
“!” There’s nothing like having your inadequate ditties quoted back at you.
“Any ways……”
“Dey are not be rings.”
“Yes you already said that… explained that they’re really hooks.”
“No but…..?”
“But what dear?”
“Um…….not plural.”
“It is only being singular.”
“Dang! Where’s the other one gone then!”

[*] for future reference, for anyone that doesn’t already know, when you’re presented with the new thing for comment, the response ‘how much did it cost?’ it’s always wrong.

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Compliments are Anathema – Misery loves company

Children come in all shapes and sizes, as do parenting guides. One of the cardinal rules of parenting is to praise a child for a job well done. Fortunately this is a natural instinctive rule that matches the facial expression of delight and possibly a hand flourish or a hug. It all fits together perfectly, or rather it does for many parents.

Other parents need to learn to suppress the facial flicker, so that no hint of pleasure registers. Dead pan is hard to achieve and takes a great deal of practice. Sitting on hands is highly recommended to stop them from leaping out and behaving in a completely predictable yet thoroughly inappropriate manner.

Perhaps you have experienced this too with your child?

Perhaps you haven’t?

For this particular kind of a child, acknowlegement of a job well done is a trigger to destruction. Before the first word has left my lips the picture is trashed, the Lego is hurled, the Magnetix are squished.

Initially it’s counter intuitive.

There can be many reasons for such behavior and sometimes knowing why can help. For some children it’s a question of realizing that they are growing in competence, which also means less reliance on a parent. This realization is scary. Often it is more complex or more simple. If you are unable to fathom the true reasons for their abhorrence of praise then it is wise to keep our own counsel. Here, we admitted defeat a long, long time ago but to praise two children and effectively ignore another, is extremely difficult.

I appreciate that this is a bit of a niche issue.

Somehow it just doesn’t seem right to force a child, or anyone for that matter, to accept unwelcome praise but looking ahead I knew that a time would come when someone would praise him. He’d be at work, in one of those little cubbies when the boss would walk in: “great job on that report Mac!” And what would follow? A tirade? I didn’t like to imagine any further; rightly or not I decided to plow ahead anyway.

I picked my attack time with care.

The best time to attack children is when their defenses are low. Mine are usually most malleable just before sleep, at bed time. My first attempts were miserable failures and effectively destroyed the peaceful night time routine I’d been engineering since their birth. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, he allowed me to sow a few seeds of praise. Three small descriptive words about his character which were not false but not self acknowledged. That shaky start was over seven years ago. Gradually the list of words has grown, as has he. It’s quite a lengthy list now. I take care to keep it in the right order as the wrong order also provokes meltdowns. Every once in a while I make a proposal for a new candidate to be added to the list but it has to be appropriate.

Like many autistic people, their receptive language, [what they understand,] is so much greater than their expressive language, [what they’re able to spit out.] Over the summer months we had so many visitors, guests and bodies around the place that my son began to shine. The ‘meet and greet’ was less prompted and stilted. He delighted in sharing his toys, showing off and generally engaging everyone with his antics.

So I wait until darkness because eye contact is often the kiss of death to anything new.
“I was thinking…..”
“I was thinking…….”
“I was thinking maybe we could add a new word to our special time?”
“It begins with E.”
“Ah well yes you are getting big but I wouldn’t describe you as enormous just yet.”
“Hmm also true. I didn’t think of that one either but have another go.”
“How about we steer away from the physical and move into personal qualities, like kindness?”
“Kindness don’t begin wiv an E.”
“So true, so true, but I can’t think of anything beginning with E that isn’t the word I’ve already thought of without giving the game away.”
“Aquatic starts with an A, but close.”
“How about……ENTERTAINING! What do you think? You’ve been so great with all of the playdates and so friendly and helpful……all the people who have been coming and going……”
“Yeah………I love havin company over.”
“Hey mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“How about a C word?”
“Which C word would you like?”

And that’s the first time he’s come up with his own label – self taught, self initialized and possibly selfless.

Works for me.

Should you have a free mo, you could always nip along and say ‘hi de ho’ to a new blogger called “Rachel” at “Strange and Beautiful.” I shall be a bit busy myself as “Nonna” is back.

Cheers dears

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“I before E, except after C”

“I before E, except after C” and a few other exceptions. There’s quite a few exceptions actually and unless you’re good at remembering lists then maybe a visual might help better……

The ‘e’ will only hang from the branch of the ‘W’ as the ‘i’ would fall off because seeing is believing around here.

……..well for some people at least.

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