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!”
“O.k.”
Lots more toys up there.
“What do you think your bedroom is for?”
Sleep?
“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?”
“Tidying.”
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…..it 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?”
“Yes.”
“Well? What’s she cookin then?”
“Bad.”
“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?”
“Nope.”
“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?”
“Hmm?”
“What did you watch yesterday with the children?”
“Telly.”
“Yes, I know, but which programme?”
“Er…?”
“It had yellow people in it. Something from Animal Planet or National Geographic?”
“Er….”
“Something medical maybe…..jaundice?”
“Er….”
“You didn’t let them watch House did you?”
“No! Never. Ooo! I know!”
“Hmm?”
“The Simpsons.”
“!”


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Greater than the sum – Bird Brain

DSCF9973_2

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.’

No.

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?”
“Ear…….rings?”
“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.”
“Ah.”
“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……”
“Hmm?”
“Dey are not be rings.”
“Yes you already said that…..you explained that they’re really hooks.”
“No but…..?”
“But what dear?”
“Um…….not plural.”
“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…..”
Silence.
“I was thinking…….”
Silence.
“I was thinking maybe we could add a new word to our special time?”
“Wot?”
“Guess?”
“Er…..?”
“It begins with E.”
“Enormous.”
“Ah well yes you are getting big but I wouldn’t describe you as enormous just yet.”
“Electric.”
“Hmm also true. I didn’t think of that one either but have another go.”
“Er……Elephantine?”
“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.”
“Equatic!”
“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.”
“Great!”
“Hey mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“How about a C word?”
“Which C word would you like?”
“Companyable.”

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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Autism – back to basics

I think it’s time for a good old moan; a grumble on the topic of impairment to joint attention, one of the hallmarks of autism, a pivotal skill that’s adrift, so the experts tell me. The trouble is, when it comes to parenting an autistic child we are often advised to ‘trust our instincts.’ It is my experience that this is basically wrong, or perhaps more accurately, that my instincts are wrong. Lets just look at three of the basics. They’re universal, so I’m told. The power of speech is helpful but not essential.

First up:-

I am the parent. You are the child and we gave you a name. You have learned your name, so I call you, either because you’re hiding or you’re busy doing something, “Freddy, where are you?” You, Freddy, do not reply. It may be that you’re replying in your head but no words are coming out of your mouth. If you, Freddy, have no words, you could always just pop your head out of your room and wave, acknowledge that you heard me, aware that I’m searching for you – but of course you don’t. I don’t know what you do about this, but I take on both roles, my own as parent, and yours, as Freddy. I have an entire conversation with myself, speaking both roles:-
“Freddy, where are you?” “I’m here mum!” I wander round the house calling out these two lines until eventually, if I’m lucky, I’ll trip over Freddy and hopefully not hurt him in the process. It’s been like that for years.

Second:-

Pointing. Yes, I know it’s rude, but everyone does it when they’re little. Parents do it too, we actually teach our little ones to point, to be rude, because we’re a bit short sighted. Teach them how to point and then scrap that, it’s rude, un-teach pointing. What a pointless exercise, unless of course they don’t point in the first place. An expert will draw a parents attention to this deficit:- “he doesn’t point, had you noticed?”
“Of course I’ve noticed, it’s just that he’s an exceptionally polite child, must come from having British parents.”

But of course it wasn’t.

Why is pointing important anyway? Because it smacks of joint attention, a shared experience; it’s absence is a red flag.

Third and last, my personal favorite:-

Hand leading. Again we don’t need words. I am not a big scary bear, I’m just a big lumpy parent, hand extended, soft and warm and inviting. It translates to ‘come with me.’ When a child makes this gesture to someone else, it has the same meaning. The underlying message is the key, again, it’s that element of joint attention, a skill that we are all supposed to have, innately, and yet it’s not there. It has to be taught. Each one of them has to be taught each skill, discretely, practiced and then generalized into all given or possible situations.

It is the absence of these three, amongst other things, that still catches me out even after all this time. I forget that they’re not there. I forget to remind them and to practice because if they’re not practiced, they’re lost. It’s not just like riding a bicycle, but much more difficult.

Too much of a tirade?

Possibly.

Why mention it then?

I suppose because it’s IEP time, triennial in fact. Suddenly we’re presented with another whole host of deficits, negatives, holes, and shortcomings, all in black and white, with graphs and statistics as back up.

We’re reminded because we need to stay on track, not become complacent – yes we’re parents but we’re supposed to be dragoons, always forging ahead. I become swept up with the urgency as the grains in the timer escape and drift away. Wipe out those negatives, re-train, re-teach, reinforce, so much so that I’m apt to forget the bonuses, those freebies that are of no great import, except to us. It reminds me of “John Elder Robinson,” how he learned to conform and yet lost so many of the superb abilities he had as a child, an alternative view that he’s been unable to recapture.

Yet it happened again today.

It happens most days one way or another, something that pulls me up short because I forget that they think so differently from me. Today as I reached over the sofa towards him, hand extended, called his name, beckoned with the other arm, he responded. He leapt onto the sofa and hung upside down over the back to examine my hand from underneath; an upside down aerial view. Silent. He moved each digit, an engineer checking the joints, fully functional, no creaks. He traced the lines on my palms and whorls on my fingertips, “mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“I cun see yur DNA.”


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How to stop autistic children from scripting

Scripting in autism can be defined variously but generally refers to the ability to repeat phrases or single words many times over.  The words and phrases are often copied but can also be self generated.  Scripting is generally considered to be an impairment that requires intervention and is usually paired with the word ‘fading.’  Scripting and echolalia often come hand in hand which is why so many of the phrases are easily recognizable as they’re delivered with accurate mimicry.  A three year old who scripts Boris Karloff may be the source of amusement, but with an older child, public opinion is less forgiving.

Scripting serves many different functions for a child; it can be calming and self-organizing, a bit like white noise.  Frequently the child is not aware that he or she is scripting, which makes it far more difficult to stop or reduce the behavior.

Scripting is generally deemed to be socially unacceptable, which is why it receives so much attention, disproportionately so in my opinion.  If someone hums a tune, or whistles quietly in public, no-one is likely to turn a hair, but most of us will notice someone who appears to talk to themselves – a big red flag.  If that person repeats the same word or phrase, you can more or less guarantee that everyone’s attention is arrested.  I would hope that it is this aspect that concerns most people, how to let the autistic person continue with their daily doings, without being gawped at?  I suspect that in another decade, given the arrival of the blue tooth, such behavior will become less and less noticeable.

The negative elements of scripting are well documented elsewhere, as are the many techniques to help fade this behavior, so would prefer to posit an alternative perspective.  Although scripting can be irritating for the audience, or parent in my particular case, it does have a number of positive elements that don’t receive much attention.

If a child is non-verbal or has a significant speech delay, repeating the same word of phrase is basically practice.  It may sound like a scratch on a record, but all those repeats add up.  It may not be that practice makes perfect, but it certainly helps articulation.  They also function as a prompt; if you can recall the starting phrase like: ‘once upon a time,’  ‘this guy walked into the room,’ ‘there was an Irishman, an Englishman and a Welshman,’ – then the rest of the story can flow.

The scripts around here are many and various, they change over time and often become longer and more complicated.

[please note that ‘bing, bing, bing,’ refers to BBC America where swear words and other rude references are bleaped]

***

Following the triennial I.E.P. certain pertinent facts grab my attention. Forget the academics, it’s those all elusive social skills that need nailing.  Mastery is the difference between potential budding relationships and isolation – if not mastery, at least a move in the right direction. We collude and conspire for some considerable period thereafter, before the latest campaign evolves.  Although he often thinks kindly thoughts, he rarely if ever voices them, aloud.  He’s a taciturn kind of a guy.  At other times, he volunteers information that some people would prefer not to hear, because he’s a truthful kind of a guy.  Generally he’s on the periphery rather than in the center of the fray.

We adopt a two-pronged approach after lengthy discussions on tactics – rewards for speaking up in a positive manner and even greater rewards for refraining from saying negative things out loud.  We practice modeling at home, all those everyday situations, examples, clues about what is expected and when.

On day one we experience three incidents where thought is put into action.  He avoids telling another child how feeble and inferior her artistic creation turned out.  He catches a boy as he trips to prevent the fall.  He offers voluntary praise to a youngster for his sterling academic efforts.

It’s a veritable triumph.  This kind of thing usually takes weeks, months, forever, a lifetime before we ever see anything. Three deeds equate to 3 M&M’s, as positive bribery is reinforcing initially.

The following day we repeat the exercise, this time at the dinner table where we are all gathered to hear of his exploits.  He makes a start, after a little coaxing.

“Well I can fink of one thing that I am doing.”

“Wonderful!  Tell us more!”

“There was this guy.”

“What was his name?” interjects his father.

“Dunno but he was a medium sized kind of a kid.”

He never knows anyone’s name, grade or class, “he had this rock.”

“A rock!  Oh no.  What did he do?”

“He was, he was, he was gonna hit this small sized kid on the bing!”

“On the bing?  It’s o.k., you can say the rude word.”

“On the butt!”

“And what did you do?”

“I told him,  ‘listen up buddy, don’t you hit him on the bing, bing, bing or I’ll go and tell the yard duty lady.’”  He uses his most jocular tone, a good tactic when dealing with unknown rock thugs.  So much of it is scripts, but it gives him flow and rhythm and confidence.

“And what did he say?”

“He jus said ‘duh’ and he hit hisself on the forehead.”  He demonstrates the gesture, just in case any of us were in any doubt.

To everyone’s surprise, he recounts ten additional incidents of his intervening heroism, tales of daring do, most involving rocks, with one exception, one involving ropes.

“So this medium sized guy in a grey sweater, he has these lil kids tied up to a pole at recess.”

His credibility begins to wane,

“What did he tie them up with?”

“Rope.”

“Rope?  Where would you get rope at school?”  His sister leaps to his defense, “jump ropes mom, he’s telling the truth, you can tie people to trees with the jump ropes.”  I do not find this fact particularly helpful, but the detail of the ‘grey sweater’ gives weight to the guise of truth.

“And what did you do?”

“I said to this guy…. ‘hey buddy, listen up……untie those kids or I’m gonna have to report yah to the Principal.’”

“You seem to have turned into a superhero overnight dear.”

“Yeah.”

“And did you tell the Principal?”

“No, I ain’t no tattle tail.”

“!”

“And there’s another one.”

“Another one?”

“Yeah, this big guy was peeking at the girls’ restroom.”

“Peeking?”

He demonstrates the act of peeking, such that we can be in no doubt as to his meaning.

“Really.  And what did you do?”

“I said to him I said, ‘listen up buddy, don’t you go being all bing, bing, bing.’”

“Did you use a rude word?”

“No I jus wanted him to know about the rudeness.”

“!”

“And there’s another one.”

“Another one?”

“Yeah, this guy called me a ‘bing, bing, bing.’”

“What word did he use?”

“Dickhead.”

“!”

“Yeah.”

“And what did you do?”

“I said ‘yeah, that’s right, I’m a bing, bing, bing.’”

“You used the rude word?”

“No, I used the ‘bing, bing, bing.’”

“!”

I begin to feel dizzy with the speed of his delivery – conversations of this type are more rare than hen’s teeth.  So animated, so jovial, centre stage and frolicking in the limelight – cheeky little monkey.  This is positively unprecedented.

“And dis is the last one.”

“Last one?”

“Yeah, it was recess and this medium sized kid had a rock and he was gonna throw it at the Principal.”

“The Principal?”  The skeptics amongst us exchange glances – either he’s forgotten the boy that cried wolf or he’s had a personality transplant without our knowledge – which is more unlikely?

“Yeah.”

“And what did you do?”

“I stood in front of him with my body and went ‘hey dude, get a load of this!’ and then I made my funny face.”

“And what did he do?”

“He walked away.”

“Did anybody else see this?”

“Sure there was loads of kids – it was recess.”

“Savior of the Principal!  Did the Principal see you do this?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say anything to you……for saving her?”

“Yes.  She gave me two gold cards to go into the raffle for the ‘Student in the Spotlight’ this month.”

“Do you have the gold cards?”

“No she put em in the raffle.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“What a truly spectacular day you’ve had.  That’s earned you 12 M & M’s.”

“Tomorrow I’m gonna get a whole packet I fink.”

“We shall all enjoy watching you earn them, since you’ll be home, because it will be Saturday.”

“It’s Saturday tomorrow?  No School?”

“That’s right, you’ll have to be a superhero at home.  Won’t that be fun.”

“You ….you…..you…. got any spare rocks around this joint?”

This may come across as a fairly standard family conversation, nothing out of the ordinary, how would I know, I have no point of comparison?  But around here, it’s heart stomping.

Why would I share this, now that they’re so much older?  Isn’t it too private?  Perhaps, maybe it is.  All I know is the numbers of google searches that bring people to my site.  The search is a variation on a theme – ‘how to stop autistic kids from scripting’ – it might be an idea to re-think that one – it’s not all negative, it can be a springboard.

So….was it true or was it false?  I don’t know and I actually don’t care.  Six years ago I would never have dreamed of such a conversation.  What if he is prone to a little exaggeration?  It’s all in the mind afterall.  What really is the difference between a rock, a pebble and a wee nubby chip of gravel anyway!  It’s all about scale or do I mean perspective?

p.s. I came across this site called “love to know” – autism.  They have an empathy quiz.  It’s about half way down on the “left margin.” I’m not suggesting you take it yourself because as a seasoned Cosmopolitan quiz taker myself [several life times ago,] I think we all know how to fudge the answers to get the right result.  That said, it may just be that there’s someone new in your life who is really trying to make an effort to get to know your children and family, so this would be a gentle introduction in 10 quick questions without the intimidation.  For me, as a parent of autistic children, I feel I have a duty to tread gently when it comes to the mainstream.  It’s easy to forget how different our world is from other people’s.  We’re unlikely to win over public opinion with a battering ram – our greatest asset is our children themselves, who they are, as individuals.


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Proceed with caution

One of my many duties as Head Cook and Chief bottle washer of this joint is to tackle the accumulation of miscellaneous stains that have recently appeared around the premises. Although we are in the midst of a heavily armed, hand-washing campaign, nevertheless I find I have been remiss in my vigilance.

Whilst I can think of many other things that I should prefer to do, there comes a time when the graffiti can no longer be ignored. Armed with my trusty scrubber, soap and several gallons of elbow grease, I make a start.

The first one is an ominous brown smear but it passes the sniff test, so I know that is benign, Belgium Chocolate pudding I’ll be bound. As I scrub I hear the sweetly melodic strains of my youngest son’s latest ditty, “threedy boogie college,” to a familiar tune, with his usual robotic dance steps. I move swiftly on to the next one, marker that is neither magic nor washable. “Threedy boogie college,” wafts down the stairs, a chorus of cherubic artistic expression. Bless his little cotton socks.

As the walls become ever more patchy because this is an ongoing process, I notice that the paintwork is wearing thin. I pause to consider whether it might be more expedient to re-paint the entire interior of the house but decide against it on the grounds that a few more years will probably pass before any such transformation is possible. “Threedy boogie college.” How much better to wait a wee while so that I may bask in the delights of innocent childhood. I can almost look forward to my dotage, armed with a paint brush, ladder and a walking frame for support. It is whilst I daydream of the future that my daughter saunters across, “whatya doing Mom?”

“Cleaning.”

“Ya missed a bit.”

“Did I? Where?”

“Jus there.”

I peer and sniff, “what do you suppose that is?”

“He says it’s art.”

“Art?”

“Yeah, didncha hear him singin it? It’s a 3-D booger collage.”

“!”

“Ask him yourself. You should ask him about his gallery.”

“Gallery?”

“Yeah, I said he should call it a gallery and charge admission.”

“Admission?”

“Yeah, gallery’s opening tonight, right around bed time.”

“Bedtime?”

“Yeah! Top bunk bed, pillow end.”

“!”

Who was the Great Master who cut off his own ear? I’ll bet his mum did it.


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Hands free hair washing

The hygiene of my children is very much a hands on affair.

Having overcome the seasonal changes from baths in the winter, to showers in the summer and then back again, I can honestly say that the painful transition period has shortened considerably over the last decade, from months to a mere few weeks, testimonial to the fact that they continue to grow.

I’m uncertain if I’m there in the bathroom to prevent escape, provide entertainment or minimize carnage, but in any event I consider that I could probably be using my time in a more constructive manner, elsewhere.

That said it comes to my attention late in the day, that the all elusive ‘independence’ factor is adrift. It would appear that originally I was present at bath-time to prevent babies from drowning, ten years later I’m still there, with much physically larger off spring, with considerably greater surface area of skin. I notice that my boy children are no longer babies, because I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, despite the all too visible evidence to the contrary, backed up by the dated growth marks on the grimy kitchen door frame.

In a sudden flash of genius I realize that pretty soon, one way or another, I may be well out of my depth, and deep in the mire of puberty. I’m told that it happens to us all, but I’m no scientist. I use my exceptionally large memory bank to recall ‘what is the correct age?’ When should they be able to bathe themselves? Just in the nick of time I remember that I threw out all the useless books about averages, developmental milestones and what to expects, at about the same time as I realized that my particular family had deviated from the norm.

I e-mail trusted pals and chums who universally confirm the magic age of 7. Whilst I am tempted to sulk, instead I return to the base line, other parents with similarly off-beat children. We collude and conclude that with all other things being equal, a parent should, in an ideal world, aim for independence immediately prior to the arrival of the first spot of acne, just to be on the safe side. Armed with this nugget of information but without a crystal ball, I calculate that I should have begun this process approximately eighteen months, 3 days and 45 minutes ago.

I decide, unilaterally, without consultation to the parties herein concerned, that they will learn to wash their own hair, if not by themselves, at least with less maternal physical input, eventually.

As usual, I find I fail to think through the plan of action thoroughly, merely launch myself feet first into another campaign.

The first thing I forget about is the need for ear-plugs. My son is quite reasonably outraged at my unreasonableness, withdrawal of services without warning or preamble. His facial expression is a study in contempt; what is the point of having a parent if the parent fails to perform as a parent should? It’s a tempting argument, one I have been susceptible to for longer than would be strictly necessary for anyone else with one wit of common sense.

But we persevere.

As we all know, hair washing is a multi step sequence, each one of which is every bit as vile as any of the other bits.

It’s a challenge.

I remember that the tools that we most commonly refer to as hands, are located at the ends of their arms. I also remember that when hands are expected to function in a new and uncertain manner, as often as not, the arms turn to spaghetti. I have no choice but to opt for the ‘hand over hand’ model of progress. It feels like back to square one and I wonder, not for the first time, what exactly have I being doing with my time all these years?

With my hand over his I swiftly slap a dollop of shampoo on the apex of his skull, with a little too much vigour, more of a smack than a plop and it’s pretty much down hill after that.

His brother looks on, or rather scowls with contempt as he plots and observes. It’s written all over his face, how to avoid the same fate as his little brother?

“Mom?”
“Yes dear?”
“Do you wash dad?”
“Er……well……..I…..um….not usually but I did wash him when he broke his leg a few years back.”
“Oh.”
“People learn to wash themselves, with practice, in time.”
“I’m finkin………. about time.”
“Ah. What about time?”
“What is betterer I’m thinkin?”
“What is better than what?”
“Gettin a wife or breakin yur leg?”
“!”

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