Innocent until proven guilty, often

The cheeky and disrespectful attitude of some teenagers is the bane of many a parents' life, but when it occurs in the pre-teen population I am ill prepared.

When my daughter's play date comes to a merciful end, her Dad drives her pal home. My daughter accompanies them so as to spend a few more precious moments together. I busy myself with dinner preparations whilst the boys indulge in 30 minutes electronics time.

Although I'm in the kitchen, I can hear my youngest talk to himself in the family room. “My Mom dun like yur behaviour! My Mom dun like yur behaviour! My Mom dun like yur behaviour!” he chants to no-one in particular as he spins. At first I think he is correcting his toys, ordering them to shape up, tow the line and stop mucking about, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

“Where did you hear that dear?”

He spins distractedly, pays me no heed. I'm not sure if he's not heard me or is merely percolating.

I wait.

Eventually he comes up with a bellow:- “YOU!”
“Me. I never said any such thing.”

He doesn't argue but continues to spin.
“What makes you say that? I'm sure I've never said that before.”
“You bin dun say…….'be yourself, don copy yur friend.'”

To say that I am flabbergasted would be an understatement. He's right. Instead of telling my daughter that I don't like how her friend behaves, I have asked her not to copy her friend. Her friend's language, tone, attitude and approach to life, is not what I want for my own children. I want her to be herself, unique, not a clone nor a sheep.

I pause to reflect upon what this means, because it means so many things all at once.

I have been aware for a long time that their receptive language is miles ahead of their expressive language, or rather, that they understand far more than we think, even if they are not able to respond verbally to demonstrate their understanding.

It also means that like most children they hear and understand lots of things that sloppy parents say, the ubiquitous 'walls have ears.'

It indicates that he is able to accurately interpret a sophisticated social nuance, he's made a huge leap in understanding inferences. Inferences are notoriously difficult for autistic people to comprehend.


An example.

You and I walk towards a door together. Because you are polite, you open the door for me and step back. Because I am autistic I do not understand this gesture and step aside too. You say “after you,' to prompt me to step through the door. I step behind you because sometimes I can remember what 'after' means. You and I do a soft shoe shuffle, neither of us understands, so we probably trip over each other and land in a heap.

You doubt me? It happens almost every day, even now, or some variation on a theme. By behaving in this way, I am not being stupid or trying to be exceptionally annoying. I'm actually demonstrating advanced social skills by remaining with you as your companion. I was doing something far more interesting than walking, when you interrupted me. I stopped doing what I was doing and came with you, willingly even though it was obviously pointless and boring. I stayed with you rather that going through the door and leaving you behind. Remember, we were walking together afterall.

What it means for me personally, cynic that I am, is that I should never under estimate the possibilities. I am right to remain optimistic. Perish the thought!

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I hear Thunder


A drastic change in diet can often bring with it, some dramatic changes in disposition. In my son's case, his disposition hasn't so much changed, as been restored, and not by diet but my medication. His anger has been dispelled, but the pills have cast a spell over his digestive system. There's no beating about the bush here, we are constantly assaulted by grievous frequent flatulence.

Sometimes he tells us in advance, so that we can practice our 'duck and cover' skills. At other times the bombs come without a health warning. So much depends upon how in tune we are with our bodies and the surrounding environment. All too often we hear tales of how a sixth sense is at work in some individuals. These people, and often animals, are so highly attenuated that they are able to detect an oncoming heart attack or a diabetic crash. Sometimes they warn of hurricanes or floods. Uncanny, mysterious and slightly bewildering.


I hang the last few decorations on the tree before the guests arrive for the “sleepover.” I am uncertain which parts of me are malfunctioning? Either the tree is bigger or the decorations are smaller and perhaps more numerous? Either way it might be the beastly bifocals or the dodgy fingers because control of time seems to escape me. I am permanently stuck on fast forward.

The boys loll around on the floor, absorbed with the grain work of the wood and watching dust particles in the bright Californian light. This is their way of participating, their physical presence. We are duly honoured. I wonder if I'll have time to vacuum before the fray?
“How come these decorations are so puny?”
“They're English.”
“How come these decorations are so fiddly?”
“Because they're English.”
“Owg Mom yur not gonna hang that old thing! It's gross man!”
“It's gross man!” It's gross man!” It's gross man!” he echos from the general area of the floor boards. I smile to myself, because this is one of my favourite decorations, one made by her big sister's oh so fare young hands, a couple of decades ago. I am smug because this is almost a repetition of the same debate. Oh the joy of being mature and wise.
“It is not gross, it is merely old,” just like everything else around here.
“Yah mean it's an antique?”
“It's an antique? It's an antique? It's an antique?” he echoes as echolalia is ever present. With everyone at home, double echolalia, one version from each boy, is the musical background to nearly every waking moment.

I pause, reflective and experienced. I always forget that 'antique' is defined differently depending upon the continent.
“Um….well you might say that. May I hang it if it is an antique?”
“No! We should sell it and be billionaires!”
“And be billionaires! And be billionaires! And be billionaires!”
“Some things really are priceless you know dear,” I advise is a wise and obscure manner.
“It's more than a billion?”
“More than a billion? More than a billion? More than a billion?”
“Not exactly. It's hard to put an exact figure on it.”
“Figure on it. Figure on it. Figure on it.”
“Geez guys, cun yah jus let mom answer a minute why dontcha!” For some unaccountable reason, they remain silent. What is her secret? We regroup. I collect my thoughts, every tiny little one of them, but as I open my mouth to reply, the little one bellows, “Earthquake! Earthquake! Earthquake! It is a compound word?” My daughter's eye balls lock onto mine as we freeze, motionless and waiting, paralyzed by fear, aliens unable to control tectonic plates. Why didn't I pay more attention during 'Awareness Week.' Doth the child have Savant powers? We shall all be killed and no-one will ever know! Is this the silence before the end?
The other one confesses, “Oopsie! My butt! My bad!”

It seems that I’m always mis-interpreting matters and jumping to the wrong “conclusions.”

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A place for everything and everything in it's place

In the rush, I forget. I arrive at the school for pick up, just in time. [translation = to get a parking place] I gathered my small people and shepherded them to the safety of the car. There seem to be far too many legs and arms around for me to keep hold of and I am again grateful for the lovely car, or rather the lovely car's automatically opening doors. As they slide open to allow for easy entry, junior stops dead and screeches as the top of his lungs. [translation = approximately 400 people turn in our general direction to see which child has a stake through the heart] Two children enter the car and take their seats, one remains steadfast on the curb incoherent. He assumes the position, curled like a shrimp on the pavement, his body appearing to have convulsions. The retching, choking noises are interspersed with rooster noises. [translation = better than screaming and an indication that verbal communication should be returning shortly] People step around him. Several kindly persons offer assistance. My explanation that he 'will be just fine,' appear to be a patent lie. Clearly the child is having a near death experience, whilst I, his mother sit by his side and stroke his back. I peer through the moving crowd. His teacher is at the door. She gives me a thumbs up sign and smiles. [translation = he had a great day at school, sorry the 'great' part of the day is now over]

His sister leans out of the car to check on his progress, “maybe five minutes? D'ya think?” Her assessment is probably more accurate than mine. [translation = of his recovery time] I nod and smile. She turns her attention to her other brother, where they entertain each other with crumbs left over from their lunch sacks. [translation = thank goodness it's only one child having a meltdown with no knock on effect to the others!]

Junior realizes that he is on the ground. [translation = tactile aversion is playing second fiddle to whatever the current horror is] He flips over to make a remarkably accurate impression of a Russian dancer as he kicks his feet out to shake off the dust. His squeaks are timed perfectly. [translation = coordinated in time with the leg thrusts] He leaps to his feet, brushing off specks of dirt like a whirling dervish. Once he is satisfied that he has achieved the desired level of cleanliness, he sighs and droops a bit. I take this is my cue.

“What is so bad dear?” He sparks remembering what it was that set him off in the first place. He points a tremulous index finger to the interior of the car. [translation = the same car that we have had for two years.] I look too, just in case.
“You're gonna kill me?” I look blankly at him trying to connect dots that I cannot see. He helps me out. “You're gonna kill me wiv dat fing?” I notice the dust buster on the carpet, left over from my 'blitz the car' effort. I am so lucky that he is now able to tell me things.

“Oh that's a mistake, I just forgot to put it back on the recharger.” The dust buster is one of his more hated domestic appliances. [translation = because of the noise] It is my habit, to announce in a loud voice that I am about to use a domestic appliance. [translation = this is a vast improvement upon having to all housework at night, when they are in deep sleep]

This is thus a two fold problem? Firstly, there it is, the hated thing. Secondly, the hated thing has popped up unexpectedly in the wrong place at the wrong time. [translation = boo!] I remove the hated thing and sling it in the boot. [translation = trunk] He takes a cautious step towards the car, examines the floor and gently brushes the carpet fibres where the hated thing had been lying, just to make sure that it is truly gone and that there is no cross contamination.

We drive home. “So! Does the car look clean?” I ask under the foolish misconception that anyone might care one jot.
“You wash dah car?” he asks incredulous. I have occasionally used an automatic car wash service. Once, I had the children in the car with me whilst it was automatically washed. My idea of entertainment and my boys' idea of entertainment did not match. [translation = rats in a trap that is on fire]

To me, the presence of the dust buster signifies that I have cleaned the carpet at least, but it appears that this is not an automatic conclusion. I remind myself that I have a whole book about teaching inferences to autistic children. I remind myself that maybe I ought to dust off that book, instead of the car carpet. Seems that I do everything too “late.”

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