Hands are the enemy

A bit extreme perhaps. Maybe we should rephrase to something a bit more positive 'hands are not are friends.' Not really an improvement. Tell you what, I explain the problem and you come up with a new title? Up for a challenge?

So, what is so bad about hands? First things first. It's not exactly the hands, more like the receptors on the hands, especially the finger tips and especially especially the normally favoured finger tips, namely the index finger. [translation = pointer] Either he has 100 receptors in the spot where you and I have just a few, or alternatively, he has the same number or receptors but they are wrongly calibrated. Thus, where we have enough nerve endings to determine whether a surface is rough or smooth, he doesn't want to put his receptors to the test, because he already knows that one feels like broken glass. So if you, as the parent, say 'come along Fred, run your hand along this barbed wire fence,' you, Fred, not unreasonably, run a mile and report your mother to the Child Protection league on route.

Alternatively, mother passes you your pyjamas, right out of the tumble drier, ' come along Fred, pop them on whilst they're still warm.' Warm? Warm! What are you trying to do to me? Book me a spot in the Burns Unit and make it pronto! This woman is determined to finish me off.

So it's a question of degree. Sometimes I wonder why he has hands at all since they are patently of so little use to him. My hands are a pretty ordinary, if large, pair. On the whole they obey me. Most of the time I don't even have to think about actively using them, they just do my bidding. If, like my son, I would prefer not to use my hands, life would be a lot trickier to navigate. He appears disenchanted with his hands and finds many ways to avoid using them. For instance, unless you have slip on shoes, you will probably need to use your hands to assist your feet. If you merely prod your velcroed closed shoes with your foot, it's likely that you're not going to get anywhere far, or at least not with your shoes on.

Try this experiment. You will need a banana, a hair brush and a receptacle of drinking water.

Have you ever tried to eat without using your hands? No, not without cutlery [translation = flatware] just without your hands at all? Believe me, I've tried it and it's not easy. Even if your food is something simple, like a banana [a peeled

one] it's really difficult to eat it off the table top without those little pinkies jumping in to help. It's so instinctive that it's difficult to suppress.
O.k, now throw the banana away, or nudge it with your forehead, make sure that you are sitting on your hands, and put the hair brush in it's place. Line up your head and start brushing your locks. Any luck?

Easier still – take a bottle, glass or cup of water to the table and try to drink it. No straws, that's cheating. My bet is that you'll end up trying to drink like a cat, sort of lap it up? Otherwise you'll end up tipping it over into your lap. Not very efficient and you're not likely to get much more than a couple of inches down.

What is the point of this? Good question. The point, in part, is that the parent needs to identify 'deficiencies' in the child. Ignore the negative connotations for the moment. Once this is done, the parent can devise ways of making 'hand use' less aversive. If you use your hands often, whilst it may never become 'instinctual' as we would generally mean, at least we can move towards being friends with our hands, because without them, life can be unnecessarily difficult. It's not a cure but it probably is 'therapy.' Whilst 'therapy' and 'cure' are often considered 'bad' words with respect to autism, addressing issues that your child has difficulty with would not seem, to my biased mind, entirely fruitless.

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The Wanderer returns

Senior daughter sits at the dining room table brushing up on her newly acquired skill; Portuguese. Six months in Williamstown Maschusettes, has been more than half a year as far as I'm concerned. I hover between her, her smaller siblings and the kitchen. I don't want to disturb her studies. I need an excuse to interrupt.

“So, what do you fancy for supper then?” I ask nonchalantly. I immediately have her undivided attention.

“Hmm,” she muses, “curry?”
“I can make it today but it will taste better tomorrow.” At the mention of supper, her little sister bounces into the kitchen, all ears, to check whether our choices
fits into her narrow menu.
“True. What have we got? Homity pie?” Senior son follows his sister like a shadow. His little brother is a reflection, hovering in case he needs to duck for cover.
“Yours for the asking dear,” I beam.
“What it is?”
“What is what dear?”
“No, not hominy,' hominid!'”
“No, she means homonym, don't you mum?”
“Actually neither. It's just 'Homity' pie, it's vegetarian.”
A universal scream of agony emanates at the mention of 'vegetables.'

“Er not much progress on the food front in six months then?” adds the wanderer, as junior staggers from the room amid retching noises. The other two run off wailing, one copying the other though I'm not sure who is copying whom?
“I know! How about fish pie!” she says to me, now that we are alone. I drift off into visions of glossy béchamel sauce coating the back of a wooden spoon, fluffy potatoes with crisp brown peaks, succulent flakes of tender white fish, a hint of Bayleaf and powdering of allspice. “Well?” she queries as I fail to respond. I drag myself away from rising visions of anchovies, kippers, roll mop herring and fish cakes, “could do, but I'll have to nip out to the shops.”
“Tell you what, you whiz off and I'll manage the little tikes.”
“O.k., you keep the two big uns and I'll take the screamer.”
“Oh no, that's not fair!”
“It's o.k. I can manage one screamer in the shops, it's when I've got all of them that it damages my nerve endings.”

With the plan in place I take him 'with the lungs' and his pair of shoes out to the garage, “no fishing, I hate the fishing, fishing is bad.”

At the supermarket, at the fish counter I stand close to my youngest son as he lies on the tiled floor flapping like a beached salmon. I give my order to the clerk. I am impressed that the chiller cabinet works effectively and that as a result, the odour of fish is virtually undetectable. I ignore the cries of “I am dying, the smell is killing my nose, oh no, my nose is falling off, agh, agh, agh.”

As he hands me my brown wrapped package, the clerk nods in the direction of the salmon, who is still rolling and flapping on the floor, “is he gonna be o.k.?”
“Oh yes, he'll be fine, he doesn't have to actually eat it, just stay in the same room. This is like a trial run.”
“Howdaya mean.”
“Can he stay in the same shop within a two yard radius of me whilst I buy the fish?” The checker tweaks his white brimmed hat but says nothing as we depart.

A complete success really.

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