Do not pass go

We chat in the car on the way home from school.

The boys chant their respective repetitive phrases, one sotto voce, one at 50 decibels, but we're used to that kind of competitive perseveration.

“So tell me the best bit about today then, so far of course?”
“We had a visitor come and read us this book thing.”
“Innernet! Innernet! Innernet!”
“Batteries not included. Batteries not included. Batteries not included.”
“Oh really. Which book?”
“I dunno.”
“Innernet! Innernet! Innernet!”
“Batteries not included. Batteries not included. Batteries not included.”
“But you liked it?”
“Not really.”
“Then why was that the best bit of the day if you didn't like the story?”
“Innernet! Innernet! Innernet!”
“Batteries not included. Batteries not included. Batteries not included.”
“Coz it made math short.” Typical
“Do you have much in the way of homework tonight?”
“Yeah. Tonnes and I don't know how I'm gonna get it all done with these two.”
“Oh they'll quieten down a bit once we're home.”
“Innernet! Innernet! Innernet!”
“Batteries not included. Batteries not included. Batteries not included.”
“They're better!” she warns with a hint of menace. I watch her in the rear view mirror as she glares at each of them in turn, a loaded and meaningful stare, the eye ball to eye ball kind that only big sisters can do effectively.
“You're both gonna have to shut up right. D'you remember? Got it!” I notice that they both cover their mouths with their hands at the same time, as if some secret message has passed between them that I am not party to.
“Got it!” she repeats, just to be on the safe side. Muffled mutterings of 'no, no, no,' spittle out between their fingers.
“What's that dear?” I prompt, hoping that someone might just give me a little clue as to what is really going on.
“It's a new rule.”
“A new rule? What new rule?” Who is making up rules without my permission? I am the only rule maker and campaign manager around here.
“If you're too loud you go to jail.”
“Jail? That seems a bit draconian?” I'm amazed that the trigger word 'jail' hasn't set them both off into meltdown land.
“Well it works,” she pouts. I check in the mirror again. I'm not sure if fear is a good method of behaviour modification? Their eyes are like saucers.
“Even so, we need to ere on the side of truth.”
“It is true.”
“Who says it is true?”
“The new baby sitter.” Hmm. I did think that it was much quieter than usual when I returned from the dentist yesterday. My mouth was in no condition to have the usual de-brief session with an adult, as to the goings on during my hour and a half's absence. The peace does not appear to be quite so mysterious afterall.



I picture him in my minds eye, the new baby sitter, roped in at short notice. A jovial young man, quick to laugh with an effusive smile. I wonder if he realized that his sense of humour might be different from theirs? A literal mind can be a tantalizingly tortuous thing.







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The Wedding

I peer at the computer screen and the announcement of my brother's wedding to JP. It will be a duplicate of their Chinese wedding which took place, funnily enough, in China. This time it will be in England. Friday 29the December. Autumn and Winter are busy months in this American household. The children zip back to school just in time for us to bump into Halloween, trip over Thanksgiving, plummet into two December birthdays, tumble into Christmas and hop over New Year. It's carousel time. We plan to insert another horse.

“So this is the itinerary as I see it,” he announces, as my mind is busy with other things. Perhaps if I buy two suits for them, one size too large, right now and then beat the fabric with rocks, I might just be able to make them soft enough for them to wear in……….two months time?
“Christmas Day is on a Tuesday this year, so we'll fly on the Wednesday, Boxing Day and land on Thursday.” I wonder if they'll want her to be a bridesmaid or a flower girl? It's a civil ceremony so at least we won't have to be silent and immobile in a church.

“We'll drive down all day on Thursday from Heathrow. With a bit of luck we'll arrive at the hotel late Thursday night.”
I should probably get her a new outfit anyway. Where will I find something woolly and warm enough, in California? I may have to buy something myself! Ooo how I hate shopping.
“Then if we can drag them all out of bed the next day, on Friday, just in time, the Wedding is at 1 p.m.”
I should probably start prepping them for the agony of air flight again as soon as possible. Tomorrow would be a good time to start.
“Then they'll leave on their honeymoon, in the wee small hours, I expect.”
At least we'll probably get away with only one suitcase, or maybe two if we take our own bedding. I'll have to find or buy some ordinary warm clothes. England in December can be wicked.
“On Saturday we can drive back and stop off at my parents in Poole and stay the night. Probably only a five hour trip but it will be the New Year weekend, so traffic might be busy.”
I must remember that if I'm wearing woolly tights, I won't have any shoes that fit. Perhaps I should wear boots, or galoshes hidden under a long skirt?
“Then we'll drive to the airport the next day. Have to be up early though because of 3 hour check in.”
Should I just pack the present and wrap it on arrival? Otherwise all the paper will be scrunched. Can we stop off somewhere to buy paper? Should I pack the paper here?
“That means that we should be back in SF on Sunday and home later in the afternoon. Almost one complete day devoted to the wedding and all the other days traveling.”
I wonder if we'll have time to visit some other chums, en route?
“All done and dusted in 5 days!”
“Well……with that many transitions…'s probably best to just let all the meltdowns flow back to back, with no wriggle room. A huge 5 day melta-marathon.” I feel slightly nauseous and I'm still on terra firma. I'd better buy an extra large catering carton of ear plugs…..and Goldfish.

Perhaps I should just shove the Goldfish in my ears and have done with it?

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Clash of the Titans

Sometimes, especially when they were younger, people would mistake my boys for twins. One with long legs, one with a shorter body meant that when they were sitting they seemed the same size. Like most twins or siblings, any similarities between them are of little significance. It is their differences in personality, character and disposition that singles each one of them out. If you then cover that child with a layer of autism, a patchwork quilt, [translation = homemade and of a unique variety] the result is too complex for the average nitwit, [translation = parent] to fathom.

Unfortunately for them, I am the designated nitwit of the household.

All human beings have little triggers, things that set us off, irritations and foibles. Sometimes we can identify the cause, something from the past that makes us react in a certain manner. Other times and other things we just accept, it's part of our own singular make up. We find methods of coping with these triggers such as avoidance. If you find sirens annoying, then you don't rent an apartment above the Fire Station. [translation = house] Although maybe, that is the very location to help you acclimatize and de-sensitize yourself.

My boys have lots of triggers. Each one has his own set, that differs from the other. They also collect more triggers as they get older. Old triggers seem to fade but are always lurking in the wings ready to pounce. Junior has a 'thing' about “death,” dying and all other related aspects of 'terminal,' a word that he can read, write and spell accurately. [translation = an offshoot of hyperlexia]

His brother also has a 'thing' about “death” but different triggers. For reasons too humbling to go into, his current understanding, is that death occurs after the age of 90. Although his auditory processing is good, when it comes to numbers he is often confused, mistaking 19 for 90. Any word that sounds like either of those words can also be a trigger. Initially you might not think that there are too many words that sound remotely like either. If you break down those words into their phonetic sounds and jumble them up a bit, you may be surprised at how often their variants turn up in ordinary everyday conversations. [nye tea high teen nigh T]

Both have supersonic hearing, which means that they can tune out the sound of the motors that power the freezers in the supermarket and tune into the conversation between strangers on the other side of the store. [translation = or vice versa, or from one to the other, all without warning] Because they both have poor social skills, as well as a higher social concience than most, this means that he will hone in on the distance conversation that contains '19 or 90,' seek that person out and ask “you are going to die?” If the child that asks you that question has an expression of genuine concern, this may cause unknown and undue distress to the unwitting victim.

Where does this leave us? Well it can mean that sometimes something very small can cause a fireworks display. We need to appreciate that what might be an irritating trigger when we are adults, may have a much more explosive effect on someone smaller. [translation = with more nerve endings and less self control]

My son dashes out into the garden to rescue a cat. Both he and the cat are naked because my son was just about to start dressing. [translation = had completed undressing] He's not quick enough to nab the cat who skitters back indoors. The sudden U-turn by the cat, sends my ungainly son off balance and into a heap. He hobbles back indoors distressed by his poor cat catching skills. He is unperturbed by the flap of skin on the top of his toe and the river of blood that follows him. I park him on the nearest available chair to commiserate with him about the foolishness of the feline population. I hope to distract him from the river of blood but he seems oblivious. We discuss herding cats, a subject near to my heart, whilst my hands investigate damage. His sister appears downstairs, sleepy eyed and tousled. “The school bus for the field trip is leaving at 9:10 sharp!” she advises and yawns. The '9:10' of her message, penetrates my son's psyche and sparks a negative reaction because he thinks she has said 'ninety,' “ninety? I am dying?” he screams, still obvious to his wound. The growing pile of blood stained rags and towels make her gasp. “Oh no! Are you o.k? Can I see? No!” It is her reaction that make both boys react. The real victim notices that he is leaking, “I am blood?” he enquires curiously, but bedeviled by thoughts of death. He looks in the general direction of his leg but fails to notice that he has a foot on the end of it.

At the same time I hear a “piercing 50 decibel” echo somewhere far, far away, [translation = the upstairs bathroom] followed by rapid fire footsteps. Junior appears within seconds to witness the scene, “he is blood, he is ugly, he is dead, hospital, emergency room, only 4 toes, 911…..” he talks at 90 mph, a never ending stream of words. His vast vocabulary is strung together. They all spell out the same general message of doom. When he reaches the end of his current word bank he squalks, a sound half way between a rooster and a drowning man.

Spouse appears, drowsy after three and a half hours sleep. My daughter is scared of the blood herself but recognizes that her little brother is spiraling. She soothes him with reassurance but he is impervious. When he starts to rip his hair and beat his body with his arms, spouse steps in and whisks him away from the scene.

At first glance this picture may seem a little grim, but that is only one perspective. A different view is a far more optimistic one. A few years ago we would have endured meltdowns and guessed at their cause; blood and fear, but clearly this is a much more complex matter. We are better able to understand the complexity because they are better able to express themselves verbally. As we get a better handle on the causes, we are better equipped to help them find other strategies to cope, help them practice them and help them learn.

The minutes tick by to bring us closer to 7 in the morning, an arbitrary time designated as appropriate to start the day. Another, very ordinary day.

It is at such moments that I am so grateful, that the two and a half years of the 'plaster campaign,' [translation = Band-aid] will finally pay dividends.

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Fear but not loathing, in San Jose

Many people are fearful of autism. As a parent of two autistic boys it's not 'autism' that I fear, it is the 'unexpected' that comes with autism that gives me cause for concern. Although I understand my boys better than I once did, I still find that supervision and vigilance have to be my greatest priorities in certain situations. Luckily, I know what most of those situations are. Our home is no longer 'baby proofed' but it is safe for my children. Outside our house offers varying degrees of danger even though to most other people this might be hard to appreciate. So very often, it is not the obvious dangers such as roadworks surrounding a gaping hole in the sidewalk, flagged with orange cones, netting, ribbons and flags for the unwary, but much more mundane matters.

We begin to leave the restaurant.

It is commonplace in America to find a complimentary basket of sweets [translation = candy] usually mints or lollipops and tooth picks at the checkout. This is curious for a number of reasons. Firstly, you have just eaten so why would you need more food? If you are unlucky enough to have need of a toothpick, surely they should be housed in the bathroom [translation = restaurant] as surely no-one is going to walk or drive home picking their teeth? That aside, this combination, attractive preferred food place adjacent to a means of torture [translation = pointy, sharp toothpicks] is more or less guaranteed to provoke a meltdown of catastrophic proportions in my youngest son. The main issue here is the dichotomy between the desire to reach out a hand to take the lollipop and at the same time have the primal fear of being speared by a toothpick!

Fortunately we have had a couple of years to adjust to this pitfall. [translation = only one of the many dangers associated with eating 'out.'] Our current 'coping' mechanism is for either his brother or sister to select and then pass him the lollipop. This again, is not without it's hic-cups and drawbacks, but for now, it will do.

We exit through the first and then the second glass door without incident, or only a couple of minor incidents due to incorrectly calibrated compasses in one child, and poorly co-ordinated motor planning in the other. Outside the second door, I have a collection of children who bear a strong resemblance to drunks being kicked out of a bar at 3 in the morning. No-one appears to be able to find their balance as they are distracted by the lollipops which are encased in a plastic wrapper. This kind of substance is always a challenge for people with poor fine motor skills. [translation = dodgy fingers] The situation is made worse by the fact that the seleophane is transparent. [translation = they can see the prize but can't access it] The enhanced level of frustration accelerates. One bites off the wrapper and spits it out on the ground. For the other one, with oral defensiveness, [translation = sensitive mouth area] this is not an option. Junior can now see his two siblings enjoying their lollipops, the same lollipop that remains caged and off limits to him, which further fuels his rage. It is my experience that it is not possible to do an Irish dance, [translation = think River Dance] whilst screaming in a motor mouth fashion and expect your limited hand power to function. Recognising that you are in 'overload,' is also probably beyond your capabilities by this point.

The sidewalk [translation = path] is as wide as a country lane, but the four lanes of traffic are far too close for my liking. Imagine how your hands would react if I emptied a nest of baby spiders onto your bare skin? Your instinctive reaction exactly matches how my son behaves. Are you still holding the lollipop now that you've brushed off the spiders? No? You dropped it? Where is it? There it is, but off course it's brittle and it has broken. Now he veers off into a vortex, a combination of a fire cracker and a jumping jack. The noise is enough to shatter glass. He could shoot off in any direction. 360 degrees of potential danger. I have no other option than to scoop him up flailing. Six and a half years, and 54lbs of supercharged nerve endings. You can be as vigilant as you can, supervise every second, but unless you intervene at the right time, in the right way, then there is a heavy price to pay.

When I say unexpected dangers, they aren't really. I do know most of their triggers. We're so lucky that they older they become, the less frequently this occurs. Not several times an hour but merely a few times a day. When you also consider that now, these meltdowns are so infrequent, it becomes less and less likely that they will both have one at the same time. It is easy to see how they both blossom and grow. But that's just one of the many reasons that I love to live here, those wasteful, environmentally damning, beautifully wide, safe, sidewalks, that is to say.

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