We sit at the table on the last spot of homework, a cross-word for the first grader. Rather than written clues, it has pictures. The last slot is blank. The icon depicts a bowl filled with some kind of liquid and a spoon. It begins with s and ends in p. It is a foodstuff that junior has never consumed. [nor likely to in the near future] I think that he is being awkward.

You would think after all this time, I would be more ‘with it,’ in the autism department. My learning curve in other areas of my life, is advancing, as evidenced by my ability to understand the humor in “my pal’s posting.” This is fun, this is progress. In theory it is evidence that despite my advancing years, you can teach an old dog new tricks. At the same time, when it comes to autism, I always feel that I am several step, if not leagues, behind.

His aversion to food [“neophobia”] often leads to difficulties. A long time back, when he was first evaluated, whenever a food item came up in the pictures, he refused to answer, would not say the word aloud. Due to his tactile defensiveness, he also refused to point to the correct answer because then his fingertip would come into contact with paper. It took a wee while to get over that particularly difficulty, until we rephrased the question from 'which one of these do you eat?' to 'which one of these would your sister eat?'

I think we are experiencing the same issue with the homework.

For myself, following jaw surgery, I am so heartily sick of Cock-a-Leekie, Mullagatawny, split pea, puree etc., that I find my sense of humor is under strain.
“Lets think about it shall we? What did I have earlier today for a snack?”
“Er, you are having dah chocolate milk,” he drools in a breathy tone.
“Yes, but not that snack, that is a snack that you drink, this is a snack that you eat.”
“Can you think of anything else perhaps? What did I have later, the thing that smelt bad?”
“Everyfink dat you eat is smelling bad except dah chocolate milk!” I seem to have mislaid my 'thinking out of the box' skills, and a small sigh escapes.
“How about I show you a tin of it?”
“You have some in a tin?”
“I do. I have lots of tins of it!” I nip out to the garage and return with an armful of tins to park in front of him on the table. “There you go. What are these?”
“Dey are cans. Cans is beginning wiv dah 'c' and is ending in dah 's'. Dat is bad. Dat is not dah right answer. I am a bad student. Mrs. Ko will be giving me dah bad grades because my brain is too tiny today!” He weeps and his head drops to his arms on the table. It's frightening how quickly he can spiral down into despair. They are real tears.
“Not at all, you are very clever and a great student. Now how about we read the words on the can? Look!” He raises his heavy head and dewy eye lashes, “it is saying ‘soup,’ I already am knowing dat but it dah wrong answer.”
“No! It's not, it's the right answer, you knew it all the time, how clever you are.”
“What! What? What! 'Soup' is being dah right answer?”
“Yes dear! You're right!”
He spits and stutters, bristles and sputters, “but, but, but ….you said it wuz for dah eating kind of food! You are dah idiot! Soup is dah liquid, so you are drinking it not eating!”

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Trading, a reality check

He accosts me in the kitchen, “hey mom, I wanna play shops. Get me the stuff.” At last! Horray, he wants to play something normal, something that other children want to play and it's only taken five and a half years. I think of all the packets, boxes and jars I saved from the recycling a couple of years back, so that we could play shops, together with the till and pretend money so that we could model ‘how one behaves’ and ‘what one does’ in a shop. Needless to say it was one of my more spectacular failures. I don’t think I broke down the entire sequence into small enough bits and I failed to take account of all possible phobias and unexpecteds, as I didn’t know their full extent.
“What do you need dear? Shall I go and get the till?”
“Till! Till? I don need till. What I need till for?”
“The till has all the money in, the pretend money.”
“Money! Money? I don need money. What I need money for?”
“Well what do you want then?”
“I want bricks.” [translation = blocks] O.k., not quite the answer I was expecting. I haul out the box of bricks.
“Shall we play together?” I offer, even though I should be cooking supper, but it's too good an opportunity to miss.
“No I don want to play with you, I want to play with him.” He stabs his index finger towards his brother. I am rejected as potential playmate. His brother is inaugurated into potential playmate status. Better and better. Do I have the opportunity to observe some parallel play perchance?

“Here you wan dis one or dis one?” he asks his little brother in rather an abrupt tone, but within socially acceptable levels of appropriate.
“I wan the red one, no, no, no, de yellow one.” They trade bricks.
“You don want dat one! Dat one is no good!” the little one warns.
“Look!” he shoves the brick under his brother's nose, “it has a bad bit.”
“Where I don see it?”
“There! Right there! Look with your eyes, on the corner!” his finger nail identifies a tiny flaw. His anger rises at his brother's inability to see what is so obvious to him.
“That's o.k.” he says magnanimously, “it don't bother me, I'm o.k. with that.”
“You are?”
“Sure, what's the problem anyways?” His little brother's face is a study of disbelief. Where minute discrepancies are blatant and unacceptable to him, to his brother, they are hardly discernible and of even less bother.
I predict that the bigger brother will be like his father, happy with a bargain, a good trade. I predict that his little brother will also be like his father in other ways, unable to make a decision, overwhelmed by choices, fearful of missing the best offer, “shopping” for hours but returning empty handed. Spouse appears by my side, I check to see if his ears are burning red, but he asks “what are they doing?”
“Playing micro economics in a very closed ‘perfect’ society, still based on the barter system, without the use of a token system of exchange, yet.”

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