Hindsight – how I would do things differently

As some of you may know, I also write at “Trusera” now and after lengthy negotiations with “Rosie.”……….
If I knew then what I know now, there are many things that I would change. This is far from a complete list, merely a random selection.

1. I would have negotiated with my other half, …….

to “read more”


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Complementary abilities and word retrieval

I drive the boys home, a pal and my son, the very verbal and the not so much so.

A match made in heaven.

They are as different as chalk and cheese but they share the same label.

They have little in common yet they are a perfect foil for one another. Mine is a head taller yet a year younger, but I’m not really interested in chronology or inches. I watch them in the corner of the rear view mirror. My son examines the inside of his pal's ear, the one closest to him, both pal and ear, that is to say.

“Your ear……” he fizzles out.
“What about my ear?” he asks looking straight ahead. My son sticks his finger tip in his friend's ear, tentatively.
“Don't do that, you'll make me deaf and then I won't be able to hear ever again,” he responds factually, without reproach.
“Oh.”
“You know you should never put your fingers in your ears, it's bad to put your fingers in your ears, even if it's really noisy you should never put your fingers in your ears,” he explains with authority.
“Oh.”
“You see these bits? These bits of your “ear” here?”
“Dey are be calllllled 'lobes.'”
“Yeah, right. If you take your lobes and stuff em in your ear holes, that's dangerous too. It could stop you from hearing forever. You shouldn't do it o.k. or you'll go deaf.”
“Oh.”
“So don't do it right? Don't stick your fingers in your ears or you'll bust the bit inside and then you'll be deaf for ever and ever.”
“Dah inside is being dah 'drum.'”
“Yeah, that's right. So don't bust it.”
“Oh.”
“Do you know what else happens if you bust your ears?”
“No.”
“You'll fall over coz you'll break the balance bit in your ear.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah, you have this thing in your ear, like when you spin round and round and it kindof makes you dizzy, you'll break that bit and then you'll fall over all the time.”
“Dat is be dah cochlea, curly. It be looks like a snail.”
“Yeah, like that guy next door in 4th Grade, he's got a cochlea implant.”

A car honks close by. Both boys cover their ears with their palms in the same instant and duck in unison.


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Wordy Wednesday – the sense of smell

“A floor plan? You don't know anything about architecture do you?”

“What I know about architecture could be written on the back of a postage stamp.”

“So why to we have a picture of a floor plan then?”

“Just think of it as a map, put you in the picture as we go from A to B, so you can get your bearings.”

“Fair enough. We start at A?”

“The sitting room, but we never really use it. It's just an extra piece of space like a corridor.”
“Why am I interested in this?”
“Because he can't go in there.”
“Why not?”
“Because it smells.”
“Dare I ask what it smells of?”
“We don't know. We can't smell it. I know! Maybe we should start in E, the half bathroom.”
“He can't go in there because it smells?”
“Spot on.”
“Bathrooms often smell.”
“This is before it's even been used, first thing in the morning.”
“Maybe you need a cleaner?”
“It's the trash can that's in there too.”
“Maybe you should empty it?”
“I empty it every day and wash it once a week.”
“Can you smell it?”
“No. However it doesn't really matter because he can't get into the smelly bathroom because you have to go through the smelly utility room first.”
“Your utility room smells too?”
“Yes. That's where I put the cats' bowls of food.”
“Ah that can be stinky.”
“It's dried and it's usually empty first thing in the morning.”
“Sounds like he's safer in the kitchen.”
“No can't go in there, or rather……he can run through it very fast.”
“Your kitchen smells?”
“Sometimes I forget to turn the dishwasher on at night, or it's not full enough to turn on. Inevitably I'll have to open the fridge at some point, which means all those mixed stinks will roll out in a cool, all enveloping wave.”
“Hmm you make it sound so……unattractive.”
“Indeed.”
“Do you think he has an over developed sense of smell or something?”
Something like that. I don't know if he has more sensors or whether the sensors are calibrated too high?”
“It's hard to imagine, but it sounds all too real.”
“At least he can tell us about them now.”
“True. So it's only the little one.”
“Yup. Tell you what, I'll give you a little 'for instance.'”
“Right.”
“Strawberries.”
“Love em. The taste, the smell, their appearance, everything about them spells summer.”
“What about if they've been in the fridge overnight.”
“How do you mean?”
“Have you ever opened the fridge door, wondered what is that terrible smell, discovered the strawberries and commanded you nose to re-adjust itself so that you can smell the lovely strawberry smell instead of the stench?”
“Er….no……I can honestly say that you're completely on your own on that one.”
“Ah well, worth a try. How about this one? I put some all powerful perfume on the skin under your nose, above your lip.”
“Which perfume?”
“Eau d'Anchovy.”
“Yuck, are you kidding me?”
“Nope, try it! See how you function, whether you can concentrate, whether it's possible to eat or drink, if you can enjoy any of the things that you usually enjoy when you can't get rid of that all pervasive stink.”
“So……if I ever come visit, I'll bring my own peg.”
“Free to all comers!”
“Now if you'll excuse me, I think I may just need to go take another shower now. See you next week.”
“Cheers.”
By the by, “Amanda Baggs” made a superb video about how some people’s sensory systems differ. You may well have seen it before but I think it’s due for another airing.


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Can’t swim? Chuck em in the deep end.

 

I chat to my “chum” via e-mail, about our families and how their reactions are so pivotal to our own well being. The issue of the extended family, as opposed to the tiny autism unit has great repercussions. Unless families are geographically and perhaps psychologically close, it can be difficult to translate the message, to explain how autism impacts the day-to-day minutiae of life. What hits home for me, is her reference to the fact that we, as parents, give the impression that “we're coping.”

It puts me in mind of a visit home to England, over a year ago now.

Because we were in England there was the inevitable dose of rain. My youngest son does not 'do' rain. Rain is a curse from on high to torture the tactile and sensory challenged child. For many an autistic child, their emotions are either off or on, there is no degree of grey.

Thus is was, that we made a trip to the aquarium. I was armed with enough umbrellas and rain gear to fit out a small army unit but as the miles clocked up on the car, the anxiety rose exponentially. He watched the rain from within the safe confines of the car, agitated and quaking in anticipation of the possibility that at some stage in the near future he might have to venture forth and exit the car.

If you say to someone, anyone, 'he just doesn't do rain,' it is hardly surprising that this fails to translate. There is nothing like witnessing 'he doesn't do rain,' to get the message across more poignantly than mere words can describe.

We arrive at the crowded car park, a pay and display type. Their father leaves to fight with change and a queue at the payment machine. I am left with three small children and my elderly parents. They slowly adjust buttons and tweak umbrellas, as I attempt to gather the children. My daughter knows what's in store, jumps out of the car and hares over to her dad to avoid the fall out. Her traffic sense abandons her in the rush, but luck is on our side, as an unsupervised 8 year old dashes across the traffic to the safety of her father's side. My eldest son tumbles out of the car a little like how you fall out of bed first thing in the morning, drowsy, befuddled and uncoordinated. My parents wait patiently for our group to reassemble so that we can move as one party.

My son continues to bumble about between the cars oblivious to traffic and the rain. All he needs to do is stand still but instead he lurches around like a badly strung marionette with a novice puppeteer. I have never been certain whether car journey's disorientate him or whether his gyroscope takes time to calm down, but the net effect visually, is a drunken sailor. I speak to my father in a tone that I have never used before, “hold him!” My father blinks, uncertain whether I am talking to him or a stranger. He steps to one side to block his escape, but it's not enough, “hold onto him! Hold his hand or his arm!” My father is even more startled but tries hard to clutch the moving target.

Everyone waits in the rain. Minutes tick by. I submit to peer pressure because I am spineless to the core. My mother stands nearby as I begin the last hurdle. I open the car door where my youngest son is curled into a small ball in the foot well of the car. I slip my hands under his arms and around his chest to lift and extract him. He immediately starts to scream and flail struggling to find a purchase. I can feel my mother flinch as she takes another step backwards to make way. He clings to the door frame as my grip slips to his waist. His legs kick violently and try to push me away but I am stronger than he is. I uncurl his fingers with one hand whilst holding the spoon position with the other arm. As the last finger tip is unfastened we catapult out of the car. Now the whole world is witness to a full level ten meltdown, a roiling ball of flames in the pitter patter of raindrops. He is puce in the face, slick with snot and furious tears of the fearful. Passersby cannot help but look. The tantrum of a toddler in the body of a six year old in beyond comprehension. His desperation is palpable.

All of this was completely predictable. For some reason, cushioned in my extended family unit, I had failed to acknowledge or prepare for the inevitable, as if some magic wand would whisk it all away so that we could pretend to be an ordinary family on an ordinary day trip. I cannot fathom the depths of my own guilt, that I could hoodwink autism, that I could delude my parents, that I could subject my whole family to another public display of humiliation, that I could torture my son in this excruciating manner.

He flips into a tip toed rain dance before scrabbling up my body like a monkey. His arms are around my neck, his legs encircle my waist as his head buries itself in my sternum. My mother leans the umbrella over us both but he is so frenzied the absence or presence of rain is completely off his radar. His screams lower to growls as he chews the neck of my T-shirt, a coping and self calming gesture. I can see my father's grip on my other sons arm, tighten as he twirls like a limp, damp, spiraling tissue, the dog entangled in the lead.

The eye of the storm passed as we stood in the drizzle in the car park. Of the many people who observed us, the cloud of disapproval was pierced by a few pairs of eyes. Those eyes belonged to people who could not identify what they were looking at. I imagine that they had a visceral response to seeing a child is such obvious distress but were unable to to see any evidence or cause of the harm. I could see their hesitation, the need to step in an offer help and yet the innate knowledge that everyone was out of their depth.

I wait for either of my parents to speak, as I catch my breath. I see spouse and my daughter gallop back on their return journey. I find it ironic that I spent the majority of the car trip lecturing, in far too much detail, why the 'no carrying under any circumstances campaign' was so important. Fortunately, no-one mentions my monologue. “Is it…is he……are they……always like this?” she asks softly. I look at my mother, her face is a study of concern and compassion. “Well, you know……” I smile, as I cannot bear her vicarious pain, “there ain't no rain in California.”

p.s. In case you are worried that some autistic children can never adjust to ‘weather,’ I can assure you that with a carefully orchestrated desensitization plan, over time and frequent exposure, I am confident that this is another hurdle he can overcome, just as we are enmeshed and make progress with the ‘outside’ campaign.


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No free lunch and certainly not dinner

 


Of course we knew immediately.

 

At 11:45 and we were pleasantly weary after far too much good company and more than a drop of wine.

 

The baby sitter left, almost scurried and there is was, right next to the three toothbrushes, right next to the coffee maker, obvious and white and large and unused and still folded. He legged it upstairs and I pouted at the pull-up. Another baby sitter crossed off the list, another load of laundry coming my way.

When he reappears I can hardly see my knight in his non-work attire, as he is a mobile laundry pile, covered in six feet of soggy duvet, sheet, mattress cover, pillow, pillow cover and duvet cover, a royal flush.
“Is he alright?”
“Ooo yes. Happy as a Lark, soggy as a………very soggy person.” It is late.
“I'll put the first load on and go and wash him then.”
“Already done.”
“Really?”
“Clean as a whistle.”
“Sleeping bag?”
“Done.”
“Last visit to squeeze out the last drop?”
“Absolutely. 'Two wets beds for one child in any one nightly period, not to exceed 12 hours is no longer permissible' campaign! Done and dusted.”
“Oh well. In that case ……”
“Sleep,” we chorus.

The following morning I wake late and skitter down the stairs at 6:20. My youngest son sits on a cold plastic stool with a chrome stand. He shivers, nak.ed. I suspect that the metal conducts no heat in either direction. I grab a soft, fleecy dressing gown to wrap him up. “I am dah goosebump!” he announces.
“Yes, you do have goosebumps dear.” I rub hug him.
“At night I am bin dah ghostbump.”
“Really? Was it scary last night?”
“Yes.”
“Why were you scared lovey?”
“Dah ghostbumps are like dah dark.”
“Why was it dark?” This is the child that sleeps with the main light on all night because we are determined to ruin the planet and warm the globe single handedly.
“No light.” I think. I am certain that I shared this fact with the baby sitter. We are all familiar with the cliché, 'I was so scared I wet myself.' It is not a comfortable thought. In this case is it probably too much of a leap. He might well have had an accident anyway. Why else would he wear a pull-up? My psyche is more comfortable with the latter. To think of my son, in the dark, in his familiar home, whilst we are out galevanting, makes me too uncomfortable. The cliché has to be balanced and weighed against the other cliché, 'I laughed so hard I wet myself,' but of course that one doesn't apply. If bladder control is a known issue, it would be wrong to read too much into such an incident.

“Dat woz dah worst pull-up in dah world ever!”
“How do you mean? You weren't wearing one anyway.”
“I am knowing dat! But dah pull-up can not be holding dah flood.”
“Flood?”
“Yes I am bin wet all over. I am dah drown.”
“Were you drinking water from the bathroom?”
“Yes! She din say 'no drinkin,' she sayed 'no light.' So I bin drink dah water to make me brave…..in dah dark.”
“The water makes you brave?”
“Yes. I bin fill my body wiv dah brave water…….in dah dark.” Until now I was unaware of the magical powers of water. I remember that 4 years ago we had to turn off the stop cock under the sink, to stop people drinking water all night long. We also fitted a timer to the main light. 45 minutes to fall asleep and adjust. Every 45 minutes throughout the night, one of other of them would 'awaken' and reset it for another 45 minutes. The beds were always wet. Then the timer broke due to consumer misuse. I remember that we turned the water back on again over a year ago, when that 'behaviour' was extinguished.

It was probably the longest period of parental insanity that we endured. They didn't have so many words then. We didn't recognize the difference between the two competing sources of meltdowns. This was merely another cause of our bewilderment. It would appear that the laundry and light nightmare was entirely of our own making. Wet beds, wet boys, wet weary tears, mainly mine, the self pity variety. A long dark age. We became hermits, living a cloistered life.

Kindly friends would make suggestions – 'take a break, go away for a week.' Sure! Could you sleep in one room with your family with the lights on all night? What holiday establishment doesn't charge for ruined mattresses? Could we buy fourteen pairs of pyjamas to get us through the week? Is it part of hotel policy to change the entire bedding on two beds daily? Camping would be cheaper and solve the light problem, but the laundry! Does any family have 14 sleeping bags? It's an exaggeration of course, but only approximately.

No. No-one understood, least of all the parents.

Did they drink the water as a chance cure? They certainly weren’t thirsty. When did it flip into on OCD kink? How did drinking water protect them from the dangers of the dark? Did one copy the other or did they both feel the same way? How does being full of water help? If you’re hyper-vigilant about attack during your sleep, it is easier to remain awake if your tummy is sloshing around with gallons of liquid?

“I am dah big, I am dah round, I am dah brave…..in dah dark.” A little water balloon, fit to bust. Maybe I should write the baby sitter a ‘thank you’ note afterall. She helped us see the new light and maybe lighten the laundry.

 


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Fish or fowl?

 

It's definitely a kid thing, I think I can be confident in asserting that distinction. I've never seen or read about any adult doing it. I don't think it's an autism thing. I think it's a sensory thing, which usually amounts to faulty wiring somewhere along the system. That said, because adults don't do it, this must mean that whatever it is, disappears as you grow up. Perhaps you feel the same way, but find better ways of dealing with the matter? I need grown ups to tell us, let us in on the secret.

It's an odd thing to watch, but not a pleasant thing to observe. You can sort of see it happening but for some reason, you're not able to stop them doing it, at least not in time.

The child sits before the bowl of food. It can be any kind of food but something that in theory, they're willing to eat. They also do it with food that they really like, preferred food, so it's not a question of taste or even hunger. Sometimes they're in a hurry and that might explain it sometimes, but now I've seen it in my own two boys and another boy, who is not biologically related to us, I can only conclude that it's more common than I thought.

Say it's something like Goldfish crackers, just for a handy example that happens to be a preferred food for any number of children for some unaccountable reason. They munch handfuls of the things. Chomp, chomp, chomp, even if they're not very good at mastication. Before they've swallowed the mouthful, they stuff another handful in and then another. You can see it register in their eyes first, a glimmer of confusion quickly followed by alarm, quickly followed by ejection.

I suspect that these type of children are also wired with super strong gag reflex, which is just as well under the circumstances. The chin will drop and a tongue will slowly disgorge a perfect pellet of pounded putridness, half the size of a cricket ball, considerably large than the size of the oral cavity itself and shaped like a quenelle. Broadly speaking they do not appear to be overly traumatized by the experience and often start to eat a fresh handful of Goldfish without skipping a beat.

It doesn't look like greed. It looks like an owl regurgitating, slow, deliberate and controlled. Do they forget to swallow? Do they have no taste buds? Do they lack the musculature to manipulate the food to the back of their throats? Do they not register that their mouths are already full? Of course I can't be sure, and I expect it differs from one child to another, but for mine I think it's a combination of the latter with a general lack of interest in food.

What's your experience? Does this make any sense? Have you ever known an adult to do this?


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Tiptoe through the tulips

One of our ongoing campaigns, is to continue to try and expand junior's diet. Currently, he eats 17 foods. [translation = jolly annoying but more commonly referred to as neophobic] Ideally I would wish for our family to enjoy a meal together in the evening, but that dream may be a while away yet.

For the time being I am more than satisfied with a lesser deal. The lesser deal these days is for everyone to be at the table together, for a period of time. The time period is vague. [translation = more than a minute fits the bill] When I say 'at' the table, this is because I don't expect anyone to really sit, in the conventional meaning of the term. [translation = hunkered down, kneeling, draped, or in close proximity to a chair, are all good enough]

At first, this might see quite a low bar. 'But Madeline, surely if you have such feeble expectations of your children, they have nothing to rise towards?' And indeed, as always, I would applaud that viewpoint. The trouble with that viewpoint, is that it is blind to a few little matters that are of great import.

For instance, if you have a limited diet and are required to be at the table with other people, then you have to see and smell their very offensive food. Sometimes you may also have to hear it too. Whilst I do not know what smells you dislike, I could hazard a guess that you would have a hard time eating your dinner in a male public restroom. Likewise, even if you are not a vegetarian, a slaughterhouse wouldn't be my first choice of venue, to eat my tuna sandwich. We are all familiar with tales of foreign travel and exotic foods. [translation = chocolate covered cockroaches anyone?]

Hence, for my son to be at the table, whilst other people eat other things, this translates into a momentous achievement. [translation = thus we unite to chant 'remember, everybody likes different things,' but next time I'll pick a better tune, or maybe better words, or basically something less irritating during the following months of repetition]

This means, that even a simple lunch time sandwich may cause great difficulties for the person who finds that peanut butter is 'poison.' Strangely, my other son finds the smell, taste and sight of bananas very offensive too. This is a great nuisance, since bananas are one of his little brothers 17 foods.

The trouble with only eating 17 foods, is that each of those 17 items appears more frequently in a daily diet. If for example, you as an adult person, enjoyed caviar or oysters or smoked salmon, even if you could afford to eat such things, you probably wouldn't eat them every day, or even every other day. None of them would be around to torture the other people in your household very often. Even if you threw caution to the wind and stuffed yourself on smoked salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and squeezed in a morning and afternoon salmon snack too, at the end of the day, the packet would be empty. [translation = but your tummy would be full to capacity]

As an aside, maybe you could find 17 foods that you could exist on for the next year? Just you, no need to concern yourself with other people's foibles. Imagine you're on a desert island. [translation = with fresh daily shipments by helicopter] Each item must be a single item. [translation = no casseroles] Don't cheat and combine one thing with another. [translation = spaghetti but no sauce, chicken but no breadcrumbs, or breadcrumbs and chicken separately, they'd be two items] Be careful of pies as the crust and the contents will be at least two items. Even a nice safe soup is likely be a cheat, and I know that you'll put your croutons on the side, for later or dessert. Two of your 17 items must be beverages. E.g. milk and water. That gives you 15 things to choose. Now come along now, you're an adult, so don't forget to ensure that you have a well balanced nutritional diet. Let me know how you get on. 365 days and counting!

But as usual, I digress. Meanwhile………..

As always, my timing is flawless. [translation = 5:30 p.m.] The children are absorbed in the 'electronics' reward time, as I nip back in from the garden with the world's most perfect tomato in my hot little hands for my lunch. [translation = home grown and still warm from the sunshine.] The air conditioning in the single family room, ensures that their air flow is pure. [translation = no chance of him detecting that a tomato has entered the house] My handy dandy egg slicer, means that my sandwich is ready in a trice. I skip to the dining room to eat my lunch. [translation = summer holidays may result in malnutrition for some.] I sit at the table, as a proper grown up should and admire the bouquet of flowers. [translation = not from an admirer but from a guilt ridden dentist]

After one mouthful, I realize that I've forgotten the chives. I dither. Eat now, whilst the going is good and skip the addition of perfection, or add the perfection and risk skipping the eating? I slip from my chair and move silently back into the kitchen. [translation = the stealth of the truly motivated] I return to the table with a handful of chives and a pair of scissors, but as I open the blades I hear a howl from the family room, following by speedy steps that stop at my side. He tiptoes in place with his fingers neatly pinching his nostrils closed, eyes shut, “dat is dah terrible, dat is dah awful, dat is dah stinkiest ever, ever, ever!” His eyes blink open and then snap shut again before he whizzes away to bellow over his shoulder, “But das o.k. coz everybody is liking dah different things!”

Well something is getting through!

Not 'one sandwich' but several items = tomato, mayonnaise, slice of bread, one egg, ignore salt and pepper, all equates to four food items. Just as well I skipped the chives.


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Oral Defensiveness – once bitten, twice shy

This is one feature of my youngest son. On the whole, he refuses all 'new' foods. A few of years back, my older son, who is also autistic, had a play date with his chum, a typically developing twin. This fully verbal child had energy, enough to spark my child into action. There were few words between them as they spent the majority of their time wrestling. [translation = roughhousing.] These two five year olds 'played,' until snack time, when all four came to the table. At this time junior only “ate three things,” but we seem to have been working on this forever.

Very occasionally, approximately once or twice a year, he would snatch food from someone else's plate, stuff it in his mouth and then promptly spit it out again, with accompanying screams.

The friend immediately noticed that junior had a bowl of Goldfish, but not the fruit and chocolate chip cookie that everyone else had.
“How come he doesn't get any?” he asked immediately.
“He dun like it,” offered his brother, as both boys have speech delays. His friend was not convinced, so I backed him up, “that's right, he doesn't like cookies, but he really hates chocolate chip ones.” His eyes narrowed in the knowledge that he had caught an adult in a lie.

The snack continued. The friend decided that there was a conspiracy afoot and so asked him directly, “do you want one?” Junior rarely responded to questions verbally or otherwise. On this occasion, his response was to shade his eyes like a visor and lower his head, so that the vision of the cookies would be obliterated. The friend asked again, louder this time. My son squashed his nose onto the table cloth so as to close his nostrils from the stench of the cookies. The friend glanced in my direction, a quick check to see if the coast was clear. I decided to let nature take it's course.

“Here, just give it a try. Everyone likes cookies. These are the best. You'll like them.” Junior squirmed in his chair, became more compact, smaller. “Come on. You'll love em,” he persisted. Junior curled himself into a nut, the smallest hamster in the world, invisible. “Hey! What's wrong with you? Eat it!” he commanded waving a cookie at junior's posterior. He tried a new tactic. “I know, if you eat this cookie then I'll give you a………” He faultered, perplexed. “Eat this cookie and then you can go and play.” It was a nice try, but was the wrong lure, indeed I was a little short on lures myself. I waited, fascinated. “Eat it now or you'll go straight to bed without any……” I suppressed all nerve endings to ensure that my face remained neutral. Those tired old phrases each came out, one after another, all of them. They're the words that parents have been saying since children were invented.

Junior unfurled just enough to allow his tentacle of a arm to reach up to the table for another handful of goldfish. The friend wrenched the bowl away, lay on the table and dangled his own arm like a fishing line, in front of junior's nose. The cookie waved back and forth, “come on, you can do it, I know you can, just a little bit…..” junior snapped at the cookie and bit off a chunk. It was so fast that the fisherman flinched, sprang back and retracted his arm at the same second that junior exploded like a jumping jack, caterwauling at 50 decibels, hands frantically scraping cookie crumbs out his mouth before running to the faucet to wash the inside of his mouth. The friend watched mesmerized, as junior drowned and gurgled under the flow of water, ripped off all his clothes and hurtled away to hide.

The friend was a statue, eyes like saucers, his body rigid, at attention. He relaxed, lost his stupefied look to add, “he really doesn't like cookies does he?”

I assumed it was rhetorical.


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Early Days 6 – It's all relative

[From way back when]
Junior son and I have arrived early at school to pick up his brother from his Special Education Day Class, now that he is in First Grade. We’re early because it allows him to adjust to the ‘new surroundings,’ even though it’s been a few weeks now. It helps to be first because then additional people arrive gradually. We need to avoid the deluge of a crowd. Another mother and her child are also waiting outside the same door. We join her on the bench and I smile. It's reciprocated.

I make sure that junior is on the far side of the bench, as far away from her and her son as is physically possible. My son doesn't look at the other mother, nor her child. He might notice if it was a baby, but toddlers are in the same category as dogs and cats, small creatures that are unpredictable and need to be avoided. He starts to count the holes in the bench; it is a matrix of blue circles. His nose is two inches away from the bench, the holes and his fingers. He can touch it because it is smooth, not hot nor cold, because of the shade on a sunny day. Our awareness of tactile defensiveness and sensory integration grows. I’ve learned to appreciate these things as we cope with complicated matters like temperature. He counts in a whisper but explodes with “Barnacles!' when he realizes that he'll need to start at the beginning again, because he's not following a mapped path of holes.

The other mother's son beams hugely at me with large smiling eyes, heavily lashed. He's still in nappies [translation = diapers.] We mothers start to chat, as we have a good 15 minutes to wait. She tells me about her family, husband and two boys. She's very open. I know now that her child is not in the class room behind us but in a different, mainstream class. She tells me what a trial the little one is, so energetic “you wouldn't believe!” she sighs. I would.

Junior's body starts to push against mine. I know that my bottom is covering the holes that he wants to count. He's not going to ask me to move, he's just going to shove my weight out of his path; his 45 lbs is going to move my adult bulk by will power alone. I tap him on the shoulder to get his attention. He keeps pushing, oblivious and absorbed. When I don't budge, he eventually snaps “wot?” with a “tone of irritation.” Many autistic children respond, if at all, inappropriately, or out of proportion. Eventually he glances up at my huge immovable form with annoyance, his face scowls. I catch his eyes but before I can speak he realizes that he's lost count again “Fish paste!” he bellows hurling himself on the ground, beating it with his fists, kicking up the dust [ translation = dirt.] He wears long sleeves and long trousers in the baking 80 degree heat. He realizes that the bare flesh of his exposed hands, has come in contact with something that he would rather not have contact with. Immediately he is on his tippy toe feet, flapping his arms and rain dancing to shake off the debris. I make brushing gestures over him, being careful to avoid the head area. His head and shoulders are especially sensitive and strictly off limits. He slumps, crestfallen and chin fallen. His eyes fall on the bench and he flops on it to start counting again. This kind of persistence and determination, often form a mesmerizing form of “perseveration,” which is calming.

The woman next to me smiles, kindly “he's a funny little guy!” I pause and glance at her, trying to gauge if it's worth it. It would seem that I will see her often.
“Actually he's autistic.”
“What?”
“Autistic, he's in a special education class, Pre-K. So is his brother, that's who we're waiting for, he's in Mrs. K's class.”
“He doesn't look autistic?”
I don't say anything. We both watch him counting holes; 203, 204,205. He will be five years old in a few months. Her son keeps interrupting, wanting her attention; Watch me! Watch me! Play with me! Play with me!

The loud haler starts crackling, warming up ready for the siren. I move swiftly to the other side of him ready to pounce. The end of the school day is announced. It is very loud, with lots of static. I check whether he is about to meltdown and cover his ears or whether he's disengaged from the whole world, solely intent on his task. It could go either way, but I'm ready to grab him if he goes hurtling off ears covered, to run blindly towards the traffic; 237, 238, 239. What is the American sporting game where you have to catch the ball just in time? Ah yes! Cricket.

“Really?”
“Really.”
“You'd never know, would you?”

I would now.


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That darned cat – Is it any wonder!

I rip off the Marigolds and ditch them in the sink so that I don’t risk ‘wetting’ my son. I march into the family room to determine the cause of the irritating skritchy scratchy sound that it driving me barmey.

“What is wrong with that cat!” I scurge.
“Nuffink! He is not ‘wrong’ he is a good cat!” squeaks the superhero, defender of deviant felines.

“Actually,” she says peering over the top of her book, “don’t you remember that he’s the one with attachment disorder and bonding issues?” My mouth drops open ever so slightly, probably due to weak jaw muscles after surgery. Is she really only nine?
“That’s as maybe, but what is he doing? Why is he making all that racket?”
“He not make ‘racket’ he make scratching noises wiv his paw. A ‘paw’ is dah foot of an animal.” Well thank you for that unrequested clarification to further distract me from the task at hand!

“Yes, dear, but what is his paw trying to do in that drawer?”
“I know I am being mean to him. I will open dah drawer for him in a minute, coz he is too little to open it by himself.”
“What does he want that’s in there dear?”
“He wants dah little reptile.”
“What little reptile?”
“Dah frog.” I wonder how he knows this?
“Why does he want the frog dear?”
“Becoz he likes all doz little creatures dat come from the treasure box at therapy.” How does he know this?
“Why does he like them?”
“Coz dey are squidgey.” Fair enough, not that I’m any the wiser.
“How does he know that they’re in there?”
“Becoz of dah smell.”
“What smell?”
“Dah smell of the squidgey toys.” Sometimes I wonder what planet I am supposed to be existing on?
“I can’t smell anything, what do they smell of?”
“Dey smell of squidgey toys.” Somebody save me!
“Can you smell them?”
“Of course I can smell dem.”
“I can’t!” say the eyes over the top of the book.
“I can,” says the one who isn’t listening and playing with Pokemon in the next room.

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