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Autism Through A Child’s Eyes

8 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 8 – Best conversation I had this week: Try writing script-style (or with dialogue) today to recap an awesome conversation you had this week.

I’m not much of a person for conversations. I suffer from social anxiety, so talking is difficult. I tend to be more comfortable finding my voice in the form of the written word.

Obviously, this is less of a problem when I am among friends and family. I am married to a man who, in addition to having a totally off-the-wall sense of humour, has no “inside voice”. The conversations I have with him range from the baffling to the downright hilarious.

I also have some great conversations with my younger son, James. For a six-year-old, his vocabulary is astounding, and his imagination knows no bounds. He weaves in and out of topics at will, and you can never tell where the conversation will go next. One moment he seems to be wise beyond his years; the next, we are reminded that he is still a kid finding his way in this world.

A few days ago, we had this conversation while I was cooking dinner:

James: Mommy, can you buy me a water gun?
Me: Why do you want a water gun?
James: So I can spray Granny on the nose.
Me (after snarfing on my coffee): Why do you want to do that?
James: Because her nose is dry and that means she’s sick. Roger (a classmate) said so.
Me: Roger said that Granny is sick if her nose is dry?
James (looking at me as if I’m nuts): No. He was talking about his dog.
Me: Ummmm, James? Dogs and people aren’t the same. Granny’s nose is fine.
James: I think Roger’s dog has autism.
Me: What makes you think that?
James: He doesn’t talk and he knocks down Roger’s Lego towers. It’s not his fault, though. He doesn’t know what he’s doing because he has autism.
Me: James, that’s just the way dogs are. Dogs don’t have autism.
James: How do you know?
Me: Ermmmmm (thinking: the kid has a point)
James: Mommy?
Me (wondering about James’ sudden sombreness): Yes, buddy?
James: Will George always have autism?
Me: Yes, baby, he will. Autism is not something he can grow out of.

I want to pause this account briefly to say that where autism discussions with James are concerned, I find that honesty is the best policy. I don’t try to sugar-coat anything, and I answer questions without elaboration. This approach seems to be the one that works best with James.

James: That’s OK. I love him.
Me: I know you do. And he loves you too.
James: Yeah! Mommy?
Me: Yes?
James: Will George die from autism?
Me: No, people cannot die from autism. We just have to make sure we keep him safe.
James: It’s OK, Mommy. I’ll take care of him.

Yes, I cried.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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Twitter Tuesday: #youmightbeanautismparentif

22 Nov

On Sunday evening I was wandering around in Twitterland seeing if anything interesting was going on, and I noticed a certain hashtag popping up in my timeline not once, not twice, but many time. For those who are not Twitterites like me, a hashtag is a topic that people are Tweeting about – kind of like a conversation. So if you’re tweeting about broccoli (and really, who would tweet about broccoli?) you would add the following to your tweet: #broccoli.

Anyway, the hashtag that was appearing on Sunday night was this: #youmightbeanautismparentif.

Well, this looked like fun! Autism parents were tweeting about some aspects of raising a child on the spectrum. Some of the tweets were poignant, some were downright hilarious, and every single one of them was true. So I thought I would share some with you. What follows is a sampling. To get the full picture, go to Twitter and search for the hashtag #youmightbeanautismparentif.

So here goes. You might be an autism parent if:

  • you start to write your coworkers a social story about why they shouldn’t use your stapler (@BartimusPrime1)
  • Your child is self-taught on both a PC & a MAC, preferring to operate both simultaneously (@theblondeview)
  • You celebrated and took a pic the first time your daughter drew on a wall. (@NationalAutism)
  • you know there are TOO MANY ways to end the sentence, “The bathroom is NOT a good place to…” (@FroggyPrinceMom)
  • you wouldn’t change your child for the world- but want often to change the World for your child (@helenhamill)
  • you have a swing. In the middle of your living room. (@RaisingASDKids)
  • one moment, you feel completely alone & the next, you’re a part of a large, passionate & supportive community. (@autismfather)
  • you are happy when your child gets in age appropriate trouble (@RaisingASDKids)
  • you constantly praise your kid for NOT peeing down the air vent (@laughinblues)
  • your kid just dropped a grape and now the ENTIRE day is ruined. (@WhacamoleLife)
  • your child is offended that Robin Hood called a big man “Little John” because that’s a lie. (@BobbiSheahan)
  • the Christmas Nativity scene on the mantle includes dozens of animals facing the same direction. (@LeftCoastJeff)

I made my own contributions to this thread. Here are a few of them. You might be an autism parent if:

  • your kid screams the roof off because the letter M on his computer keyboard broke.
  • you’ve ever had to defend your vaccination choices to complete strangers.
  • the dishwasher ALWAYS has to be closed and the living room door ALWAYS has to be open exactly 3.26384 inches.
  • cutting the cheese sandwich into triangles instead of squares starts World War III.

What do you think? Feel free to add to the list in the comments, or join the Twitter conversation and be sure to follow me @running4autism.

How To Get Rid Of Telemarketers

7 Nov

My son George has a new party-trick. He opens the living room door just so he can have the pleasure of slamming it. As he slams it, he yells out some random thing. Some days, that’s all I hear. Open. Yell. SLAM! Open. Yell. SLAM! Open. Yell. SLAM!

It does my head in.

Reprimanding George for it is a useless endeavour. It’s one of those autism things that he cannot really help. He’s getting some sensory satisfaction from it, and while we are going through the process of using rewards and reinforcements to stop the behaviour, we just have to grit our teeth and put up with it. I’ve been through this before with Cupboard Door War of 2010 and the Dishwasher War, which is ongoing, but on which I am finally starting to make progress.

It’s just my bad luck that my home office space is right beside the door that is the current object of George’s attention.

On Saturday, the phone rang right around the time George started another door-opening-yelling-slamming spree. With a shhhhhh! in George’s direction that I knew would be futile, I punched the speakerphone button and answered. It was a telemarketer, trying to sell windows and blinds. These people call us incessantly. They must think I have twenty-two gazillion windows and blinds on my house, all of which need replacing.

As I was preparing to politely tell the caller that I was not interested, George opened the door. I asked the caller to hold on for a moment, so that I could get the yelling and slamming out of the way before I spoke.

The words George chose to yell at that moment were so appropriate to the situation that I couldn’t help laughing.

“Not now,” yelled my son at the top of his lungs, “NEVER!!!!

Surely the windows-and-blinds people would have gotten a clear message from that.

For Some People It’s Not So Funny

24 May

It’s almost too easy to make fun of Harold Camping. For the second time the world has, with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever, failed to come to an end despite his predictions. He was so sure of it this time. He said that “there is no possibility that it will not happen.”

Now, I am one of the most Biblically illiterate people around. I know some basics, of course, having been educated in a girls-only Catholic school that’s short on life training and high on guilt training. The Bible story that I know best is the one where Jesus turns water into wine, but I have a vested interest in that one.

As vague about the Bible that I am, even I know that there’s some passage in there somewhere that says the Rapture will pretty much sneak up on us without warning, and that even Jesus doesn’t know when it will happen.

Why Harold Camping thinks he knows something that Jesus doesn’t is beyond me. But anyway.

Now he is saying that his date was off by five months, and that the Rapture will actually happen on October 21st, the date that was originally supposed to be the earth-turning-into-great-ball-of-fire date.

What’s he going to say come October 22nd? That he had the year wrong?

I confess that in the last week or so, I have made much mockery of all of this. On Saturday I posted a Facebook status update suggesting that everyone fail to answer their phones after 6:00 p.m., just to mess with their friends. I posted links to post-Rapture animal rescue services, and I shared Rapture-related jokes. I tweeted about what I planned to wear to the Rapture, and pondered the question of whether I would still be able to go on Facebook when it was all over.

Not that I expected to go anywhere. With all of my skepticism and mockery, if the Rapture ever does happen, the most I’ll see of God is his middle finger.

As easy as it is to poke fun, though, there is a serious side to all of this.

There are people who really and truly believed Harold Camping’s prophecy. Some of them based their entire belief systems on the idea that they would be taken to Heaven on Saturday. Some non-believers might be tempted to dismiss these people as stupid, but that’s hardly fair. I would venture to say that many of them were vulnerable, and got caught up at a time in their life when they really needed something to believe in.

Can you imagine their disappointment when nothing happened? It must have been crushing for a number of Camping’s followers. They are now in a position where they are having to re-evaluate everything they believed in, and in some cases, cope with the onset of depression and anxiety. I think it would be a fair bet to say that there will be a sharp rise in mental illness among Camping’s followers, and that is so, so sad.

What about the people who spent their life savings in the belief that they would need the money after May 21st? Some of them are retired, and they no longer have the nest eggs that they had spent years working hard to put together for their old age.

What about the pregnant lady who gave up medical school, and who now faces life as a new Mom with her chosen career thrown away?

Harold Camping and his prophecy have cost many people a lot – both financially and spiritually.

What of Harold Camping himself? Is he an arrogant opportunist who knowingly deceived his followers, or did he truly believe what he was preaching? Is he deserving of sympathy or criticism?

(Photo credit: Kelly Beall)

Top Ten Questions I Have About Tomorrow’s Rapture

20 May

10. Will it look like something out of a Dean Koontz novel?

9. How do you decide what to wear to a Rapture?

8. Will it be aired live on CNN?

7.  As people are ascending, will they be able to post Facebook statuses and Tweets about what it’s like?

6. Is there free wireless Internet in Heaven, for people to Facebook those left behind that they’ve arrived safely?

5.  What if it’s raining? Will there be a rain day or will the Rapture go ahead no matter what the weather is like?

4.  Will all the “good” people ascend at once? Or will people with children in strollers be allowed to go first, like when they board airplanes?

3. Will it happen all at once across the globe, or will it be phased in across time zones, like ringing in the New Year?

2. When it’s all over and done with, will the earthly telephone and Internet connections remain intact, so those of us left behind can figure out who else didn’t make the cut to get into Heaven?

1. When the world wakes up completely unchanged on May 22nd, what reason will the Rapturites give for the fact that the promised event failed to materialize?

My Name Is…

4 Apr

Yesterday, while I was tackling my mountain of laundry that never seems to get any smaller no matter how many loads go into the washer, George came up to me and said, “My name is Albert.”

My mind did quite a double-take, let me tell ya! I mean, he’s never even uttered the sentence, “My name is George” and here he is, announcing that his name is Albert.

My first thought was, of course, Who the hell is Albert? I don’t know anyone named Albert, and as far as I know, George doesn’t either.

George giggled, I giggled, the moment passed and he ran off and left me to the mercy of my laundry.

This evening the Albert theme was revived when Gerard gave George a hug and said, “Who does Daddy love?”

George got a twinkle in his eye and yelled out, “ALBERT!” at the top of his lungs, and then collapsed in a heap of helpless giggles.

That George made up this little joke of his own volition is hugely significant. It is not the first time we have seen him display his funny, quirky sense of humour – but this is a new theme. It shows imagination and creativity, and the best part of it is this:

It shows an awareness of the concept of “funny” and an intention to make us laugh.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love this kid…?

Mommy Is A Boy

18 Mar

George - laughing boy!

This week, I had to share March break parenting duties with Gerard. It did not mean much to us where James is concerned, because James still got taken to the daycare and picked up again at the usual times each day. George, who usually gets bussed to school from the therapy centre each lunchtime, had to be picked up and brought home instead, and one of us had to be around for him.

And that is how, on Tuesday and Wednesday, I found myself working from home.

It was a treat. As soon as I had dropped James off, I got to start my work early instead of sitting in public transit for over an hour. I got to spend two entire mornings at home by myself, with no distractions. I got to complete tasks that tend to get pushed to the bottom of the pile when I’m in the office, because I have to keep running to meetings. I got to go running. In SUNLIGHT!

And by the time George’s grandmother had kindly picked him up, provided him with lunch, and delivered him to me, most of my work for the day was done, and I got to spend the better part of the afternoon alone with my firstborn.

As I always tell my kids, I love them “bigger than everything”. I love it when they collaborate with each other to wrestle me to the ground and play with me. Reading bedtime stories with them at night, with one child on either side of me, brings me great joy. When I wake up in the early hours of the morning to find myself sandwiched between my sleeping boys, I think of how lucky I am to have these kids. When I am together with both of my boys, I am happy.

But you know, getting to spend one-on-one time with either of them is a treasure as well. And so I savoured those two afternoons with George, when it was just him and me. Even when I was finishing up my work for the day, he was at his computer and we were each doing our thing, in companionable silence.

On Wednesday afternoon, right after I had finished my work and packed up my work laptop, George clambered into my lap – no mean feat for a long, lanky seven-year-old – and cheerfully said, “Mommy is a boy.”

I gasped in mock horror, “Noooooooo,” I said. “Mommy is a girl!”

George let loose with his giggles.

It is worth mentioning at this point that George has the most infectious laugh I have ever heard. It is impossible to hear this kid giggle and not giggle right along with him. He is the living epitome of the phrase, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.”

So there were the two of us, giggling as if there was no tomorrow because my son had called me a boy.

When the laughing subsided, I said to George, “Mommy is a…”

“BOY!” he shouted, collapsing once more into helpless giggles.

At that, I started bouncing him up and down on my lap as I chanted, “Mommy is a girl! Mommy is a girl! Mommy is a girl!”

Very quickly, George caught on to the chanting idea, and in unison with me, he was chanting, “Mommy is a boy! Mommy is a boy! Mommy is a boy!”

This continued until George became so overcome with mirth that he slithered off my lap and actually rolled on the floor laughing.

It was a truly phenomenal moment of connection, significant in many, many ways.

George had initiated the contact.

George had demonstrated his quirky sense of humour.

George had engaged in extended communication with me for the express purpose of making a joke and having fun – in other words, for social purposes.

George had continued the interaction, and determined its direction and outcome.

And George – my beautiful, bright, FUNNY child – had made laugh so much that my face hurt.