Hey, remember how I was blogging about my diet? Yeah, that got boring really fast. There’s only so much to say about a cranky housewife on a diet, so Sally went on a sabbatical and waited around for life to get interesting.
Oh, have I mentioned that I have children? Well, that’s where things get interesting.
I have two kids: five-year-old “Dick”, who seems intent on wreaking havoc on my house and my eardrums, and two-year-old “Jane” who rules said house with an adorable iron fist. Between the two of them there is a lot of screaming, whining, crashing and bizarre food demands. They will probably drive me to my early grave.
I love them to pieces.
I love how they think it’s endlessly funny to run around with boxes on their heads, and their inscrutable but earnest crayon drawings -“I made it for you!”- and Dick’s unfathomable jokes. (Before Dick, I had never heard a riddle where the question was the punch line and there was no answer. It’s post-modern humor. He’s decades ahead of his time.) And of course I love the moments when they snuggle up close to my heart where I can breathe in their sweet, beautiful, profoundly incomprehensible being. That’s when I remember that I love them just as they are, tantrums and snotty faces and all.
We weren’t really surprised when, at the end of his final year in preschool, Dick’s teacher told us that although he was academically prepared to start kindergarten in the fall, he was not socially ready: He was still refusing to follow instructions, wasn’t playing with the other children, and had frequent, inexplicable tantrums. We registered him for kindergarten anyway and reluctantly agreed to have him assessed.
“Maybe he just doesn’t like the other kids in his class”, my friend said. “Maybe he’s bored in school” his aunt said. “He moves to the beat of his own drum”, my mother said.
But then the specialist said, “Your son is on the autism spectrum.”
But he talks. He’s affectionate. He likes other kids, even if he doesn’t know how to play with them. But he’s our perfect, beautiful child. But . . . We drove home stunned.
Later on, I told my friend that I didn’t know why I was so sad about the diagnosis. I thought I’d be relieved just to know what to do for him. “You’re grieving the child you thought you had,” she said. But that wasn’t quite it: I was grieving for the future that I thought he had, the life I had seen laid out before him in my private dreams.
The more we read about autism spectrum disorders, the more we came to see how well it fit Dick and his odd behaviors: the way he paced and made repetitive noises, the way he could monologue for half an hour about his latest favorite TV show, how he seemed more interested in the wheels on his toy cars than in the cars themselves, and how he didn’t seem to notice when he was bothering other children. It explained the puzzling and incessant meltdowns and the way he always acted out during music time at school.
It was hard to accept that our beautiful, sweet child had a developmental disability, that he would always struggle with his social skills and with the sensory issues that so often come with autism. He would not outgrow his socially inappropriate behaviors; he would have to outlearn each and every one of them, and that would be very a long, hard road.
What has surprised me in the months that followed -and I cannot speak for the entire autism population when I say this- is that for Dick, autism is turning out to be a gift as well as a challenge. His intense focus and his fascination with mechanics have led to some truly remarkable constructions that inhabit our house like cardboard-and-masking tape prototypes for future technological breakthroughs. An almost obsessively inquisitive mind drives Dick to run “experiments” on everything from what happens when you mix toothpaste and paper and tap water in the sink (Mama throws a fit), to what happens to various items when dropped down Grandma’s laundry chute. This was the child who, with the help of a length of ribbon and a very cooperative stuffed rabbit, reinvented the pulley when he was two years old.
Dick doesn’t think like other people and that is his gift. His is a precise, inquisitive and inventive mind, a mind that seems built to introduce and implement new and strange and previously unimaginable ideas. If we are constantly surprised now by his contraptions and his fantastical theories, what surprises will he have for the world decades from now?
At the end of the day, I’m proud of my little boy and I always will be. I know that he’s going to be fine; it’s just a different fine, or maybe a more remarkable fine, than I was expecting. His dogged determination and his quirky humor will serve him well and our close-knit extended family will always be there to support him when times get rough.
Dick will make a way for himself in this world that so often confuses and overwhelms him. It will never be easy for him, but we are raising him to work hard and to take pride in his gifts. And above all, my son will always, always know that he is adored; gifts, challenges and all.