The Streaker

funny-cute-cat-yes-noJack is definitely his father’s son.

They both have red hair and blue eyes.

They are both ardent meat eaters.

Neither of them really listen to me, unless I am talking about bacon or boobies.

Also, they are both closet nudists.

O.k, maybe it’s more accurate to say that they are the “playing naked on the street intersection” and “streaking down the apartment building hallway” nudists.

Suffice it to say, if my son were ever going to be any kind of nudist, I’d rather it weren’t the street intersection kind. That particular childhood glory can stay in the memories of my partner, his parents, the little friend he was playing dinky cars with, and the cops who hauled him home, buck-arsed naked.

Jack seized his moment of glory at 7am one morning last week. He was sitting on the training potty in the middle of the living room (because, who doesn’t go to the bathroom in the living room?), while I was sitting on the couch, brushing Jill’s hair and getting her ready for school.

Jack apparently thinks “take your pull-up off and sit on the potty” means “take off all your clothes”. He sat there on the throne, not a stitch of clothing on him, shifting around like he wanted to be anywhere but there.

Normally, I keep him sitting on the potty, until I am finished helping his sister get ready for the day. This way, I have both of them in front of me, and I know exactly what they are doing. Plus, it’s the only way I can keep an eye on Jack.

The little bugger is fast.

That morning, I was running a bit behind. Jack was shifting around on his potty, as I mentioned, so I told him to stand up. Seeing that there was nothing in his potty, I figured if I told him what I wanted him to do, we’d still be in safe territory. I told Jack to put the potty back where it goes… right in front of the front door (don’t ask- I don’t even know why it goes there). He bent over, still buck arsed naked, and picked up the potty to trek it over to the front door.

I sat on the couch, brushing Jill’s hair.

I heard the clatter of the potty being placed, not-so-gently, down on the linoleum.

I heard the lock slide, and the door open and shut quickly.

Did I mention the little bugger is quick?

I must have shoved poor Jill forward (and out of her chair) in my effort to get out the apartment door before my son reached the lobby. Amazingly, all she said was: “Mom, don’t pull my hair!”

In a matter of maybe 10 seconds, Jack cleared the 100 feet between our door and the door leading to the lobby. That little bum is going to be a sprinter, I tell you. I swear he’s hiding rocket boosters somewhere on him.

When I caught him, he had his little hand on the knob of the door leading to lobby, and an evil little grin on his face as he looked up at me. It was a stroke of good luck that nobody else on my floor happened to poke their head out the door at the sound of my son gleefully giggling as he sprinted down the hallway in a state of blissful nudity.

My little mischief maker- it’s a good thing he’s cute.

Fire-Breathing Dragons

Sometimes I have a few moments to myself in the morning, between getting things ready for the day and prying my children off their bed.

This morning, I scored a few such moments to myself, so I sat down on my couch, coffee in hand. Our free-standing oscillating fan was already on for the day because, even at 6:30 in the morning, our apartment retains heat better than hell itself. The ribbons that my partner tied on the front grate for our daughter’s benefit were already waving merrily in the breeze, and they will likely wave merrily every day until the heat of the season turns to cold, and it’s time to put the fan away for another year.

It will be around about the time that my daughter will have just started to accept the presence of the fan, and the fact that it’s on and moving side to side. It may even be around about that time that she starts allowing herself to get close to it- perhaps to feel the breeze coming from it, or to feel those ribbons gently slap against her face. It will come after months of patiently working with her, to get her to the point where she can at least pass by the fan without shrinking away from it.

She’s afraid of it, you see. She’s afraid of the fan the way she’s afraid of toilets that don’t flush right, seedy dandelions, cobwebs and spiders, and the way she used to be afraid of threads, feathers, and long grasses.

My partner and I, after almost 5 years of these unreasoning fears, still have absolutely no idea what goes on in her head when she comes up against these things. We can reason that these fears are related to her tactile sensitivity, or her noise sensitivity, or maybe that they just don’t behave in what she figures is a “normal” way, and that in itself upsets her inner sense of balance; the fact is, we don’t know, and it’s likely we won’t know until she is old enough to explain it.

On some days, I see our daughter as a mighty lioness- capable of tearing down barriers, and leaping over obstacles with a kind of grace and a sort of stubborn defiance. Then, she’s the child that needs no hand up, no helping-out. She leads the way, with a sense of pride and confidence that says she will defy the odds.

On other days, she is small and delicate, and it seems like the world is filled with fans, seedy dandelions, cobwebs and spiders. It seems as though, at every turn, there is something to scream and cry about- something that threatens to gobble up her spirit and crush her will. She seems to shrink on those days, clasping tightly to a loving hand for emotional support and guidance.

My partner and I, for our part, give her a gentle but steady push forward. We speak to her words of love and support, and arm her with a metaphorical sword and shield; these are, after all, her fire-breathing dragons.

An Open Letter to the Lady at Tim Horton’s

being-judgemental-300x300You stood, a little to the left of the line-up, waiting for your food at the local Tim Horton’s. Well dressed, and with your hair done “just so”, you almost seemed too posh to be standing where you were. There was a scowl on your face that seemed so etched in that one would almost say it was permanent. You made no sound to anyone, but you didn’t need to: your general disdain was like a perfume whose scent you’ve become so used to that you can no longer tell how much you’ve put on.

I stood in the line with my family, 5 or 6 people back from you. We were there to treat ourselves to something nice, in an effort to shake off some of the residue of what had been a bad week. The expression on my face mirrored my partner’s: worn out, irritated and a little sad.

My daughter, thank the gods, was being on her best behaviour. She quietly eyed the display of delicious-looking cookies and donuts, knowing full well that one of them would soon be hers. This was rare for her. No, it’s not terribly rare for her to be getting a treat at one of her favourite places, but it is rare for her to be so well behaved while waiting for it.

Usually, she is one to act out the most out of the two kids.

My son, on the other hand, was determined to lie down on the dirty floor in spite of the grip I had on his hand. I must have told him to stand up, in a normal tone, about 10 times all told. He kept doing it regardless of what I said because, frankly, he can be single-minded like that. That inherent single-mindedness is not only part of being a little boy, but it’s part of being a little boy with Autism.

You wouldn’t know that he- and his sister, for that matter- was Autistic, unless you knew him well, or even just knew what some of the characteristics of Autism were.

It must have been after I had told him to stand up for the 8th time, that you turned around and looked at my son (who was still sprawled on the floor just then) with a roll of your eyes, and then shot me a dirty look. It was a look I’ve seen before, no doubt like many parents of special needs kids.

It’s the look seems to suggest I ought to discipline my child better, or maybe that I’m not a good parent.

It’s the look that asks, in silent judgement: “What’s wrong with your child?”

I ignored you then, despite wanting to tell you off for staring so rudely.

After the 10th time of wearily telling my boy to stand up and hauling him to his feet, his father chimed in, with a stern tone of voice- a command.

It was not a yell. It was not belittling or abusive. It was just a tone that brooked no argument. Our boy shot to his feet and stayed there.

That’s when your food arrived (thank god). You grabbed it off the counter, and stared at my partner and I in judgement and disdain. I didn’t say anything, but stared right back until you passed behind me.

As an Autism parent, I meet a lot of people like you- people who think that Autism is just an excuse for “bad” behaviour.

People who don’t think there’s really anything different about kids like mine, and that they should be treated- and expected to behave- like every other “normal” child out there.

People who call kids like mine retards.

People who think these kids’ “bad” behaviour is the result of bad parenting.

Your attitude, and that of many like you, is one side of a coin. On the other side are those people who believe all the clichés about Autism: that people with this disorder are always geniuses, or they have some special gift (think Rainman), or whatever.

I don’t have as hard of a time tolerating those people, no matter how irritating it can be to try to dispel the myths that have cropped up around Autism, because I know they aren’t saying them out of any disdain. It comes from a place of assumptions, but not from a place of judgement.

I can be at peace with their attitude, no matter how misguided it may be.

People like you, though, make my job as an Autism parent all the harder. As it stands, I find myself constantly having to advocate for my children’s rights and needs more than a parent of “normal” children might. Even though my kids are only 5 and 3, I have already had to stand up to quite a few ignoramuses on their behalf.

I know that my children will likely have a lifetime of dealing with bullies and people like you, simply because they don’t behave like other kids, and that truly hurts my heart.

I wish we lived in a world where people remembered that there are always two sides to a story. Things are not always the way they look on the surface.

The Almighty Schedule

20150314_201637Schedules are kind of a big thing in my household.

Like many autism parents, I’m sure, we have one of those dry-erase weekly schedules hanging up on our door. The point of it, besides detailing what activities each day had in store (including the mundane stuff, like eating), is to give the kiddos peace of mind and help them ease from one activity to another. It has the space to write either the days of the week, or the whole month on it if you are so inclined, and my super-awesome partner has printed out and laminated a bunch of little clip-art pictures to indicate different activities, such as an apple for mealtimes, or a clock for appointments.

There is even a little picture with a cartoon doctor and patient, to represent… you guessed it!… doctor appointments. Remember that, because it’ll be on the test.

Last Sunday, like every Sunday, I allowed Jill to watch me while I made the schedule for that week. She likes to “help”… and by help, I mean stand there and watch while I make the schedule, and then doodle 5 or 6 pretty little stars along the bottom of the calendar after I’m done.

Hey, it gives her a feeling of accomplishment. Who am I to judge?

Anyway, when I stuck the pictures on for all the usual daily things, I started with the other stuff. I put a little clock on Wednesday and Thursday morning, to signify that she and Jack had an appointment with their OT. Since the kids are on spring break, and since I don’t have pictures of dogs to indicate when we go to walk a friend’s dog, I wrote the name “Milo” where needed.

And then, there was the little doctor picture. Remember the doctor picture?

I put the doctor on Wednesday afternoon, and wrote a little “2pm” next to it, and thought nothing further about the whole thing.

I thought nothing further about it, that is, until Tuesday afternoon. For some god-forsaken reason, I thought I should double-check the appointment time on my Outlook calendar, where I make a note of every little appointment we ever have, anywhere.

Lo and behold, as I click on Wednesday the 11th, I find…nothing.

Crap.

I click on Tuesday the 10th, wondering if I might have missed it by accident.

Nope. Nada.

I stare blankly at my computer screen for a moment, a sudden feeling of dread coming over me. A little voice at the back of my head whispered: “Well, you fucked up.”

The kids were oblivious to my despair. They sat at their little table, colouring in a couple of activity books.
I eyed them carefully.

Then, like a desperate parent smuggling a freshly bought chocolate bar into their secret stash, I slowly put my laptop down on the couch. I quietly got up off the couch, wincing and shooting a glance at the kids every time the couch squeaked. I shuffled into the front hall, my back turned to the living room, and quickly moved the doctor picture over to Thursday.

“What you doing, Mommy?” Jill’s delicate little voice piped up, from directly behind me.

“FUCKING HELL!” I exclaimed, whirling around. “You scared the crap out of me! I’m fixing a boo-boo, honey.”

“You don’t say ‘fucking’, Mommy, you say freaking,” she informed me.

“Um. Sure,” I replied, forcing a smile. Straightening up, I tried my best to casually stroll back into the living room as if nothing happened… nothing was different.

Jill stood there in front of the wall schedule. She started crying. Jack, still sitting at the table, starting crying in sympathy.

Crap. Double crap.

Jill loves going to the doctor. She’d been looking forward to the appointment all week, even though she’s not sick and the whole point of the appointment was just to get a referral to another type of doctor. Nonetheless, the mistake was practically earth shattering as far as she was concerned.

I rushed back to my little girl, and started to comfort her, saying that I made a mistake and put the doctor picture on the wrong day. It took me 15 minutes to get her to stop crying, and when I did, she finally spoke up: “It’s in the wrong place.”

“I know, honey. I made a little mistake, putting the picture on the wrong day. We’ll go on Thursday instead.”

Jill appeared to accept that reassurance, just then, but appearances can be deceptive. In fact, in the couple of hours between that moment and dinner time, she positioned herself in front of the calendar what must have been 50 more times and stared at it. Even while she was colouring, or eating her meal later on, she repeated several times that the appointment was going to be on Thursday and not Wednesday, and that I had put the picture in the wrong time slot.

See… you just don’t mess with the schedule. Once you make it, it might as well be set in stone. It’s though you have climbed that mountain and chiseled it into those two tablets, because you might as well be Moses, with his Commandments.

The F Bomb

swearingI used to be a lot more shy than I am now, and a lot less inclined to swear, when I was younger.

Then, I let some crappy people into my life. Now, I swear like a trucker.

It’s cathartic for me- I swear to vent my feelings, so that I don’t have to explain to a judge why I killed so-and-so. I’ll admit, sometimes I swear to get a reaction, too.

It isn’t as though it reflects a poor intellect on my part, either. Not to be vain, but I like to think that I am at least as smart as I am smart-assed. Technically, I could say the same stuff in a much less vulgar way, but frankly it wouldn’t be as inherently satisfying.

My thought is that swearing is fine, but you don’t do it until you know what the words mean and when you should NOT use them.

My partner and I do actually try to curb our use of the choice words, whenever we’re with our kids, but we don’t cut them out altogether. We simply explain that those particular words are “Mommy and Daddy words”, and hope for the best. After all, the F bomb and other words like it are an intrinsic part of what makes up our sarcastic, vulgar, smart-assed personalities. Without them, we just wouldn’t be the same people.

The problem is that not only are kids (especially A.S.D kiddos, apparently) like sponges, but they are also like broken records- they will latch onto something and, despite being warned not to, they will repeat that thing ad nauseam. My kids have done this to the point where their Dad and I are on the verge of being driven crazy by it.

My particular problem is that I find it hard to be stern with my kids when they say a word they shouldn’t, because I’m usually too busy laughing.

Case in point:

Jill had just abandoned her Magnadoodle, after writing the alphabet on it, and sat down to colour at the kids’ table. Jack, even though he actually has his own Magnadoodle, immediately pounced on the opportunity to play with two of them simultaneously. The look on his face was sheer joy.

Jill: “Jack, don’t erase my freaking letters!”

Me, wanting to use this as a teaching opportunity: “It’s O.K to say ‘freaking’, honey. ‘Freaking’ is a good word.”

Jill, while colouring: “’Freaking’ is O.K. I can say ‘freaking’. I can’t say ‘fucking’.”

It took me several minutes to stop laughing, before I could tell Jill not to use that word.

My kids’ future teachers are going to love us parents. I have a feeling there are going to be plenty of Parent-Teacher Interviews.

I can see it now:

Their dad and I will be sitting in front of the teacher’s desk, in a couple of chairs that are way too small to fit our asses, looking as contrite as we can possibly manage. Some teachers just have a way of making the parents feel like they’re also in need of disciplining, at those little meetings.

The teacher will say something like: “Your daughter has been using the F word in class lately.”

Me: “Aw, crap.”

Teacher: “Do you know where she might have learned that word?”

Me, shrugging and smiling innocently: “I don’t have a fucking clue where she could have picked that up. Do you, honey?”

The Dad: “Fucked if I know.”

The Bedtime Ritual

5f98828d2d81f27b0478d9828f7a372aMy kids are creatures of habit.

Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say they are creatures of routine.

Jack and Jill can be flexible, when it comes to what goes on during their day, don’t get me wrong. They roll with the punches, as it were. As my partner and I have come to discover, however, there just some things that you don’t mess with.

Ever.

Not even if the house were on fire, and getting out alive meant Jill couldn’t wash her hands after going potty (because then you would have a house fire AND a screaming meltdown on your hands).

Not even if the richest person in the world offered you obscene amounts of money, but collecting it meant you had to pick it up at the doors of Walmart without actually going in to shop.

You just don’t mess with that kind of thing.

Here’s the deal, though: you can change a routine by adding to it, without any incident. If you take any part of it away… well… heaven forbid. I’m sure taking items away from a set routine is a popular activity for masochistic A.S.D parents.

I, however, am not a masochist.

With that being said, as I reflect on some of the weirder routines my kids have, I suppose I am probably a glutton for punishment.

For instance, the rational part of me knows not to add anything new to the bedtime ritual. After all, once something new is said or done, it can never be taken away, ever, until the end of your life as you know it. In fact, it’s this particularly idiotic trait of mine that has led to the bedtime ritual being the way it is. I shudder at the thought of an onlooker witnessing this nightly show.

Imagine, if you will, a small bedroom, crowded with furniture and toys. Imagine two small kids who are expert climbers and mischief makers. Imagine a little boy who has his own bed, but refuses to sleep in it because he likes to be near his sister.

There is a mom who, exhausted from the day, shuffles the kids into a darkened bedroom lit only by a night light, because the little boy’s compulsive fascination with flicking switches has led to the dad duct-taping the damn light switch in the “off” position.

Mom checks the room for hidden dangers because, if there is one, her kids will surely find it. It’s certainly part of Murphy’s Law and, well… Murphy’s Law is what masquerades as this particular Mom’s luck.

After a thorough look, she picks up certain stuffed animals as the kids hop up onto the bed: three little horses (Crystal, Tazzy and Jasper, after the ones Jill rides at therapy), a brown bunny, a Hello Kitty doll, Sick Bear- a giant teddy bear that is as big as Jill- a small black teddy bear, and a sock monkey doll.

The kids stand on the bed, waiting eagerly for their turn. Jill is first, and it goes like this:

Me: “Wipe your face.”

Slobbery kisses and a tight hug follow.  I’m pretty sure Jill thinks the words “wipe your face” are followed by an unspoken “on Mommy’s face”.

Crystal, the white horse, starts off this part of the routine.

Me: “Where does Crystal go?”

Jill: “On my left arm!”

I put the white horse down on her left arm.

Me: “Where does Tazzie go?”

Jill: “On my right arm!”

I put the brown horse down on her right arm.

Me: “Where does Jasper go?”

Jill: “On my left arm!”

I put the brown horse with the white mane and tail on her left arm.

Me: “Where does Bunny go?”

Jill: “On my right arm!”

I put Bunny next to Tazzie.

Me: “Where does Hello Kitty go?”

Jill: “On my chest!”

Hello Kitty goes smack in the middle of it all.

Me: “Where does Sick Bear go?”

Jill (with squeals and giggles): “On my face!!!”

Then, I count to three, yell “Bonzai!” and drop the giant teddy bear on her face. All you can see is a pile of stuffed animals, not unlike the one in the picture above (except, you know, inside) topped with the over-sized Sick Bear, with only two little feet sticking out at the end.

Jack’s part in this bit is thankfully simpler. With him, it’s a matter of counting to three before dropping the black teddy bear and the sock monkey on him, followed by covering everyone and everything with a blanket.

This is not the point at which I leave; no, no, no.

Because at some point in the past I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, I now wish them goodnight this way:

“I love you both. Don’t climb on the shelves. Don’t climb on the furniture. Don’t turn on the light. Don’t open the closet. Sleep well!”

Finally (blessedly), I get to leave the room.

One day I’ll get the clue: if the routine is perfect, don’t mess with it.

You Said What, Now?

your-e-cards-miltonious-101Being an autism parent, no matter where your kid falls on the spectrum, is not an easy ride.  When you factor in other people’s offerings or responses, the result can be frustrating or even heartbreaking.

I’ve come to believe that, when it comes to any sort of disability, there are four kinds of people out there:

1/ People who either have a disability, or are related to someone who does.

2/ People who may not be either of the above, but are knowledgeable and understanding anyway.

3/ People who have no direct experience, who are ignorant but well-meaning.

4/ People who are just plain assholes.

In my 5 1/2 years of being a special needs parent, I’ve encountered all three of the other types of people out there.  If I know that they aren’t trying to be jerks, I do my best to be polite.  Sometimes, though…  I really wish I had the balls to say what I’m thinking, out loud.

Since I’m not that sort of person in real life, I figured I’d put together a list- a list of the worst things I hear as an autism parent, including how I usually respond and what I would really like to say.

Fair warning: my attitude’s showing.

1. “All kids do that”, or “All kids have weird fears.”

How I Respond:

“I guess so, to some degree.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Really?  Are your kids afraid of dandelions?  Do your kids cover their ears, or slap their head when they’re upset? Do your kids break into screaming and crying fits when you brush their hair gently?”

2. “That’s funny, they don’t look Autistic”, or “I never would have known!”

How I Respond:

“You really have to spend some time with them to notice.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Funny you should say that, because you don’t look like an idiot.”

3. “It could be worse”

How I Respond:

“Yeah, I guess so.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“I know there are kids who are lower functioning. I know there are parents with more than two special needs kids. I know there are kids in wheelchairs. I know there are fucking starving kids in fucking Africa. I’m expressing frustration, and what you’re doing is the opposite of helping.”

4. “He/she’ll outgrow it.”

How I Respond:

“You don’t outgrow Autism, you just learn how to thrive in spite of it.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Do you have any idea how much therapy and extra teaching will go into turning my kids into fully functioning, independent adults? They don’t outgrow it- we just teach them how to work around it.”

5. “He/ She’s so cute. It’s a shame about the Autism.”

How I Respond:

“Why is it a shame?”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Why is it a shame? My kids are pretty awesome little people, if you give them a chance. They’ve just got a different way of expressing it.”

6. “They’re just trying to get attention.”

How I Respond:

“I know what ‘trying to get attention’ looks like, thanks.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Really? Because I thought that all the inconsolable screaming, crying, ear-hitting was a meltdown. My kid is having a sensory-overload meltdown, you ass. They aren’t ‘trying to get attention’.”

7. “Don’t Autistic people have special talents, or something?”

How I Respond:

“Sometimes they can appear to be talented in one particular area, like anyone else.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Sure. My daughter can fly, and my son can shoot fireballs out of his eyes.”

8. “I don’t know how you handle it/ I couldn’t deal with that.”

How I Respond:

“It’s stressful, but we just keep pushing forward.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“How do you know? Have you tried it?”

9. “Like Rain Man?”

How I Respond:

“Um… no.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“You know, I enjoyed that movie. It really did a lot to raise awareness for people with Autism and other learning and sensory disorders. The problem is, now everybody thinks all Autistic people are like the fellow on Rain Man. Seriously, crack open a book, or at least Google it.”

10. “Everyone’s a little Autistic”, or “She/he’s just being a kid.”

How I Respond:

“Seriously?”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Oh, well that makes it O.K then. By the way, thanks for undermining our struggle.”

11. “Let them stay with me for a while- I bet I can fix them.”

How I Respond:

“Thanks, but we’re handling it.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Is there someplace you can go to fix your attitude?”

12. “There’s a word for that kind of behaviour: brat.”

How I Respond:

“My kids aren’t being brats, they’re just having a bad day.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“There’s a word for your kind of behaviour: asshole.”

13. “It’s nothing a good spanking won’t fix.”

How I Respond:

“You can’t beat the Autism out of a child, you jerk.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“I’m guessing your parents didn’t succeed in spanking the asshole out of you.”

14. “So he/she’s a retard?”

How I Respond:

“No, he/she is Autistic. Please don’t use that ugly word when referring to my children.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“That’s funny, I didn’t think my kids were even related to you.”

15. “He/she’s one of God’s special little children.”

How I Respond:

“I guess so.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Why? Why should my kids be considered any different from any other kid? Sure, they’re special to me, but they shouldn’t be put on a pedestal or set apart from other children.”

16. “I hear it comes from the Dad.”

How I Respond:

“Well, that’s one theory.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Well, that’s one theory…out of literally hundreds.”

17. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

How I Want to Respond:

“Thanks, but we’ve got a handle on it.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Why are you sorry? My kids are awesome.”

18. “You must really have your hands full.”

How I  Respond:

“You bet!”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Doesn’t any parent?”

19. “He/she can’t be Autistic, because he/she speaks.”

How I Respond:

“Yes they can. Not all people with Autism are non-verbal.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Oh. Well, I guess she’ll just have to stop talking, so that everyone will believe me when I tell them.”

20. “You won’t even be able to notice they are Autistic, when they are older.”

How I Respond:

“One can only hope.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Do you know how many hours of therapy and specialized teaching they have already gone through? Do you know how many hours they will have to go through between now and adulthood, just to be able to function normally, like everyone else?”

21. “Everyone is Autistic these days.”

How I Respond:

“Um… I guess so.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“The reason it seems like everyone is Autistic these days is because it’s being researched and diagnosed better. We have better tools and tests, and are able to properly diagnose those people who, only a generation ago, might have been considered a dreamer, anti-social, or severely mentally disabled.”

22. “God only gives you what you can handle.”

How I Respond:

“I guess so.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“I really wish God would see fit to send a babysitter my way every so often, so my partner and I can take a break from what God thinks we can handle.”

23. “Did you get him/her vaccinated as a baby? I heard that vaccines can cause Autism.”

How I Respond:

“Yes I have, and that’s only one theory as to what causes Autism.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“There isn’t enough conclusive evidence to support that theory, actually. Frankly, even if it were true, I’d rather have kids with Autism than kids who die preventable deaths because they weren’t vaccinated properly.”

24. “Does he/she ever sit still or stop talking?”

How I Respond:

“Sometimes, but they are naturally very busy and chatty.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Do you ever stop being an ass?”

25. “What end of the spectrum is he/she on?”

How I Respond:

“They are high-functioning.”

What I’d Really Like to Say:

“Why does that matter? Will it make you treat them differently?”

 

Well, there you have it: the things that make the Momma Bear in me come out.

The Christmas Competition

frustrationIt’s Christmas evening, and I’m sitting here with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

No one had a serious meltdown.

No one got hurt.

I didn’t give in and take up drinking as a hobby.

Our day was split up, as it always is- we spent the morning opening presents at home, and then went to Gran and Papa’s house, and opened more presents there. It’s not Jack’s first Christmas, obviously, but it’s his first truly interactive one. He finally understands the concept of unwrapping presents, and I had been looking forward to seeing his reaction to the whole experience and the new-found freedom that is represented by tearing into brightly wrapped packages.

Now, my kids’ autism means that I can usually expect some sensory or behavioural issues to pop up when they are in an environment that is hyper-stimulating. After all, there are blinking lights everywhere, little decorations piping a constant stream of carols, a television on, tons of things with different textures, and a lot of general chatter going on.

Still, I had somewhat rose-tinted expectations. You’d think this was my first rodeo, or something.

In my head, Christmas was going to go something like this:

I’d get the kids out of bed. They wait in their bedroom every morning until I open the door. It’s freakin’ awesome.

I’d sit them at their table, and hand them the usual peanut butter and jam toast, before we all gleefully tore into our presents and stockings.

I expected giggling and happy faces on both kids, lovely mealtimes, and a general sense of wellbeing and accomplishment at the end of it for us parents.

I figured that after we all happily ransacked the space under the tree, I would get them dressed in their good clothing, and we’d bundle them into the van and truck the whole damn family off to Gran and Papa’s house for more presents and dinner.

In my head, it was going to go smoothly and not morph into a game of “Us Against Them.”

For Jill, this was pretty much how it happened. Well, more or less.

For Jack… not so much.

We managed to get them out of the bedroom and fed with no incident.

Parents: 1

Kids: 0

They finished cramming their chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam toast, flung their thankfully plastic plates onto the dishwasher and then high-tailed it (with cheeks still full) over to the tree, where they gazed raptly… at the blinking lights.

Getting them to sit next to each other on the floor so they could have space to tear open their gifts was a bit like herding cats. We’d get Jill to sit down, while Jack wandered out of the living room. Then, we’d get Jack to the floor, and Jill would stand up to play with one of the ornaments. This went on for a good ten minutes. Every time we managed to talk one of them into sitting down, the other would find some reason to get up and walk off.

Parents: 1

Kids: 1

The thing that worked was a stroke of genius on my partner’s side. He set up his camera. Did I mention he’s a photographer? Jack and Jill saw the camera, and promptly sat down with a big smile and a resounding chorus of “Cheese!” (it’s sort of a reflex). The only problem was, they were facing the camera, and not the tree. It was really half a victory, but hell, I’ll just round up the number. This one’s ours, baby.

Parents: 2

Kids: 1

When I started handing out the presents, Jill did her part with flair.

Jack… not so much.

He took the first present, and gently started to tear off the wrapping paper. I think perhaps one piece of tape was actually pried off.

Then, the wailing started. I figured he was frustrated, so I bent down to show him what to do. Every time I held the present out, he started crying again. Even though I know that he knows how to rip paper, I had to “show him what to do” over and over again until the entire present was unwrapped.

Parents: 2

Kids: 2

It was a couple of colouring books, to go with some crayons that were still wrapped and under the tree.

He fixated on the colouring books, and wouldn’t unwrap any of the other presents that we put in front of him. He accumulated quite a little pile of gifts at his feet, and wouldn’t so much as take his eyes off the colouring books until I took them out of his reach…

Parents: 3

Kids: 2

… and then the crying started again.

Parents: 3

Kids: 3

Jill, for her part, eagerly tore into her gifts, and only had something to say when we went too long without giving her something else to unwrap.

I figured the waterworks would stop when we bundled the kids into the car, and headed to Gran and Papa’s house.

Nah…not so much.

When the gifts came out from under their tree, Jill gleefully went into action. She was in her element! Jack… sat with the first present on his lap, and started crying. This bit kept on, until all the presents were doled out and Jill was happily playing with her new things. It has since dawned on me that I really don’t know what makes my son “tick”; I just got frustrated with all the crying, when the kids should have been happy, and “showed Jack what to do” until all his gifts were unwrapped.

By that time, it was past noon, and I hit upon a brilliant idea: I would stuff his little chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It was lunch, after all, and he couldn’t wail if his mouth was full.

Finally, I found something that made the crying stop.

Parents: 4

Kids: 3

The afternoon was blissfully quiet, more or less. Jack and Jill took turns stealing each other’s toys, and then they each took turns being pissed off because the other one stole their toys. Dinner, which was delicious, was pleasant and only marred by the occasional frustrated wail when Jack couldn’t get food in his face fast enough. A lovely dinner was topped off by an equally lovely Christmas pudding.

My kids do love their Christmas pudding. If it had been the sort to be made with alcohol, they would’ve gotten rip-roaring drunk on it.

Thank the gods for small miracles.

The Art of Embarrassing Mom

Mom-Confessions-Most-Embarrassing-Thing-My-Kid-Has-DoneOne of the more entertaining hallmarks of Autism is the tendency toward random acts of totally inappropriate behaviour. Considering that Jack is only 3 years old, you could also chalk it up to his being a rambunctious youngster. After all, kids have an unnerving ability to say or do the wrong thing at the right time… or maybe, it’s the right thing at the wrong time.

I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Jack has mastered the art of inappropriate behaviour, a task which he seems to regard as his God-given duty.

Read on…

The Moon over Miami

It’s a fun game for Jack to reach into the grocery cart from his perch at the front, and grab the nearest thing he can find. If you’re not quick on the draw, he’ll pitch that item- no matter what it is- out of the cart.

Imagine knowing this, and having no alternative but to place that carton of eggs you just grabbed into your over-stuffed cart right behind his perch, where he can easily grab them. Imagine that you are wearing a comfortable pair of yoga pants that have no belt, and an annoying tendency to ride down your butt any time you bend over.

Grabbing his hands and holding them doesn’t work, no! Jack screams bloody murder, as if by the very the act of holding his hands you are committing a great atrocity that will be the end of his world, right then and there. Life as he knows it is over. Give the boy an Oscar!

There the eggs sit, all pristine and beckoning in their too-fragile cardboard carton, practically begging for a couple of tiny hands attached to a mischievous smile to grab them. Naturally, because his entire existence is centered around getting in trouble (as if the resulting scolding is somehow life-affirming), he waited until my attention was engaged elsewhere, grabbed the egg carton, and hurled it like he was trying out as a pitcher out for the local pro baseball team.

Fortunately, nobody was in the way of that particular projectile. Not so fortunately, the eggs practically exploded as the carton hit the ground. I, in my terribly comfortable yoga pants that have never actually seen the inside of a yoga studio, stooped down to pick up the woefully inadequate (and now yoke-filled) carton, flashing almost my entire ass- minus even my underwear because they, too, went south- to everyone behind me.

Yes indeed, the moon CAN rise in the middle of the day.

I’ll be lucky if my Moon over Miami doesn’t appear on the People of Walmart website because, with my luck, there was probably someone behind me with a cell-phone camera at the ready, and an itchy trigger finger.

The Bait and Tackle

Jack and Jill both attend several different types of therapy for their Autism, all of which take place at a local horse farm. On this farm, there happens to be a small fenced-in play area, and it was here that I placed Jack one fine day while I talked to two of his therapists not a few feet away.

While the adults chatted, Jack played happily. It didn’t take long, however, for one of his therapists to gently interrupt what I was saying by pointing over to my son.

It was a good thing it was a warm summer day because, as I looked over at him, Jack stood by the fence staring at us adults, and calmly dropped his drawers, diaper and all. He stood there with a giant grin on his face, his bait and tackle waving in the breeze, as I stared back and groped for something to say.

His therapists laughed.

“Well, that proves it,” I said, eventually. “He’s definitely his father’s son.”

The Immortal Words

The family cat is kind of a psycho beast. She loves her adult humans, and tolerates the presence of the mini humans. She has been known to be all lovey-dovey one minute, and all hissing and biting the next.

Jack, since one particular incident last year, avoids her like the plague.

My partner was out of town for a week in November, and so I was left to look after the kids by myself. We were between meals with nothing to particular to do that day, so I sat on the couch typing away on my laptop while the kids played with their toys on the living room floor.

Or, so I thought.

One moment, they were both happily engaged, and in the next moment Jack had wandered over to where the cat was laying and grooming herself. He seemed to be just looking at her, but looks can be deceiving- especially where Jack is concerned.

Our cat found out that day that my son is a quick little bugger. In a flash, he lurched forward, his little tongue darting out to lick the cat’s head, from neck to ears.

I uttered words I never thought I would ever hear myself say:

“Jack, don’t lick the cat!”

Yup… life with my family is definitely interesting.

How to Save a Life

I believe that Jill- little 5 years old Jill- has saved a life.

As we waited at the bus stop the other morning, my son in his stroller and Jill sitting on the metal bench, I was sort of keeping one eye on my kids and the other on the passing pedestrians. While Jack happily watched the cars go by and Jill sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over again, I thought about how people tend to view Autism and those who have it.

One of the typical stereotypes that surround Autism is that people who fall on the spectrum tend to be loners, anti-social or just socially awkward. It’s a stereotype with some truth to it, but the fact is it isn’t entirely accurate.
On the one end of the scale, you have people on the Spectrum who are the loners. It’s part and parcel of the difficulties many individuals with A.S.D have with social interaction or appropriate social behaviour, after all. On the other end of the scale are those people you don’t hear as much about: the over-friendly types. They may still have problems with figuring out how to interact with their peers, or what is appropriate social behaviour in any given situation, but they tend to act like everybody is their friend. In these cases, they can be friendly with everyone to the point of being inappropriate or even dangerous.

It’s hard to tell a small child who has no concept of stranger danger that, sometimes, being friendly is not the right thing to do.

My kids fall on the latter scale, and it was that in particular that I was thinking about that morning.
Jill likes to talk to whomever she meets at the bus stop. I let her do it, despite it sometimes being hard to watch her, because I think it’s good for her to socialise with people- under controlled circumstances, anyway.

Besides, I’m not always sure where I should draw the line.

Anyway, back to my story.

It wasn’t long after we got to the bus stop that another woman entered the shelter. Jill, true to her usual self, immediately said hello.

I looked at the lady without saying anything; I just watched her interaction with my daughter. She gave Jill a little tolerant smile and said “hello” back. It was clear on her face, and in her voice, that the lady was struggling with something; she looked to be on the verge of tears, and barely holding it in. Without a second thought, Jill flashed the woman her patented thousand-watt smile and said: “I love you!”

The lady’s smile grew a hundred times brighter.

I wanted to tell Jill, just then, that she shouldn’t say those words to complete strangers.

I wanted to say she shouldn’t just throw those three words around, that she should save them for people she really cared about.

I wanted to tell her it was inappropriate, but I didn’t.lifesaver

I looked at the woman’s brilliantly smiling face, and kept my mouth shut. It was obvious those three words, seemingly said at just the right time by the right person, meant something- at least to that lady.

There is no way, between the sun and the earth, that either of us could have known what the lady was thinking.

There is no way we could know for sure what she was considering doing but maybe, just maybe, a friendly little girl with a bright smile and the right words saved her life.