asperger syndrome

All posts in the asperger syndrome category

Jellybean Philosophy

Published April 22, 2012 by April Fox

My little guy offered me a jellybean a little while ago. It was misshapen, long and tapered, nothing like the bean after which it was named. He held it out without comment, gripped it between two long, double-jointed fingers, and below the hood of his coat his eyes smiled out from behind his red-framed glasses. His nose scrunches up when he smiles like that, and I know he’s really happy.

He offered me the jellybean, and I wasn’t sure whether he wanted me to have it, or just wanted me to see it. It was, after all, an anomalous jelly bean, and things like that are interesting. “Cool,” I said, “That one’s shaped funny.”

Thing One smiled even bigger and pushed the bean closer to my face. “I know, it’s not even like a bean. It’s long and pointy. You can have it.”

I gave him the Automatic Mom Response: “No baby, you eat your jelly bean. Thank you, but you don’t have to give me your candy.”

Thing One faltered, let the smile wobble for a second but kept the jellybean there, suspended between us. “You can have it,” he said. “It’s a cool one. I’m giving it to you.”

Thing One has always been taken with food oddities; his siblings give him the longest, curliest curly fries, and we all make sure to point out vegetables shaped like letters or animals or other non-vegetable objects. Often, he will take these things, wrap them in plastic bags and store them in the freezer until sufficient time has passed that the food is coated with ice and no longer recognizable as something that used to be food, and we throw them out with the appropriate amount of respect and ceremony. Not this time, though. This time, he offered it to me.

I ate the jellybean. It was delicious, as far as jellybeans go. And not to get all amateur philosopher on you here, but wouldn’t it be cool if we could all look at things that are a little different from the norm and see the beauty in the variation, rather than relegating them to the bin of discards and damaged goods?

My little guy is like that jellybean: a little different, but totally worth gobbling up. There’s good stuff in that kid of mine. Kind of makes me feel guilty for raiding his stash of Easter candy while he’s asleep…

The Autism Awareness Post

Published April 3, 2012 by April Fox

The handsome young man to your left is my son, Dylan. This photo was taken a couple days ago as he prepared to go out on a call to assist with a bad car accident. I like how he looks here: confident, relaxed, ready to get out there and help someone.

Dylan is a pretty typical 20-year-old kid. He played around with the idea of school and work and when he got bored with North Carolina, he ended up in Florida, by way of Flint, Michigan. It was a spontaneous decision, but it worked out and he landed on his feet. He’s enjoying the Florida sunshine, working full-time and going to school full-time to become a paramedic–the first stop on his way to med school. He’s maintained a high GPA the entire time he’s been enrolled. When he gets a break from work and school, he hangs out with his friends; I hear stories about new tattoos, all-night video game-fests, crazy chicks and the crazy things they do. Somewhere in there he finds time to help tutor other students.

I don’t know a whole lot about what Dylan does in school, but I know it’s a pretty intense program. Yesterday he sent me a text about being covered in blood after helping treat someone. I could tell it bothered him; he’s never liked seeing anyone hurt. He’s had a few potential setbacks, a minor car accident, some unexpected financial glitches, but he’s handled them well, probably far better than I could. He started a whole new life in a place he’d never been, where he knew nobody but his aunt and her kids, and he’d only met them a handful of times. He had to learn to navigate his new city, first on foot and then in the car he bought; there were meetings with school officials and financial aid advisers, job interviews and finding a new group of people to spend time with.

Why am I telling you all this? Why does it matter that my kid is doing all these things?

Because April is Autism Awareness Month, and Dylan has Asperger Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

Myth: People with autism can’t handle any change in routine.

Myth: People with autism are unintelligent.

Myth: People with autism need lifelong care and cannot live on their own.

Myth: People with autism can’t experience empathy or compassion.

Dylan is living proof that all of those are false.

I’ve told you all a little bit about another of my boys, who I refer to here as thing one. Seven years younger than Dylan, he also has Asperger Syndrome, though he’s affected a little differently than Dylan is. A couple years ago, thing one couldn’t tolerate anyone new being in his house. He spent one of his birthday parties huddled in his closet, hiding from the noise, the people, the over-stimulation, while his twin brother enjoyed the day. It was heartbreaking. From there, he progressed to wearing huge sunglasses over his eyeglasses whenever anyone visited or we went out in public. For years, he had to wear a hat 24 hours a day; if I tried to take it off while he slept, he’d stir and clamp his hand on top of his head, holding it there. He’d take it off only in the privacy of the bathroom, to shower, and then it went right back on. When he had to have his hair combed or cut, he sat with his eyes closed, rocking back and forth, until the hat was returned. He wore long sleeves even on the warmest days; photos of him taking swimming lessons show him submerged in the pool, fully clothed in jeans and a long-sleeved oxford shirt. He had an outstanding vocabulary, but wouldn’t talk to anyone he hadn’t known his entire life. He wore industrial earmuffs all the time, because he was so sensitive to any noise above a conversational volume, and any unusually pitched sounds drove him crazy.  Here is a photo of him taken last week. He’s in short sleeves, no hat, no sunglasses, out in a public place (The Moog Store and Factory, which is awesome), smiling, and on top of that, playing the theremin-an instrument that, if you don’t know what you’re doing, produces sounds somewhere between the mooing of a cow, a high-pitched scream, and a spaceship landing.

I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of autism; the symptoms of autism run on a spectrum, and my boys are on the high end of that. Some kids and adults with autism truly stay locked inside themselves their entire lives, but hopefully more research and awareness of how the disorder works will begin to change that soon. I can’t look at autism as a disease or a disability; my kids simply are who they are. With Dylan-who was misdiagnosed when he was younger and only evaluated for ASD after our developmental pediatrician saw similarities between him and the newly-diagnosed thing one-you wouldn’t know he had Asperger’s unless you know someone else who has it. Thing one comes across as a quirky, unique, kind of nerdy kid: the kind you expect to grow up to be, I dunno, Steve Jobs or something. There are things we need to work on, ways to help them adapt to the world that they’re stuck in, but that’s true for everyone. Nobody falls into life knowing all the rules.

Dylan and thing one aren’t the only people I love who have autism. There’s another young man I love very much who has come a long way in dealing with social situations, but he prefers that I not mention him by name or discuss him here. I have cousins, friends’ children, other family members with varying degrees of autism spectrum disorders, and it’s incredible to hear about the progress they’re making. My friend’s son was diagnosed at two; he’s now reading at age four. There are millions of stories like his, and hearing them and sharing them is what helps promote true awareness.

I’m not asking you to donate money to anything, to post a chain status update on your Facebook page, or to wear a certain color to promote awareness. What I’m asking is that the next time you see someone acting out in public, to try and remember that he may have autism and not be able to deal with all the stimulation. When you encounter a child who doesn’t want to make eye contact, don’t try to force him or assume he’s being rude. When the kid next to you in class rambles on about his favorite subject, don’t discount him as a nerd and turn away; he might have something to teach you someday, and you’d do yourself a favor if you took the time to listen and get to know him.

The Migrating Patterns of Winged Canadians, and Other Mysteries

Published March 22, 2012 by April Fox

Thing one, as you know, is a lovely combination of brilliant and autistic. If he’s interested in something, he researches the hell out of it, studies it, lives in it. He can tell you everything you want to know about Star Wars, the solar system, Dungeons and Dragons; he knows a whole lot about a whole lot of things, but obviously, ornithology is not one of those things.

Thing one: Baby girl says Canada geese-wait, is that even a real thing?
Me: Yes.
Thing one: Okay, she says that Canada geese fly-wait, can geese even fly?
Me: Yes.
Thing one: Okay, maybe I’m thinking of ducks. Can ducks fly?
Me: Yes.
Thing one: Maybe it’s chickens. Can chickens fly?
Me: Some of them can, yes.
Baby girl: I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of penguins. Penguins can’t fly.
Thing one: Penguins, ducks, whatever. Ducks can’t fly as high as hawks, right?
Me: I don’t think I’ve ever seen one flying that high, no.
Thing one: Okay, good. [I don’t know why it’s good. I didn’t ask.] Anyway, baby girl says that Canada geese fly south in the spring and north in the winter. Is that true?
Me: No.
Thing one: HA. I knew I was right about something in there.

And with that resolved, he went back to his maps.

 

Where the Hell is Lisa’s Car? Or, How My Kid Kicked Prepositional Ass

Published March 7, 2012 by April Fox

There’s a special kind of magic in homeschooling your kids. The closeness you feel as you sit side-by-side reading, the glee that bubbles over along with the lava that pours out from the homemade volcano, the omifuckinggod what was I thinking that goes along with trying to teach anything that isn’t 100% logic-based and static to a skinny bundle of autistic genius… oh yeah. There is that.

Thing one was working in his language arts book the other day. Most of the time, I pretty much leave him alone when it comes to schooling, because he kind of just soaks everything up on his own, figures out math through logic, and remembers everyfreakingthing, including and not limited to that time five years ago when his brother ate all the French fries from McDonald’s and I NEVER GOT MY POTATO FRIES! HE OWES ME POTATO FRIES! Still, there are things he needs to learn, and autistic or not, I refuse to have a kid who doesn’t have a basic grasp of grammar, so after some cajoling and grumbling and threatening to take away the video games on my part, thing one installed himself on the couch with his book and his scowl and his pencil and got to work.

And then the fun began.

“I already know what a prepositional phrase is. Why do I have to do this?”

“Because you do,” I tell him. “That’s your assignment. You need to practice, keep it fresh in your mind.”

Thing one heaves an exaggerated sigh. “Fine,” he says, which translates into, “I can’t believe you’re making me do this, but if I ever want to lay my hands on an Xbox controller again, I might as well get to work… I can’t wait till I’m the boss of the world. Then we’ll see who’s studying prepositional phrases. Mmmm-hmmm.” I know how the kid thinks. Trust me.

A few minutes later: “This doesn’t make sense. It says to add a prepositional phrase to the end of each sentence.”

“Okay, so add a prepositional phrase to the end of each sentence.” Sometimes the Obvious Fairy needs to visit thing one.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Another exaggerated sigh. He hates when I can’t read his mind. “It says ‘Lisa pulled over her car.'”

“Okay, so what’s the problem? Just write down where she pulled over.”

“Mom.”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know this Lisa person.”

Oh boy.

“Do you know anybody named Lisa?” he asks.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Would you let me go in the car with a stranger?”

“Of course not.”

“Well then,” he says, “how the heck am I supposed to know where this Lisa person pulled her car over?”

“She’s hypothetical, thing one.”

“Okay,  if she’s hypothetical, I can technically deny her existence, and unless someone proves to me that she does exist, I don’t have to write this down, and if they do prove it, they can tell me where she pulled over.”

Kid-1

Mom-0

I’m terrified of the rematch.

 

The Pissed-Off Cat Theory of Autism and Education

Published March 5, 2012 by April Fox

Take one already cranky cat.
Pull its tail until it tries to bite you.
Stuff it in a small crate.
Spray it with water.
Dangle a hot dog in front of its nose, just out of its reach.
Spray it again. A bunch, like, till it looks like it got caught in a rain storm.
Open the door and try to hug it.
The result is what it’s like trying to get my autistic kid to write about a hypothetical situation for school today.

More on this later, when I can hear my own thoughts.

Autism and Oatmeal

Published February 24, 2012 by April Fox

My son, thing one, is 13 and has autism-Asperger syndrome, to be exact. Now this isn’t one of those Poor Me posts, or Look How Much I’m Doing for My Wonderful but Challenging Child, or some shit like that. He’s only called autistic because he needed some therapies, and they weren’t covered without an official diagnosis. He’s a weird, quirky, cranky, hilarious kid who happens to fit the DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s. So do I, for that matter. So does beloved. So do probably half the people we hang out with. No biggie.

Still, the Aspie thing can make life pretty interesting around here.

The other day, baby girl decided to poll everyone about their breakfast preferences and graph the results. Unfortunately, thing one was at the table with the pad of graph paper, working on a map. He’s always working on a map. All day, every day, maps maps maps. Baby girl tells him she needs a sheet of paper.

“Why? asks thing one.

“Because I need it,” says baby girl. “I’m making a graph.”

Thing one dismisses her with a sigh. “I’m making a MAP,” he says. “You can wait.”

This, of course, is the switch that wakes up the evil preadolescent side of my charming baby girl. “MOOOOMMMMMM! He won’t give me any PAPERRRRRR!”

“I’m aware, child. I’m right here. Thing one, give your sister a piece of paper. Baby girl, don’t yell.”

“I didn’t yell.”

“I’m using the paper.”

Big mom sigh here. “You’re not using all the paper, thing one. Give your sister some paper.”

Thing one hauls his skinny body out of the chair, unfolding like one of those super-long Arby’s curly fries, and hands baby girl the pad of paper. “Here. Take it out of the back. Be very careful. Don’t touch my map. You’ll mess it up.”

Thank you,” says baby girl. 

“Mmmmmm-hmmmm,” says thing one, channeling his inner Niecy Nash.

Several minutes later, baby girl has successfully determined that she, thing two and I all prefer oatmeal to cold cereal for breakfast. And then she asks thing one.

“What kind of cereal?” asks thing one.

“Just cereal,” says baby girl.

“What? There is no such thing as just cereal.”

“Cheerios,” I tell him.

“Real Cheerios? Or the organic stuff in the squished box from the hippie store?”

“Real ones.”

“We never have real Cheerios. Well we did one time, I think. They were on sale. But we never have them, so if I pick that, I probably don’t get breakfast.”

“It’s hypothetical, thing one. But fine. Hippie Cheerios,” I tell him, being very conscious of my eyeballs and the effort it takes not to roll them.

“Plain or honey nut?”

“Honey nut.”

“Hmmmmmmm…” ponders thing one. Thing one ponders a lot. It’s pretty cute. Satisfied, he moves on to the oatmeal. “What kind of oatmeal?”

GOD,” says baby girl.

“God-flavored oatmeal? I’m not eating that,” chuckles thing one. He’s pleased with his wit, and clearly enjoying irking his sister. “What real, non-mythical flavor is this hypothetical oatmeal?” I’m not kidding-my kid really talks like this.

“Brown sugar,” baby girl manages to squeeze through clenched teeth.

“Plain brown sugar or maple and brown sugar?”

“PLAIN!” growls baby girl.

“Hmmmmm…” More pondering, and then, “I don’t believe I’ve ever had plain brown sugar oatmeal, so I can’t answer that.”

“FINE,” says baby girl. “Maple, then. Maple and brown sugar hypothetical NON-MYTHICAL-FLAVORED OATMEAL.”

“Oh,” says thing one, with his most innocent and winning smile. “Why didn’t you say so? I would prefer oatmeal.”

“God,” says baby girl.

“Tasty,” says thing one.

A few minutes later, beloved walks into the room. Baby girl repeats her cereal versus oatmeal question for him.

“Hmmmmmm…” ponders beloved. “What flavor is the oatmeal?”

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