April. Here in the States that means Autism Awareness Month. It is hoped, by those who organize such things, that a month like this will, well, grow awareness and concern about autism. Just in case you need a reminder I would like to state for the record:
I am aware of autism.
Our youngest son, Andrew, is on the spectrum. He was diagnosed in 2007 after many months (years?) of evaluation, observation, and assessment by those who know a lot about such things. He was four years old. In the nearly five years since diagnosis I have had a few things to say about raising an on-the-spectrum child. Writing about him has helped me to process the journey and celebrate the being that he is. There have been moments of sorrow and moments of joy along the way. Indeed, there is angst; there is anxiety. Also, there are questions; lots of questions. And, overall, there is growth and learning. One thing that I am most certain I have learned along the way:
Autism is awareness.
One of the incredible things about the incredible boy I am raising is his heightened state of awareness of EVERYTHING that is happening around him. The experts say that, for those of us with neuro-typicality, our brains have an ability to filter noises and prioritize what we should focus upon as we listen, or interact, or engage with the world. Not so for the specially made brain with autism; rather, sounds and stimulation all come through at the same level of volume, or speed, or overwhelm. It is much more difficult for a child with autism to distinguish noises and prioritize sounds to find focus.
Or, as Andrew says it: “I have very sensitive ears”.
And so he does, along with a very sensitive soul and an insatiable zest for life. Living with
a this child on the spectrum is a daily lesson on noticing everything, the way he does. For Andrew, every, every moment in his day is a new adventure. Put him on a swing and he shouts at the top of his lungs with unmitigated joy. Offer him a new book to read (preferably about Power Rangers) and his whoops of delight are infectious. He tells jokes. He sings songs. He chatters incessantly. He hears everything. He is readily distracted by side sightings and wandering thoughts. When I forget to remember who he is (and sometimes I do) it can be frustrating, especially when attempting to make a departure from the house to reach school on time. But when I remember to be still and watch him, I am constantly fascinated by what fascinates him. His curiosity about the world is unending–he asks questions about how things work, why things happen the way they do, and what might happen next. He (like many children with autism) interprets things literally and it takes large effort on his part to open his mind to the idea that some things we say are not what they sound like. Idioms are idiocy for a boy like this–after all, raindrops are made of water, NOT cats and dogs.
I have long said that Andrew walks at his own pace. Occasionally, that is at turbo speed (well. as fast as eight-and-a-half-year-old legs can run), but most often that is the sure and steady pace of the tortoise. He pushes along in his own time, always pressing forward in steady progress, but with a cadence that allows for him to pause, notice, investigate, and breathe it all in. I am honored to be his companion for the journey.
My son has autism.
It makes me aware.
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He’s been waiting all day. What he wants is a few minutes to browse with me on the world wide interweb.
“You know, Mom, on that site that has all the power rangers stuff, what’s that site called again, Mom? Oh, right. Amazon”
We arrive home after a post-school grocery shop stop. He helps me unload the bags from the car.
“After this, Mom, we can get on the internet and see those power rangers.”
I remind him that homework time happens before we can get on the computer. He says he remembers that and gets busy with his spelling sheet and a dot-to-dot of Clifford the Big Red Dog. I unload groceries, chat with Emma, re-pot a houseplant, and arrange the lilies we purchased at Trader Joe’s. He finishes his work and stacks his papers.
“I’m ready when you are, Mom. I’m ready when you are”
He walks to the stairs and stands sentinel at the bottom step, then gestures grandly with his right hand—sweeping it gallantly to the side and upward as if presenting the staircase itself at a gala event.
We climb the steps, then he, positioned on my bed, coaches me on the best way to open my laptop and put in the search words that will open his world, nay, galaxy, to all things power rangers.
He’s shopping for the ultimate prize, you know. The one that he will earn by achieving 10 days in a row of what he calls “fantastic” days at school. It’s a rhythm we’ve created, his team and I, to motivate and inspire this boy to find his way in making the most of his school days. In that small gap between working hard and melting down, an incentive like this keeps him focused. Eyes on the prize, as it were.
“Type in Power Rangers Rescue Megazord, Mom. That’s the best one, I think.”
I do. We find out that the toys from this particular (vintage) incarnation of the Power Rangers series that he loves to watch on Netflix are being sold at collector’s item prices.
“What does that mean, Mom? What is collector’s item?”
I explain how sometimes grown-ups like to collect kid toys and keep them in the boxes and then sell them much later when they can’t be found in the shops. That way the collector can sell the toys for lots of money.
“Oh. That’s why they are so expensive. Why don’t they just take them out of the box and give them to kids to play with the toys?”
I pass on explaining the economics and eccentricity of collecting and we keep looking at what is available on Amazon. In the Power Rangers section, anyway. He’s rolling over the hiccup of a $600 Megazord and continues to be enthused about what else is on offer–within my budget–on this great big shopping site.
After all, he’s been waiting all day.