Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Gift

We spent most of the day at home. My husband was home after a week of traveling and we were lazily enjoying being together as a family. But it was hot. By early afternoon, the humidity drove my husband and the kids out to the public pool. Which went refreshingly well. Back home again, after a big dinner off the backyard grill, we decided we deserved a treat and felt brave enough to head out again. Sunny Daes! That’s all we needed to say and the kids sprinted to the Subaru already deciding what flavor of ice cream or sorbet they'd order.

It was a lazy day. After all, it was father’s day. A day to take it easy and do nothing, to take a break. But the difficult part of high functioning is you get so easily lulled into thinking you can let your guard down. And it’s days like this that’ll do it.

I let down my preventative defenses. I knew how many events we had had already; neighbors over to the house, playing at the pool and now, out again, on a still hot evening, late after a long day, to a place that gets him excited. But I ignored the warning signs. We gave something of a parental preemptive measure, a bribe, a promise that he could have toppings. Other than that, we simply went with the hope for the best.

Once there, the kids were out of the Subaru in a flash. C.S. ran up to the counter, approached the staff appropriately and ordered perfectly. He tried his best to politely share his excitement while she served him. And of course his amazing smile charmed her.

The big silver lining for C.S. is that he wants to engage with people. He wants to be friendly. He wants to play. For a child testing a solid high probable for Asperger's, this is a something to be hugely thankful for, I realize that.

Still, socializing is a huge challenge and at times his peculiar interest in people is unfortunately awkward. For example, he sees someone and is fascinated by him or her because he wants to press his hands into their fleshy stomach. Or he is curious to know if differently colored skin also feels different. He wants to look closer at their eyes or suddenly away from them. Often, his interest in engaging is strongly encouraged by his desire to touch and feel. But today was a little different. Today, he didn’t want to touch, he wanted to smell.

We ran into a family from our church we hadn’t seen in months. They greeted us with such a sincere and warm its-been-so-long welcome. Now they know vaguely that our son has issues if only because they know he went to a special pre-school and they had taught him on those few times we attempted Sunday school. But that’s probably the extent of it. And we really hadn’t seen them in forever.

And so, I could certainly understand if, after my son repeatedly tried to stick his nose as close as possible to smell her ice cream, they decided to keep a comfortable distance, but I am thankful that they didn’t.

They stayed. Even after C.S. ran out of the store when I tried to redirect him. Even when he wandered in the bushes outside the ice cream parlor, talking to himself, they continued chatting with my husband. My son and I rejoined the conversation a few times, but he was frustrated and he tried to smell again, not an ice cream this time, but her husband and he was aiming for a not so nice place on his body before my husband intervened. But this friendly man, understanding woman and their dutiful children, took it all in stride, not missing a beat in the conversation with my husband. Of course, they couldn’t with me. I was in full interference. My son was now starting to engage with his frustration. He was starting to kick and to punch. But, every time I was able to re-enter the circle, the re-engaged with me. Even when I reverted to my old defenses—to keep him from kicking, to soak in the moment a little longer, I picked him up. I squeezed him tight against my body and rocked him. It worked well when he was a infant, like a charm when he was a toddler and although just as well now, tightly rocking a squirming 4-foot, eight-year old while someone is in the middle of an interesting anecdote doesn’t look as normal or go as unnoticed as it once did. And still, they made every attempt to let it appear as if it did.

How little they flinched was a huge gift to us. My husband, all of us, got to go out like a family, run into someone and have a full conversation without feeling like we left in retreat. It was a perfectly laid back father’s day.

The best we could hope for was graciously delivered.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Normal Food

My gosh, what does he eat!? Can’t he have any normal food?

That’s a statement I hear a lot, especially when it comes to party snacks. With the last day of school around the corner, it and its many variations have been ringing off the hook.

C.S. has a restricted diet. Ever since he was only 6 months old, his sensitivities have required a diet free of dairy/soy/beef (when nursing him, this was my diet); otherwise he suffered ear-splitting, spine-scraping colic and had blood in his stool. After he went through what I now understand is a classic transition of lost eye contact sometime after he turned two, under the guidance of a Naturopath, I gradually began restricting his diet even further. Believe me, I balked when it was suggested we give up gluten. But with each change came noticeable, remarkable improvements in his behavior.

And so his diet, while difficult to maintain, is something I will guard with the ferocity of a mother for her child’s soothing blanket or favorite lovie. It keeps him connected. It allows him to sleep. It fuels his happiness.

But, it is not ideal for parties or eating out. There are a few challenges for us here. Still, his diet includes plenty. It is open to just about anything that can be grown or picked and plenty of poultry, pork and fish. The full restrictions now include dairy, gluten, soy, beef, potato, egg whites and he will not touch a tomato or a pepper for anything.

So, what is it that he is tragically missing out on? What is “normal food?”

Apparently what every kid should get to eat is pizza, hamburger with fries, breaded dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, potato chips, gold fish, brownies, pudding cups, ice cream…stuff like that.

And what he eats—his lunch usually includes a peanut butter apple or turkey burger with a side of banana, grapes or berries. He won’t touch ketchup but a dip in honey mustard can convince him to try anything. He munches on nuts, Rice Chex and corn chips. Loves sugar snap peas, carrots, asparagus and grits. And we simply choose sorbet or Italian Ice instead of ice cream.

So, passing up pizza for a peanut butter slathered rice cake is unusual and the diet Autism has led us to is far from typical. It is not normal—but it is incredibly healthy. And it makes me wonder about many other things "normal." Could these also be similar to pizza vs. rice cakes,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Complimentary

I woke up late this morning...it was a long weekend. And so our Monday morning began in a mad rush to make the bus. Not easy when Monday morning transitions can be hard to do. But my kids were incredible troopers! Better than troopers. DeDe raced on without her headband accepting a fashion compromise in style. And when C.S. stepped on the bus, of course he immediately noticed whatever around him might have changed or was different, which in this case set off a compliment. "I like your hair" he said to our driver Holly. Her face erupted into a grin. She turned to me amazed at this rarest sort of sincerity that only comes from children. "He notices everything!" she said. "Yes. He does." And he does. I have no idea what was different. The color or the cut? But he noticed. He notices absolutely everything, every single detail. This is his personal NOS-style of Autism. And, at times, yes, it is wonderful.

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