6.22.2004

Autism Notes From Field and...Pool

On Sunday we went to young Xander's 5th birthday party. At a gym, with trampolines and big pits of block sponges and balance beams and climbing areas--pure heaven for both my children. It is no coincidence that this ideal party was hosted by dear MB, also mother to Leo's autistic peer Sophie (a/o to Jo's Sophie).

I noticed that one little boy, Drew, was sporting a floral headband. Yay for his parents in letting him wear whatever the hell he wants, I figured.

It turns out that Drew, all 5 and 1/2 years of him, was autistic. I would never, ever have known that something was up had MB not specifically mentioned it, and introduced me to his rightfully pleased mother.

MB said that Drew has been in an ABA program for two years, and that he was not speaking at all when he began. That blew the top right off of my head, because I had assumed he was neurotypical (NT) based on language skills and eye contact that were indistinguishable from those of his peers.

Once I'd been clued in, I spent a lot of time observing him (easy to do, since he was in Iz's group). I noticed that he asked more questions than the other kids, and also needed occasional reminders to stay in line, etc., but nothing outside the bounds of NT kids--many of them are like that, too. Amazing.

I also noticed how quickly he obeyed any direct request or command. An ABA child, for sure. He also happily joined in when Iz was commanding Leelo to pretend to laugh. "Pretend to laugh!" Drew repeated, in perfect form. (Leelo, flummoxed at being given instructions from two people at once, got overwhelmed and ran back over to the balance beam.)

Now I want MB to write me a list of Drew's exact symptoms prior to ABA so we can tell ourselves that our children will end up just like him!

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Yesterday afternoon was Iz's first swimming lesson of the summer. I wasn't looking forward to it, because I needed to bring Leelo along, and had no idea what to do with him during that half hour.

Turns out I needn't have worried--this place has a Leelo's-thigh high toddler pool, and our boy was happy to frolic there indefinitely.

The frolicking was convenient, because it gave me a chance to talk with another mom who happened to be there. Diana has a six-year-old with Asperger's, a preschooler who seems fine, and an vaccine-free toddler. (Diana's refusal to vaccinate her toddler got her bounced from the pediatric practice of our wonderful Dr. G. Fark.)

It was interesting to hear about her Aspie son Matt, a child on such a different part of the spectrum. Matt's issues are purely social, e.g., he doesn't understand that it's not okay to punch another kid in the face for knocking down a block tower. He will follow instructions to apologize afterwards, but doesn't really get why he's saying "sorry."

She has been through hell for sure, since other parents (I've heard them), the teachers at the two schools Matt got kicked out of, and even psychologists have tried to pin his problems on shitty parenting. Thankfully she found an organization that, through over twenty hours of testing, was able to pinpoint her son's condition and get him into an appropriate school.

Which makes me wonder if being able to pass as NT, as Matt does, is such a great thing for kids like Leelo and Sophie and Drew. Both Diana and Matt get constant grief about his behavior from snippy strangers, who of course can't understand why such a big, obviously intelligent boy would act like that.

Matt is lucky to have such an intrepid mom--she refuses to keep him shuttered up at home, even though going out means intensive surveillance on her part. I hope to continue to observe and converse with her, as she seems an excellent role model.

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