Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Formerly Nameless Post:

You can click any pic in the blog to get the full sized shot

Every once in a while Dude's dad (me) is struck by this strange impulse to wander the area and search out new things. Unfortunately for Dude this doesn't often involve an intensive search of the local GameStop for virtual fulfilment. What this does often entail is a journey to a previously unexplored section of a wonderful bike/walking trail in the area called the Montour Trail. The Trail is a part of a nearly Nationwide effort to turn old abandoned railroad lines into trails for pudgy suburbanites to experience something of nature in a fairly controlled environment. It hooks up (when some small sections are completed) with the Alegheny Trail which then hooks up with the C&O Canal Towpath to connect Pittsburgh with Washington DC by over 300 miles of non-motorized path. (if you think I'm impressed, you're right) When you consider that railroads don't generally allow grades of more than 2% (2' of rise or fall in every 100') and the area is packed with what the locals call 'mountains' (it's just a bunch of big hills squashed together) you can see why the rail-trail thing could be popular. Not with David.

Dude prefers to get his exercise vicariously through the efforts of 3D heroes battling evil. (Dave's concept of evil is pretty fluid, he sometimes thinks it's funny for the heroes to mow down the civilians) But occasionally I can get him to go with me, and other than the fact that he actually has to walk instead of pushing a button on his controller, he always seems to have fun.... once he's sure we're going back to the car. But due to the wandering bug instilled in me by my wandering parents I often just drive the backroads aimlessly just to see what's around. Sometimes what's around is a WWII Sherman tank in front of a tiny VFW in the middle of some valley town. And like any photo-mad tourist I try to set up a shot only to have my girlfriend take a shot of my butt while I'm staging this completely candid photo-op. I eventually got the hell out of the way, retrieved my camera and took this shot. Completely unaware, until I'd downloaded the next day, that my posterior was preserved for... well posterity. I'm not worried, I'll just carry my camera around with me for a while, so Raine has to watch me closely to make sure I don't reciprocate. Her paranoia will be more fun than actually getting the retaliatory shot anyway.

Anyway, much to Dude's relief the day of gamlessness was over and we headed home, only to leave again nearly immediately for an evening of cards at Raine's uncle's house. Luckily for him Nik was running a Spongebob Squarepants marathon and Raine's mom and uncle are pretty old, so the evening ended pretty early anyway (lucky for me too, they're card-sharps and skinned me for 6 bucks lol) so to make up for my callousness I took him home, bought him some Wendy's burgers and afterwards sent him up to his virtual friends. As he was climbing the stairs, he turned and states/asks, " Jackie (the nurse who watches him during the week) will be here tomorrow." To which I replied, "No, Dad will be here tomorrow." And as he turned to continue walking up the stairs he gusts this huge, heartfelt, sigh and says, "Oh man, this is going to suck!" I guess Jackie doesn't take him on walks in the wilderness or perch him atop implements of destruction to take pictures of him. Go figure.
Dave doesn't actually hold much conversation. It's mostly a series of quotes from movies and games and things that he's been told repeatedly. It's often appropriate to the situation, but often has nothing specifically to do with what you're trying to talk about. ie: 'Oh man, this is going to suck' is something you hear when he's disappointed. And mostly it fits. But it very easily could have been 'This is what a chick feels like' or 'That's going to hurt come Winter' . All of which are quotes from an N64 game called Duke Nuke-em. And that's only one of about 40 games and hundreds of movies he might quote every day. If he were in a 'Spongebob' mood it would have probably been 'Barnacles!'. Learning Dude-speak is almost like learning a foreign language in English. Only there's no Rosetta Stone out there that can teach you the lexicon. I'm just always glad he never got into Barney or the Power Rangers, cause those are two languages I just don't care to learn....

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Special Olympian:

Pictures: This year's Standing Long Jump, winning Gold in the 50 m, and Bronze in the Softball Toss.

On the first Friday in May (normally) the Beaver County Special Olympics Outdoor Games are held. Dude and I have a ball every year. He's normally entered in the same three events. Standing Long Jump, the 50 Meter Run and the Softball Throw. The Games are run in a state of mostly-happy chaos, every year the same events have the same crowd of befuddled parents and 'buddies' (buddies are volunteer students that escort the athletes to their events) clumped together in uncomfortable, unknowing groups like cattle in a pen.
For those of you who've never been to an event, here's a rundown: Each athlete is assessed by the school as to their ability to understand, and physically participate in each event. When their physical skills have been set, they're given a designation, and this determines the 'heat' for that event. It's designed so that kids mostly compete against similarly physical children. It's pretty fair, and there's not much 'hedging', although I had some questions I wanted to ask Hopewell Junior High one year, but that's neither here nor there. So, generally you're going to see roughly the same kids every year and probably at every event through the day. And kids aren't the only thing you see annually.
Here's an example of 'what happens every year': The Standing Long Jump (above left) is always Dude's first event. It's in the same place every year, in the near left-end of the Beaver Area High School football field as seen from the stands. The same two guys have been 'kid wranglers' at the SLJ for the last three years and inevitably there's a group of about 50 parents, buddies and children milling around just inside the gate with the gruff voiced kid wrangler repeatedly calling out names for each heat. These names are mumbled around the group, sounding not unlike a herd of the aforementioned cattle and when he has enough names to fill one of the heats (it would take even more forever if he tried to do them in order) he passes that group of kids off to the students assisting the running of every event. Once those 5-9 kids have competed the results are tallied up and taken to the Awards Table for that event. A middle-aged woman reads the slip of paper, calls out the names, sends someone to gather the 3 kids who have wandered off, then another woman hands out the three medals and the remaining kids each get a ribbon. All the while that this is going on, the two 'kid wranglers' are trying to get more heats filled, the crowd is still milling about inside the gate trying to determine if they've missed their heat or even if they're in the right place, the students are still trying to get kids with limited understanding to perform the event somewhere close to correctly, and that guy you hear every year, but can't quite remember what he looks like is saying something you can't quite understand over the PA. And that's one of the better organized events. I don't even want to go into the crazed parental grumblings surrounding the annual mishandling of the 50 meter run, or the inevitable half hour wait for the Soft Ball Toss (it's right after lunch) or the SBT lady's unique idea about organization that throws chaos to the wind. (I'm not sure she knows how close she is to dire bodily injury every year)

If this were just for the adults there'd be a riot every year and I haven't missed a year that we've been in town. It's impossible for me to come home after a Special Olympics event without my face actually hurting from smiling so much. It's fantastic, and the reason is these kids. They just don't care! They're loving the whole event with all of their being. It's not just the athletics the kids love. They tromp the grounds hauling their 'buddies' around searching for people they know. Showing off their medals and ribbons and talking a hundred miles an hour with big grins on their faces. It's probably the only time outside of school where the 'specials' outnumber the 'typicals' and they seem to know they're running the show. I'm gathering quite a following of kids that look for me every year, but every adult in the place seems to know David. We can't walk 50 feet without someone stopping us to talk to Dude. Of course he acts like a Rock-Star trying to get through the fans to his dressing room, but the adults love him. They all ask me if they can take him home with them. I keep saying 'Yes' but I still end up taking him home every year.

The first time I took David to a Special Olympics he didn't want to have the first thing to do with it. He griped the whole time, all he wanted to do was get some Wendy's and go home. He didn't want to walk around, he didn't want to wait with the crowd, he didn't want to throw the softball. Then the ladies gave him that bronze medal. That was it, he was hooked. From then on the events couldn't come fast enough, he was continuously 'Are you ready to run?' (50 meter was 45 minutes after the SBT). I kept trying to tell him that we had to wait, but he was having none of it. It was a chilly, drizzly day and Dude, the kid whose life you have to threaten to get him away from his video game, wouldn't have gone home if I'd have laid down a trail of Junior Bacon-Cheeseburgers. (his favorite) The two Bronze medals he won that year are still attached to my Boonie hat that I wear quite often. I'm very proud of those medals, even though people sometimes mistake them for fishing lures. To David, the Olympics aren't so much a social event as a chance to add to his Medal Shelf. As a matter of fact, at the next years 50 meter he ran the race, ducked through the crowd before I could catch him, snatched the gold medal from the young girl in a wheelchair that was helping to hand them out, and walked off like he owned it. He came in 4th that year, and was pissed that he had to give it back. Every year he's excited about going and I've got to tell you, he's not the only one. I wouldn't miss it, him or the rest of the kids for the world.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

He's Back!!

Out of the clear blue 4 weeks ago Dude's mom decided that she'd take him for his visitation this year. After many strange things (Deleted for content, swearing, and relevance) I made the journey of a thousand steps (ok, 1950 miles round trip) back to the land of my birth to retrieve my claim to Dudeness. Raising an autistic child is stressful in ways that even we parents don't understand. So a break can be a good thing sometimes. Let's get one thing straight. 4 hours without David can be a relief. 4 days without him could be considered a vacation. 4 weeks was more than kind of strange. I kept looking around like I'd forgotten something. There were no video game noises coming from upstairs in the middle of our movie, no incessant talking from the backseat when we were driving, no scanning the crowds in Wal-Mart to prevent collisions and misunderstandings. All of the little (and not so little) aggravations that come with being a Dude-dad were gone and I missed each and every one of them so much that I started Blogging about them of all things. As Dude would say "Sad!" Of course I can't hope to duplicate the forlorn expression on his face when he does it. Dave has two major expressions of life... 'Fine' or 'Sad' everything falls within these two words. Everything from OK to SUPERFANTASTIC-IALMOSTCAN'TSTANDIT~! is covered by 'fine' and every other thing from 'Not-so-good' to 'Oh my God! The dog is dead and my arm just fell off' is covered by 'Sad'. Getting back to being Dude Central is definitely 'Fine'.

Ok, I'll admit to a bit of pettiness. When we picked David up in Kansas City he immediately tried to push past his mom to get to me. When she stopped him and tried to get a hug and he put his hand on her neck and tried to push her out of his way again. Contrast to when she picked him up and he kind of luke-warmly greeted her and reluctantly left me. I know the reason was that I am his access to his Game Cube, X Box, Gameboy, Mac and Cheese and Wendy's, but still, she doesn't realize this, and it pissed her off. Which made me smile. Partially because of a certain amount of vindictiveness, and partially because it made her so mad she didn't speak for the rest of the exchange. (ah the many blessings of Dude-ness). When you're the parent of an autistic child (at least high-function) one of the best ways to parenting glory is to understand what motivates your child. I can imagine this much more difficult in lower-function autistics, but reward/withdrawal motivation works just as well as with 'typical' children. More so, probably, because their motivations barely or hardly change. Dude's greatest motivational reward is going to GameStop and getting another game.... So, when he gets good notes from school all week we all pile in the Blazer and run over to the GS (do not pass go, do not collect $200) and he picks out a game. And when he hasn't been good, we talk all weekend about how we're not going to GS and getting a game, and why. Believe me, it's worth the $5-$10 for a used game to get him to behave when I'm not around. Just ask his teachers! lol That's Jill on the left, and Ashley on the right. They do a wonderful job with Dude at school, and posting this picture is subtle revenge for all the times Dave came home on Tuesday and started talking about GameStop because Jill had written GameStop in her note. lol I don't know if Ashley's new addition has arrived, or if she'll be back by the beginning of the year, but I hope so. Teachers that you can get along with and can trust AND who do a wonderful job are worth more than gold. These are two of the best.