Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Monday, January 17, 2011

Different Boat, Same Creek, Same Paddle:

When writing here I normally stick to the lighter stuff because... well, basically I think I'm better writing with a humorous bent, and I'm pretty sure anything else would begin to sound like whining in short order. But, without a doubt, there are some not-fun things about raising a handicapped child. One of the more pervasive is isolation. There are plenty of people that understand regular everyday earth-shattering problems. Someone whose ear you can bend and be assured they know where you're coming from. But with even the ordinary things an 'atypical' parent goes through? Just a little tougher to find someone like that. But bearing that in mind, I was reminded recently that tears can't make a house sad where there is laughter. (no, I didn't steal that from Hallmark, I just made it up)
  Dude and I went shopping at not our usual Jahnt Iggle (Giant Eagle to translate from Burgh-speak) a semi-local grocery chain. Shopping with David is always something of an adventure, but especially so when it's a non-GameStop weekend. You see, Dude has a strict 1 store-back home policy. Oh, he can be very patient about shopping when there's a game waiting to be picked at the final stop. But any other weekend he feels the pull of electronic adventure tugging pretty hard. I don't even want to talk about the times I've made the mistake of making GS our first stop. Let's just say he likes to hurry things along a bit, and leave it at that.
   We'd already been to Sam's Club and Dude was, once again trying to hurry me along, and after the fourth or fifth time he'd run into me with the grocery-cart I was getting a bit irritated to say the least. But despite the constant danger to my ankles we'd fallen into our usual shopping routine with Dave constantly babbling and Dad either commenting or ignoring him until he'd gotten too loud or exited. Not wishing a constant diet of Mac&Cheese and things covered in ketchup I usually ignore most of Dude's food requests unless it's something I'm specifically buying for him. One of the things I try to keep a constant supply of is little, individual sized bowls of applesauce. It's one of the few fruits/vegetables without cheese on it that Dave will consistently volunteer to eat and I'm all for that. As we passed the canned fruit isle this day, however, there was to be a change in the routine. David immediately started scouring the shelves stating loudly his preference for peaches. Not peaches and creme', not peaches in jello, but plain diced peaches in juice. This was more difficult to find than you might imagine as it seems that most consumers have gone beyond the need for mere plain fruit in its own juices. But found it we did and once it was safely in the cart and we were proceeding down the isle we were confronted by something else unusual.
   We had just passed a woman and her cart looking at the bottled juices and I as I started my own search I heard a fairly perky female voice break into the endless stream of vocalisation that is Dude.
"I think you ought to come home with me." Ok, that had my attention right there. I took a quick, startled look at a pleasant looking woman in her thirties pushing a cart with many toddler-food packages in it. "You have good ideas." It was obvious at this point that she was speaking to Dude.  Having grown up with it, I'm used to the easy, friendly way that Midwesterners sometimes accost total strangers with familiar conversation, but it doesn't happen very often in Pittsburgh and I get funny, startled looks from the locals when I have a flashback and start doing it, so this was amazing. Not only that, she was talking to David just the same way that I do, speaking to him like she would anyone else, and not trying to force or expect any sense out of him. This woman was no rookie. I did a quick ear-check and Dave was still extolling the evils of jello and creme' in any proximity to his peaches. She nodded and said, "Do you have any ideas for dinner? Because I'm fresh out." He immediately interrupted his dialogue to answer, "Mac and Cheese for dinner!" (Big surprise)  I noticed that the woman never looked to me for translation, which is unusual. Then I jumped in with, "You may not want to take this one home, he's a handful." She looked at me and smiled, "Aww he might fit right in, you never know." I laughed, thinking that this woman had no clue what she was talking about, and we each went on our way.

  Now if that had been all I would have thought that it was something of an anomalous conversation, wondered about it for a while, and then went on. But after we'd completed our shopping and finally found a line that had less than 300 people in it, it turned out we were right behind the very same woman. As we were waiting for the person in front of her to finish his transaction we started up our abbreviated conversation again. It seems that she was so comfortable with Dude because her youngest daughter, of three, has Asperger's which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder, similar to Autism but not exactly the same. (There is some dispute by Doctors and List-Makers about which is what and how much of one is actually the other, or if there's any difference at all.) Then she said some things that sounded eerily familiar to me for some reason. "People say, 'Why me?', why not me? It's got to be somebody." Startled at hearing my own words thrown back at me, I said, " I know exactly what you mean." It also seems that when her husband realized what the diagnosis actually meant he freaked, tried to tough it out, decided he couldn't handle it, and left when her daughter was 11 months old. That sounded vaguely familiar as well. I mean, change of sex and add red hair and... It hadn't been all that long ago, but she was remarkably equitable about it, saying, " He's a really wonderful guy, just a lousy parent." I chuckled and responded, "Well, you did one better than I did." She looked at me, confused. "At least your ex is nice." She gave me a smile of genuine sympathy.
  I could have gone on from there and gushed out my problems. It's the one thing that's almost compulsive about raising a handicapped child, when you find someone that actually understands the trouble you have it becomes almost a physical need to say all the things that no one seems to completely comprehend. Then I had a flash. This woman is just like me, trying to go at life with the same attitude and humor, but she's got it two kids and no Raine tougher, so shut that yap you're so fond of flapping and do the one thing you can do that really means anything to her. Listen.  And that's what I did. For the next 15 minutes I let her know that she wasn't alone, that there was at least one random individual that knew exactly what she was going through, exactly how tough it was and didn't act like she wouldn't just naturally get through it.
  She finished checking out, we traded 'Take care's and she went on her way, not ever knowing that she gave me as much by talking as I may have given her by listening. I never got her name, she never got mine, we never seemed to need introduction, because there for a few moments we were as close as many family members never get. Paddling different boats on the same lake, hoping they're not the Titanic, but making no apologies for doing a damn good job of it. Neither wanting sympathy, merely understanding, and finding it in the checkout line of a grocery store of all places.


  1. This is amazing. Amazing! i am so with you. i have had experiences like this too. you wrote some lines in here that are directly from my own brain(are you peeking?). one line that was NOT from my brain but that i really loved was when you said : "do the one thing you can do that really means anything to her. listen." Oh, i got GOOSE bumps! phenomenal post :)

  2. Thank you very much. I think I'll remain mysterious and not tell you about my incredible psychic powers... lol