Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to.. Someone:

Oh yeah, that one's going in the album.
It will come as no surprise to some (if not all) who know me that I'm more than a little strange. I don't mean like doing perverted things to mannequins in the basement strange, just not your typical mid-40's, blue collar, Midwestern.... whatever. And somehow, without being told, children know. For one thing, little kids stare at me.  Despite the fact that I'm half again as wide as most men, have long-wild hair and look as though I actually punch cows for a living and eat small children without ketchup, almost none of them are ever frightened of me. Whenever I'm in sight, nearly any child between the ages of 4mo to 4 years gazes at me with a kind of fascinated awe. If I give them a 'fierce' expression they just giggle and act shy. If I actually smile or wave to them they grin and wave back. They're hardly ever nervous around me. (Their parents on the other hand...) I'm not sure what any of this means, but I've always been told that children see with an untrammelled eye, without prejudice or preconception. So I just have one question. What the hell are these kids seeing?
    A little off-subject (No! I'm shocked!) I come from a large family. No, check that, I come from a FRICKEN LARGE family. My mother's parents had 46 grandchildren when they died, and I'm not sure how many after that, but being the oldest I have a number of first cousins that are actually younger than my own kids. On meeting one of the youngest for the first time I was introduced to her as 'Little Dave' just after she had been introduced to my father, 'Big Dave' who was two inches shorter, quite a bit narrower and 40 pounds lighter at the time. The four year old looked unflinchingly at me, looked incredulously at her mother and said, 'I don't think so!' Then looked back at me and grinned, completely unafraid. Her mother, seemingly afraid of the destruction I could wreak if I were to suddenly run amok, whisked her off with a fearful expression. Perhaps kids do see things differently than their parents. Maybe they do see the 'oddness' beyond the physicality. Dude has the opposite problem. Children tend to look at him like he's weird, but adults all seem to love him on sight.

    And I'll admit I'm odd. Case in point: This year for my birthday I was given the option of going where-ever I could drive us to (I've been known to drive 900 miles at a stretch) and do there whatever I pleased. I heard from my co-workers all of the things I should do, ie: Go to a bar, fishing, mountain biking, sports center, et al, and what did I chose? I decided to go to the Phipps Conservatory in Oakland PA and look at and take pictures of the flowers. I believe I was the only male in my age bracket that was there voluntarily. Dude, although not in my age bracket, certainly wasn't there voluntarily. 
Is this kid flipping me off?

It was raining, we were miles away from his games, looking at boring plants, and he wasn't even certain that he should get excited about any birthday that didn't include presents for him anyway. But since we tricked him into the car, and stubbornly refused to give him keys or bus-fare, he was stuck looking at the flowers.
  Most of the time when we're out roaming David can find something to engage himself with. No matter how boring he finds it there is always something he can do or see to divert himself while he waits for 'those people with the car' to wise up and get him back to his games. 
It wasn't that he was behaving badly or anything, you could just tell that he was bored about 14 seconds after the elevator ride to the second floor. Dave has always had an OCD thing about doors, but most of the time it's not very evident. He'll just stand there and watch them close. When he gets excited he fixates on the door and starts flapping his hands and making hooting noises. (This might get us some strange looks occasionally, but I hardly notice anymore.) If you can't divert him somehow he'll do this as long as the door keeps moving. And when he's bored there's no diverting him. The Phipps has both indoor and outdoor gardens and one hell of a lot of doors. So Dude became kind of an OCD/ASD doorman for people that didn't want to go out into the rain but didn't know what to say to the nice Autistic kid who opened the door they were just trying to
Dude: The door is open! This is the way out!
Raine: Get back in here!
 look through while saying politely, 'There you go sir, this way out!' The women really thought this was strange. There were some who tried to allow him to go through the door first, but Dave would not be out-polited by anyone. He'd just stand his ground and say, 'The doors are open. You may now exit the building.' I'm sure a couple of the few that walked out did so because they didn't know what else to do. 
   Throughout the whole visit, I'm taking Dude aside, talking to him, calming him down, or speaking firmly to him in a low voice, trying to keep him as contained as possible without visibly threatening his life. We've all seen parents try to speak emphatically but unobtrusively to their children and failing miserably. (Actually most of them end up looking like deranged mimes.) Obviously I was less than successful as I started to get more looks than he did. 'Look honey, the large biker/hippy photographer is threatening to kill the skinny disabled boy!' ' Yes, dear. Now let's go look at the hydrangeas before he starts looking for more victims.'  Which only proved how silly they were... there were no hydrangeas displayed at the Conservatory. At times it seemed that the only one not fearing for my son's life was my son.
  Eventually his horticultural incarceration came to an end and we climbed into the 6 and headed for home. We had to pass by downtown along the river and were just getting onto the Interstate to do so when David starts clamoring to go into Downtown Pittsburgh.  I have no idea why he loves downtown so much, maybe it's the large buildings, or possibly it's the increased chance that his father will get mugged... could go either way. What I do know is that Raine and I told him that under no circumstances were we going into Downtown Pittsburgh on a Saturday afternoon. There were a few moments of silence when David started reciting different borough's around Downtown. Shadyside, North Shore, Plum, 5 or 6 others, and then started reciting local street and highway directions from each one into Downtown. Raine and I were baffled. He just went on, and on, like we just didn't know how to get into Pittsburgh while we were passing directly between it and the river. When he started commenting on bridge construction and detours we realized he was repeating the radio traffic report that he hears on the bus every morning. (he insists on having the radio on.) He continued to give us updated traffic reports until we went through the Ft Pitt Tunnel and it was obvious we were going home. For a kid who doesn't seem to pay attention to anything, with a father prone to wander just to see if it's possible for him to get lost, he knows exactly the moment when we head for home from wherever we happen to be. Once the tunnel was traversed the traffic report ceased and we returned to our regularly scheduled programming of video game and movie quotes. It wasn't 'blessed silence', but it was comforting in its own way to have Dude back in his groove.

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