Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Not So Sporting News:

 The day after Prom I let David see the letter from Beaver County Special Olympics inviting him to participate in the State Olympic Games in State College. We were kind of getting worried because it was getting pretty close and we hadn't heard anything. 'Yes!' He yelled, 'He goes to the State College and then he goes to Vegas on the Summer Vacation!' 'Well...' I said calmly, 'If you get the good notes you'll go to State College to the Special Olympics.' 'Yes!!' He practically shouted, 'If he gets the good notes he gets to take the System to the State College to record the elevators!' Uh... hang on. I didn't remember saying anything like that. I didn't even remember thinking anything like that, or even anything that might be mistaken for that by drunken, LSD overdosed hippies in a coma ward. I gave him one of my patented (r) non-committal looks and said nothing. I said it very well, and for more than a few moments. Just a German-standoff (we're not Mexican, after all)
    You see, it's my job to remember things. Which is a sad, sad statement on the position. But we've had some problems getting things back from State College. The first year, it was just a belt. No big deal, except that with Dave's proplastic thumb he can't manipulate a regular leather belt all that well, and decent elastic belts are getting pretty hard to find. Last year it was his entire laundry collection. Completely my fault, I didn't know that they had put everyone's laundry into a separate garbage bag and, when I found his suitcase, I just grabbed it, fought my way through the pack and headed for the hills. So sending him 150 miles away with a couple hundred dollars worth of game didn't appeal to me much.
    Dave has a look he gives me. He doesn't use it very often, but he knows when he's hit a wall that won't be moved (me) and even then he only uses it on special occasions. I call it his 'Cocker Spaniel' look. With this look, if a Broadway scout wanted to cast Oliver he'd give it to Dave on the spot. It's the most heartfelt, soulful begging ever carried out without a word being spoken. Strong men have broken under less pressure than this, but all Dude was getting out of me, was, 'We'll see.'
    Over the next two weeks I was repeatedly and randomly bombarded with demands, pleas, significant looks and a long and oft repeated list of my youngest offspring's worthiness as a cross-state elevator-video journalist. If only the proper equipment (3DS) was provided. 'He has to go to the State College and take the videos of the elevators!' And if I didn't pay attention occasionally, 'And then to the elevators at the Vegas!' Uh huh... riiiiiight. Nice try kid. But somehow or another the entire fortnight passed without a bad note from school or the bus ladies or even mostly from home. He had the suck-up thrusters working at Warp Factor 10, greeting Raine and I each evening with an almost formal, 'Hi there, Raine/Dad. How was work today?', holding the door and not even hitting us with it trying to close it. We were almost startled at our new Dude-butler 2.0, but we'd seen this kind of thing before. So other than a few amused glances and replies we let it go.
   Eventually, as it always seems to do, the two weeks passed and it was time for me to pack Dude's suitcase (which he had been calling for, for two days) and in that case (mysteriously) was Dave's 3DS. Okay, I'll admit it... no. Wait. No I won't. It would be silly of my to ruin what is left of my reputation to admit that sometimes I am a complete softie when it comes to David. So I won't do it. Needless to say somehow or another a certain Japanese video game product may have been secreted somewhere in his luggage by person, or persons unknown. I managed to get him to the School and the ungodly hour that they insisted they had to leave, and, once again, Dave majestically allowed all the other athletes to use his bus to get to State College. I, of course, was one of those not worthy to ride in the Royal Coach, and so had to make my own
way to the Olympics with the rest of the serfs.
    Of course most of the rest of the serfs don't ride their Virago... So I do have some perks. I showed up at State College and being an old hand (emphasis on old) I rode directly to the track just in time to hear, 'Last call for the men's 100 meter time trials' and I'm thinking, Hey, I'm getting this timing thing down really good! Oh foolish boy. I was actually standing around for about another hour and a half in black chaps and boots (much to the amusement of one of the female contestants, who kept asking me where my motorcycle was) waiting for David's heat. And when wearing black leather in the summer, 'heat' is the appropriate word. This set the tone for the weekend. Dude was normally one of the first guys in the tent for his event and one of the last 20 or so to compete.
But compete he did. It was finally time to line up for the heat and Dave walked out with the rest and lined up. I thought he looked pretty relaxed for having waited in a tent for over an hour. The boys were lined up and David had gone through 3 or 5 different starting poses by the time all the timers were ready to go, then the whistle was blown and they were off! Mostly. Dave started out dead last and got worse from there. I mean those guys were leaving him in the dust! I was about halfway down the run and about 40 feet off the track taking pictures with a puzzled expression on my face. When Dude was about halfway down the track he noticed me taking pictures and started smiling, waving and saying 'Hi Dad!' I was even more confused. This is the kid who always tries to cheat the start, or push his way to the front and here he is almost side-shuffling down the track waving at the crowd and seemingly having the time of his life. I was digging that he was enjoying himself, but was very confused as to his lack of effort. Everyone else crossed the line about 2 1/2 hours before David did. Well... not really but the 8th place kid finished at least 10 yards ahead of him in a 100 yard race. I now have some suspicions, but more on that later.
     You know, people talk all the time about how autistic kids are tied to their routines, but I'm not so sure it's just the kids. Three years I've been going to State Special Olympics and the first time was only time I had to wonder where the group was camped. They set up in exactly the same spot on the stands every year. The same two sisters were wrangling the kids (please don't ask me names... we know how I am with names) and I deposited Dave with the group and found out when his next event was and before I even asked the question, he was sitting down, ignoring me, with his 3DS already playing his game.
     Since his next event wasn't until late in the afternoon, I went to my (now) usual motel after having
breakfast at my (now) usual cafe. Then, for an hour or so, I went exploring the wonderful little town I stay in whenever I'm up there. It's a little Victorian town, but it's wonderful and I'm only there a few hours every year so I've always got new things to see.
    I made it back in plenty of time to watch Dude squirm around in the starting tent for the Running Long Jump. Actually he was being pretty good, but you could tell he was about over the whole 'waiting patiently' thing. Since he's in the 'Over 18' category he has to wait for all the high school aged kids to go first, and that is simply not in Dave's lexicon. But, eventually, the waiting was over (for now) and it was time to line up and head across the field to the jumping pit.
     Dave has had problems in the past in dealing with the fact that there is a Line that Shall Not Be Crossed. (a condition not unknown in my family) When he was doing the Standing LJ he would wiggle his toes across the line at the last moment before his jump and his effort would be disqualified. Last year only one of his jumps counted and the year before, none of them did. And this year he'd be running at that line full speed. I expected problems. They're much less lenient at the State level than they are at the County games. The have no sense of humor about mistakes. And personally... I blame the adults. Not necessarily the ones in charge of, or running the games, but I've got to tell you, 'Little League Moms' aren't all watching baseball games... and they're not all 'moms'. Just sayin.
    There is no segue back from that, so I'll just muster on: When Dude made it over to the pit, there was a ref/judge who was taking the time with each group to explain the rules and show them, with his own foot, what would be accepted as a real jump. He also, during the competition would make sure that each contestant knew if they'd mad a good jump, or what he'd done wrong, again showing them, not just telling them. I thought it was pretty cool... Dave was less impressed. He... sort-of listened to the guy, but kept walking away, trying to get to the starting position. It was like, 'Okay, okay.... run.... jump... land in
sand....not over line.. Got it! Let's go!!'  The guy would patiently wait for the volunteer to bring him back, and he made sure that David actually understood what he was saying. My mercenary ass was sitting behind the camera going, 'There's only two of them in this heat. If he gets one qualified jump he gets a medal!'  I realize at that moment, my son trains me just as much as I train him. After all, he's the one that wants the medals, not me. I never even see the things after he takes them up into his room.
     When it came time for the jumps Dude, in typical Dude fashion, went through a couple of different poses at the beginning of his run. There was this kind of Disco thing with his arm in the air that immediately dropped into fists out front and back that immediately got me thinking, 'He has been watching too much Olympic gymnastics...' because it looked exactly like the start of almost every Women's Vault that I've ever seen. Only sideways. And then I thought, 'Where the hell has he been watching Olympic Gymnastics?' But before that important question could be answered he was off.
     Now this is what I expected watching Dave. Face intent, running down the lane he hit the stripe with his foot and launched himself in the air.... about 3 feet. The grin on his
face after he'd made the landing told me that he knew he'd made a good jump. After the judge told him he had, he started back toward the Waiting for Awards tent and had to be stopped and brought back for his other two jumps. He was like: Why? We all know what's going to happen. I get a medal. So give me the medal and let's get this over with. No such luck. Unfortunately for the volunteer girls they later had to pass directly behind the award stands to get to that tent, once they were done jumping. Because Dave, thinking to save time and cut out the whole tent thing to get back to his Nintendo World headed straight for the podium instead of just passing it by. This completely disrupted a group of  Long Distance walkers trouping up to get their medals. He didn't seem to care about them, he wanted his medal. I'll admit, he was actually a bit less stubborn than usual about heading to the tent. Hardly any argument at all...really....
   I think David was more impressed by the Gunnery Sergeant they had giving out the awards last year. He was still respectful of the Lieutenant that handed out the medals with the 'Milk Maid Princess',(I'm not kidding, she had a sash and everything) but officers don't seem to rate as many 'sirs' as a non-com. But Gunny or Louie, the silver was around the neck (as it should be) and Dude was done for the day. We went back to the stands, and before I could even get there he had already snatched his game, plugged in the 'phones' and was lost in the World of Elevators Past. Not for long though. Just after I got up there he looked at me, 'Uh oh! The batteries are dead! He needs the charger for the game to watch the videos!' With a quick glance I noticed that everyone in the immediate area was looking at me. 'Uh....Okay.' I said hesitantly. I mean, obviously they all expected me to fix it. Dave was not only expecting it, he was nearly demanding it! 'I packed the charger in the suitcase.' I told him. Making sure it was loud enough for everyone to hear. Then I put my foot in it. (and we all know what 'it' is) 'You have to wait until you're back in your room to charge it up. You can't do anything here.' Dave immediately shot up from his seat. I realized my mistake at once. But, of course, too late. 'Yup! He has to get back to the room for the charger for the system!' He started to walk across the bleachers (and a couple of kids) I stopped him about the same time Marta (That's her name, really. I looked it up this time. You can trust it) and I said nearly the exact same thing. ' No! You have to wait for the other kids to be done first.' Just as enthusiastic as if we'd agreed, 'Yes! Then we can go to the rooms and ride the elevators and charge the System!' Marta and I both agreed quickly and David sat back down with his System in his lap, looking prepared to wait patiently and the matter seemed to be settled. But with Dudes you never know.
     Friday is the night of the Big Dance/Appreciation gathering in the evening after dinner. Dude loves to dance. Being way too German, I can't really tell if he's any good at it, but he loves doing it and that's enough. This year I had a big problem keeping track of David. He'd dance his way out of the crowd, stay by me for a little while, then he'd disappear again. I would circle the slowly growing main crowd, but never even catch a glimpse of him until he'd worked his way over to me again. Then he'd repeat the process, leaving me wondering just how the hell he was doing it.
    This year we were going to be joined by my niece Alexis, who moved to Pgh last summer to help with Dave and then decided not to leave. Poor girl. Leaving after work would put her in State College just after the dance started, so she would be able to join in the fun.... If two things hadn't happened. One: She didn't have the Military Grade GPS that is about all that can keep up with how screwed up Pittsburgh streets get. And B: If her scapegrace uncle had known she was going to be late he would have continued to look at his phone while waiting for her text much longer. That way she wouldn't have been circling the campus with absolutely no idea where to go. I admire her restraint. She hardly yelled at me at all.
    The next morning Alexis and I had just enough time to grab some drinks and zip over to the track for Dave's first event. Well, actually we had enough time to harvest our breakfast out of the fields, cook enough for a crew of field hands, take a nature hike, knit a couple of sweaters and then leisurely stroll to the track.... from Altoona. To paraphrase Thomas Paine, 'These are the times that try men's patience'. Man, we did a LOT of waiting that weekend.
    Alex and I, in our foolish quest to get a better view of the shot-put area, trudged around the fence to the other side of the track. Around the outside of the fence, I mean. The SO police were very fierce and frightening. I never did find out what happened to that one couple. But I'm sure it involved years of therapy to recover from the stern talking-to they got when they stepped into the Forbidden Area. Alexis and I were made of sneakier stuff. We skirted our way along the fence, until we came to a hole in the wire. Then we calmly walked through (expecting to hear the howls of the Guard Dogs, and the wail of the sirens.) (It was afternoon, so spotlights just would have been an affectation.) We actually stood there for about half an hour with everybody working on there 'pretending' skills. We pretended we belonged there, and the Olympic Wardens pretended we didn't exist because we didn't enter through one of their gates.
       We had a bit of a problem pretending one of the two coaches that snuck through the same hole, didn't exist. He was out there screaming at one of the kids in the 400 or so meter race. Calling out time differentials as if there was some sort of sponsorship on the line. He was about 50 yards away from us, but we could hear him clearly. I know there's a fine line between challenging the kids to do their best and pushing them for your own ends, but if the kid's crying, and the coach's blood pressure is rising you should recognize that the line has been more than crossed. A whole coaching staff in matching uniforms keeping ledgers of times and distances, crunching numbers and stats, screaming at the kids in a negative fashion probably means the line's been crossed, trampled and about to have the life-support unplugged. This is Special Olympics, folks. Not Beijing. For the kids.... remember? A complete opposite from the Uber Coach was a coach and his daughter that snuck through the fence after us. He looked as uncomfortable with SuperCoach as we did. He explained that he had been a runner, and his daughter loved to run. She ran all the time, and hated it when the weather prevented her daily run. He didn't seem to think that yelling at the kids actually helped anything. He sounded so... sane, that it was difficult to believe that he and Her ZuperCoach had the same job.
    After standing in the sun for more than half an hour I looked through my lens at the closer shot-put area and said, 'Hey, that shot looks pretty big.' I turned to my niece, 'Maybe we're in the wrong place?' For some reason I remembered there were two different sizes of shot, but only seeing one, couldn't tell which it was. Adding to our dilemma was the fact that they were shot-putting in two different 'pits' and you couldn't see them both from the same place. So, while we were stout enough to brave the track guards we chickened out about looking silly by being in the wrong place, and we bailed. Turns out, they don't use two different sizes of shot, and we were in the right place, but it's probably just as well that we caved. It was nearly another hour and a half before Dave competed. So, while we didn't get roasted out in the open field, we really didn't have a very good view of what was going on.
   While we were waiting for the competition we were found by Melissa Neidbala, the head of BC-SOPA (Beaver County Special Olympics, PA) and her heir-apparent... whose name escapes me at the moment... It could have been Carol, it really could have.... I don't think it was Cathy, I really don't. Anyway, they took advantage of  a gate-Nazi's inattention and were standing 10 feet inside the Line-of-Death! So... we joined them, and could actually see the competition area off in the distance. We were all chatting about the two of them photo-bombing Dave's sacred Elevator Videos. I was under the impression that they were incredibly silly about it, but as I'm not on the Privileged List of people allowed to watch the Holy Videos, I can't accurately gauge their silliness. But we had a great (if distant) view of the competition.  This lasted through Dave's first throw, and then Doom descended upon us in the form of a guy in khaki cargo shorts and a bush hat. I really wanted him to have an Australian accent and call us 'mate' when he kicked us out, but was disappointed. But he still kicked us out. Dave threw two more times but we couldn't see because of some silly-assed net that was supposed to protect us from crazed hammer-throwers. So we really didn't know what was going on until about 45 minutes later when Dude and the other kids strolled out to the podium. He won a Silver and
gave his version of the 'Dude-Power' salute while waiting for his medal.
   The day before, David had asked me repeatedly, 'Where's the Alex? Is she going to make it to the State College?' I had assured him over and over that; Yes, Alexis was coming, but had to work and wouldn't be here until the next day. Of course, now that his minion had arrived, and he could ignore her more effectively, that's exactly what he proceeded to do. But once he (was forced to) acknowledge her, he cried out, 'Alex! I was so worried about you! I didn't think you would make it!' Of course, he says some version of this very same thing about every night when she comes home from work. His nod to politeness complete he immediately dropped his head back into NintendoLand and proceeded to completely ignore the both of us. So we ignored him right back and went and had lunch.
   Alexis and I got back just in time... to wait another hour and a half for David to run his race. We strolled up just in time to see Marta walking back to the stands. She told us that she had just taken Dude to the tent for his next and final event; The 100 meter run. We stood at the construction fence that marked the boundary, mostly because Crocodile Dundee was still patrolling that gate, and several times I looked for David in the crowd of guys in the tent, but to no avail. It's pretty bad when you can't find your son because he's being good. I searched and searched for him through my telephoto lens, to no avail. I couldn't find him until there was almost no one left in the tent. Then they almost screwed the whole thing up. When there were only about 10 heats left they tried to organize them in their chairs by heat. The problem was, once they got him up and moved him into another chair... I'm just saying they should have left him there. They should have noted that he was in the wrong place, and just had him wait there for his turn. Instead, they moved him into 3 other chairs and then stood him up next to the List Lady while they got it straightened out. Dave was starting to get irritated and I was thiiiiiis close to walking over there and getting him calmed down, even if I had to walk over the top of Aussie-boy to do it. But luckily for everyone, David was finally put in the proper seat. Even if he did have to wait some more, at least he was doing it in the right place.

  When it came time for his heat, as they were lining up, one of the other runners noticed that Dave's shoe was untied. I watched the whole thing on telephoto, so I knew what was going on, but what it looked like to Alexis was something completely different. It looked as though David was suffering a Victorian fainting spell while being mugged by the Starter and a runner. Dude was hamming it up for all he was worth, one foot in the air, laid almost completely back waving his arms in the air while the Starter tied his shoe and the other kid held him up. That kid's probably sorry he helped with that because, after some pre-race posturing, as soon as the whistle went off, so did Dude. He flashed out to a very quick start, feet pounding the track, face intent, and glancing behind him to either side to check the competition. The Evil Grin started on his face when he was about 1/3 the way down
the track and was comfortably in the lead. My suspicions from the day before were starting to bear fruit. They got fruitier the further he got down the track and the grin got bigger. It was a complete reversal from the day before. He was running his skinny little but off and instead of being behind the field by 10 yards, he was ahead by that margin 3/4 of the way and it was growing as he got further. One kid looked to make a run at him about halfway and when Dude saw him, he just shifted gears and left him in the dust. When he crossed the line, well ahead of everyone, he bent over, clenched
his fists and shouted, 'YESS!!'. Then he did a little victory dance/jog and said, 'I AM THE WINNER!!' Luckily the volunteers got him under control and off toward the tent before a riot ensued. Yes, David can be a riot all by himself.
   After which another round of tent-sitting ensued. While that was going on, the 'adults' where musing over the race itself. We were all very pleased with the outcome of the race. We were also a bit uneasy about... other things. Things that we didn't want to talk about. I got complimented on my (?) decision to allow Dave his 3DS this year. The Coaches were certain it helped keep him calm, even when it wasn't working. I didn't disabuse them of their harmless little fantasy. Besides, it made me look like a 'cool dad'.
    Finally, one of the coaches worriedly asked whether or not Dude might be disqualified because he had too good a race. If his time was too much lower than his qualifying heat they might DQ him. Suspecting (I assumed) that someone coached him to 'duff' the first race. I'm sure they wouldn't believe our total lack of collusion in the Hundred Meter Cheating Scheme. After all, we were the adults, right? Most of the people in the immediate area seemed to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, citing how fast the heat was that he was in, and how much slower these kids were. I, on the other hand, kept my big fat mouth shut and my opinions firmly behind my teeth. I didn't know how well the judges would remember David. I mean they only see him once a year. I didn't take anything for granted until .
the Procession was finished and the Gold Medal was around his neck. It's only a rumor that I looked behind us twice as we headed back to the stands. I wasn't really all that worried that they'd run us down and take the medal back.... Really I wasn't. Well, the Gold now resides in the DudeRoom and I'd pity the Olympic Committee that tried to get it back now. I am kind of worried about myself a bit though... It's really starting to get entertaining to see how the little sneak is going to cheat his way to another medal each year....

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