Keep your feet on the ground, and stop reaching for other people.

Thursday afternoon when I went to pick Joseph up from dance class, I noticed the teacher had left the door to the classroom open, so I peeked around the corner hoping I could watch without him seeing me. Unfortunately what I first saw was the class waiting with hula hoops for props, and him going up to various little girls and trapping them in his hula hoop! Thankfully, not with him in it too, but it was bad enough as is. The girls were understandably getting annoyed. One of the teachers stopped him, and then they lined up and did their entire recital piece to the music.

I half-expected him to stand and stare into space, or flap his hands, but I was amazed and then touched as I saw him do every move with a huge smile on his face. Even when he saw me, he smiled even bigger, looking into my eyes, and didn't miss a step. I was so affected by the sight of him performing that I got tears in my eyes. I couldn't believe how well he was doing! Pretty amazing for a person who didn't speak in sentences until age five.

Then, of course, I got busted crying by the receptionist, and then the teacher came over after the dance and said, "Are you crying because you hate me and my school? I just have to check." I assured her that, no, I was just overwhelmed at how far he has come, in life and in dance. I'm not saying that he's a dance prodigy, but he's only been taking dance since March.

Also, this is his first-ever activity that is geared towards NT children, as all of his after-school activities, sadly, have consisted of various therapies up until now. Even horse therapy, which was supposed to be fun too, had a purpose. (And he didn't like doing it, but that's a story for another day.) But dance is for his pure enjoyment. And he's thriving! He graduated from speech therapy in February, after having done it for over six years, and upon hearing the news, he said, "I want to learn tap dancing now."

I guess he chose that because I was a dancer my whole childhood and have told him about it, or maybe it was because he saw Sam on iCarly tap dance. Maybe it was because I showed him a clip of Jerry the cartoon mouse dancing with Gene Kelly. All I know is, I did not push him into this, so I feel good about the fact that it is his choice. Besides, you can't make this child do anything he doesn't want to.

Which brings me back to hula hooping the girls. I heaped on the praise for the dancing first, and he beamed. But then I had to say, when we got to the car, that I had seen him bothering them, and that grabbing someone with a hula hoop falls under the category of not keeping your hands to yourself. You have to specify these things, because he is so literal, if you tell him not to touch people he will say, "I didn't, the hula hoop did." And all he said was, "It was so funny!' I could not convince him that it was the wrong thing to do because, thanks to the autism, he has almost no empathy. His current doctor says it will come with maturity. Meanwhile, he makes enemies at school because he won't stop grabbing people, and can't understand that they have feelings too. It's bad enough that he already gets bullied because of his immaturity and stimming, but technically, he also is a bully himself.

Our first doctor explained that autism is the gap between his delays and the things he excels at. I don't know if he will ever be the best of the best at dance, but he is showing promise. Over the weekend I met an actual savant for the first time. She is in her fifties or sixties, and is the rehearsal accompanist for a musical theater production I auditioned for. (I find out tonight if I got a part.) Anyway, she just sat there, expressionless, except when she was robotically directing the high school boys who were setting up her piano on the stage. Then she was able to play perfectly whatever music was set in front of her with no questions, immediately for each singer. She even played some standards people asked for without providing music. My mom told me who she was and that she lives in a group home since her dad just died (small town). I wonder what would have become of this lady if they had had the same types of early intervention programs in the 40s and 50s that we have now. She might have been performing at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, instead of playing for community theater. I hope to see Joseph land somewhere in between someday.

Five things

I was awakened at 2:30 this morning. I should be used to this after eight years, but it still manages to be jarring.

"Mommy! I dreamed I was being stung by a bee."
"Just a dream, Joe."
"And then I dreamed about the five things you need to do to look good!"
"I don't remember what they were."

Great. Now I'm awake, and I don't even get the five tips on how to look good. I can tell you what's probably not on the list: being awakened at 2:30 AM by a miniature Cosmo writer who's channeling Carl Jung.

His own girlfriend

Tonight when I was lying with Joseph until he fell asleep he asked me, "If you think about the past, and it's a flashback, then when you think about the future, is it a flash forward?"
And I said, "People can't know the future."*
"Well," he said, "I think I know one thing in the future, that Christi (the girl who became his girlfriend just last week) and I might get married later."
"I think you're going to have lots of girlfriends before you get married," I said.
"Cody is always asking me if I have a girlfriend, and so is Peyton," he said.
"Oh, so is that why you wanted a girlfriend?"
"Yeah, I really wanted one. And if I hadn't gotten one, I was gonna ask for one for my birthday."

*Note: I'm actually one of those people who wants to believe in phenomena like precognition, but in the interest of going the fuck to sleep I lied about it.

Autism and the Nintendo DS

When Joseph was first diagnosed, I never would have thought that a handheld video game like the Nintendo DS would become an educational tool for us. After all, one of the ways our diagnosing doctor described the spectrum was to use the metaphor "the window is closed," meaning Joseph was inside himself and unresponsive to us. Occasionally, he said, the window would be open. Surely a small machine that encourages the user to spend time alone focusing on it, when given to someone who already can't connect to other people, would close the window and lock it, right? As it turns out, the DS has helped not only with socialization, but with Joseph's eating disorder as well.

At first, he would want us to play the DS games while he watched, just like he did with most of his toys at that stage. This was during his heavy echolalia stage, when the phrases he would say didn't really mean what they usually meant, and one beloved phrase was "YOU try again." He said "YOU try again" to indicate anything at all that he wanted us to do, whether it meant trying something again or not, but it became particularly funny to me because trying again is mostly what I do when playing a video game as I suck at anything developed after about 1992.

Mercifully, he learned to play the games very well, so I could stop trying again. Then he decided that he wanted, and still wants, us to sit and watch him play them. Gradually he became what he is today, a tiny professor of game playing, who lives to discuss the intricacies of his favorite Nintendo games (anything for the DS from the Mario universe will do) while demonstrating. This is where help with peer interaction came in. His DS is a magnet for other children wherever we go. Kids will appear at his side in waiting rooms, restaurants, stores, and even church (before and after the service, of course) to see his game, to hear about it, and to tell them about theirs. If he sees someone with one, he can go up to them and do the same. If neither kid has one to whip out, they can still strike up a conversation about the DS, or the DSi, or the DSi XL, or the 3DS. Yep, thanks to my parents' infinite generosity, he collects the darn things. And they are an instant conversation piece.

Is it perfect, this boy/machine love affair? No, because sometimes it's hard to get him to close it up when it's time to do something else. Of course, that can be aided by using transition strategies, like letting him know way ahead of time how much time he has until we have to do something else. But sometimes he gets frustrated with the game itself and has to be separated from it. Sometimes when separated from it he screams like Catriona MacColl when she wakes up buried in a coffin in Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead! I have to do a lot of countdowns to taking the DS. When I was in my early twenties and thought I was childfree for life I used to laugh at parents who were all like, "One, one, one, now, now, listen, one..." because those idiots never seemed to get to three. Now karma has bitten me right in the ass, because I count down to taking something away every single day.

And speaking of taking things away, that's the best purpose I've found for the DS. No, I don't rub my hands together with glee at the thought of depriving him of it. But when you can't use traditional methods of discipline (what we used to call punishment in the good old days) because of the spectrum disorder, having a preferred toy to bargain with is one of a parent's best tools. This works particularly well with his eating disorder, extreme oral aversion, which basically means that, due to texture and sensory issues, Joseph had to be taught to chew solid foods by a team of behavioral psychologists. With their technique, you give a preferred toy for a specific amount of time when a food you're trying to incorporate is eaten by the child. The DS is always with us, and neatly folds and then fits right into my purse, unlike many toys that have parts to lose or which take up space. It's always available to remove from his grasp when it's mealtime and then hand back when he has done a good job eating.

The DS is far from an electronic babysitter, and surprisingly, it does not cause Joseph to become more withdrawn. Quite the opposite, in fact. It gives me a better way to relate to him, and him a better way to relate to other kiddos. I don't know what we'd do without it. If I ever meet Mario and Luigi, I'm cooking them a big pasta dinner to say thanks.

This is not a sponsored post. This is information I want to give about something that has been useful to our family, but which happens to be a product. This is just the first of many such posts, because do unto others, man. If you have found something useful, I'd want you to tell me! If I ever do a sponsored post, I'll let you know.

Bad words

I was driving home tonight with my son, who has recently graduated to the front seat of the car. This makes for much more interesting car conversations than the ones we had when he was exiled to the back seat. And that is both a good and a bad thing.

Anyway, we were discussing the post he was planning to do on his blog tonight, and we got on the subject of watching clips on YouTube, and I reminded him of the time I let him watch the Family Guy clip where they all chug syrup of ipecac and try not to puke. I reminded him of this because he immediately went out to a restaurant and made puking sounds after watching that video and got me in trouble with my mom.

I told him that he would get to watch more PG stuff if he could find a way to not talk about the inappropriate stuff in public. Then I told him the story of how, when I was eight like him, his grandfather let me watch Police Academy provided that I promised I wouldn't repeat any bad words. And how, the very next day, I was busted out in the front yard calling his uncle some of those words. (Specifically, it was the scene in which Tackleberry pretends he's catching someone stealing a stereo, but I didn't go into that much detail.)

So he started laughing and carrying on about how Mommy didn't keep her promise, and right then I came to a stoplight that was green, and had to slam on the brakes because some asshat strolled right out in front of me, against the light. While staring at me the whole time. It was not even on a yellow light, either, I mean, he just burned up the rest of my green light as if he was the "Haters Gonna Hate" kid.

Well, I did the first thing that came to mind. I called the jaywalker a dumbass. And Joseph started hollering and laughing about how Mommy said a bad word. We don't even have a swear jar, but I picked up a penny from the cupholder between us and handed it to him. He looked at it, and thought about it, and said, "you know, you should give me another penny for earlier when you forgot the umbrella and we had to run in the rain to the car." So I gave him another one. Then he thought for a second, and said, "You don't understand. I was really mad at you when you made me get wet." My son, the capitalist. His mom, the hypocrite.

I could be mad, but...

Today was Joseph's appointment with his counselor. As it turned out, today was his last appointment with this particular counselor, because she got a new job. Surprise! I assume the job of counselor at a public mental health facility must suck, because this is the second one we've had this year. So I just told her, "Congratulations!"

Like I said, I could be upset about this, because Asperger's and change blah blah, but Joseph was kind of meh about the whole thing. Plus, I got to hear the greatest conversation in the waiting room.

I live for overheard conversations, especially when people are carrying on in public. Today the shrink was running an hour behind, and all the strangers in the lobby had become BFFs. These two ladies got to talking about growing up Pentecostal, and the way the other kids at school had made fun of their hairstyles. One of the ladies got all animated, and she said, "I used to complain and my mama would say, 'you ain't supposed to be thinking about those kids; you're supposed to be thinking about the Lord!' And I said, 'Mama, I ain't going to school with Jesus!'"

Hahahahaha! So that bit of humor, along with a lovely after-therapy dinner at Ruby Tuesday, set the tone for the rest of my night. Thanks formerly bad-haired lady!

P.S. I did a GIS for "Pentecostal hair" and found nothing but totally cute updos. Times have changed!

Is autism my son's superpower?

Today someone sent me the following graphic, with the message, "When I saw this I instantly thought of Joseph and I knew he would like it." Look at it, and then I'll bitch on.

This is one of those times when my southern upbringing tells me that I have to accept that this person "means well," and not tell her directly how I feel. It wouldn't be worth it, and it's condescending to go around having teachable moments.

But is autism Joseph's superpower? I asked my husband, Abe, to make a stupid analogy, and without missing a beat he said, "that's like saying 'fat is my superpower.'" Really, what does my kid gain by being on the spectrum? I get that there is an autism acceptance movement, just like there is a fat acceptance movement.* But the people in the acceptance movements are the same ones who are always screaming about not being labeled! I have no problem with labels, actually. If I couldn't explain my son's behavior with a diagnosis, he wouldn't get the few accommodations he does get at school.

Back to the graphic, though, I truly don't understand the slogan. Joseph doesn't even like superheroes, never has, and has no use for them. Does this mean that when this person thinks of my kid, she immediately thinks of autism? What kind of message is that to send to a kid? How about, "math is my superpower?" Or, "when I saw this picture of Mario fighting Bullet Bill, I thought of Joseph."

More than anything, for some reason I have tried and failed to pinpoint, that picture made me pull an eye muscle from rolling them so hard. It reminds me of one of those glitter greetings that were so popular around the MySpace heyday.

If you're into cutesy graphics, please tell me why I'm a dumbass. If you're not, tell me why you're not, and whether you had a similar vomitous reaction.

* For those of you who have a degree in pretending to be a lawyer on the internet, I'm aware that you can't compare fat acceptance to autism acceptance, or else you've set up a scarecrow argument or something. But I'm still going to make a habit of comparing unlike things. That's why God invented similes and metaphors.