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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Fear but not loathing, in San Jose

Many people are fearful of autism. As a parent of two autistic boys it’s not ‘autism’ that I fear, it is the ‘unexpected’ that comes with autism that gives me cause for concern. Although I understand my boys better than I once did, I still find that supervision and vigilance have to be my greatest priorities in certain situations. Luckily, I know what most of those situations are. Our home is no longer ‘baby proofed’ but it is safe for my children. Outside our house offers varying degrees of danger even though to most other people this might be hard to appreciate. So very often, it is not the obvious dangers such as roadworks surrounding a gaping hole in the sidewalk, flagged with orange cones, netting, ribbons and flags for the unwary, but much more mundane matters.

We begin to leave the restaurant.

It is commonplace in America to find a complimentary basket of sweets [translation = candy] usually mints or lollipops and tooth picks at the checkout. This is curious for a number of reasons. Firstly, you have just eaten so why would you need more food? If you are unlucky enough to have need of a toothpick, surely they should be housed in the bathroom [translation = restaurant] as surely no-one is going to walk or drive home picking their teeth? That aside, this combination, attractive preferred food place adjacent to a means of torture [translation = pointy, sharp toothpicks] is more or less guaranteed to provoke a meltdown of catastrophic proportions in my youngest son. The main issue here is the dichotomy between the desire to reach out a hand to take the lollipop and at the same time have the primal fear of being speared by a toothpick!

Fortunately we have had a couple of years to adjust to this pitfall. [translation = only one of the many dangers associated with eating ‘out.’] Our current ‘coping’ mechanism is for either his brother or sister to select and then pass him the lollipop. This again, is not without it’s hic-cups and drawbacks, but for now, it will do.

We exit through the first and then the second glass door without incident, or only a couple of minor incidents due to incorrectly calibrated compasses in one child, and poorly co-ordinated motor planning in the other. Outside the second door, I have a collection of children who bear a strong resemblance to drunks being kicked out of a bar at 3 in the morning. No-one appears to be able to find their balance as they are distracted by the lollipops which are encased in a plastic wrapper. This kind of substance is always a challenge for people with poor fine motor skills. [translation = dodgy fingers] The situation is made worse by the fact that the seleophane is transparent. [translation = they can see the prize but can’t access it] The enhanced level of frustration accelerates. One bites off the wrapper and spits it out on the ground. For the other one, with oral defensiveness, [translation = sensitive mouth area] this is not an option. Junior can now see his two siblings enjoying their lollipops, the same lollipop that remains caged and off limits to him, which further fuels his rage. It is my experience that it is not possible to do an Irish dance, [translation = think River Dance] whilst screaming in a motor mouth fashion and expect your limited hand power to function. Recognising that you are in ‘overload,’ is also probably beyond your capabilities by this point.

The sidewalk [translation = path] is as wide as a country lane, but the four lanes of traffic are far too close for my liking. Imagine how your hands would react if I emptied a nest of baby spiders onto your bare skin? Your instinctive reaction exactly matches how my son behaves. Are you still holding the lollipop now that you’ve brushed off the spiders? No? You dropped it? Where is it? There it is, but off course it’s brittle and it has broken. Now he veers off into a vortex, a combination of a fire cracker and a jumping jack. The noise is enough to shatter glass. He could shoot off in any direction. 360 degrees of potential danger. I have no other option than to scoop him up flailing. Six and a half years, and 54lbs of supercharged nerve endings. You can be as vigilant as you can, supervise every second, but unless you intervene at the right time, in the right way, then there is a heavy price to pay.

When I say unexpected dangers, they aren’t really. I do know most of their triggers. We’re so lucky that they older they become, the less frequently this occurs. Not several times an hour but merely a few times a day. When you also consider that now, these meltdowns are so infrequent, it becomes less and less likely that they will both have one at the same time. It is easy to see how they both blossom and grow. But that’s just one of the many reasons that I love to live here, those wasteful, environmentally damning, beautifully wide, safe, sidewalks, that is to say.


Melanie said...

You obviously have your hands full and you are a very patient mom!
BTW- I believe the candies/mints when you leave a restuarant are just in case you want to freshen up your breath after your meal. Not exactly sure, but that is what I have always assumed.

Anonymous said...

I think looking for the triggers and possible dangerous situations becomes automatic after a while.


Jerry Grasso said...

Its my neuro-typical, Maya, that knocks over the toothpicks and mints about once every 10th time we go out...because to her...its free candy! Which really means, FREE FOR ALL!

Demetrius, well, other issues...(per my posting about his allergies last week!)

Girlplustwo said...

wow. it's the vigilance that is humbling, always, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

My dear lady, those are some patient cats! You are very lucky in the pet department!

Mine stare with longing at the 20 pound puma we keep in the house. His fur is so soft a bunny would be jealous - and he won't let them near him. He favors only me, and the neurotypical girl can get a pet in edgewise.

I am glad that the meltdowns are decreasing. You are brave to go out to restaurants!

dulwichmum said...

I have to say I love the photo's of the cats. My daughter has been insisting I show her them over and over again. I had floppy cats just identical to yours when I was a girl. I love cats and wish my children could have some, but sadly we cannot as my cats kept bringing mice into the house and releasing them. They (the cats) have been sent to live with Grandma. Life is so unfair!

bigwhitehat said...


Those cats are pretty special. Not many would lay back and enjoy the attention.

Stacy said...

I may be American but I have no clue about why toothpicks are kept in the lobby. My favorite, when I used to be a server, was when people asked, "Where's my toothpick?" when I dropped off the check.

Patient kitties, indeed. Also very gorgeous cats. I adore the gray-and-black cat.

Joeymom said...

I still have trouble getting other family members to understand the trigger thing. Things that seem so small to them are very important to Joey- our prime trigger are doors that don't close fast enough. We actually had a resteraunt adjust the doors so they would close faster for him. Its become our first choice for going out now- the food is just OK, but they actually went out of their way to get those doors to close! Bolting is still fairly new for us, but man is it scary when he does it. :P

I've gotten my husband hooked on your blog, BTW. It always gives us some insight into not being alone in this... :) And that its OK to enjoy our boys, just as they are. Thank you!

chrisd said...


I'm sorry but I was laughing about the high pitch screaming and the river dancing. ROF holding my side

Once (note that word once) we bought stickers in those dumb vending machines. It was a hair's breadth away from fisticuffs.

They asked again for about a year and don't anymore because they know the answer.

Sam never bolted, thank God, but he doesn't pay attention either. There's no way I could trust him to walk to school alone.


LAA and Family said...

Strategizing and planning ahead are very important when taking autistic children out in the community. I'm also finding it easier as Samuel gets older. The triggers for Samuel are always changing, but I'm getting better about thinking ahead and communicating things to Samuel ahead of time. It also helps to have big brother's help, which often comes without any prompting from me..it's just a part of how things work in our family

Anonymous said...

Love this post, but I love the pics with the cats and your boys even better!! Our cats doesn't step 10 feet within our kids reach--FEAR!

Haddayr said...

Arie's recent undoing was a "too splashy" water fountain.

As the unfortunate brochures placed too close to the unfortunately splashy water fountain sailed in bunches up in the air and he flailed, squid-like, on the floor, I heard a woman whisper: "What a brat!"

I was too focused on getting Arie out of there to pause and agree with her, of course.

yerdoingitwrong said...

Definitely a fabulous post! I love those cute kiddos cuddling the cute kitties. SO SWEET!!

mumkeepingsane said...

Ah, the 360 degree possibilites of bolting. I think other moms always wondered why I had one hand on Patrick all the time.

I don't understand the toothpicks either. At most restaurants here in Canada I think mints are placed on the table when the bill comes, at least in my experience. I normally pop them in my purse for another time.

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