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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hands are the enemy

A bit extreme perhaps. Maybe we should rephrase to something a bit more positive ‘hands are not are friends.’ Not really an improvement. Tell you what, I explain the problem and you come up with a new title? Up for a challenge?

So, what is so bad about hands? First things first. It’s not exactly the hands, more like the receptors on the hands, especially the finger tips and especially especially the normally favoured finger tips, namely the index finger. [translation = pointer] Either he has 100 receptors in the spot where you and I have just a few, or alternatively, he has the same number or receptors but they are wrongly calibrated. Thus, where we have enough nerve endings to determine whether a surface is rough or smooth, he doesn’t want to put his receptors to the test, because he already knows that one feels like broken glass. So if you, as the parent, say ‘come along Fred, run your hand along this barbed wire fence,’ you, Fred, not unreasonably, run a mile and report your mother to the Child Protection league on route.

Alternatively, mother passes you your pyjamas, right out of the tumble drier, ‘ come along Fred, pop them on whilst they’re still warm.’ Warm? Warm! What are you trying to do to me? Book me a spot in the Burns Unit and make it pronto! This woman is determined to finish me off.

So it’s a question of degree. Sometimes I wonder why he has hands at all since they are patently of so little use to him. My hands are a pretty ordinary, if large, pair. On the whole they obey me. Most of the time I don’t even have to think about actively using them, they just do my bidding. If, like my son, I would prefer not to use my hands, life would be a lot trickier to navigate. He appears disenchanted with his hands and finds many ways to avoid using them. For instance, unless you have slip on shoes, you will probably need to use your hands to assist your feet. If you merely prod your velcroed closed shoes with your foot, it’s likely that you’re not going to get anywhere far, or at least not with your shoes on.

Try this experiment. You will need a banana, a hair brush and a receptacle of drinking water.

Have you ever tried to eat without using your hands? No, not without cutlery [translation = flatware] just without your hands at all? Believe me, I’ve tried it and it’s not easy. Even if your food is something simple, like a banana [a peeled

one] it’s really difficult to eat it off the table top without those little pinkies jumping in to help. It’s so instinctive that it’s difficult to suppress.
O.k, now throw the banana away, or nudge it with your forehead, make sure that you are sitting on your hands, and put the hair brush in it’s place. Line up your head and start brushing your locks. Any luck?

Easier still – take a bottle, glass or cup of water to the table and try to drink it. No straws, that’s cheating. My bet is that you’ll end up trying to drink like a cat, sort of lap it up? Otherwise you’ll end up tipping it over into your lap. Not very efficient and you’re not likely to get much more than a couple of inches down.

What is the point of this? Good question. The point, in part, is that the parent needs to identify ‘deficiencies’ in the child. Ignore the negative connotations for the moment. Once this is done, the parent can devise ways of making ‘hand use’ less aversive. If you use your hands often, whilst it may never become ‘instinctual’ as we would generally mean, at least we can move towards being friends with our hands, because without them, life can be unnecessarily difficult. It’s not a cure but it probably is ‘therapy.’ Whilst ‘therapy’ and ‘cure’ are often considered ‘bad’ words with respect to autism, addressing issues that your child has difficulty with would not seem, to my biased mind, entirely fruitless.

An E Type?

They come in many different models, and it is only now in middle age, that I begin to think that all this psychobabble rubbish, may have something to it. I feel that perhaps I have been unnecessarily narrow minded in this respect, that I should have given the psychobabble option a little more house room. If I had paid more heed to my American pal, the Muse, and her inane ramblings on this topic, then I might be in a better position to understand the nature of the species. For instance, I was under the impression that spouse was a C type, but he may in fact be an entirely different model. They come in many more different forms than I had initially appreciated. There may actually be some A types, but if there are, I have yet to meet one, or if I have met one, they were probably gay. I doubt if it’s possible to be an A type and be heterosexual, it’s one of those mutually exclusive groups.

So here I am with possibly a C type, or maybe a D type. This wouldn’t be that important if it wasn’t for the fact that I also have a couple of sons in tow, especially as they are both autistic, and it would be very useful, not to say expedient, to pin them down into a specific category early on in their lives, so that I am better able to ease them towards an A type.

I think of it as my bounden duty to carry out this quest to the best of my ability, my cross to bear, as it were.

But I’m not going to get very far if I can’t even identify what I already have. Let me give you a simple example, test the waters and see if I’m on the right track? A woman and her significant other, are in the same room, when she accidentally drops a book on her foot. Books are generally an unrecognized danger in the average family home, and have a higher propensity to act independently that most people appreciate. The book makes contact with the foot causing pain, which induces the woman to exclaim, “oh!” A clear E type.

Assuming that the spouse is otherwise engaged, say with something fascinating on the television screen, the woman automatically expands the initial instinctive exclamation, such that the ‘oh,’ is followed by ‘good grief! That book has come into contact with my foot and I am experiencing pain!” because that is how British people still speak. This expansion zips you straight into the A type. The male of the species, is of course unlikely to respond, mostly because he hasn’t heard
anything at all, as his attention is rapt in the programme. So far so good?

O.k. second example. This time male occupies a different room, out of visual contact, when a loud exclamation, “*&!@#!” is emitted. The average woman, upon hearing this, might say “are you o.k.?” reconfirming A type status. The woman studying human psychology on the other hand, waits. Seconds later, the male appears. He is limping but no words emanate from his being. Now that I am at the advanced stage of study, I appreciate that there might be many other variables contributing to his inability to communicate. For instance, had he dropped a hammer on his foot ,this might compromise his masculinity, his status, such that he would be admitting failure, causing shame. We all want to avoid that!

Alternatively, a small person, who shall remain nameless, accidentally injured him, which means that we cut out the shame / embarrassment factor. Why then, does he not feel the need to volunteer information about the episode? If there is no further response, you’re stuck with an E type.

Possibly, I am someone that he wouldn’t choose to share with, knowing that he would not receive a sympathetic hearing, that I might scoff or belittle him in some manner, add to his humiliation quotient perhaps? Perish the thought! Would the outcome be any different if there were a different individual present to communicate with, be that an adult or child, friend or acquaintance, human or feline? A response to any of the above would zap you into C type status, or possibly B type, if your response was expansive, appropriate, invited additional questions or in any other manner was indicative of reciprocal exchange. It is all very mysterious.

As a broad rule of thumb any ‘oh’ that spouse utters, is rarely followed by any further explanation, with the exception of something related to work or computers. This only applies, if when he turns around to see me waiting there, I make it visually obvious that I am waiting. This means that my body and demeanour oozes ‘waiting.’ It helps if I have an excited and expectant face, as if I am really interested in what he might be willing to share.

Beware. If you find yourself oozing to extract a response, then you are dealing with a C type. If you are ooze free, then you may find yourself in the fortunate position of sharing your life with a B type. When the words finally splutter out in a faulting manner, it is also very important to reinforce this positive step in the right direction. Make sure that you laugh, if appropriate, heartily too, enjoy the joke, whatever it was. [?]

You could practice right now, screw up your eyes, open your mouth ‘ha, ha, ha, oh yes, very funny indeed!’ I hope your body is chuckling too, although I’ve found that a general shoulder shake is sufficient to get the message across to B and C types. To ensure that this exchange will be repeated, it must be immediately and positively reinforced. These first tentative steps at reciprocal communication, are the gateway to all kinds of future communications of great value. If you are truly fortunate, it may be possible, given the passage of time, to generalize this skill to other similar situations, such as the physical damage caused by low flying books. Know that your efforts will not go unrewarded and that after many years of careful schooling, you might be well on the way from changing your C type to maybe a B type. If you’re lucky, consistent and persistent. This kind of task is not for the faint hearted, you are the mistress of your own destiny.

Meanwhile, I watch his [my] son’s progress, from my vantage point in the kitchen. Since he’s autistic and has a speech delay, he’s probably a Z type, right at the bottom of the heap, the extreme form of the male of the species. I hear a heavy thud as he changes his gait from ‘walking down the stairs’ mode [translation = vertical descent] to ‘walking on flat’ mode. [translation = forward horizontal movement] He bumps into the trampolene but recovers, veers into the sideboard but bounces off with merely a glancing blow. He continues in a forward motion but is progressing at an unfortunate tangent, which brings him into contact with the door jam, as usual. The clunk of his forehead covers the quieter impact of his foot and knee. He teeters over backwards onto his bottom, hard. He shakes his head, just like in a cartoon before standing and continuing his journey to the kitchen, or wherever it is that he was going, that he’s probably forgotten about by now. Through the virtual mist, my body materializes within his field of vision and he startles. I don’t know if he was seeking me out, or any other human being for that matter. It may be mere happenstance, but now that I’ve appeared, he’s willing to communicate with me.
“Hey Mom!”
“Hello dear.”
“You know what?” This is looking hopeful, “what?”
“I um, er, I……” Oh dear, off to such a promising start but he’s stumbled at the first fence. This might take a while.
“Well, I was coming down stairs, down, down, er,… I was walking….er,….. and then this wall hit me and I am hurted, hurt, yes hurt, but not too bad, it was an accident, I think? I am o.k. now, it din hurt that much really.” He positions himself in a half crouch beneath me, as I lean over him in a question mark to get a better look at his forehead damage. I lift the hank of hair but his hand reaches up to my forearm, locking my eyes into his, “don worry mom, I o.k., I fine, really!” He pauses momentarily, to check that I comprehend [?] before stumbling off on his own personal business.

Blimey! Where did that all come from? Thousands of dollars spent on therapy and now look, my son has metamorphosed into an A type. In years to come, I’m sure his partner, whoever he or she, may turn out to be, will consider it a sound investment.

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