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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Small World - dib, dib, dib

Silicon Valley in the Bay Area covers a lot of miles, but maybe not as many I think.

It suddenly dawns on me that I know the child that she’s talking about.

I suppress my startle reflex and continue to listen. He’s a welcome new member to the Den but 'so obviously autistic, not to just those in the know.' As a special needs mum herself, she is in the know. She is the ideal person to be the leader of the pack. With careful and diplomatic guidance,she smooths his path, anticipates hic-cups and ever ready to intervene if an when required.

She describes his behaviour with funny anecdotes, much as I would myself. His impact on the Den can be bumpy, but he’s a delightful child and the troop is small and accommodating.

I become uncomfortable as the easy jargon, our shorthand, slips out. So many people are aware of the subtle "nuances" of language, value laden and so often crass. I have avoided the issue of Cub Scouts, just as I have avoided Brownies. I have a strong bias against any single sexed activity that cloisters a child, which stems from my boarding school experience. I am more especially biased against Scouts, at least in "America," due solely and unreasonably, due to the attitude towards the gay community. "Baden-Powell" may have been a prisoner of the times in which he lived, where attitudes to homosexuality were criminal but we now live in the twenty first century, or so I am led to "believe."

This is a child I have known for four years. A special child in a special class of four children, each with one personal special aide and a teacher for the group. An intensive class, for intensive people. Small people are non-verbal with the kind of behaviour that many rarely see, or wish to know about.

The air in the room was always palpable. A half day class where every minute was exploited to the full. I have no idea what happened in the afternoon when the children went home and the teacher and staff were left to regroup for the next day. Their dedication, professionalism and stamina, was beyond anything I had ever witnessed.

He is a regular visitor, a welcome one. He can walk and talk and play and be. I would not have described him as being ‘obviously autistic,’ but this is probably because my categorization of autistic and otherwise, have blurred and blended over the years. I see a boy with a ready laugh who enjoys the company of my boys, much the way that they enjoy his. I see a joker, a charmer and most importantly, a friend.

As parents of autistic children we are often guided, ‘this child would be a good match for yours, more verbal, a more appropriate role model, better social skills, more patient, more mature………’ but do you know what? If we’re really lucky, much like other parents, our children make their own friends and their own choices. Around here, friendship truly is an unexpected gift.

So we can either lump it or like it.

New post up on "Alien."

I love to read, old baggage that I am

This is the name of the reading programme in our school, 'I love to read.' This is also my ticket to access to the children in the classroom, an extremely valuable one.

I spend part of the day practicing my spiel, as I am unnaturally intimidated by an audience of under tens, who should never be underestimated.

I dither. What would be my best pitch? I adopt my usual scientific approach to such matters. I shall appeal to the average child? Should that be mean, mode or modal? Maybe I should go for the lowest common denominator? Who or what is the lowest common denominator? I give up, as I have no staying power and the scientific gene has always been under-developed.

I commence my beauty routine prior my public appearance. I begin by dressing complete with Cat in the Hat Stoker hat. I finish with a slick of lip balm, to the eyebrows that defy gravity. Done!

I molder along to the school. This is never going to work.

I make a start, “hello girls and boys.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see my daughter shrink in a cringe. Her body language makes it clear to me that I have already made a faux pas although I have no idea what I have done, or not done for that matter?

I administer stickers and hand out prizes. Encourage those who are not participating and praise those who are. I have a need to promote my own personal agenda:- catch the fallers before they fail. I conclude with the bit that they’ve been waiting for. I know shameless self promotion when I see it, but I can't resist as I am exceptionally proud of my brother's achievements.

“So……who has brothers or sisters?” Nearly all the hands shoot into the air.
“Who likes to write or read stories?” Nearly two thirds.
“Who likes to go exploring, camping and adventures?” Almost everyone.
“Well I have a baby brother, a rather boring one. He used to be a writer and then one day he decided to do something more exciting. He and his best friend went on adventure. His best friend was Australian. Who is your best friend? Would you like to go on an adventure with your best friend? They were just like you guys, friends for years and years. They packed their bags and walk 3000 kilometers through China. After a year of walking, they stopped walking and wrote a book, here it is, "The Long March." This is the Chinese one, this is the English one and here is the picture book full of photographs of where they went and who they met. The point is……….you can do anything you want to do if you really, really try.”

I look at the 4th Graders. I await a smirk from the sophisticated. None. They all look back at me as if I have told them a fairy tale. I distribute the books, the reality, and point out some of the "pictures" that I think might appeal to smallish people.

When the bell rings I have difficulty extracting the "books" for the next class.

I try the same version on my boys’ class, a combination second and third grade special education class with only 11 delightful students.
“Hi guys!” I announce loudly with overly wide arm gestures. I see several smiles.
“So……who has brothers or sisters?” Some hands respond. My boys do not.
“Who likes to write or read stories?” One and not mine.
“Who likes to go exploring, camping and adventures?” A few, just more than two. I know at least two people who loathe such a prospect. I tell them about my brother and pass out the books. The visual is a hit. Horray! They ask lots of questions. “What kind of camera did he use?”
“What’s 3000 km in miles?”
“How heavy are the sticks?”
“Is that an REI tent?”
My boys are lured in. They’ve seen all the materials before, boring. Other children’s interest peaks theirs. I gather my materials to leave.

He comes up to me at the end, the pan faced, somber child. “I’m gonna write a book when I’m an adult,” he announces to my hat. I watch his lips move as he counts the stripes silently.
“Are you? How wonderful. What will it be about?”
“Praying Mantis.”
“Fabulous. Will you sign me a copy when you’re finished and I'm an old woman?”
"You're already an old woman and I've not written it yet."
“But I’ll use my rubber stamp that’ll be a perfect forgery if you like?”
“I do!”

I like very much indeed.

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