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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Community Service for autistic people

Warning :- spoiler.

Happenstance is always just waiting to happen. I am thunderstruck when my son tells me that he would like to share his new book, “Surprise,” with other children. Moreover, he is keen to draw a picture to put in the back of the book to share with another children. Any book that provokes that kind of response certainly has my vote 100%.

However, I’m at a loss as to how to make this happen in real life. The most obvious choice is to give a copy of the book to the school library but I’m also keen to support our local library. Although I believe I am single handedly funding the local library through my own copious fines, it would be good to do something extra.

I grit my teeth and high tail it off to the library in search of the head of children’s library services. I need to execute his ideation. I run a script through my head, a diplomat one. His need to present the book personally, to a human being. His frequent inability to express himself verbally, as he should like to do, especially in a large echoy building with lots of busyness and people. Our need for this to be a positive experience for him.

Of course the head librarian is unavailable, and unlikely to be available in the near future due to the imminent arrival of her first born.

Typical! I blink at my friendly informant as I dither.

So near and yet so far.

Yet another brilliant idea dies in the dust as I acted on impulse, failed to think through my plan of action and have no back-up plan.

I take her to one side to see if there is any chance that I can make myself understood in private. I start to explain. As soon as I start to explain I also begin to ramble, talk too fast and stare at her toes as I feel a fire of tears well up as my words dry to close with ‘because he’s autistic.’ How can you explain an occurrence of such a precious rarity? I look into her face because I am probably talking Swahili. Fortunately, it turns out that we speak the same local dialect, the mother tongue.

She tells me about a librarian at the nearby branch, who runs a reading programme for children. I’m encouraged to contact her, afterall she beams, “she has an autistic son too.” Not only am I dumbfounded, again, but also completely gobsmacked.

Appointments are made.

Arrangements are finalized.

I explain to him that his plan will take place. He squeals with delight which induces speedy back pedaling on my part. There is nothing like having high and very specific expectations to ensure doom.

Every night at bedtime after reading, I remind him of our impending visit and run through the many pitfalls of public.

When the great day arrives, we arrive early, all the better to acclimate. It puts me in mind of his earlier years when we tried and tried to attend those reading programmes. We tried and tried until I finally gave up torturing my son. My son could not sit still, or sit come to think of it. He was unable to tolerate people reading familiar texts in the wrong way. The other children were too close. The fluorescent lights were the kiss of death.

He takes up position at the back of the room, which I deem to be an admirable coping strategy on his part. However, I am delighted to learn that his purpose is to avoid being too closely associated with all the little kids because he recognizes himself as ‘older,’ which is even more remarkable to his dim witted mother.

Whilst all the little children attend to stories, sing songs, follow along with hand gestures, my son lolls on the back bench. Anyone observing him would assume that he is oblivious, however, this couldn’t be more wrong. He reads half a dozen books during the early part of the programme but as soon as the librarian announces his book, he lies on his back to stare at the ceiling and march, horizontally and quite quietly. On completion, the librarian asks the children to thank him for his gift, which they do so readily and with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. He whips himself up into a sitting position and speaks for the first time since we left the house, 55 minutes later, the monastic silence is "broken, and you can hear him here."

I don't know where that came from?

Please visit Karen Andrews over at her blog called “Miscellaneous Mum” and check out the book “Surprise,” over “here.”

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