From my kitchen window, I watched the kiddos play in the backyard. By playing, I mean that my son was sitting on a bare patch of ground, flinging dirt for no apparent reason. He would do this for hours if I let him. My daughter moped and stomped around while whining about how boring it is out there (apparently she didn't notice the trampoline or the dog that desperately wanted to play fetch). More times than I can count, I have tried and failed to get them to participate in more interesting pursuits. This time, I decided to let them be and hoped they'd figure something out while I scrambled to get dinner ready.
My attention turned to slicing carrots. After a while, I heard giggles and squeals coming from the backyard. I looked up to see my 5 year old daughter chasing my 7 year old son. Her hands were curled up like claws and she was yelling and growling playfully. As they ran back and forth across the yard, I couldn't help but smile. They were playing together, doing something active, and nobody's whining.
Occasionally their travels took them out of the view from my kitchen window. I decided to crack the window open so I could hear them better. Neither one of my children are particularly athletic, or coordinated for that matter. With both of them running so fast, I suspected that someone would fall at some point. I wanted to be ready to help if they needed me. With the window open, I could clearly hear my daughter's war cry, "Rah! I'm gonna eat you!" I could also hear my son's squeals more clearly. This is when I realized he wasn't squealing in delight. He was screaming in terror.
I raced outside to figure out what went wrong. I could see the tears in my son's eyes as he fled away from his sister, who was still in hot pursuit. I called them both over to me and asked what was going on. It was then that I discovered that my son absolutely, wholeheartedly, 100% believed that his little sister was going to eat him.
My attempts to explain that his sister was merely pretending and there was no way she could actually eat him were in vain. He didn't believe me and he still doesn't believe me. Needless to say, I also had a talk with my daughter, explaining why she couldn't play that particular game anymore.
Christmas is right around the corner and at the top of my son's wishlist is a REAL magic wand. He's not talking about a Harry Potter replica or a magician's kit. He wants a REAL one. Specifically, he wants a wand that he can point at stuff and make it disappear. I suspect he plans to use it on his sister, but I'm afraid to ask. Cue lengthy discussion about fantasy vs. reality, illusions, and pretend. He doesn't believe me. In his world, magic is real because he's seen it on TV. How many cartoons and Disney movies have we watched that feature a wand toting fairy godmother or wicked witch? So now, I have to find a way to prepare my son for the inevitable disappointment. What do I tell him?
I'm sorry, son. Magic isn't real. The jolly fat guy that flies around the world in one night on a sleigh pulled by reindeer will have bring you something else.
I'm totally screwing this kid up, aren't I?
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Letter Perfect - By Jeff Stimpson
First my son Alex peeled and stuck the gold letters; they came about two hundred to a 99-cent pack, available in the hardware or stationary aisles. Actually, first of course, it was the shape-sorter a lifetime ago, which Alex once played like Roy Clark once played a guitar. The shape sorter, they assured us, meant that Alex had a real affinity for letters.
I scrape an O and a D and an N and a 4 and 2 off the wood of our living room floor. They come up hard, bitchy little things that Alex tossed there after he peeled them off the tv to make way for new words. Alex (now 13 and PDD-NOS) does his composition on the front of the television, on the set’s frame right above the screen. He carefully makes four, five, six. why would he stick those up there? We wouldn’t mind except he’s in the way during shows (“Alex, move!!”). They come up a millimeter at a time and then they rip. Worse is the backing, the sticky black crap that’s left over after he’s peeled off all the letters.
These are half-inch peel-&-stick letters in block Helvetica. He seems to favor the F’s. We get these at Staples for about $5. One of his friends bought him an assortment of multi-designs, too: “This package contains 133 letters, numerals, and punctuation marks,” the wrapper reads. Some 100 of them will wind up stuck to our living room floor.
A long time ago, Alex’s teachers told us not to let him write with markers. “They make a mark no matter how much pressure you use, and we’re trying to teach him to apply pressure,” they said. “Make him use a pencil.” Sound, but one of his friends who seems well-versed in helping people with autism said he had no problem with letters, so we continue to buy them. This friend has also taken Alex on bus rides and outings, and has helped Alex use the black letters to write where he’s been: APPLE STORE FIX I-PAD; RIDING A BUS; TOMORROW WE GO SWIMMING; NEXT WEEK WE WILL RIDE A BIKE. The friend writes these words in pen, and Alex matches (shape-sorts?) the black letters to match the words.
Do these sticky letters help Alex? Forward his understanding of language? No idea, but it’s a cheap treat, and maybe someday he’ll peel off the black Helveticas one by one and tell me what in God’s Name is going on in there.
Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”