Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awkward Moments ... are okay

After Tae Kwan Do class today - a sport in which both J (age 7) and T (age 6) have achieved their "Camo belt" status (which bugs me - I am a military history aficionado, and I'm making an educated guess that "camo" was not one of the color choices made by the originators of Tae Kwan Do). T was snapping his side kicks and giggling during stretching as always, but J was clearly dragging tail throughout the session. Physical fatigue did not seem to be an issue - his heart just wasn't in it today. S'ok - kids are allowed to "check out" sometimes in This Dad's Opinion. I'm not raising a Commando force, just a few kids.

Moving to the point - after class I took the boys to Baskin Robbins. Baskin Robbins throws J a little off his game since they advertise 31 flavors but sell 42 flavors. I have to agree with J that the universe is slightly askance due to this unsettling factoid (a factoid that is rediscovered immediately upon every visit as J re-counts the flavor labels to make sure they still offer the ridiculous sum of 42 flavors). But this time, on today's visit, there was no re-count. J was thrown a curve-ball immediately upon entering the door. You see, someone said, "Hi, J".

J froze in place, clearly torn between counting the flavors and becoming invisible. He grabbed me around the thighs with both arms, looked up with an obvious and unabated look of bewilderment in his big eyes, and whisper-shouted, "I don't know who that is."

(Aside: I must define the whisper-shout. This is J's verbal channel that he deploys when he is trying to speak 'under his breath'. The thing is, J doesn't modulate that very well and ends up over-compensating his voice volume to make up for the whisper-effect that prevents a voice from carrying distance. So he winds up with a very loud, throaty whisper-shout that he honestly believes is only heard by the person he is oriented towards at that exact moment.)

The boy who accosted J (well, actually he only said 'hi') was sitting with, presumably, his Dad and older brother. The boy was probably 9 or 10, the brother probably 18. All in all, and leaving out some of the "small talk" that surrounded this fragmented interaction, they were a perfectly friendly bunch.

I peeled J off my leg and encouraged him to pick a flavor. He picked chocolate (no surprise there - read this post I wrote back in 2007 to see the consistency of J's taste for chocolate) and went to his favorite position of flipping through the B-R catalog to hone in on his favorite characters represented in the fashion-forward genre of frozen ice cream cakes. At one point he moved closer to the table with the boy who had said 'hi', and the same boy leaned over and said, 'J - you remember me! From Vacation Bible School!" (VBS was last week - not a long time ago) J grabbed my hand and whisper-shouted to me "I think I can't remember him. I think he has different clothes!" Once I had paid up, I walked over to him and crouched down to have a "man-to-man" talk.

I said, "J - on the way out of here, I want you to walk up to the boy who said 'Hi'. I think you should tell him you are sorry you don't remember him, and thank him for saying hello. The reason I think you should do this is because it is the polite thing to do. Do you agree?"
"Yes, Dad, I will."
So we walked over to the door and the boy. Jason grabbed on to me tight and whisper-shouted (the boy could definitely hear, as could everyone else around) "I'm scared!" I told him he would do fine, and we could just leave if he wanted to but that he should try to be polite. "But I'm nervous!"
We stopped in front of the boy. J looked at his feet and whispered - not whisper-shouted, whispered - "I'msorryIdidn'trememberyouthankyouforsayinghello" and we left. The boy was responding, but we left in a hurry. As we crossed the parking lot, I asked J if he felt like what he did was the right thing. "Yes". I asked if he felt better to have done it, even though it was hard to do. "Please don't ask me about that right now!" was his reply. Okay.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Redefining the "Happy Camper"

I am a very poor blogger these days. Blogging requires somewhat of a repetitive tempo, and my internal blogging metronome has seemingly ground to a halt. This despite a veritable wealth of fascinating goings-on in the microcosm of our family, and in the macrocosm of the autism community. I feel like opportunity after opportunity to write some thoughts on things like the IACC, like the new movie Adam, like the shutting down of fraudulent autism cure peddlers "Care Clinics", like some new and fascinating research and how people are incorporating its results, like so many other things.
So why today? Well, I've been shamed into it. First, I notice that my friend Do'C has posted a new blog entry over at Autism Street. Next I notice that my friend Bev has done the same over at Asperger Square 8. The three of us make up the triumvirate that has spoken several times to large audiences about blogging and autism, but here at One Dad's Opinion there was just the sound of crickets chirping. Then, I log on to the good ol' Autism Hub and see a post by Sharon in which she names little ol' me as a guy who writes things about autism that she likes to read. Okay, so when called out by "Best Family Blog in Ireland", one tends to want to respond.

So on to the point of this post, which is to describe a recent camping trip. Here in our neck of the woods, we hang out with a group of 4 or 5 families on a regular basis. When we all converge, as we recently did at a campground surrounding a few lakes here in SoCal last weekend, the tally comes to 10 adults, 13 kids. 23 of us (one family was absent this time due to a new baby arriving a few weeks ago). Of the 13 kids, 5 have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. If you want to see a classic, moving, changing representation of the topographical model of understanding the autism spectrum, join us for a weekend sometime!

This group, I'd like to mention, is NOT a support group. This is a group of families who enjoy spending time together, no matter anyone's specific circumstances. We are also a heterogenous group in terms of our views of autism etiology and treatment, and it matters not one whit.

So how, with this many different people of different ages and interests and, yes, neurological profiles, does one ensure that everyone is a "Happy Camper". Easy answer: One simply cannot. But one can describe several circumstances of Happy Campers, as well as some simple and general observations, so here goes:

In the campground's pool, my son J was doing his typical pool routine after playing with friends for a while. He will break away from the group and just kind of "be" in the water. This consists of swirling around, inverting himself, periodically floating and treading, eyes closed most of the time, tuning out minor nuisances and most noises (I think), and reveling in the weightlessness of being water-bound. But this time, he had a silent and unintentional partner. One of the other boy's Moms pointed out to me that her son, who is three years older than J and very similar to him in a lot of respects, was doing EXACTLY the same thing about 12 feet away. Neither one seemed aware of the other, but their movements, and tempo, and intent seemed identical. It was Autistic Synchronized Swimming.

One of the boys, though he will never come right out and say it, is qualified at age 8 to be President of the Audobon Society. Upon watching some ducks (apparently a newfound 'special interest' for Baby C) one Mom asked another what kind of duck was that peculiar one with black feathers and a white beak. This boy, who was otherwise silent as he watched the ducks (and was keenly aware of all other surrounding wildlife) piped up and said, "That is NOT a duck, but it IS a Fowl. That is a Western Coot." Later as, he walked along side me in his trademark skip-step with windmill arms, he stopped and whacked my arm with his. "Look! 2 Grey Herons!" And he skipped off. His identification abilities do not stop at birds - he intently studies any and all animal info he can and is an expert in recognizing virtually all birds, critters, and bugs in Southern California. He is 8 years old.

Several of the campers found great solace in enjoying some time around the campfire. Some of these campers enjoyed cigars, Black Bush whiskey, and a game of Dominoes. These rare and elusive creatures are called DADS, and can be viewed in their natural habitat sometime after 11:00 p.m.

One of our goals was to get J to learn how to ride a bike. This he did, for at least 20 feet without anyone's assistance. Hooray for J! Physical coordination is not one of J's long suits (as I wrote about here). Meanwhile, my middle son T quite literally drove his bike into the lake. When I came along with Baby C strapped in behind me (and limited in my ability to react as a result of that), one Mom had jumped off her bike, and was diving in after T who at that point was just seen as a floating safety helmet. She retrieved the child and the bike. T, once he shook off the initial shock, turned to me and said - and I quote - "That was AWESOME!"

Baby C likes ducks, Baby C likes water. Baby C does not respond to his name very well when interested in other things. Baby C will walk well over 100 yards without ever looking back to 'reference' Mom or Dad. Baby C has the autistic child's trademark lack of a sense of "danger". Baby C was watched very, very closely every minute of the time. Baby C's parents, One Dad and One Mom, are looking forward to Baby C becoming plain ol' C. The terrible two's started in our house 6 years ago and haven't stopped yet as the baton has been passed form child to child. Do we get an award for all of this? Oh yeah, we did :)

Ya know .. this wasn't so bad to get back at it. Maybe I'll hang around here at One Dad's Opinion a bit more often...