03 January 2008

Reality: Get in Touch

I live with people who are never fully in touch with reality. Sometimes they are out by quite a long way and their behavior makes you wonder:

"What on earth are they thinking!"

Of course this is the case for anyone living with children for any length of time. You know that the way they see things is not often sensible. You know that their thinking is not your thinking, and as a result your thinking has to adjust.

Suddenly you've got to be able foresee potential calamities. It's you who has to shout the traditional portents of doom, such as "Stop that or you'll put someone's eye out!" And so forth. You already know them all by heart. You may have imagined parenting would be entirely different, but essentially your job, apart from feeding them and hosing them off, is all about minimizing the damage they do. It's fixing things that break, and preventing them from really harming themselves. For years and years....

It isn't easy.

I'm sure daughters come with their own set of challenges, but in my experience little boys seem particularly ingenious at locating mayhem, and then hurling themselves into it. On any given day this might involve jumping off of high places, running into things, throwing lethal objects, blunt and sharp, at each other, or simply falling over. They wake up in the morning spring-loaded, looking for opportunities to test the durability and strength of themselves, each other, and anything unlucky enough to be in their way.

All too often you'll hear the peals of laughter as the children lose themselves in a boisterous game. Beware the instant they begin to sound hysterical. Every parent knows the pitch of that whooping, gladsome, noise is a warning and can predict the outcome in advance. Really experienced parents can time it to the second. A shift in the harmonics is your signal that the game is just about to degenerate into what you hope will be only minor injuries. What you will be hearing next, right on schedule, are the outraged howls of pain.

"Haven't I told you a thousand times not to...[fill in the blank]"

Of course, quiet can set off alarm bells too. Every parent knows the hair raising chill of that ominous silence, and you ignore it at your peril. It nudges into your head. You realize with a deep unease that you were actually hearing yourself think for a minute, or were able to do whatever you were doing without a hundred interruptions. And that is just completely wrong. You know this. You remember how it was before the children, when you had what seems now like all the time in the world to concentrate and get things done. And even though you have learned that these things are now unfordable luxuries, you might allow yourself a moment to think it over anyway.

"I'll just finish what I'm doing here...."

It is so tempting, I know, but experience generally reveals it to be unwise. Don't do it. Whatever you gain by prolonging the unnatural peace and quiet will be as nothing to the pure devastation you already know you're going to find when you go looking for your offspring. It only gets worse if you delay your investigation.

Like most others, my children don't ever seem to see trouble coming. Clearly every day their world is entirely new and fascinating in it's unpredictability. I believe this is normal, even if my kids are not. I have two young sons, aged eight and eleven. They are both autistic.

With autism, the unpredictable becomes the norm. It's a daily occurrence, and so becomes in its own weird way predictable. You know that one or both children will go off at some point during the day. Sometimes you can fix it, and sometimes you can't. You have to continually remind yourself of that, because the first few years come as a shock. They come as a series of shocks. You eventually learn to look at the world in an entirely new way. The triggers vary from one autistic child to another. You might have to learn to recognize some sounds as intruding, disturbing noise, as your child does, or see things like glare or an object out of place as a potential problem. You try to head them off. Or, failing that, you just try to be ready to deal with the meltdowns when they happen.

Luckily for me I grew up with one or two family members, most noticeably my mother, whose grasp on the here and now was tenuous and intermittent. Peace within the household was brittle, and it was very hard to know what might set off the maternal volcano. The upper slopes of Mt. Fran were nearly always fogbound and grumbling in a vaguely threatening way, but she could and did go pyroclastic over any little thing. It might be something that hadn't ever bothered her before. Who knew that dodging the sudden explosions, and the pelting rain of rocks and ash, would turn out to be the ideal training for life on Planet Autism.

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