We knew early on that our son wasn’t quite like other kids. First off, he was very impatient. Witness his insistence on popping out a full eleven weeks before his due date. As he grew, we noticed he didn’t seem to care much about playing with other kids, but my husband said he just took after his mother.
Then we noticed he had a knack for memorizing things. Songs. Whole books. All the dialogue from entire episodes of his favorite cartoons, including the accents from English (Peppa Pig) to redneck (Larry the Cable Guy from Cars). We noticed he loved to do things in steps and got flustered if you made him change the routine. And we noticed he wasn’t especially coachable…as did his poor soccer coach who never quit figured out how to get him to stop spinning circles in the middle of the field while the other team was scoring a goal.
Those of you who are familiar probably already know what I’m going to say. After months of testing and observation, yesterday a whole committee of teachers, administrators and therapists convened to officially classify our son as autistic for educational purposes.
It’s a weird feeling, having your child slotted into Special Education, even though in Logan’s case it actually means an accelerated curriculum in areas like math. It also means he’ll get coaching in how to greet a classmate, how to join in a game, how to have a conversation, how to recognize other people’s emotions–all things that come naturally to other people, but that he must be taught.
No one exactly agrees on the specific label. Some would call it Asperger’s. Think television’s House, or Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. Logan is at the very high end of the autism scale and tests nearly normal one on one with an adult. It’s in a crowded classroom amongst his peers that his behavioral and social issues really come to the surface. I’m sure spending a good deal of his time as the only child on a remote ranch with four adults at his beck and call has not helped in this respect.
Now we have to learn to adapt, to build on his strengths and shore up his weaknesses, one of which is the ability to process auditory information, especially verbal instructions without some kind of visual demonstration. The speech pathologist advised us to give instructions in a step by step manner and pair it with either pictures or gestures whenever possible.
Yep, the writer’s kid is a constant, living example of ‘show, don’t tell’. Now there’s some irony for you.
So Saturday afternoon we had a blizzard (Yeah, the kind with snow. I wish I could tell you that was a freak occurrence here in May but I would be lying). Snow in May comes down in giant slushballs and soaks through gloves and coats pretty much instantly, so by the time we dragged a newborn calf into the barn to warm up we were chilled through. Then we walked in the house and the power went out.
We got into dry clothes and hunkered on the couch to read and try to get warm. Logan was sitting on the end of his bed, playing his handheld Leapster game. My husband said, “Hey, Logan, hand me that blue blanket.”
No response. Oh, right–give instructions step by step, words and gestures. Emphasize eye contact. (And yes, in case you hadn’t reasoned it out by now, my child’s bed is in the living room, a few steps from the couch. It’s a bunkhouse, people. We consider ourselves lucky to have indoor plumbing).
So Greg said, “Logan, look at me please.”
Logan looked at him.
“There is a blue blanket on your bed.” Greg pointed to the blanket in question. “Would you please pick it up and bring it over to me?”
“Because I’m cold.”
Logan gave that some thought. Then he looked at the bed. Then he shrugged and went back to his video game.
“Logan,” Greg said, straining mightily for patience. No sense getting angry if the boy didn’t understand. Just repeat the instructions in a better way. “Look at me and listen closely. Would you please give me the blue blanket?”
Logan gave the bed another blank look and didn’t move, at which point I finally glanced up from my laptop, assessed the situation, and said, “Logan, get your daddy the purple blanket please.”
And Logan got up, grabbed the blanket and delivered it as requested. Because he might be autistic, but unlike his father he is not color blind.
Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real