Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Electrical Circuitry for Dummies

I was at home, really I was. David had been in and out of the front yard, "watering the tree," which is his code for messing around with the hose. It is a frequent activity at our house, during which time I hide from the neighbors. I know that we are in the middle of a drought. I know that David is wasting huge amounts of water, but I invite anyone to try to explain that to David.

I was relieved when David came back into the house. A few minutes later, I heard the telltale beep…beep…beep of the alarm system that indicates a door has been opened, but since I was sitting in my office, I knew he had not gone back into the front yard.

Good. He is in the backyard, where excessive water usage is less visible to the whole world. I will go check on him in a minute.

Famous last words. I will go check on him in a minute.

I did not need to check on David. He found me and asked me to get him a glass of milk a few minutes later. 

It really couldn't have been more than five minutes and when I went to deliver that milk this is what I saw.

David once let his iPad battery get so low that it shut off and needed to charge before it would power up again. Consequently, he is mildly obsessed with making sure that all the electronic devices that he is using—sometimes three at the same time—are appropriately plugged in and charging. 

And when he decided to watch his SpongeBob movie, simultaneously with the video recorded on my iPhone of crossing over the interstate bridges all while gazing at his favorite picture of a telephone pole on the iPad in—wait for it—my CAR, parked in the garage on a day when the mercury is supposed to reach 100 degrees, apparently David's concern was to find power for everything. Could I make this stuff up?

Sooooo, he plugged all of his devices into a heavy duty outdoor extension cord that we use for Christmas decorations. That, in turn, was plugged into what he calls the "circle charger," which is an adapter that turns a car cigarette lighter into an outlet. The circle charger was, in fact, plugged into the cigarette lighter and (deep breath here) the keys were in the ignition turned, David was quick to tell me, JUST ONE CLICK, which provided the required power.

Incidentally, the large landscaping rock on the back seat of the car, recently stolen from my parents' backyard, was just for ambiance and did not play any functional role in the electrical circuitry.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Fable of David and the Restaurant

Last night, we went out to dinner. At a restaurant. With David.

It has been literally months since we tried to take David to a restaurant.

Sometimes, he does alright, but much of the time, it is frustrating for us and for him.

David does not really like to eat, so for him there is no attraction in waiting for the food to arrive.

And there are distractions—oh so many distractions.

A few months ago, we tried to meet my parents for breakfast one weekend morning. We picked a restaurant that we knew would be pretty noisy, so David would not be too disruptive to the other diners, and that had the capacity to deliver a plate full of crispy "de-witch-ous" bacon nearly simultaneously to David's rear end settling into the chair.

We could not even get David to go into the restaurant. He wanted, instead, to sit on the bench in the waiting area and no amount of coaxing could convince him to walk (willingly) to the table.

Maybe, it was too noisy. Maybe David was too tired. Maybe we should have called ahead and had the bacon waiting for us so that we could lead him like a rabbit with a carrot into the restaurant.

As we walked back out to the car, the problem became apparent. Located just across the street from the restaurant was a car wash, the exit perfectly positioned so that the cars in the final wash were visible from the bench of the waiting area, but would not have been visible from any of the tables.

After a quick huddle, we decided not to be deterred. We would go to a local grocery store and see if David would tolerate eating in their little cafe and if not, we would simply buy the ingredients, take them back to my parents' house and cook breakfast for ourselves. 

Imagine my surprise as we pulled into the store parking lot.

There it was. In full view. Another carwash. And, my best attempt at shielding, blocking, distracting and finally hustling David into the store did not work. David spied the sign almost immediately. 

I am happy to report that all was not lost, however. The restaurant had a full wall of windows, so David was willing to sit, and he quickly lost interest because the wash happened to be situated in such a way that even David decided looking at the brick wall was not all that thrilling.

So, I suppose you could call that experience a semi-success, but I hope (400 words in and I will try finally to make a point) that you can see sometimes it just seems like trouble. Too much trouble.

David, according to all printed reports, had a successful visit to a Mexican restaurant on the last day of his teacher training last week so we decided to take advantage of it and make a return visit to the restaurant while David still remembered having a good experience there.

This particular restaurant is part of a local chain. We drove past four restaurants—5 miles, 9 miles, 11 and 12 miles away from our house. Yes, we drove more than twenty miles each way or an hour total in the car so that we could visit not just ANY Romeo's Mexican Food and Pizza, but the VERY SAME Romeo's Mexican Food and Pizza that David had visited previously because it is, after all, "nacho typical restaurant."

Well, on a scale of one to ten with one being horrendous and ten being a relaxing meal, I would have to rate the experience a six which is pretty good. David did not do anything that would have disturbed those eating around us, but we did have to make a few trips to the entrance to watch the doors open and close. 

Oh, and David marched off toward the kitchen in search of his basket of fries when the waitress brought everyone else's food to the table except David's. Why do they do that?

For those of you paying attention you can probably guess. But, for the rest of you I will make like Aesop and spell it out for you.

The moral of the story is—if you order a margarita in an attempt to calm your nerves, don't get it blended because you absolutely cannot drink it fast enough to get the calming effect before brain freeze sets in.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Wedding Crashers

For the past few months, I cannot stop obsessing about the wedding crashers.  No, not the Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson characters from the 2005 movie, but honest to goodness wedding crashers who showed up at my niece’s wedding over Memorial Day weekend.

They were not there for the usual reasons—or at least what I would think would be the customary reason for crashing a wedding, having never done so myself.  They certainly were not scheming to meet vulnerable, emotional, single wedding guests as portrayed in the movie.

They did not attempt to blend in so that they would be treated to the delicious sit-down dinner, as they arrived long after the empty plates had been cleared from the tables.

They were not there, trying to be inconspicuous in order to take advantage of the open bar.

No, in fact they marched right up to the bride, handed her a $50 bill and asked if she would mind if they danced and enjoyed the music for a while.

These “crashers,” a handful of women, apparently were staying at the hotel where the reception was being held and I believe that their motive was simple.  The guests at the reception looked and sounded like they were having fun, and these women wanted to be a part of it.

When was the last time that I actually sought out fun, saw an opportunity like the women at the wedding and took a hold of it?   Seized the day.  Carpe diem and all that.

I am certainly not going to go in search of nuptial celebrations to crash this weekend, but I do need to remember each day to take an opportunity and make it a little bit more enjoyable, or to spend a minute helping someone else or giving a compliment.  Or even to go with the flow because I am not always a go with the flow kind of gal.

I will try to pause and appreciate the things that make me happy, like the herbs growing outside my kitchen window, or how David flashes me a “happy smile” each morning—you know, not just a grin but a smile full of teeth, with eyes twinkling.  Or the fact that Andrew periodically stops to give me a kiss on the cheek, just because. Or when my nephew, Thomas, insists on wearing my striped dish towel over his head like a shepherd the whole time he is eating his lunch.

For some brides, the arrival of the wedding crashers might have spoiled their preconceived notions of the perfect wedding day.  But my niece, my lovely and gracious niece, took it all in stride.  She joined in a group dance with these women, took some photos and, as the evening was coming to a close, even tried to return their money with her thanks that they had given her a wedding story to tell for many years to come.

And I noticed that she even has one of the pictures as her profile pic on Facebook, a happy reminder of a great day.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Taking Turns

Here is an excerpt from David's school journal last week:

David and his peer took turns assembling a Mr. Potato Head toy. After initial hesitation, David did well taking turns when prompted by his peer and the teacher.

David does have some trouble taking turns because he does not really enjoy playing with his peers.  It is comparable to the fact that David also has a difficult time in a restaurant, but since he really does not enjoy eating, perhaps he doesn’t see the point.  (Boy, I wish I could say the same about myself.)

Anyway, back to turn taking.  And then there might also be the teeny tiny issue that if David is participating in a preferred activity, he does not want to miss a turn. Surprise, surprise.

So, I was encouraged to read these comments in David's journal.  I made a mental note to move “turn taking” up the perpetual to do list so that I could reinforce the work that they did last week in school.

Let me first explain that David is susceptible to the hiccups and, for some reason, he seems to believe that burping helps to relieve his hiccups.  He will actually swallow great quantities of air to be able to belch and the louder the better.

Last night, we were at my sister’s house for a Sunday family dinner.  David, who of course had respectfully declined to sit at the table with us, appeared on the landing coming down from the second floor.  In great flourish, he paused, smiled and then burped, which not surprisingly made us laugh, reinforcing David’s inappropriate behavior.

I guess I should say that David’s action made most of us laugh.  My 15-year-old nephew, Thomas, chose to respond not by laughing, but by burping back.  For several minutes, the cousins took turns burping, each trying to outdo the other, one longer, louder, grosser (if that is even a word, which I suspect it is not) than the last.  There was no hesitation on David’s part, as witnessed during the Mr. Potato Head game.

I have amended the to-do list, which I am sorry to say now includes discouraging burping.

Progress?  You tell me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Back Seat Driver

All week, I have been driving David 30 minutes each way to a teacher training.  I feel very fortunate that we live in a school district that offers extra training to teachers on how to best work with kids with autism.  Apparently, in order to do that effectively, it helps to actually have some kids with autism, so David has participated the past two years.

In order to get to this training at a high school in a neighboring school district, I take the interstate, which apparently I do not do very often with David in the car.  He really enjoys the ride because there are a number of overpasses.  Who am I kidding?  There are exactly 13 overpasses, which I know because we count them every day.

David likes the vibration that the car makes when crossing a bridge or overpass, so he will hum the whole time we are on it, imitating the sound of the tires.  Actually, he hums and counts at the same time.

Number ten is his favorite.  It is a long, curving exit from one interstate to another—so long that he has to take a breath or sometimes two.


Yesterday, we were stopped on the exit ramp waiting to turn toward the school, when David exclaimed, “GREAT job driving, Mom-mom.”

Boy, he must have thoroughly enjoyed that car ride.  That was my first thought, followed closely by my second thought.  What does he think of my driving the rest of the time?

I may have found the answer to my question this morning.  We were stopped on the very same exit ramp, when David started shrieking, “Mom-mom, that’s ENOUGH.  That’s ENOUGH.  That’s ENOUGH.”

I have been changing the channels, looking for a good song on the radio, which sometimes aggravates David so I stopped.

But, he leaned forward in his seat, pointed to my turn indicator, which had not clicked off from my exit to the right off of the interstate, and explained, “You going LEFT.”

I had my right turn signal on and was in the left turn lane.

Needless to say, there was no compliment forthcoming on my driving this morning.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rhetorical Questions

David used to have a great deal of trouble answering questions.  We would ask him something, prompt him with the possible answers—Yes?  Or no?—and then wait in great anticipation for the answer that might never come.

Recently, David has become quite adept at answering questions, although sometimes he still struggles to string the words together.  His answer might be a drawn out “beeecauuuse…” if he cannot quite find the right words.

He has also become accustomed to asking his own questions.  If he is upset, he will simply say “Why, why, why?” with tears welling up in his big blue eyes, a sure sign that all is about to be forgiven.

But, most often, David inquires about our actions.

“Mom-mom, why you hug?  Why you eat?  Why you laugh?”  And occasionally, “Why you cry?”

And for David, there are not rhetorical questions.  He is not like a person who asks “how are you” in passing and doesn’t even slow down long enough to wait for your response.  David wants answers and he wants the assurance that the answers do not change, so in this instance, expected responses are “because I love you, because I am hungry, because it was funny, because I am a little bit sad.”

David happens to be a devotee of ABC news, both the local broadcasts and the national news in the evening.  It is, in part, because he likes the promos that they air, but also because he is a “wheel watcher” and Wheel of Fortune airs at 6:30 on ABC, immediately following the local news.

It is a running joke in our house, because I prefer watching World News with Diane Sawyer on ABC, but Michael’s choice would be the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.  And, since the tiny TV in the kitchen seems to be the only TV in the house over which we have any—although extremely limited—control, we usually huddle in the kitchen listening to the news while we cook dinner.

It really doesn’t matter whether or not David is in the room.  If Michael changes the channel from ABC to NBC at any time during the news, David will come and change it back.  And then, Michael will usually try varying strategies.  He may wait for David to run upstairs, or turn the volume completely down before changing the channel.  Without fail, David seems to notice almost instantly and changes the channel back to ABC.  And, if Michael tries too many times, David will hide the remote to make it more difficult.

A few nights ago, there had been a promo on NBC for a story that Michael really wanted to hear, but David was persistent.

Michael was frustrated.  “WHY can’t I EVER watch Brian Williams?” he asked, without expecting an answer, without even thinking that David was within earshot.

And then David’s blond head popped into the entryway to the kitchen.

“Because I watching Diane CHOY-YER,” he answered.

Well said, David.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On Aging and Erma Bombeck

I recently told my niece that I wanted to be the Erma Bombeck of autism. I have always admired the late Erma Bombeck and her style of writing, her way of telling stories, her ability to find humor in the mundane. And we all know that David provides me with plenty of material for stories.

A blank stare from my extremely well-read niece confirmed that she had no idea who Erma Bombeck was. But, it wasn't the blank stare that bothered me so much as the traces of a grin, which when combined with the stare made me feel old. I could only have felt more ancient if the stare and the grin had also been accompanied by the almost imperceptable head nod, an indication not of attention, but mollification.

Normally, I would not really have given the stare much extra consideration, but I was still experiencing the sting of the rejected swim coverup. I had offered my swim coverup to the aforementioned niece to take to a lake party over the weekend and was informed, by my sister who was apparently serving as diplomat in this instance, that my swim coverup was not "hip" enough. Not only did I not realize that my swim coverup was not "hip," I did not even realize that swim coverups could be "hip." Who knew?

Still, I refuse to give up my admiration for Erma. I can remember listening to a recording of hers with my parents during a long car trip. Or, now that I think about it, I believe the recording was really a humorous story of HER vacation drive with HER kids.

Isn't memory the first thing to go?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Christmas Convoy

David still has a Christmas tree in his room--not full size, just a little three foot, multi colored pre-lit one, free of decorations.

I did try to take it down in January, but David protested.  He uses it each night like an oversized night light.  I guess with David we tend to follow the maxim, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and please-please-please don’t let it break now because I am not sure where I would find a replacement in the middle of July.

Lately, David’s thoughts have wandered toward Christmas, as they seem to each July.  Fortunately, he has not yet gone hunting for the well-worn copy of Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas, but rather opted for his favorite Hallmark felt advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree.

And then just a few days ago, I heard him knocking around in our basement storage room, generally not a place that we encourage him to explore independently.  By the time I went to investigate, he had already found the “guys,” a set of Fisher Price holiday figurines.  I wrote about his fascination with these characters here and for those of you who have not already read it, go right ahead, I will wait.

You’re back?  Okay, good.  David retrieved the entire basket of figurines and once again began the sorting process. Just like last year, he kept Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men and an angel.  Oh, and a Christmas tree for good measure.

But, Santa Claus?  Nope.  Two elves?  Nope.  The snowman and a reindeer?  Nope and nope.  Santa Claus?  Wait, there are two Santas?  There must be a figurine for the “real” Santa and one for the fill-in “department store” Santa.  David tossed them all aside, chucked in dramatic fashion over his shoulder into a discard pile.

The figures that made the cut were all carted up to David’s bedroom.  I waited as he searched the toy box, but this time instead of cramming them haphazardly into a single, yellow school bus, they must have decided to splurge and charter two identical buses so that they could all ride home in comfort.

These new and improved vehicles came equipped with the reverse noise; you know the “beep beep beep” warning sound that some trucks make when in reverse?  And, according to David’s reenactment of the action, this Christ caravan did a great deal of backing up.

They must have been lost because, as you probably know, they took a different route home.  Plus, the way David had the cast of characters divided, Mary and the angel were in the second bus while the first bus held all men.

I guess no one was willing to stop and ask for directions.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Rare Glimpse

I was recently at a family reunion, standing outside in the morning light and watching as pictures were taken.  All eyes were focused on those in the photo.

I commented to the person standing next to me that David would have been looking the opposite direction.  Had David been there, he would have first noticed that there were two lawn sprinklers and the mist over the spray was catching the light.  And when they rotated into the right position, you could see a rainbow.

“And now, because of David, you see it that way, too,” she remarked.

I wish I could see the world through David’s eyes and, when I am lucky, sometimes I do get to take a peek.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The "A" Word

How could Andrew have "needs improvement" on his progress report for math when he got 100% on almost every paper that he brought home?

This was the burning question from the first quarter progress report when Andrew was in the first grade, almost six years ago. I know that it is now time to let it go, but at the time I was irritated because I had not saved any of the papers. I had no way to prove that we had every indication that Andrew was doing really well in the class.

I later discovered that the teacher had given every student a "needs improvement" because literally everyone has room to improve.

Needless to say, I have saved every paper since that day, at least until the final report card has been received and there are no surprises.

Having just completed sixth grade, Andrew is now old enough to go through his papers and mature enough to realize that he does not want to keep every single one, just several dozen a select few which get stowed in a memento box under his bed.

So, I set him at this task last week, asking him to sort out what he wanted to keep and put the rest into the recycle bin. And then, of course, I surreptitiously culled through the pile again to weed out a few more papers when I saw this assignment. I am not certain exactly what he had been asked to do, but obviously he used words that describe himself or his life.

He included happy, hopeful, honest--all laudable qualities. And then there are interests like football and history and even his favorite color blue. And then I saw it--there in white right above the W of his name.


Obviously, Andrew is not the one with the diagnosis, but at the tender age of twelve--tween years, he would be quick to tell you--apparently he has realized that "autism" is a label that we all share.

At 12, Andrew is about to pass me in height. His shoulders are getting broader and his voice is dropping. He is beginning to pay more attention to things like washing his face and picking just the right outfit.

At 12, he has had to explain to his friends why David sometimes flaps his hands when he gets excited, or may not answer them if they talk to him.

At 12, Andrew still tells David that he loves him every single day and waits patiently for David to say it back. He wonders how things would be different for David--and for him--if David did not have autism. He thinks about what will happen to David as an adult.

As much as we try to prevent it, Andrew's life has always been somewhat defined by the fact that David has autism and at 12, Andrew is beginning to realize it, too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cause for Complaint

Let me set the scene for you. David had just finished bathing, which we are trying to get him do more independently, when Michael started prompting him that it was time to get out of the tub.

Unfortunately, there is a Costco-sized bottle of Pantene shampoo, which sits on the ledge of the tub. Why don't you move it? You think I can't hear you, but I know that is what some of you are asking and the answer is now that David has laid eyes on it, he will step out of the bathtub, all soapy and naked, and go searching for it until he finds it. So, short of keeping it in, say, my car trunk--which is not totally handy--I just let him have it.

And let me tell you that the mere sight of that jug of shampoo can make David's eyes light up like he is heading toward the shrimp cocktail table at the all-you-can-eat casino buffet. (Oh wait, David doesn't like shrimp or any fish or really any kind of protein, for that matter, but you get the picture.)

So, Michael had told David it was time to get out of the tub when he noticed the half a bottle of shampoo that had been rubbed into a bubbly halo on David's head.

And then the unforgiveable happened. From what I can piece together from witness accounts, Michael made the mistake of rinsing the shampoo out of David's hair with a plastic cup.

You see, the much preferred shampoo removal method is to adjust the water until it reaches just the right temperature, and then David will run his head back and forth under the faucet like a car going through the car wash at his beloved Russell Speeder's.

I could hear David's objections from the next room.

"Don't EVER do that again. I HATE you doing that."

For a long time, I had wondered if I would ever hear the sound of David's voice. For an equally long time, we have worked with David to find appropriate ways to express his frustration.

Michael had been scolded and we were both beaming. David had uttered ten words--two complete sentences and I couldn't help but marvel at such a beautifully executed complaint.