Saturday, 03 March 2012
We had some new friends and their two young kids over this past week, both parents teach at the University where The Professor works . We don’t know them that well yet, but I do adore the wife and we have been hoping to get to know them better.
They are aware we have an autistic son as it, of course, figures heavily into the planning of said get together, but we have never really spoken more about it.
During the course of dinner conversation I referred to Charlie and his Aspergers. It’s what is officially written on his diagnosis papers and I tend to use the terms Aspergers and autism interchangeably as the mood fits when referring to my son.
Oh, Aspergers! the wife said, O that’s not such a big deal is it? I thought he was autistic. He should be fine in the long run, right?
In that moment I could see on her face how radically her view of him changed. Charlie was sitting on the floor ignoring all the other kids in the room while he ripped up a piece of paper into tiny shredded bits. Yet, I could see in her face how he went from being a pitiable, limited child to a merely socially awkward, misunderstood savant. All the while he just sat there ripping up his paper.
I’ll admit this ignorance generally kind of irks me, though i probably thought much the same thing a few short years ago. Now these are the moments for raising awareness and educating and I did just that. I spoke of Charlie’s challenges and of the challenges high functioning autism can still present, as I have been blessed to be given glimpses of them by bloggers like this and this and this. But, the truth is, I don’t know what the future holds for him or what the predictors of being fine in the long run are.
Last week at the zoo, Charlie started lecturing the little boy who stood next to him at the bird habitat about all the ways we know birds are descended from dinosaurs. The boy finally turned to him and said, Can you stop talking now?
That is the kind of kid people expect when they hear Aspergers and I do have that kid. I’ve got dozens more stories like that about Charlie. They are both sweet and heart-wrenching glimpses of a child who will have a little harder time making his way in the world, but, as my friend said, in the long run he’ll be fine.
But, I’m left then to wonder about the other stories, the daily occurrences. What about the Charlie who this morning quietly pulled all the clothes off hangers and out of drawers in his closet, threw them on the floor, and then doused them in baby oil and hand lotion because he thought it might be fun? What about the Charlie who this afternoon ran barefoot six blocks down the street before I could catch him because I told him he couldn’t go to the store with his dad and brother? What about the Charlie who got up in the night last night, took my wallet out of my purse, and hid my money and credit cards all over the house?
Is that Charlie going to be just fine in the long run? Is that Charlie going to find his way in the world independently? Is that Charlie just socially awkward and misunderstood?
I hear it everywhere I turn. Not just from ignorant, well meaning friends, it comes from the professionals in our lives too. He’s smart, he’ll be fine. He’s smart, he’ll outgrow it. He’s smart, he’ll be able to learn all the social skills he’ll need.
I want to believe these things. I want to believe that somewhere in that beautiful brain of his are the keys to unlock the ways to be in the world, even if it’s just staying on the edge of it. I want to believe intelligence is all that’s needed to conquer that mountain he has to climb everyday just to survive in this world.
But, days like this, I admit, I feel lapses in my hope. I just don’t know where my son falls in my friend’s visions between the limited child and the socially awkward savant.
After six blocks of running from me today Charlie simply stopped, turned around, and waited for me. When I reached him, I collapsed to the ground and he curled up in my lap and let me hold him.
I was afraid for you. I was so afraid for you, my love, was all I could manage between my tears.
After a bit he finally looked up at me and said, There’s a storm coming, mommy we have to get home now.
He held my hand as we walked the six blocks home, past all the staring neighbors.
I’m going to turn my day around now Mommy, he said to me as we walked.
And he did turn his day around.
Tonight as I am up still laundering 2 baskets of clothes covered in lotion and baby oil, I think I just want someone to tell me that means he’ll be just fine in the end.