Woo Hoo!

Woo Hoo! Oh yeah!

This is what I am shouting in my brain while doing a crazy celebratory dance.

I have just spent the last 30 minutes sitting on the loungeroom floor with Geordie, ‘helping’ him build his marble run.

I say ‘helping’ because I generally suck at this sort of thing – this bit screws on to that bit, which sits inside piece 5 – ‘Aaargghh!’

But Geordie made great progress with this contraption that appears to have a million pieces – at least, that’s what it looks like spread all over the carpet.

‘So what?’

So … Geordie was given this marble run as a birthday present two years ago. It has sat in the box for two years. Today it received its virgin opening.

When I heard the crash-bang as Geordie wrenched the box from the back of his wardrobe, then saw him carry it down the hallway into the loungeroom, I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’ I honestly believed that it would not end well.

Geordie is a real perfectionist. In the past, the perfect recipe for a meltdown involves trying to do something and not getting it perfect the first time.

This is not the first time I have misjudged my son.

Geordie rarely attempts a new skill until he knows, in his head, he can achieve it;  taking his first steps, talking, riding a tricycle and writing his name are just a few examples of new skills that I despaired Geordie would ever attempt. When he finally did, with each and every one, they were spot on the first time.

I should have known that building a marble run from a book of dodgy pictorial instructions would be the same.

Same, but different.

I sat down on the floor with Geordie after he had unwrapped all the pieces.

‘Need some help?’ I asked.

‘No,’ smiling, ‘but you can stay here if you like.’

So, I watched as Geordie diligently and methodically followed the instructions. I watched in awe as the marble run started to take shape.

Then, I held my breath, mentally going through what I would do to stop the meltdown, when Geordie realised that he had made a mistake.

He shook his head, muttered something I didn’t hear … and …

… he turned back a few pages, offending piece in hand, and brow furrowed, ran his fingers over the instructions until he found the error.

Then he fixed it – and kept going!

No meltdown! Not even a hint of one.

At one point, he asked for my assistance and together we solved the issue of the shovel not fitting correctly.

30 minutes on the floor with my son has brought home three things:

  1. Geordie is still a perfectionist. He is likely to always be like that, and that’s ok. What right do I have to push him to do things before he is ready?
  2. Geordie has, at the age of 11, matured to the point where failure frustrates him, but no longer disables him to the point where the activity is condemned to the scrapheap.
  3. Logic, perseverance and resilience – three things he did not possess in the past now seem to be part of his character set.

Why should I celebrate this?

It is so hard to explain the feeling of complete and boundless joy I felt watching this scenario unfold.

It is the first time I have seen Geordie fail and not give up.

Maybe I won’t see it again for a while, but at least I have seen it.

geordie-and-marble-run
The marble run has a long way to go – but it will get there.

This has been the best 30 minutes of my day.

 

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Autism Night Before Christmas

This is a tad late, but relevant any time of the year. In 2008, a clever lady called Cindy Waeltermann wrote this poem using The Night Before Christmas as a guide.

I saw it on Facebook a couple of times and liked it.

It is often said that no two people with autism are exactly the same, but there are many common characteristics. Cindy captures these beautifully in her poem.

For people who are interested, the poem can be found here: Autism Night Before Christmas

id-100489034-presents
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Some of the stanzas that resonate most with me are:

Did I get the right gift … The right color … And style … Would there be a tantrum … Or even, maybe, a smile?

Lots of children are more interested in the box than the toy inside it. When he was younger, Geordie loved the paper, but he was absolutely overwhelmed if he was presented with more than 2-3 gifts at a time. These days, he’s ok with this … but have you ever met an 11-year old who does not know what he wants as a gift? Our concern is not whether the gift will be ‘the right one’, but what we can actually get for him.

He says he doesn’t want anything.

I don’t believe it … and have only just now (literally, as I am writing this) thought, we are forcing him to make a decision when we ask him what he wants, and that decision involves selecting between endless options. In other aspects of life, we give him 2-3 options at most. Asking him what he wants must smother him.

Note to self: don’t do this to him again.

“He needs discipline,” they say … “Just a well-needed smack, … You must learn to parent …” … And on goes the attack

Our extended family have always been absolutely fantastic with Geordie. However, occasionally, a comment slips through that shows maybe some of them are tolerant rather than actually ‘getting it’.

‘He’s got you running.’

‘Just tell/make him …’

‘He just needs …’

I am absolutely upfront about Geordie’s diagnosis whenever we meet people for the first time. It is not an excuse, but if it stops or silences the comments, stares or judgements, then I’m all for it. I can’t make people change their opinions, but I can make them keep them to themselves.

But what they don’t know … And what they don’t see … Is the joy that we feel … Over simplicity

He said “hello” … He ate something green! … He told his first lie! … He did not cause a scene!

Celebrate the simple things. I rejoiced the first time Geordie said hello to someone without me prompting him to. To see him eat what is on his plate (even when he doesn’t really like it) is amazing … every time! (Particularly if you know what we went through when he was in Year 1.) Whoever said that children on the spectrum can’t lie, they have never met my son. And – causing a scene – he rarely does that now … partly because he is getting older, and partly because we have learnt to pre-empt everything, to make him comfortable. It doesn’t always work though.

Children with autism … Try hard every day … That they make us proud … More than words can say

Every day is a new day. It brings new challenges, new experiences, new successes and new failures. I look back at where Geordie has been, where he is now and, with some trepidation (but also some positivity), where he is going … and I am immensely proud of what he has achieved and is achieving.

 

 

On Mr Bean & Dr Sheldon Cooper (and why they resonate)

mr-bean-671027_640Who doesn’t love the characters of Mr Bean and Dr Sheldon Cooper?

They are both endearing, yet annoying at the same time.

We laugh at them and their social inabilities because they are characters on TV … but what if you lived with one of them? If we laughed then, we could be rightly accused of being intolerant of special needs.

I do not know that it has ever been explicitly stated, but I believe that both Mr Bean and Dr Sheldon Cooper (from The Big Bang Theory) have Asperger’s Syndrome.

Why?

There are three main reasons:

  1. They both behave in ways that are deemed to be socially inappropriate.
  2. They both say things we cringe at for their ability to offend – but neither of them are aware of this. (Yes, occasionally Mr Bean does actually speak.)
  3. They both have interests that they are obsessed with.

I remember reading somewhere that Rowan Atkinson based the Mr Bean character on his brother. The article said his brother has Asperger’s.

I also remember being highly offended at the time, and swore that I would veto this show in protest of Rowan Atkinson making money by poking fun at his brother’s disability.

I felt the same way when I saw my first episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Then, I started noticing similarities between Geordie and these two characters.

Should I have been even more offended?

I wasn’t.

I was, however, impressed  because these actors have ‘nailed’ the characteristics of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome – while making them come across as quite charming in their own way. I believe we laugh with them and not at them.

Three ways  Geordie is similar to Mr Bean and Dr Sheldon Cooper

  1. If you have ever seen the episode where Mr Bean is at the swimming pool – try to recall how he runs down the length of the pool. Geordie runs the same way. (I thought it was a coincidence the first time, but he does it all the time.)
  2. Thankfully, Geordie has developed a good knowledge of what is socially appropriate to say – and when not to say something … but I know he thinks it (because he asks me stuff later that I am SO GLAD he did not ask in public).
  3. Mr Bean’s go-to ‘friend’ is his stuffed bear, Teddy. While he treats the bear poorly at times, Mr Bean confides in Teddy and is rarely without him. I look at this and think: Geordie and FiFi.

(I could go on here …)

The funny thing is:

Geordie LOVES Mr Bean and Dr Sheldon Cooper. He laughs at their antics and cringes at some of the things they say and do.

I have asked Geordie on a few occasions what he likes about these characters.

‘They’re funny … I don’t know, I just like them.’

I also asked him, on separate occasions and several years apart, if Mr Bean/Sheldon ‘reminded you of anyone’.

I got a blank look each time, ‘No,’ then an eye-roll, ‘they’re just TV shows you know.’

That was good enough for me.

PS. Can I just add that Geordie’s eyes and eyebrows are nowhere near as freaky as Mr Bean’s … but they appear to share the same spindly legs and knock-knees (as do I).