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Autism Understanding: Day 4

Posted Apr 04 2013 10:23pm
If you sit silent
You can almost hear him think
The world swirls through him.


Joey has discovered our back yard. This is a very exciting thing. He has taken to getting up whenever he feels like it, putting on his shoes, and acting out his favorite games and movies outside. Sometimes he even adds to them, pretending to be the characters, acting out what they might do or say or think. Joey is very good at imitating voices. He is an amazing Mr. Waternoose .

What I especially like is the getting up and moving part. Moving really helps Joey's brain make connections and think things out. I am convinced that much of the bolting behavior we see is actually Joey trying to get away to take a walk, to process what is happening around him and to him; to escape the immediate melee and make sense of it. Figuring out that he can get up and do this at home is, I believe, a huge step forward for him.

I also like that he "gets" the rule that he is to stay in the back yard. We are constantly having to put up doors and locks and obstacles, lest his frustration overwhelm him and he bolts. It feels like we are building a prison around him; I'm betting he feels it, too. Joey doesn't have firm enough control of language as a communication tool to be able to express himself to, say, a police officer. During his longest bolt, he made it to the park, talked to some of the folks there, and came home; but that is not the same as someone in a uniform stopping you and asking you where you live and if you are OK. When the anxiety goes up, the ability to speak plummets for him- usually increasing frustration and anxiety in an out-of-control vortex of screaming abyss. Being able to have him go into the back yard and stay there, without having to put up a six-foot solid gate (there is a locked gate, but he could, with a little effort, climb it) to pen him is something I think may be important. To be able to mark and understand boundaries, without having to put up physical barriers to understand them- that is something to learn, a lesson about personal and public space. It is important to know the boundaries of "home."

There are boys in our neighborhood who roam. Awesome Neighbor was roaming by the time he was nine- often to our house, where we understood and accepted him, and didn't mind a little bouncing. There was no doubt that when the call came, he would turn for home. One of our current roamers- all in middle school- is an autistic kid from around the corner. It is a tug at heart and mind to think of Joey in his locked yard, when other boys seem able to roam free, with little concern from their parents that they will, when evening comes, turn their faces toward home. It is a hard line to walk, between trust and safety.

It is a line that I know one day I will have to step over. He will walk down the street, and I will have to trust that when the sun goes down or the text goes through, he will turn his feet towards home. And he might say he's going one place, and actually go another. He may decide to turn his feet another way. It is the risk every parent takes, that first time they let their child out the door and out of their sight. Risk and trust. Risk and faith.

If you have never seen that panic in Joey's eye, that rise of color to his face, that bolting trot, it may be hard to understand how fine the line is, how delicate the knife edge. One day, he will be ready. But not this day.

This day, we are taking the first steps along that line. He gets up, and slips out the back door. And I trust that when he feels done playing, instead of going over that gate, he will come back in that door.

We all have to start somewhere.
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