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Clash of the Titans

Posted Oct 22 2008 9:39pm

Sometimes, especially when they were younger, people would mistake my boys for twins. One with long legs, one with a shorter body meant that when they were sitting they seemed the same size. Like most twins or siblings, any similarities between them are of little significance. It is their differences in personality, character and disposition that singles each one of them out. If you then cover that child with a layer of autism, a patchwork quilt, [translation = homemade and of a unique variety] the result is too complex for the average nitwit, [translation = parent] to fathom.

Unfortunately for them, I am the designated nitwit of the household.

All human beings have little triggers, things that set us off, irritations and foibles. Sometimes we can identify the cause, something from the past that makes us react in a certain manner. Other times and other things we just accept, it’s part of our own singular make up. We find methods of coping with these triggers such as avoidance. If you find sirens annoying, then you don’t rent an apartment above the Fire Station. [translation = house] Although maybe, that is the very location to help you acclimatize and de-sensitize yourself.

My boys have lots of triggers. Each one has his own set, that differs from the other. They also collect more triggers as they get older. Old triggers seem to fade but are always lurking in the wings ready to pounce. Junior has a ‘thing’ about "death," dying and all other related aspects of ‘terminal,’ a word that he can read, write and spell accurately. [translation = an offshoot of hyperlexia]

His brother also has a ‘thing’ about "death" but different triggers. For reasons too humbling to go into, his current understanding, is that death occurs after the age of 90. Although his auditory processing is good, when it comes to numbers he is often confused, mistaking 19 for 90. Any word that sounds like either of those words can also be a trigger. Initially you might not think that there are too many words that sound remotely like either. If you break down those words into their phonetic sounds and jumble them up a bit, you may be surprised at how often their variants turn up in ordinary everyday conversations. [nye tea high teen nigh T]

Both have supersonic hearing, which means that they can tune out the sound of the motors that power the freezers in the supermarket and tune into the conversation between strangers on the other side of the store. [translation = or vice versa, or from one to the other, all without warning] Because they both have poor social skills, as well as a higher social concience than most, this means that he will hone in on the distance conversation that contains ’19 or 90,’ seek that person out and ask “you are going to die?” If the child that asks you that question has an expression of genuine concern, this may cause unknown and undue distress to the unwitting victim.

Where does this leave us? Well it can mean that sometimes something very small can cause a fireworks display. We need to appreciate that what might be an irritating trigger when we are adults, may have a much more explosive effect on someone smaller. [translation = with more nerve endings and less self control]

My son dashes out into the garden to rescue a cat. Both he and the cat are naked because my son was just about to start dressing. [translation = had completed undressing] He’s not quick enough to nab the cat who skitters back indoors. The sudden U-turn by the cat, sends my ungainly son off balance and into a heap. He hobbles back indoors distressed by his poor cat catching skills. He is unperturbed by the flap of skin on the top of his toe and the river of blood that follows him. I park him on the nearest available chair to commiserate with him about the foolishness of the feline population. I hope to distract him from the river of blood but he seems oblivious. We discuss herding cats, a subject near to my heart, whilst my hands investigate damage. His sister appears downstairs, sleepy eyed and tousled. “The school bus for the field trip is leaving at 9:10 sharp!” she advises and yawns. The ‘9:10’ of her message, penetrates my son’s psyche and sparks a negative reaction because he thinks she has said ‘ninety,’ “ninety? I am dying?” he screams, still obvious to his wound. The growing pile of blood stained rags and towels make her gasp. “Oh no! Are you o.k? Can I see? No!” It is her reaction that make both boys react. The real victim notices that he is leaking, “I am blood?” he enquires curiously, but bedeviled by thoughts of death. He looks in the general direction of his leg but fails to notice that he has a foot on the end of it.

At the same time I hear a "piercing 50 decibel" echo somewhere far, far away, [translation = the upstairs bathroom] followed by rapid fire footsteps. Junior appears within seconds to witness the scene, “he is blood, he is ugly, he is dead, hospital, emergency room, only 4 toes, 911…..” he talks at 90 mph, a never ending stream of words. His vast vocabulary is strung together. They all spell out the same general message of doom. When he reaches the end of his current word bank he squalks, a sound half way between a rooster and a drowning man.


Spouse appears, drowsy after three and a half hours sleep. My daughter is scared of the blood herself but recognizes that her little brother is spiraling. She soothes him with reassurance but he is impervious. When he starts to rip his hair and beat his body with his arms, spouse steps in and whisks him away from the scene.

At first glance this picture may seem a little grim, but that is only one perspective. A different view is a far more optimistic one. A few years ago we would have endured meltdowns and guessed at their cause; blood and fear, but clearly this is a much more complex matter. We are better able to understand the complexity because they are better able to express themselves verbally. As we get a better handle on the causes, we are better equipped to help them find other strategies to cope, help them practice them and help them learn.


The minutes tick by to bring us closer to 7 in the morning, an arbitrary time designated as appropriate to start the day. Another, very ordinary day.

It is at such moments that I am so grateful, that the two and a half years of the ‘plaster campaign,’ [translation = Band-aid] will finally pay dividends.

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