This theory dictates that autistic children cannot put themselves in someone else's shoes, take their perspective. It's also called mind blindness sometimes, but "ABFH" explains it so much more eloquently.
I have another of those conversations that leads me to believe that I am short of few marbles. It’s all my daughter’s fault of course, as she ambushes me at the end of the school day. The usual Friday afternoon play dates are always carefully orchestrated, but her regular partner is unavailable.
“Mom can Sarah come over for a play date now please?” Her new pal is by her side. I imagine that for most families this would be easy. For our family it isn’t. Because my family is made up of different individuals, I feel an obligation to newcomers. Gone are the days when I worried about whether their were guns or other dangers in other people’s houses. I concentrate on the information a new parent would want to know, before permitting their child into my care.
Under ordinary circumstances, when a new chum comes along, I take the time to meet the parent and have a chat. It’s a delicate exchange for me. I need them to have an easy exit, if needs be. If they are uncomfortable about their child sharing time in a home with a couple of autistic children, and many people are, then I want to provide them with the opportunity to bow out gracefully. It’s not a contest. I still find it strange that so many people have yet to hear the word autism, but I have to deal with the current status quo. I do not want to have this conversation with the other parent whilst my boys are around. They might appear to be blissfully unaware, but we all know that most walls have ears, even autistic ones.
Since I volunteer in their classrooms, I know many of the children already. I also wish to preserve a level of ‘ordinary’ for my daughter, not to hamper her own social desires. “Is your mum here to collect you Sarah? Do you live near the school? Shall I write down your address?” I ask warily, as I look around the playground for the invisible beam of parent-child energy. “I don’t know my address,” she answers sweetly. I blink. I have been training my own children, all of them, to memorize their address for as long as I can remember. They can sing their address and telephone number but none of them can say it. The girls search, spot the target and race off in unison to ambush another mother.
Meanwhile, I am in a holding pattern, my own two boys and two other boys from their class. I attempt to impose the buddy system on my boys, “Stick with your pal, stay together, you’re responsible for him.” I don’t want them to glide off into their usual pattern, to stride towards the bus and disappear because this is a change to their normal routine. My youngest perseverates, “ responsibull, responsibill, responsiball,” as he buzzes around his pal to make a very accurate impression of a sheepdog. My older son and his pal circuit a bush, shoulder to shoulder, round and round, keeping in step, which is quite a feat for my son.
I glance across at the huddle of girls and a lone mother and attempt to herd the troops in her general direction in the hope that we adults can engage in an adult exchange. I need diplomacy skills but also need watch four moving targets. I am reluctant to move too close, because then the bus will be within view. It’s egg yolk yellow loveliness will cue two boys into the wrong trajectory.
Many of us are led astray by visual cues. As you drive the route that you always drive, you automatically stop at the stop light. It's a habit. You're probably so habituated that if someone stole the stop light, you'd stop even though it wasn't there any more. If someone put an extra stop light on your route, you'd stop. You wouldn't take time to consider that it might be a hoax, you'd be on automatic pilot; stop sign evokes stop. So it is with the bus: see bus at the right time of the day and off you toddle, without another thought.
I make a start with the mother and introductions. I can see that she is distracted although I am uncertain what the cause might be. By shaking hands and speaking we take off at a tangent, “Oh yur frm London huh?” “Um yes, that’s right. I was wondering if….” “Sure but y’ll have to bring her home coz I cant drive at night.” At night? When does she expect me to return her daughter I wonder? I try and work out which of the other two children will be collected when and by whom, to see if I can offer an accurate timeline? “Well…er perhaps you could give me an address and check this is your correct telephone number?” “Yeah, that’s it,” she glances at my notebook, “we’re in the orange house on Main Street, doya knowit, ya cant miss it.” My youngest bumps into me as he spins, “responsibull, responsibill, responsiball.” “Oh is he yurs too? Geez I luv his English accent.” He spins off on a new ditty, “English accent, English accent, English accent,” he repeats in a perfect American accent. "Actually, I've two brothers and a sister!" she pipes. The mother glances around unable to identify which if any, of the children she might be referring to. I grab my moment, "actually, about the boys, I just.." "Too cute, gotta dash!" Dash? Don't dash, not yet!
My head begins to hurt as he starts to pogo which tells me that we need to find a toilet within the next 3 minutes. I try and work out which is the nearest bathroom that will accommodate seven people? I remember to run roads through my lexicon but have no recall of any orange house anywhere. “Perhaps you could tell me the street address?” I blurt a little too loudly as her body is in retreat. “Tha orange one on the corner with West.” She squeezes her daughter’s shoulder and turns on her heel to leave. I step after her, to forestall her, advise and appraise this trusting soul, since she doesn’t know me from Adam. “Do you want my number?” I offer to her back. “No that’s fine, just give me a call when yur coming,” she calls over her shoulder as she moves swiftly in the general direction of the bus and the parking lot, the direction that I wish to avoid.
The girls block my path fizzing at their coup. Sarah turns to me with a massive grin, the kind that splits a face and shrinks eyes to slits, “I always wanted a brother!” she beams. I double check: guileless American pre-teen or Smart Aleky British sarcasm? The former. My youngest spins, buzzes and points at her, the other hand pulls his T-shirt. No brother! Oh dear, how will I keep them dressed? “What is it dear?” He pogos a little more, adds a couple of spins to squeak “she be thread.” Sarah and I examine her personage. “Der, der, der!” he points and twirls. We look again, nothing. “You are not tickle?” he asks. Sarah beams back at him although neither of us know what he’s on about? “He’s so cute!” she giggles. He continues to fizzle, the acceleration is palpable, “agh I am do it for you den!” he bellows as he pounces on her legs, brakes and lets a quivering arm come close to her bare flesh. She bends to look. We all peer at her leg. A thread hangs from the hem of her skirt, a squirrely, curly one with a knotted bobbly end. He holds the ball of thread in a perfect pincher grip, “it are tickle you right?” I intervene and snap off the offending tail. Sarah grins again, “how come?” she asks simply. “That kind of thing drives him nuts. He thought it might be bothering you.” The grinning girl giggles, “he’s so funny……and cute.” It seems to me that they both share more than enough theory of mind to knock the average adult into touch.
I debate how to manoeuvre my herd, my flock, the 500 yards to the car, my car, which fortunately seats 7. I take a deep breath and recount heads. I am left in the nearly empty playground with six children, an unwilling Pied Piper, witless, clueless and pipeless.