Its 10 years ago
I am leaving for my Masters Degree at the University .
I am homesick and forlorn – even before I have left -for I will not see DH for the next few months
“And when you first get to the University – quickly arrange some things around you that remind you of home – like some pictures” advises a friend.
He knows of such things- as got his MBA from Singapore.
He knows how lonely and disorienting a new place can feel at first
“Arrange it the same way it was at home” he advises “ it will make you feel better
Familiar things are like a scaffolding for our identity
( I feel such a pang for homeless people sometimes for it must be terrible to have nothing to ground you )
There is such safety in sameness.
I have always known this
Therefore it feels paradoxical, to perceive such strangeness, in autistic rituals
“ He is just so odd the way he must do 3 things in the same order before we leave the house ” we say
“ He is having a really autistic day today … lining things up all in order”
We will describe the day we knew for sure that our child had autism – a sinking feeling when we saw our child had lined up all the shoes according to size and color
We will lament at their “obsession" with alphabets and numbers
After a while, DH and I, realized that R's passion for numbers and letters was no odder than any neurotypical child’s carrying around a security blanket. Or indeed my desire to ground myself with when new at the University with some objects from home
Now that I observe – really observe – what R does - with a firm belief that it has meaning – instead of dismissing it as purposeless stimming – I find his stereotypies give me unique insight into his thoughts
For instance tonight he wrote on the side of his bathtub ( "we made it" ) which DH observed was a carryover from the "Little Einsteins" show he had been watching where the characters are in Antarctica rescuing a Totem Pole.
DH says he has been watching this show in all his alloted TV time today
This morning I observed him on the computer playing games with Penguins
Later I found that he wants to ice skate on the wii
Then of course when It came time for bed – and he had to choose a book to read with his Dad – I knew even before he said it that he would choose the book “ice is nice “ by Diego
Therefore its clear that, R is currently interested in Snow and ice and is choosing every way he has to learn about this
By believing that his actions have meaning for him - instead of dismissing them as perseverations - I get to know him
In fact - perseveration can be used as a motivational tool to teach.
For instance, tomorrow I will show him how to turn water into ice, do ice games on the Wii with MingMing , dress up our dollies and do some pretend play with snow and cold etc
Truly while Autistic people may seem very different than us –( in some cases we may feel like they are from another planet ) but the reasons for their behavior are the same as for any of us.
When we feel that we lack control, ( for surely a world that speaks in a different language that us must make auties feel perplexed and out of control all the time )- we seek order -we seek sameness
We shake our head sadly when we are asked if our child plays with a toy “appropriately” or if he just lines them up
( Now I feel I should have answered - "but really he is playing with them appropriately.. change the question please - ask if he is playing like a neurotypical child or not?" )
Or when we sigh at his needing to take the same route to the grocery store each time
Its really no different than me needing to check if I have my ID a hundred timeswhile driving to the airport
The behavior may look strange but we truly are more alike than different!
This is only one of the many things I learned from Dr Stanley Greenspan