For other writeups about my son, see An American Story  Growing up with Autism, and Growing up with Autism 2



Back when my son had only recently been diagnosed with Autism- he must have been about five or six- my wife and I were just starting to come to terms with the idea that it wasn't a phase he was going through, that the 'little stranger' we'd hoped for was just going to get stranger and stranger as the years went on. At this time we knew very little about Autism and less about ourselves with respect to how we would cope with it.


In-laws came to visit, saw our youngest flash back and forth in front of a half open door, peering through the key hole as he did so, and shook their heads sadly. 'At least you have one normal child,' we heard, spoken aloud or not. When we were out in public and I had to spend most of my time chasing after the younger son – he was so fast! and could be over any barrier and away before you could blink twice- the looks changed to pity. 'You poor things,' we seemed to hear. 'How are you going to have a life?'


I'm not saying it was fun, but my feeling was, hey, this was my son, my responsibility; besides, I got a kind of satisfaction out of his strangeness. Like, what would you expect from parents like us? Both my children were unique, to be honest, and if I seem to be concentrating on only one of them it is only because the other, my oldest boy, is grown now with his own independent life and would hardly thank me for flogging his history in public.


The turning point came quietly one day during a trip to town on foot. On this particular occasion it was just me and the youngest, and about half way down he decided to escape. I stood for a moment watching him go, little plump legs chrurning like pistons, and sighed with resignation. I knew what was coming next; a short chase and then grabbing him up, arms and legs flailing as he tried to fight free screaming at top volume. I set off in pursuit and since I had him in view down a long straight pavement it was relatively easy to catch up. Then I thought, Hell, let's just keep going, he's headed in the right direction anyway.


So I ran along side for a while, and then the magic happened. He turned to me, still running, and his grey eyes, which like most Autistic kids' usually looked anywhere but striaght at people, suddenly gazed directly into mine.and a big grin came over his usually serious face. As clearly as speech he was saying, ' That's it, Dad! You get me! It's really fun to run, isn't it? '


That memory came back to me on a day eighteen years later as we prepared for a trip to the Dentist.


The notice had come several weeks back and I kept putting it off. My son had been making regular trips to town with his Befrienders ( the term we coined to replace the official designation 'Carers' which we felt demeaned him) but this would be a first- the last dental examination had been preformed by a very paient and dedicated hygenist who had made the trip to the house to examine him in situ. This time, however, they wanted to see him at the clinic, and we didn't want to hand this one over to the Befrienders. So I asked him if he'd be willing to go, which went something like this.:


Me: Hey, the Dentist wants to look at your teeth. Will you come with me to the hospital?


Son: I'm not going with you.


M: OK, then, I'll tell her you aren't coming.


S: I'll come with you.(pause) I'm not coming with you.


M: No, I think you'd better stay home


S: I'll come with you!


M: Are you sure? 'Cause you could just stay home and let all your teeth fall out...


S: (getting really annoyed) I'll come with you!!


Came the day, and my wife reminded me to be ready to leave early in case it took a while for him to get in the car. So I went up and found his majesty dressed and winding and unwinding a little wooden ball tethered to a handle which he does when he is stressed, but when I suggested it was time to go we only had one round of 'I'm not going/Ok I'll go alone/I'll go with you/ OK if you want to shall I wait for you in the car,' before he came downstairs in his jacket and long billed cap with his bright yellow ear protectors on.


On the drive to the clinic he was very tense, but I could tell he was going to hold himself in check come Hell or high water. Everything was 'OK!' even though the radio was tuned to a classical station belting out 'Toreador' from Bizet's 'Carmen' , which I knew was not to his taste. In the Clinic where there was a lot of assorted background noises including, from one of the examination rooms, the buzzing of a drill, my son sat rigidly, leafing through a magazine on home furnishings without looking at it, and drinking a cup of water from the dispenser when I suggested it, all with military precision.


Finally we were directed to one of the examination rooms. They had been informed that my son was Autistic, but the dentist was someone new, who hadn't had a lot of experience dealing with people on the severe end of the spectrum. She was, however, accustomed to getting answers when she asked a question.


D: So, do you live with your Mom and Dad


S: Yes


M; Actually , he has his own house.


D: (annoyed and crossing out an entry) Well, do you have a job?


S: Yes.


D: And where do you work.


S: A4  (this was his section when he was in school)


M: Actually, he doesn't work.


D: Well, do you go to school or University?


S: Yes


M: He doesn't go to school anymore either.


D: (tight lipped) How often to you brush your teeth?


S: Yes


D: Do you brush them in the morning, or just at night.


S: I don't brush my teeth. (pause) I brush my teeth.


D: (handing me a form and giving me a look that would have curdled milk) We'll just get your Dad to fill this out, then, shall we?


In the examination that followed, my son behaved with all the heroism of a captured enemy soldier undergoing implemented interrogation. They had this new kind of chair that went all the way back, and he had to wear dark glasses while they shone a bright light into his mouth and the dentist poked around and counted off his  teeth.


Then it was over, the chair powered upright,  and the dentist announced that for his next appointment they were going to show him how to brush his teeth properly.


D: and I want you to bring your toothbrush with you. What kind of toothbrush so you have?


S: Green


M: Just the manual kind


D: (taking a deep breath) and what kind of toothpaste do you use?


S: Red


M: Colgate's, he means the tube is red.


D: Well, you'll bring your toothbrush next time you come.


S: (teeth gritted) I'm not bringing my toothbrush!


M: Don't worry, I'll sort it out.


Finally we had our appointment card and the form I was to fill out, and it was time to leave. My son put on his hat and coat, adjusted his ear protectors and, face rigid, marched to the door. I pretended to cast a spell on the automatic door which got the kind of weak smile you give when someone is making an ass of themselves, and we proceeded to where I had parked the car. My son got in, put on his seat belt and sat there like a graduate at Sandhurst Military Academy, back rigid and legs so tense his knees were vibrating. I closed the door on my side and the storm broke.


S: Don't close that door so loud!!


Sometimes when he does this I simply apologise until he calms down, but in the present instance I felt something more was called for, so I wrapped my arms around my head and wailed for mercy.


S: You closed the door so loud!!!!


M: (in a tiny squeaky voice) you're scaring me!


S: Don't close that door so loud!


M: Oh, please, don't yell at me, I'm sorry. (sob)


This went on for some minutes, until finally he said 'It's OK, stop crying.' in his normal voice and we both started to laugh.


I switched on the engine and pushed the button for Radio 2, which plays golden oldies from the eighties, and my son drummed a rhythm accompaniment all the way home,


The next appointment is thursday. I can hardlly wait.



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