For other write ups about my son, see Growing up with Autism Growing up with Autism 2 An American Story A trip to the Dentist
mentioned before the system of 'Befrienders' (as we call them) who
support my Autistic son; ie, take him places, shopping, on walks,
help with housework ( he lives in the cottage atached ours) and very
much etc. . The official term is 'Carers' which conjures up for me a
group of officious middle aged ladies cooing to him in what we have
come to call the 'Special Needs Voice' . If you know someone on the
spectrum who has contact with health care professionals you'll know
what I mean. Otherwise think Nurse Ratchett on Prozac. There was one,
a bloke who came to assess my son at a time when he was at his most
withdrawn, who insisted on visiting him in his room. 'He doesn't
like strangers, and he probably won't respond if you talk to him, '
I cautioned. 'Don't worry, I just want to look in on him,' the bloke
responded, so we trooped up the stairs to my son's bedroom.The
exchange that ensued was short and went something like this:
Worker, all six foot four of him looming over my son's bed.:
So, and how are we today?
curled up on the bed and opening one eye: Get
the fuck out of my room!
was impressed - I didn't think he knew the word. Needless to say the
bloke beat a hasty retreat.
all come a long way since then, thanks in good part to the
Befrienders. After the Swedish lady who read him all seven Harry
Potter books three times over, at a time when he hardly left his
room, we had a young lady from a farm down the road who taught
classes for learning disabled kids at the local University. My son
was so smitten with her that I believe he would have followed her
anywhere; certainly the whole transition from his bedroom to the
cottage next door ( which we did in a combination Keystone cops and
Blitzkrieg one afternoon when he was out back with her) was only made
possible because she was able to sooth his fright and rebellion at
the change of scene.
there was a fellow I'll call Rick. We interviewed Rick as one of a
whole slew of people who responded to an ad for Befrienders we ran in the local
paper. He was a chap in his thirties who confessed openly that he
knew next to nothing about Autism, only that he worked part time in a
local care home from which he had just been fired. We found him vague and
self-effacing to the point of invisiblilty, and told him
two weeks later Rick showed up at our door cradling a three month old
puppy. He announced he felt for some reason that he would really like
to work with our son. He did not enlarge on his qualifications, but
insisted that he felt a strong desire for this particular job. It was
the puppy that did it. My wife, bless her, took one look at those
melting brown eyes (the puppy's) and invited him in to have a cup of
tea and talk about it. The upshot was that we decided to give him a
son was less than pleased. Good looking women were one thing, but he
already had a Father, not to mention an older Brother who wouldn't
talk to him and why did we need another man around the place?
least that was my take on his reaction. What he did was to virtually
ignore the poor guy for nearly a year. Rick would arrive, tell my son
who was invariably in bed that he was there, and then sit downstairs
and wait. And wait. And wait some more. If I came along, my son would
deign to go out to look at the chickens, or walk down to the adult
-size swing I'd built for him by the river. Otherwise, bupkis,
became despondent. I spent I don't know how many afternoons
explaining to him that my son's relationship with the young woman
from the farm down the road was of a different quality than Rick's
relationship, that as a young man in his early twenties it was only
natural that my son would be more receptive to someone of the
opposite gender... - 'You're saying I haven't got tits,' Rick
interrupted with a bitter smile. I agreed that this was substantially
I urged him to persevere. 'He does this to everyone at first', I told
him, which was true. It was also true that whenever I asked my son
privately if he would rather Rick stopped coming, he would always say
'No!' I got the distinct feeling that my son was enjoying the contest
has to feel that he is the boss, ' I told Rick. 'Just follow along
with whatever he wants to do.' Gradually, almost imperceptably, they
started doing things together. First just a session on the swing,
where my son insisted Rick stand alongside and watch and not talk.
Then Rick was invited to take a turn on my son's mountain bike..
Still no talking allowed.
wonder of wonders, one day the four of them, my son, Rick, our dog
Finn, and Rick's puppy, all trooped off across the river and up the
hill for an hour long walk. I will confess that I spent the hour
mostly scanning the hillside with binoculars trying to spot them, to
no avail, and at the end there they were, spashing back across the river,
the dogs playing tag and all four of them spotted with mud and
grinning like loons.
outings followed- Rick had a mountain bike of his own, and one day
the two of them went up into the hills ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD
( as my horrified wife put it) and returned two hours later even
muddier having explored the forestry roads in the distant pine woods
around the radio beacon.
to the present. Rick has been unswerving in his crusade to get my son
to a public swimming pool, and last month saw success. I went along
as supercargo the first time but I might as well not have bothered.
Both of them merely swam laps for over an hour, my son gamely trying
to learn to backstroke, and made it out and into the car for the
return journey with only a minor melt down when Rick closed the
driver's door too abruptly.
You closed the door so loud!!
Sorry, mate. Fancy some music?
that was that.
the latest thing is Movie Night. Rick had been upset that my son refused to watch a movie with him, so he devised a day's program where
after swimming, they would come home and watch 'The Dark Knight
Rises,' which had the added incentive that the cave used in the film
happens to be in the neighborhood, a short drive away.
was after diinner that night that my wife came into the living room
and beckoned to me with an odd look on her face. 'Come here, ' she
said, 'You've got to see this.'
I followed her, through the connecting door to the neighboring
cottage. Said door was wide open, and there on the floor were Finn
and Rick's dog, and the two boys, Rick and my son, eating popcorn out
of bags with identical expressions of rapt absorption as they watched
Batman save Gotham yet again.
life to you, Rick, I thought to myself, Long life and many