While going through the MFA program, I wrote about J a lot. J wasn’t my thesis, but he was the topic of my Creative Nonfiction classes. He was eight years old at the time, and I had a lot of subject matter to write about. I wrote about the quirkiness of autism, the feelings of inadequacy I felt being his mother, the small victories we had, the really puzzling aspects of autism to which I had no answers. I didn’t realize it, but often I would refer to J as “that kid, this kid, or the kid.” Someone in workshop picked up on my word choice and asked me, “why do you write about him as ‘the kid’?”
I wasn’t really sure. It wasn’t for artistic reasons. It wasn’t a nickname. I think, looking back, it was because sometimes I see J as this sort of wondrous anomaly. A person who is fully impossible to explain, sometimes strange, sometimes fascinating, almost always incredible. Because the world is never predictable when J is around.
This week was a short school week. The kids have been home ever since Wednesday afternoon, and even though our schedule has been pretty laid-back, I’ve noticed 3 small (big) movements in J’s growth.
1. The Dentist: J had a dentist appointment Wednesday (in retrospect, it probably would have been easier to schedule it on Thursday or Friday when he had a day off, but I literally take my life one day at a time and am really bad at looking at the calendar to see when the kids have school off) and I really hadn’t prepared him for it. In the past, we’ve done “practice” dentist scenarios at home, weeks leading up to the appointment. I’ve mentally prepared him for the event, we talk about coping strategies, the dentist has given us plastic dentist “tools” to help him get used to having those objects in his mouth. But this time I didn’t do any prep. Maybe because I’m tired of “prepping” all of the time. Maybe because I was just hoping that we’d get a break on this, and J would be just fine with it.
No prep at all. And guess what? He rocked it. In fact, he rocked his cleaning so well, that the dentist was really impressed/surprised as to how well he did. Usually, the dentist has a “bargain” where he will count and once he reaches a certain number, J can have a break. And he didn’t even need it. It was no big deal. At all. It was as if he’d never in his life experienced anxiety at the dentist’s office.
2. The Doctor: Thursday I decided to take J into the walk-in to get his fingers checked. J has a HUGE compulsion for picking his fingers–to the point where they bleed. To the point where they are bright pink, because it’s really a deep tissue injury. His left index finger had a dark wine-red patch under the surface and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t infected or worse. It ended up being just deep bruising, but I decided, on the fly, that since we were already in the dr’s office (and had paid the $30 copay) that we might as well get a flu shot while we were there. Once again–no prep at all. I
“Since we’re already in here and there’s no infection, can we get a flu shot?” I asked the nurse right in front of J. “Of course,” she said, and J started to flip out a little. “No, I hate shots. I don’t want a shot.” But it wasn’t in his anxiety-stricken voice. It was, for lack of a better term, a normal “kid” protest. When the nurse came back in with the shot, she cleaned his arm, I reminded J how to time his breathing and he got his flu shot. “I did a great job with that, didn’t I?” he said. The nurse was almost shocked by how calm he was through the whole thing. “Yeah you did,” she said. “You didn’t even flinch.” And she was right. He was relaxed through the whole thing–no shock reflex. Nothing. Not even a reaction to the little drop of blood while the nurse got a bandaid. I’m telling you–this kid.
3. The Dance: Every few months, our church holds a dance for teens, and J is always super excited to go. Usually Steve takes J, but Steve was pretty burned out Friday night so I opted to go with J instead. All of the things that have given J such stress and heartache since he was a toddler–dim overhead lights coupled with flashing disco-ball light, loud music, crowds–were no big deal. J was ready to pull out (his very awkward) dance moves–except there was a slight change in plans. The kids were getting a lesson on how to ballroom dance. So J and I coupled up and tried to follow the directions for how to properly “box step” for a waltz. Coordination, quickly processing the left and right parts of his body and motor skills have never been on J’s list of strengths, so we modified a “step side-to-side” motion to the general beat of the music. Of course, the instructors picked us out right away as doing it “wrong” (not realizing that J has autism) and gave quick directions on which foot steps forward, to the side, and then back again (which is the exact opposite) of what I do. And within 5 minutes, J had it “down” just as well as any other 14-17 year old boy in the room.
In one week, I’ve seen three really small, but really big times where J has “grown up.” I know I’ve talked before about milestones, and how hard they are as a parent of a child with autism. They’re hard because your kid is so behind everyone else’s. They’re hard because when they finally do master a new skill, it’s not as “big of a deal” because all of their peers have long-passed such exciting things. But these little (big) things are exciting. Not because J is becoming “more normal,” but because I see that he’s becoming a lot more comfortable in a world that feels at times so uncomfortable for him.
Can’t help but be proud of this kid.