Friday, January 9, 2015


Edited February 7, 2015 to add content.

Rowan walked up to me in the kitchen this evening and said, "Mommy, did you know that ten plus ten equals twenty?"

"That's right, it does," I replied.

He continued almost without pausing.  "And twenty plus twenty equals forty, and forty plus twenty equals sixty, and sixty plus twenty equals eighty, and eighty plus twenty equals one hundred."  He then went to his little whiteboard that hangs on the refrigerator and proceeded to write them out.

I was a bit taken aback by all this, but not as much as you might think.  Rowan surprises me with his knowledge almost every day.

Rowan is officially diagnosed as autistic.  He is funny, loves to make jokes, loves to "help" anyone who needs assistance (as long as it doesn't involve picking up toys), requests salad for dinner, reads The Chronicles of Narnia and the Oz books, reads Frog and Toad, is teaching himself Spanish via YouTube videos, regularly begs me for a cat, loves to wrestle with his elder brothers, plays "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, and, apparently, has progressed to two-digit addition.  He will be six on Saturday.

None of that has anything to do with his autism.

I strongly suspect that Henry is also autistic, although we haven't yet had him checked.  Henry adores his elder brothers, knows his alphabet, can count to one hundred (and backward from twenty), can recognize by sight several words, recognizes patterns, knows most of his basic colors, plays "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, refuses most food except peanut butter and blueberries, and is enthusiastically teaching himself addition via his place mat.  He turned three in November.

None of that has anything to do with his autism.

I suppose it's petty, but I get rather annoyed when people equate intelligence with autism, and vice versa.  I hear it frequently, usually right after I mention autism.  "Oh, those kids are so smart."  "Wow, autism really makes them smart!"  "Wow, he's sure smart.  What else would you expect when he's autistic?"

I want to smack them.  Things that really, really vex me about the above statements:  1) They assume that anyone with autism must therefore have above average intelligence; 2) they are (albeit unintentionally) disregarding natural intelligence without autism; 3) they are implying (again, unintentionally) that I couldn't have smart children without them being autistic, and, 4) the separation.  Those kids.  They.  The different ones.  That lot over there.  The ones who act kinda funny.

It stings.

Yes, my children are autistic.  Yes, that means I have to modify my behavior to prevent meltdowns, to the point that I hardly think of it anymore because it's so ingrained in me.  Yes, my nearly-6-year-old still pees his pants.  We haven't even started potty training for Henry yet.  I've been waiting for reasoned communication to start with him before attempting it, but I might go ahead and try anyway.

Autism is about so much more than "smart kids who act strange."  I know we're supposed to celebrate their differences, and most days I do.  Most hours I do.  Some days, some hours I wonder how I'll go on.  Autism is so very exhausting to deal with.  Do you want to know what autism means to me?

It means potty training that goes on for years, because Mom, I HATE using the bathroom!  It just wastes so much time!

It means a three-year-old whose brain doesn't know how to answer a question posed to him, and instead just repeats the question back to the asker.

It means thirty minutes of anguished sobbing from a six-year-old who has to return a lightsaber to its owner.  

It means a child sneaking plastic forks or measuring cups out of the kitchen drawers and standing for several long minutes passing them before his eyes, tapping his feet to a rhythm only he can hear.

It means a child who, when told what negative consequence will happen if he continues his unacceptable behavior, considers carefully whether it will be worth it to continue the unacceptable behavior anyway.

It means a child who sobs uncontrollably if I sing, whistle, play the piano, or make any kind of music.  (Playing recorded music is okay.)

It means a child who cannot--not will not, but cannot--recognize that anyone has the right to authority over him.

It means carefully crumpled packets of tea being dropped one by one onto the floor.

It means compulsive, purposeful coughing and throat-clearing that goes on for hours, happening every thirty seconds or so, not due to illness but just because "something in my throat feels funny."

It means I am trying to speak a language I do not understand, using words and ideas my children cannot grasp.  It is not a matter of diction, but of whole patterns of thinking which cannot be explained.

So yes, my precious little boys are Those Children.  The strange ones.  The ones who don't quite fit in.  Henry is more so than Rowan.  They have many odd characteristics; intelligence is not one of them.  Yes, they are undoubtedly intelligent, but that does not spring from the autism.  It is a combination of genetics, being exposed to learning opportunities, and being given the freedom to learn.  It drives me batty that "intelligence" is offered by oblivious onlookers as compensation for everything my children are, and are not.  Intelligence should not ever be listed as "compensation" for anything.

I hate autism.  I hate, hate, hate it.  I do not hate my children's autistic traits, although those traits are undoubtedly inconvenient and frequently bothersome.  What I hate is not being able to translate the thoughts in my head into phrases my children can actually comprehend.  I hate not having a clue what messages they are trying to get through to me.

And yet, even with as much as autism is a part of our lives, that is not who they are.  Many of their actions are defined by autism, but it does not control their natures.  They are sunshine.  They are joy.  They are lively, energetic, boisterous young masters of destruction.  They are laughter and hugs.

My boys have autism.  It has not swallowed up their identities, and it neither causes nor detracts from their intelligence.  Please try not to equate the two.