You may have noticed that I haven’t done a lot of writing about the “autism” part of “life. autism. gerbils.” lately. (Or you may not have. Who am I to know what you notice?) I guess the biggest reason is because while, yes, we still work with Jack’s autism every day, he is kicking ass and taking names.
He seems to have evened out in school—or the school’s not telling me about his troubles. Either way, I’m not afraid of my cell phone anymore, which is good. Based on what I see when I’m in there every week, I am floored by the differences in him this year. Even the differences between now and a month and a half ago are amazing.
The thing is, I remember last year when I was sitting in what is now Jack’s class, but used to be Sam’s, and I would look around the room and think, “Jack would sink like a rock in this class.” But you know what? He’s not. His support is consistent and wonderful, he is interested in much of the work, and, I think most importantly, Jack is getting older, and his age is working for him.
Yes, he still struggles, but less. I see it with his homework. Last year and at the beginning of this year, we had some epic homework battles. He still makes me work for it, but he’s doing so much better.
And he has had so many tiny victories as well. Like when he ate this gummy worm.
Yes, I know that gummy worms don’t technically count as fruit, but Jack ate food that wasn’t brown, so I’m counting it as a win.
He does still use the front of his shirt as a napkin, but I think that’s more due to bad parenting than autism. Seriously. Sam had been taking a lunch to school for a year and a half when someone mentioned putting a napkin in their kid’s lunchbox and I was all, “Oh. Riiiiiiight.”
Jack is also getting so much better at expressing that he wants to be part of something. I always take a million photos (can you tell?), and he’ll smile or ignore or run away like my other kids. But on Sam’s birthday we were sitting down to open Sam’s presents and Jack said, “Wait! Take a picture of me with Sam!”
That had never happened before. He’s never vocalized that he wanted to be in a photo. (Unlike my other two little attention hogs.)
Add to this the fact that he comes home from school and shows me the things he drew that day at school or something else from his backpack at least once or twice a week. His eagerness to share things and experiences is amazing to me.
I do have to say that most of his sharing and eagerness and the rest is directed almost entirely at me. His little self is metaphorically plastered to me. It makes sense that these new ways of expressing himself would start with me, the person he feels safest with and identifies most with. I’m hoping that soon they will transfer to the rest of the family and then, hopefully, to friends and teachers.
I’m starting to see signs of that. It used to be that he would never use other kid’s names, and most of the time, if you asked him, he wouldn’t be able to remember them. That’s starting to change.
Then there’s empathy. Jack has always had a deep store of empathy, it’s just that he didn’t use it on the traditional targets. (The cockroach in WALL-E? Dude, Jack felt that guy.) He’s always piped up now and again with sporadic attempts to make other kids feel better or to show that he is aware of others’ feelings, but it’s happening more and more these days.
Like, the other day when I had some friends over for a Halloween potluck and there was a two-year-old who started screaming when Jack walked in wearing his super awesomely scary costume.
I took Jack around the corner, told him that his awesome costume was scaring the baby, and would he mind taking it off? He immediately started to strip down to his street clothes, and when he was done, he walked straight over to the baby and said, “See? It’s just a costume. It won’t hurt you.”
All of which was completely lost on the toddler who was vacillating wildly between OHMYGOD SCARY BIG PEOPLE IN MASKS!!!!!! and OHMYGOD A BOWL OF MULTICOLORED GOLDFISH CRACKERS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!!! But he did it. All by himself.
All of which is to say that I haven’t written about autism for a while because it hasn’t been causing us a whole lot of problems right now (aaaaannndd now! the problems will start). But honestly, maybe that’s when I should write about autism. Because last year at this time if you’d told me how far Jack would come in a year, I would have cried with gratitude. And every kid with autism is different and no one can tell you what is ahead for you, but for us? What a difference.