People process life events in different ways, and for me I usually try to work out how to achieve the best outcome from a situation. So since Boy-Boy’s diagnosis last week (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), I have been doing a lot of thinking.
I have been preoccupied with how best to stoke his special gifts, and in turn help him to develop those skills which he may struggle with. From what limited reading I have so far done about ASD, it is common for those who do appear on the spectrum, to have an interest in a particular field and these are often quite specific. Trains for instance, do seem to hold a particular fascination for many with autistic disorders, and whilst Boy-Boy doesn’t mind seeing them, it doesn’t really seem to float his boat (if you’ll excuse the mixed transportational metaphors).
So I’ve been on the hunt for Boy-Boy’s particular obsession. Unfortunately though, there are two difficulties I find myself encountering.
First, as his communication is rather delayed, he finds it difficult to express what excites him. Either that or I have not tuned in to his particular version of English. I can see him getting increasingly frustrated as he tries so hard to explain something to me, but there are times when I just can’t grasp what he is talking about. This breaks my heart. Surely, if no-one else understands someone, their parents should? Just this morning he was babbling to me and it was clear that he had something really important to tell me.
On occasion his diction is almost perfect and at other times I have to listen for couple for key words and try to make sense of the whole. There are instances though, when he is so excited, that I think everything just comes out at once. This was one of those times, and even after asking him to repeat it twice I just couldn’t work it out, so simply agreed.
Perhaps though, this was one of those conversations when you aren’t quite sure what someone is asking you, so you just say” Yes”. Then there’s that brief moment when your brain catches up and you realise that they were asking how you are, or what your opinion is on the legalisation of class A drugs or the Middle East crisis, and with an embarrassed silence you realise that your response was hopelessly inadequate. If you are like me, you will spend the remainder of the day avoiding this person and silently hoping that you never bump into them ever again (I’m sorry, I’m English!).
Clearly this isn’t an option with your own son, but it may go a long way to explain why he looks at me with such unadulterated pity. In that look, he’s almost saying “Well your feeble brain would never have understood what I was talking about anyway.”
The second issue, is that it is so difficult to know what does turn him on. Certainly letters, numbers, colours and shapes were of great interest to him and still continue to be, but he seems to be growing out of those, or at least applying his knowledge to new skills. As I mentioned before, he clearly has a love of books and will often be found tucked up in bed reading to himself. He is also making significant inroads into mathematics, but I can’t help wanting a little more for him, something a little less academic.
Then I had a brainwave. What about collecting stamps? The idea of neatly arranged stamps each with very subtle differences of shapes, colours, letters and numbers would, I think appeal to him. He currently likes animals, and we could collect those which had animals on them. We could also look at the different countries the stamps come from. As is often the case with my wild ideas (the ones where Mrs L. purses her lips and rolls her eyes), this morphed into a grand plan where I (notice the emphasis) would amass the world’s most complete collection of stamps from the Ross Dependency. In my defence they are very pretty stamps (and they do have my name on them), but the obsession would very definitely be mine and so I decided to have a rethink.
During this time Mrs L. had told me that she wanted Boy-Boy having an interest that was a bit cooler than stamp collecting (I know, I’m outraged too). I asked for suggestions, and she mentioned radio-controlled vehicles, so I duly did some research, and within a couple of hours was totally and utterly bewildered. There is such a wide variety of cars, hovercrafts, planes, gliders, helicopters and boats (and plenty more I’m sure I’ve missed) that I just didn’t know where to begin. The cost also seemed to be prohibitively expensive (especially as he is only three and we are really only guessing whether he’ll like it).
You could probably say that I don’t have enough to worry about, but this really was causing me quite considerable angst. Then over breakfast a few days ago, totally unprompted he started talking to me about the planets of the solar system. He was able to correctly name all of the planets in order of their proximity to our sun, apparently this is knowledge he has gleaned from the internet.
I wondered if perhaps he would be interested in astronomy, and thus another intense fact finding mission began. We are fortunate in Auckland that we have the Stardome, an observatory and planetarium where amateur astronomers and other interested folk can go and wonder at the night sky and its contents. I will be taking Boy-Boy there at some point over the coming weeks, and from his reaction will see whether this interest should be pursued further.
This may all sound a bit daft to you, but I really want him to have an interest which we can share. I hope that it will open doors for us to communicate in the future. If I can open my own eyes to a new field too then that would be so much the better.
When all is said and done, really I’m just like any other well-meaning parent. I simply want the best for each of my children. With Boy-Boy that may take a little more effort on my part (and truth be told, by the time he’s eleven, I may have nothing left to teach him), but he is still my son.
It is entirely possible that I may be over-thinking the whole situation, but I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with my father-in-law. He is very musical, and places high value on learning an instrument. To me it isn’t vital, and I’m not sure we could afford it, yet he asked whether I would encourage my children to play. I replied that I would let them decide. Despite my wanting to always be right there was definitely wisdom in his answer and I will always remember what he said.
“Sometimes you just have to give them a bit of a nudge.”