Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Every year as I'm unpacking the Christmas boxes, I find treasures packed among the tissue paper, like old friends come to visit for the holidays. So many ornaments remind me of the people who gave them to me, friends or coworkers I may not have seen in decades.

The most precious of these, of course, are the ones my son has made with his own little hands. Paper plate Santa faces:

Christmas trees created with tiny fingers dipped in green paint:

Ornaments made from macaroni glued to a paper plate and spray-painted gold:

Some are meticulous copies of an original:

Some reflect a more bohemian style:

Most were made at school:

Others were created at home in a spontaneous outburst of holiday enthusiasm:

All of them are so precious. They remind me how fast he's growing up. My days of macaroni Christmas ornaments are behind me. I probably won't get anymore gifts made of handprints. But all of these ornaments are a living memory of my little boy. Every year when I take them out of the boxes, I remember how little he was when these treasures were made. How proud he was to bring them home and hang them on our tree.

All are a reminder that the best gift I've ever received is my precious boy. Happy holidays to you and yours!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Autism's Amazing Power of Self-Focus

Some animals eat their young. And I think I know why. They're probably sleep deprived because their little ones won't let them sleep.

Charlie's been working some late nights lately. It's really hard on him, cause he's not a night person. He doesn't have as much energy as he used to. When we were first dating, we could both work all day and afterwards go to dinner and a movie. These days I'm in my pajamas as soon as the sun goes down. We're normally in bed by 10:00 pm. Might watch the news for a few minutes, but I'm usually out by 10:30. I have to get up early to get Jack off to school. There is no sleeping late in this house. Jack won't allow it.

He's gotten pretty good about falling to sleep in his own room most nights. We have a whole bedtime routine we follow: bath, snack, reading, teeth, bed. The flannel sheets and pre-warmed bed (I turn on the electric blanket when he gets in the shower) make his bed all cozy and sleep-inducing. A small dose of doctor-prescribed Melatonine helps, too. But sometime during the night all this coziness wears off, and then he's awake.

Usually when he wakes in the night, he just stumbles into our room and crawls into the sleeping bag that's a permanent fixture on our floor. Most nights I'm not even aware of his arrival. I just find him sleeping there in the morning. It's those occasions when he wakes early in the morning and can't get back to sleep that are a problem.

Today was one of those mornings. My sleep was interrupted by lots of rustling sounds from the floor below my bed. "Jack, be quiet! Daddy and I are trying to sleep!" More rustling noises. "If you can't sleep, get up and go play on the computer. But be QUIET!"

"Can I take the dogs out?"

"Just go out and be quiet!"

By this time, Daddy, who didn't get to sleep until after midnight because of his late shift, is awake and not happy about it. "Jack, if you can't be quiet, you're gonna have to sleep in your own room from now on!"

Lots of self-recrimination ensues on Jack's part. "I'm so stupid. I don't deserve breakfast. You should just kill me!" Such a drama queen!

I have to remind myself that his brain works differently. He just doesn't seem able to empathize with the feelings of others. My friend Melinda says he's very "self-focused." That's one way to put it. He'll cry and be upset if he sees animals or children being mistreated on TV, but he doesn't seem to be aware of the feelings of those around him.

One of my favorite shows is "Parenthood" on NBC. They have a character on the show, Max Braverman, who has Aspergers. His behaviors are very similar to Jack's. A few weeks ago they had an episode where Max's parents have promised to take him to a museum, but they end up having to work that day and aren't able to go. Max's sister has to study, so she can't take him. Max, who is about the same age as Jack, decides to go by himself. He ends up getting lost and being returned home in a sheriff's car. Max's sister, Haddie, is the neurotypical sibling who bears the brunt of Max's behaviors and has just had enough. Watch her reaction when Max is returned home to his family: Max Comes Home (Parenthood). He's completely clueless about the worry and anxiety he has caused all of them.

Jack's world pretty much revolves around Jack. I don't think it's so much selfishness as it is self-absorption. He can be very loving and sweet, but he's very focused on his own needs, often to the exclusion of the needs of others. I'm hoping we'll be able to teach him to think of others a little more. I'm just not sure how much his brain will let him. But we'll keep trying.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Changing the World One Recess at a Time

Jack is not exactly an outdoor boy. He would rather be in front of a computer or a video game console than almost anywhere else in the world. That's why I was so surprised that he and his school buddies had taken to playing a game at recess with the unfortunate name of "Butts Up." I don't know all the details, but I understand it involves hitting a big rubber ball against the outdoor wall and then kids doing stuff with the ball. There may have been some throwing of the ball at other children.

For some reason this game became banned by the yard duty ladies in the past couple of weeks. Most likely safety issues were involved. Jack and friends were not pleased. "It's the ONLY thing I like to do at recess," he moaned.

Well, Jack and his buddies have been watching the news. They've seen the Occupy Wall Street protesters on TV. Jack saw the footage of the UC Davis students peacefully protesting yet another tuition hike and getting pepper-sprayed in the face for it (seriously, Channel 13, how many times do we really need to see that horrific footage??? Enough already!). He's heard the stories his dad tells about how people in the 60's protested against the war in Viet Nam. He learned in school about the colonists protesting against British rule (hello, Boston Tea Party!) when they were unhappy about the way things were going. This country was founded on Freedom of Speech and the right to peaceful assembly.

So they did the obvious. They decided to Occupy Recess. Mostly this involved about 10 or so boys and girls chanting, "We want Butts Up! We want Butts Up!" during recess. The yard duty ladies were amused. The Principal and Vice Principal were called in. Phone calls to parents ensued. No law enforcement agencies were involved. No television cameras were on scene to record and replay events endlessly on the late news. No one got pepper-sprayed.

Once the dust settled, the kids were instructed to collaborate on a set of rules agreeable to everyone that would meet school safety rules. If the Principal decides they're acceptable, Butts Up could be reinstated.

An American Civics lesson come to life: when you see something wrong, take action to change it. Our little radical. He makes us proud!