May 14, 2010

Hindsight, Tuning In

As we learn more about Asperger's and learn to recognize the signs, our hindsight in looking back on our years with Jackson is becoming perfectly 20/20.

• Remember that time, dear family, when we went to the state fair and spent the whole day there as we always have but Jackson was looking noticeably zoned out and "lost" about midway through the day? Remember how he needed to ride in the stroller with the sunshade out AND a blanket hanging over the front AND he asked to wear his cousin's sunglasses? Yeah, that was sensory overload at it's finest. Yet our son seems to have amazing coping skills and (so far) hasn't inserted the tell-tale loud, earth-shattering meltdown that is usually associated with sensory overload...

• ...except for one time just before Amelia was born, when we went to a picnic and someone was shooting off those "worm balloon" things that go straight up in the air and squeal out their air very loudly as they make a crazy zig-zag back down to earth. That was the only time in my son's life that I've EVER seen a total flip-out. He had PURE FEAR on his face, screamed over and over, burst into tears, grabbed the leg of the nearest older child next to him (she was about 10, so a lot taller than him), realized she wasn't me and started running for the driveway to get away from the sound. I grabbed him and started consoling immediately (as everyone else was laughing and having fun) but he never recovered that night and talked about the dreaded worm balloons for a good year after that. Those balloons CLEARLY hit one (or multiple) senses for him in the wrong way and he just lost it. 

• There was a time when Jackson was having horrible separation issues at our ECFE class when it came time for the parents to go down the hall and leave the kids for an hour (with the teachers). He was about 2 1/2. The teachers and I tried everything, but nothing was working for him. On a whim one day at home, I grabbed a piece of paper and sketched the classroom. I drew out each spot where he liked to play ("this is where you do art, this is the sensory table, here's where you play with the big truck"), and we "played" within this paper classroom for about five minutes. We even sang our circle songs. Then I grabbed more paper and drew the hallway, then the parent classroom and drew footsteps to show me going down the hall, getting a cup of coffee and sitting down at the table. He asked me to tape the sheets together and then studied it for a good long time. I think he even kept it in his room for a few weeks. After that, we had ZERO separation problems. That's a perfect example of visual learning, something that Asperger's kids thrive on (and I didn't even know what I was doing/dealing with back then!).

• Jackson's verbal ability is beyond his years, to be sure. Everyone is always astounded by his vocabulary and "mature" way of speaking (even his evaluators). We've always found it cute and quirky that he memorizes entire Thomas the Tank Engine episodes and reenacts them with his trains or adds in a line from one of his shows or books when we are chatting with him. He's "read" books to his sister with 100% accuracy--even though he can't read--and narrates almost all of his play with phrases like "oh no, gasped James, the old wooden bridge is going to fall! James quickly sped across the bridge to get to the other side and alert the others about the dangerous passageway." We've always just thought this meant he was smart (and it does, he is) but what it really means is that he's AWESOME at echolalia. It doesn't have to be a bad thing that needs to get "fixed" out of him, but there are definitely times when he's using it because he knows a response is expected of him, and he needs to buy himself time to process a good/appropriate one. Coming up with an appropriate phrase from one of his stories gets him off the hook in a cute way. (Aspies are s.m.a.r.t...........)

So much of his language sounds different to us now in this context. This new way of helping him understand what we mean with visual cues is astounding because it actually works. And his sensitivities to light and sound (and I have my suspicions about taste sensitivities too) are getting so much more obvious to read. It's almost like we are living with a different kid, even though we are the first to say that he's the same boy now as he was before the diagnosis. WE are the ones who are different now. We are finally tuned in to our boy, to learn about why he's been tuned out so often, or more appropriately, tuned in to a different channel. The reception was static-y for a long time, but now we're tuned in loud and clear.

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