Autism’s Sneaky Trick
(This post is not Halloween-themed)
I sometimes get lulled into a sense of “normalness” with regards to my son.
What is it about?
My son is very high functioning (yes, I’m using this term here).
Now at age sixteen and a junior in high school, I’ve noticed myself beginning to take things for granted.
“Can you feed the dog?” He does it.
“Is your school bag packed?” Yep. He did it already.
If I ask, “Can you go to my car and get XXXX?” No problem.
“Can you get the mail for me when you’re done Razoring (on your scooter)?” He does this, too.
He can be typical
On a fairly regular basis these days, my son with autism is rather typical.
As each year passes, that’s become more and more the norm in our lives.
He no longer has an aide at school. He can walk up to the Gamestop by himself and even calls a buddy when he wants to play Mario Brothers.
After he comes home from school, we discuss what school work, if any, he needs to do and he gets a snack. We leave to go to swimming or whatever he may have scheduled that day, or if there’s nothing scheduled, we just chill.
So, what’s wrong with all of that?
Nothing. Except it lulls me into sometimes forgetting that he does have autism.
And, autism can rear its head whenever it wants to.
And, it does.
One of my best friends visited Los Angeles recently. The last time she visited, we got together just the two of us. I left the hubby and kid home, just have some girl time with a friend I’ve known for 36 years.
This time, my friend traveled with a work colleague. She was bringing this colleague to dinner because, well, the colleague didn’t know anyone out here and you don’t abandon your colleague like that.
I totally got it.
A dinner with a friend and my family
So, I figured this time I should see if my husband and son wanted to join us.
So, met my friend and her colleague for dinner.
And, here’s where I have a tendency to forget….
First, my son is currently obsessed with Poland.
We do not know where or how it started (we are not Polish and have no real ties to the country), but he does have autism and he does get obsessions.
So, Poland it is.
This means that my son likes to meet new people these days to specifically ask them if they’ve ever been to Poland.
When it comes to meeting new people, I have gone over a script (of sorts) with him many, many times. “Hello, what’s your name? My name is Jason. It’s nice to meet you. How was your flight out here? Why are you in Los Angeles?”
That script often gets tossed out the window due to his need to find out more about an obsession (Poland).
He wants to connect to people who have a connection with his obsession.
These days, I call it the “Get to the Poland question ASAP” script. “Hi, my name’s Jason. What’s your name? Where are you from? Have you ever been to Europe? Have you ever been to Poland?”
For him, it’s all about Poland.
My friend knows all about my son. The colleague, though, not so much.
No prep work
Second, I failed to prep both my son and my husband about this dinner.
This is the point where I’ve been lulled into forgetting that autism is always in the room. (I tossed my husband in this point because he also needs the occasional reminder about how things really are.)
What’s really going on?
What’s really going on is I’m seeing a very good friend of mine who I haven’t seen in two years. We talk on the phone, text, but it’s not the same. This dinner is really about us.
The colleague, my husband, and my son, it’s all great that they’re there. It’s a group dinner that can only add more to conversations and perspectives, etc.
Autism is in the room
And, with my good friend, I forgot.
For example, after the introductions (where my son pretty much went straight to the Poland question), we sat for dinner. My son wanted to order right away, but the rest of us wanted to look at the menu.
My son excused himself to go to the bathroom (one of his ways to get to move around).
When he came back, we still hadn’t even ordered drinks.
When the waiter came, we ordered drinks and my son wanted to order. Again, we weren’t quite ready.
Finally, we ordered.
When the waiter brought the bread, my son asked him when the food would be ready. (He’s been doing that a lot lately.
I’ve discussed this with him, that a kitchen needs some time to cook the food. Again, autism in the house, and again I forgot to talk to him in the car about NOT asking the waiter/waitress about the food being ready moments after we’ve just ordered.)
Hungry and eager to leave
Like many typical teenagers in this situation (having the wait to eat dinner), my son was hungry. That may have been the reason (at least, this time) for bugging the waiter about our food. I realized this when I noticed that he consumed an entire basket of the bread in about five minutes.
While waiting for the food, the discussions between the four adults went along rather well.
A few times my son would interject with a comment. Once or twice, he said “hi” to my friend, who was sitting next to him. (This is another habit of his… he says “hi” multiple times, even to us.)
At times, he had to wait to say something, which isn’t easy for him. He did pretty well waiting by using a visual signal system that he and I use.
However, he’s still working out the subtle details of when he can talk in a group setting.
The food arrived and we all ate.
Eat fast and move
My son finished way ahead of the rest of us. He asked if he could walk around in the lobby. I often don’t let him do this because he has to learn to sit throughout an entire restaurant meal, but it was at this point that I realized that autism was in the house.
Up until this point, I had forgotten.
How was I going to stay longer, post-eating, to talk to my friend?
I knew my son was going to struggle with my need to stay longer. I was noticing the signs from my son with autism that a long post-dinner discussion (i.e. him waiting for a long time) was going to be difficult for him.
And, it was.
He asked a few times to go home.
He laid down on a bench. I had to immediately ask him to sit up.
And, even though I tried to signal my husband for some assistance, he missed my signals.
What does it all mean?
We forgot. I forgot. Whatever.
On the way to the dinner, parents of a child with autism forgot to remind our child of the oncoming circumstances of a dinner. This was a meeting with an old friend. This was more special than just the three of us going out to dinner.
This wasn’t the normal thing.
And, I should have prepared him better.
Prep work before the dinner
I didn’t because, these days, I feel myself being lulled into a state of “he can do it” more than I should.
Which, in a strange twist, is both good and bad. My son is very capable. I love that part.
All I have to do is remind myself that autism can show up…autism does show up…and it’s okay.
Just make sure I put autism into the equation, talk with my son, and prepare better.
These things happen. It all worked out fine.
The layers of autism plus how my son grows up and changes and progresses and gets closer and closer to becoming an adult…this formula can be fluid…yet also stays the same.
Autism’s Sneaky Trick
Here are some tips for going out with a family member who is on the autism spectrum:
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