Monday, November 29, 2010

Hello, Strangers

I've been MIA for the last week because sometimes autism sucks.  Sucks my energy, sucks the air out of the room, sucks my patience.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've seen an increase in what I like to call Bastard Behavior.  This means that at the slightest hint of frustration, Ryan will hurl his body into the nearest wall, collapse on the floor, launch into a cascading whine that could grate cheese, and insist that he has hurt himself.  Alternately, he will throw the object that has caused him frustration, then throw himself on the floor to whine and scream.  Lately, this has been happening dozens of times a day.

We used to order him to stand up or urge him to be calm, but now we're just trying to ignore the Bastard Behavior altogether.  It's very hard to ignore.  And sometimes it's not possible to ignore, like if he's throwing himself into a crowd of strangers at the Holiday Train Show, or, say, hurling a large wooden toy through the glass door of my entertainment center. 
Ryan believes I can fix this.  He is wrong.
But we attempt to show him that we are actively ignoring him - I'll make a big show of standing near him while not reacting.  This has not yet made a dent in the frequency or duration of these Bastard Attacks.

I had a faint hope that this uptick in Bastard Behavior was due to his discomfort of having his first two loose teeth.  But the Tooth Fairy came twice last week, and the behavior has continued.

Ryan is very proud about losing his teeth.

He's lucky he's cute, because lately that's about the only thing that's keeping him alive.  I'll be on the verge of killing him, and he'll snuggle up to me and spontaneously say, "I yove you," and I'll melt and let the bastard live another day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Greatest. Conversation. Ever.

Ryan and I just had a conversation.

I think it was our longest conversation to date.

I showed him the heating pad I've been using on my knee (the latest derby-related injury). 
I said, "Wanna feel something warm and squishy?"
"Feel something warm and squishy?" He poked at the heating pad.  "What is it?"

Wow, it's very rare he will ask me to identify an object.

"That's a heating pad," I replied.

And guess what he said next?  You won't believe it.

"What's a heating pad?"

Omigod, this is huge.  I explained the purpose of a heating pad.  He continued to examine this new object.

"Open it?" he requested.

I explained that it doesn't open, and then his attention shifted to something else.

So let's mark this officially:  Age 5 - Ryan asks what an object is and what it's for.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hit or Miss

Planning activities with Ryan can be a challenge because it's hard to predict how receptive to participation he'll be on any given day.  I've come to anticipate either magic or disaster, but nothing in between.

The Halloween season is filled with opportunities for fantastic adventures and/or utter failures.  We experienced the full range.

Halloween weekend, my mother suggested we take Ryan to a corn maze at a small teaching farm.  Warily, I agreed, knowing Ryan would either love running through the corn, or he would freak out and demand freedom and we'd have to figure out the shortest route out of the corn field.

I'm pleased to report, the day could not have gone better.

Our first stop at the farm was a petting zoo, in which kids could pet and feed pigs, goats, sheep, llamas... Well, they could feed the animals as long as their parents were willing to spend $1 per lettuce leaf;  I was not willing to do that terribly long.
Goats are not easily amused.  I am.
The biggest hit of the day was the mice.  Ryan was totally focused.  I think he would have played with them all afternoon if we had let him.  I'll let the video speak for itself:
Stu and I have since brought Ryan to a pet store to let him visit some mice, but we've decided to hold off on any pet purchases until we've sold our apartment.  Somehow, Stu thinks the sight and smell of rodents would be a turn-off to potential buyers.

In the corn maze, Ryan was delighted.  The maze featured nine numbered mailboxes, each of which contained a piece of a map of the maze.  Ryan loved running through the maze looking for numbers, and taping together the little map sections.  Truly, I can't imagine that day going any better.

The next day was Halloween.  Ryan had given me zero indication of what sort of costume he wanted to wear, so he wound up like this:

Stu and I have debated whether Ryan was a Pizza Monster or a slice of pizza being eaten by a monster.  In any case, he was gluten free.

Ryan was reluctant to leave the house to go trick or treating; he kept asking to watch cartoons.  Once we dragged him outside, he was happy to run down the sidewalks and look at decorations in the dark, but he gave no indication of noticing any costumes or caring about what people put in his plastic pumpkin.  When we got home, he dutifully dumped out his candy on the floor and ate one piece, but the haul has gone largely unnoticed since then.  He does, however, like to hide random toys in the pumpkin.

Another annual fall tradition around here is The Great Jack o' Lantern Blaze near Sleepy Hollow.  Every year, thousands of hand-carved pumpkins are lit and arranged in a dazzling display at an historic mansion.  There are full-size dinosaurs made of pumpkins, a sea of pumpkins carved with pictures of fish, a plot of undead pumpkin people rising from their graves.  Quite spectacular.

Ryan cared for about 2 or 3 minutes.  Then he spent the rest of our tour of the pumpkins sitting on Stu's shoulders, asking to go home and reciting scripts from computer games.  This was far preferable to last year's experience, which involved dragging a crying, whining Ryan past the sights in a cold wind, but it still wasn't a great time.

And I have nothing to say about my building's annual Halloween party, because Ryan walked in the door, turned around, and walked right out.  But since we knew to go into the situation with no expectation of success, we were not disappointed or surprised.  The highs of one day balance the lows of the next.

Friday, November 5, 2010

We've Come From the Future

I have not yet read What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. I have a hold on it at the library and plan on picking it up this afternoon. All I know about it is what's in the blurb on Amazon and what I heard in five minutes of an interview with the author on NPR. The gist seems to be that technology evolves in a biological way, and that people and technology evolve together. In the piece of the interview I heard, Kelly was discussing that after early humans invented cooking, humans' bodies changed so that today we need many foods to be cooked.

As far as I know this book says nothing about autism. But what little I've learned about this book has inspired in me a new hypothesis:

What if the dramatic rise in diagnoses of autism since 1981 is actually a result of the information age?  What if autistics are the people of the future?*

Individuals with autism are uniquely suited to working with computers and are known for their ability to process data in an analytic way.  There's a market out there for Aspie talent: Aspiritech hires only people with Asperger's to do software testing because of their unique attention to detail, laser-like focus, and ability to perform repetitive tasks.  I can think of no previous time in history when autism was such a potential asset for society.  Maybe the genes for autism are expressing themselves with more frequency now because the time is right.  Where would our tech-driven culture be without the Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gateses of the world?

Perhaps autism is one of those mutations that doesn't help the individual reproduce and pass on his genes (social awkwardness often limits mating options), but which aids the society at large, and is therefore beneficial.  I've heard similar arguments about homosexuality: gay individuals traditionally produce fewer children than their straight counterparts, but their social contributions benefit the larger population in such a way that their families are better able to reproduce and perpetuate the gay gene.

So yay for supportive lesbian aunts, and hurray for uncles with autism who have the potential to advance the technologies that improve all our lives.

* Please note I am pulling this out of the air.  I have no scientific basis for what I'm saying.  This post is pure distilled Truthiness.