Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Word Doesn't Change the Kid: Autism 101

As a new author of this site, I thought I'd start by introducing myself. My name is Jeannie and my six-year-old son, Mr. Busypants, has mild autism. Below is one of my earliest blogs. I thought I'd start off on this site by sharing my story about when autism entered my life and what having a child with autism means to me. Miss Chattyshoes is interested in all things potty. The other day she stood over the toilet to say "bye-bye" to its flushing contents. Suddenly her nuk popped out of her cheeky little face, instantly sucked down to the point of no return. Perplexed and concerned, she pointed to the toilet and begged for "ki-ki." At this young age, Miss Chattyshoes is already declaring her independence. She does so in many ways, but the most obvious is her reaction to peer influence. One of her best buddies is M, a neighbor from across the street. M is 7 months her senior and full of words and wisdom. For example, we've been calling Miss CS's nuk a nuk for 18 months. She spends one day with M and her nuk is now a ki-ki. The same goes for her sippy cup, which was just that: a sippy cup. But M calls it a ba-ba, so now Miss CS calls it a ba-ba. What I knew about autism came from two sources: the movies (specifically Mercry Rising and Rain Man) and a film we watched in the 6th grade (so bizarre that I even remember this particular film) that described autism as a condition where the person was lost in his own little world and behaved like a chimpanzee. The other tidbit I knew of autism (or thought I knew) was that one day a toddler was talking and engaged and seemingly the next his social and speech skills were lost. This was autism to me. And so I began working through my fear that one day my baby would wake up and be mentally, emotionally and socially gone. With me, Mr. Busypants had a boisterous laugh that filled the house. We spent hours running around our house in Lisle, circling through the kitchen, dining room and living room, hiding and seeking, stomping and giggling. With others, he was stoic and serious. When the word autism re-entered my vocabulary, fear as I had not yet known it came as well. It took a while to work through the anguish. For me, the first step was recognizing what autism was and what it wasn't. The DSM-IV defines autism as (I) a) impairment in social interactions marked by a lack of eye contact, facial expression and social gestures. CHECK. b) impairments in communication manifested in a delay in spoken language and (later) repetitive language and a lack of spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play. CHECK. c) restricted repetitive behavior patterns, interests and activities including preoccupation with balls and matchbox cars (CHECK), inflexible adherence to routines and rituals including but not limited to eating French toast sticks every morning two years, throwing a sippy cup and all unwanted food off the high chair tray, being hypnotized by spinning objects such as ceiling fans, and flicking objects such as door stops for extended periods of time (CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK). Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms including head shaking, picking up every stick within a 2 mile radius at the playground, and general Monk-like behavior (think 2002 series appearing on USA about an obsessive-compulsive ex-cop who solves crimes) (CHECK). DSM-IV does NOT describe autism as: (a) futureless (b) hopeless (c) relationshipless (d) joyless (e) speechless (f) loveless In a nutshell, the word did not change the kid. Mr. Busypants is spectacular. You need only look into his eyes to see the wheels turning--the thinking process is like a roller coaster ride. Fast, intense, thrillseeking. It's all there in those bright, blue eyes. He sees things we can't. He organizes. He engages. He responds. He follows through to completion. I fall short on all of the above on a semi-regular basis. From the early age of 21 months, Mr. Busypants had a fascination with water. He couldn't hear me scream his name two feed away, but turn the bath tub on three houses down and he was there in a flash. Part of that fascination extended to the toilet. A week into our new Aurora house, he too "broke" a toilet. Though Miss Chattyshoes hovered over her daddy in the master bathroom as he diligently retrieved her invaluable nuk, I mean ki-ki, from this vital household fixture, Mr. Busypants had dad replacing the first-floor toilet after flushing a mega-block. This kid is larger than life; he thinks big. Jeannie Anderson is a stay-at-home mom with two children, Mr. Busypants, 6, and Miss Chattyshoes, almost 2. She is a part time college-level writing instructor at three Chicago-area colleges and writes about the Adventures of Mr. Busypants at Mama Busy Pants.
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  1. Great post.
    I recognize quite some things.

  2. This is such a great post :) I love your writing 'style'.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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