Saturday, February 3, 2007

Burning Questions

Sally Cat

Sometime around 2 a.m. this morning I was laying in bed with Sally Cat, as is our custom when she’s ill. —Misery loves company, after all! That scallywag was crying and sniffling and feverish. Sally Cat can be dramatic at these moments, and a bit of a whiner.

And yet she often responds to a headlong wipeout by getting up—with budding goose egg on her forehead—and shouting “I’M OK” while tearing off after Huckle!

So, there she was, feverish and cranky when she suddenly grew quiet. Then she asked her question.

“Mom, do bears really love honey?”

I thought: where on earth did that come from? Then lo, to say nothing of behold, she went right back to sobbing and complaining.

A couple of days ago, she interrupted another drama to calmly ask, “Can horses swim?” Yes, at that moment, that’s what she needed to know.

I have no idea if other children ask such questions. But they’re commonplace around here. Perhaps Sally Cat is an Aspie. Could be.

The mind overshadows the body.

Great aspies in history

It’s well known that Aspies like our Huckle have two positions: ON and OFF. There is no middle, or idle, or “lemme think.” No, there’s run like the wind OR sleep like the dead. —That’s it.

But that can make switching difficult.

I know the father of an Aspie boy who, until recently, had to sit at his son’s bedside and physically hold his child’s eyes shut to help him reach “off” at bedtime. Other parents make use of music, aromatherapy, weighted blankets, and elaborate bedtime rituals to help the Aspie mind find OFF.

It can be exhausting. Sometimes, OFF is good. If you can just flip that damed switch!

On the other hand, maybe “off” is overrated. After all, four-year-old Huckle thinks and says some pretty awesome stuff. “Where was I before I was born,” comes to mind. That’s a damned good question.

Just the other day, he hunted for a lost toy. I helped him look, but I could not find it. I finally said that it didn’t seem to be anywhere.

Huckle said: “everything is somewhere, Mom!” and he just kept looking. My jaw dropped. The child maintained a truth of which his mother had lost her grasp.

What would this benighted world be without such blazing bulbs as Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats, Bertrand Russell, Einstein or Newton? And let’s not forget Dan Akroyd. Or even Andy Kauffman and his alter ego “Tony Clifton.” Okay, forget that last guy, he was just a jackass, but you see my point. Where the mind never sleeps, great things are attainable.

Atypical illumination

If you ever hear the parent of an Aspie say, “My child isn’t normal," here is my advice. First, resist the urge to kick that parent. Then suggest that they consider saying that their beloved Aspie is not mediocre or typical or average.

No, their Aspie child is highly ILLUMINATED, a Xenon headlight in an oil lamp world. Yes, he is atypical. He is not “normal.” But who can say that the Aspie does not transcend the normal, or at least stand with complete equality beside it?

Undeniably, in our harsh world, the atypical can be made to feel beneath it instead.

There is no zero

Recall the transcendent moment at the end of 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man. Our hero is shrinking, and, for a long time, he is made to feel inferior. Normal people do not grow smaller. They are 5 foot 5 or 6 foot 2, and they stay that way.

But not our hero. He keeps shrinking. It’s not normal. He is horrified.

But then, as he approaches the infinitesimal, he realizes his mistake:

I was continuing to shrink, to become... what? The infinitesimal? What was I?...[W]as I the man of the future?...[W]ould other beings follow me into this vast new world?....

I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God's silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite….And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too.

To God, there is no zero!

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Melancholy Hour

AFTERNOONS are the saddest part of the day. I’ve wondered why that’s true since I was a child. Maybe it has to do with the position of the sun, gravity, bio-rhythms.

I doubt it, though.

It seems to me it must be that, compared to mornings, afternoons are the time of day when possibilities have run out. The day has taken its course, and whatever novelties you had hoped to encounter, goals you planned to achieve, breakthroughs you’d hoped to make, have turned up—or not. One is forced to face what one has made of one's time.

Mornings, on the other hand, are chock full of the unknown. The day is up for grabs!

For instance, this morning I shuffled out of the bathroom to find Huckle in his jammies, feet stomping, harmonica in hand. Never mind the slobber accompanying his haphazard riffing. He was harpin’ and cuttin’ a rug while Beans howled from his post on the couch.

It was a sight to behold!

When a day begins with such exuberance, one can be nothing but hopeful about what is to come. One imagines, “today our Aspie might surprise us with his adaptability."

It happens.

This kind of morning makes afternoon even more disappointing. By the time the low, winter sun is sinking behind Fargo’s leafless trees, a sense of disillusionment, even despair, is hard to shake. It can be so heavy that scrounging for a kazoo, or maybe even a jug, to reignite the morning’s hootenanny crosses ones mind.

The sun always sinks.

But one can make a fire, sit quietly and listen to Huckle and Sally Cat:

“Sally Cat, share or I’ll disappear you!”

“Huckle, you can’t disappear me right now! That’s an outside trick—it’s too cold to go out today.”

And, just like that, the afternoon is gone.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Biggies And Smallies

IT MAKES SENSE for most of us to give some thought to the idea of biggies and smallies.

You know what I mean: the BIG and the small. I.e., proper perspective.

Consider how one reacts to current events. Take global warming. A 20 ft. rise in the level of the sea in the last century is something to take seriously. One might well freak out about it.

It’s a BIGGY.

—As compared to, say, a dry winter in Fargo. Yes, looks like we won't have much flooding and we might have brown grass this spring. (Yawn.)


Classifying things as biggies or smallies provides a way to adjust one’s reaction, making it commensurate with an event.


Applying this concept to parenting is endlessly useful. If you are raising an Aspie, it’s more than that.

Activities, which are merely annoying-yet-tolerable, such as dumping out the dog shampoo into the bathtub and using the tub as a “skating rink,” are eclipsed by other more severe deeds. Pushing ones younger sister down so that she gets dog soap in her eyes and bangs her head against the tub is altogether not-in-the-slightest-bit-tolerable.

Never mind how the Dog Shampoo Affair came about in the first place. It seems an Aspie doesn’t apprehend the differing degrees of intolerability in these two instances. Aspie-boy sees no Big-E. No Small-E. Just E, evidently.

The appropriate magnitudes need to be spelled out: Stop. Think. Remember.

Let’s face it: the biggy/smally concept is extra useful in a family with Aspies. It’s ├╝ber-useful.

FOLKS WITH A.S. have difficulty distinguishing biggies and smallies on their own. Several studies have pinpointed a pattern in those with AS brain functioning, relating to the way individuals process information. Results from these studies revealed a difference in what is termed “executive functioning”—that is, among other things, the brain’s ability to organize information. When confronted with events of differing degrees of importance (or naughty-ness, as the case may be), it is not apparent to HUCKLE (aka Aspie-boy) that there is a hierarchy of any kind.

Here’s where biggies and smallies come in. The number of biggies is always bigger with an AS child. My son has trouble perceiving cause and effect and must try everything in a real “hands on” way to test his theories. This inevitably leads to mishaps of all variety, which mostly fall into the smally class. Such was the dog shampoo incident. It is important to react to such incidents with a tone that accurately reflects the severity of the situation: dog soap-skating rink=laughter, sister narrowly avoiding concussion=severe consequence. In this way we attempt to model a reasonable reaction to events and point to a hierarchy, which a neurotypical person might intuitively understand.

Another reason for using the biggy/smally concept is that, if we tried to “discipline” our AS child every time he did something objectionable, we would quickly run out of consequences of significance to him. The parent of an Aspie has a conspicuously finite number of discipline tricks in her parenting bag. The interests of the AS child are narrow and may change rapidly. This makes finding a valuable consequence extremely challenging.

Let me tell you, nothing instills an Aspie’s parent with more confidence than heading off on a family outing, armed with a consequence, which is sure to deter any objectionable activities: “If you don’t cooperate, you can’t watch Thomas the Tank Engine when we get home.”

But we parents of Aspies (POAs) must be ever-spry, as the AS child’s interests are narrow and fleeting. The hair stands up on the back of my neck when I think of times when, in the midst of an outing, I trotted out my well planned consequence, only to find that Huckle had moved on to greener pastime pastures.

So the next time you find yourself getting uppity with your Aspie at every turn, STOP! You’re sending your youngster the implicit message that everything he does is worthy of correction. We should be teaching these magnificent kids that only some of what they do is iffy.


Try to catch everything, Grasshopper, and you catch nothing.