Category Archives: Conversations

Old Favorites, Part V: I’m Not Kidding, I’m Asking Him for Lottery Numbers

autism-awareness
In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, I’m reposting one of my favorite stories about my son, Sam. While there is nothing about this post that is specifically about autism, it’s still an autism post as his diagnosis is a big part of what makes Sam… Sam. There is far more to him than his neurological profile, but there’s no denying that autism is an integral part of his big, beautiful, quirky, brilliant personality. This was originally published December 12, 2007. Since then, Sam has won a Harry Potter toy train (Train Show Raffle in our former hometown,) a $10 Target Gift Certificate (drawing at school in which three students out of 500 won a prize) and a sweet Lionel Starter Model Train Layout (Raffle Prize at a Train Expo two weeks ago.)

Read more Sam posts by clicking the word “Autism” under the “Categories” tab on the right.

Some of you who read here regularly may remember that my son, Sam, has excellent luck. Unbelievable, really. He wins things.

I have never, in any of my 42 years, won anything. Not that I’m bitter.

IMPORTANT BACKGROUND ITEM #1: Last year, while begrudgingly attending a performance of his sister’s play, Sam won seventy bucks in a raffle, during intermission. Then when he entered another raffle, a mere two days after the first, amidst concerned, maternal warnings that most buyers of raffle tickets do not actually win anything, especially not twice, he won the coveted half-hour massage gift certificate.

I worried about the lesson in all this. Gambling = getting stuff. Argh. Then again, it’s hard to argue with a two-for-two winner.

IMPORTANT BACKGROUND ITEM #2: Sam also enjoys lying convincing me of things. For example, when I say, “Sam, I need you to come over here so we can get your homework going!” he likes to point to a spot just behind me and say something exclamatory, such as, “MOM!! LOOK!! FLYING MONKEYS!!” When I look, he runs away. If he wants, say, a cell phone to call his own, he says that he won one and tells me where to pick it up.

So when he tells me things that seem to be a tad, shall we say, unlikely? I’m a little skeptical.

Yesterday, he came home from school and flopped himself on the couch.

Me: How was school, bud?

Sam: Oh, fine, I guess.

Me: Did anything interesting happen at Chess Club?

Sam: Oh. Well, no, but during lunch I won a bike.

Me (laughing, as I playfully punch him in the arm): Har! That’s funny, Sam.

Sam (with smirky, I-really-hope-she-buys-this smile): No, really. And Chess Club was good, too. I won my match.

Then, we went on to discuss the cold, rainy weather, what I was making for dinner (spaghetti), and the fact that it was quiet since the girls weren’t home yet. Sam got up to go get a snack, and I went looking for his backpack, to see what we had in store for homework.

Yeah, right. He won a bike. Har! How funny.

Then, I opened his binder and found a note penned in big, red, teacher handwriting. The note said, “WOW! SAM WON A BIKE!”

Um. Whut?

Unbeknownst to me, Sam’s school participates in a program in which kids earn points for making healthy lunch choices. Choose healthy items over junkier ones; earn tickets. Prize drawings are held throughout the year, for CD’s and books and pencils. Yesterday, they held the Big Grand Prize Drawing during lunch.

And now he’s the proud owner of the biggest, baddest, sweetest set of red wheels I’ve ever seen.

sambikesm.jpg

The Boy rejoices.

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Hannah’s Commentary on My Sunday Lunch, as Evidence of My Rapidly Advancing Age

I happily took a seat in my kitchen with a bowl of Vegetable Barley soup and a handful of cheesy Goldfish crackers. Hannah licked her fingers as she polished off her Kid Cuisine burger and fruit snacks. Then, she stared at me, eyes wide open and totally horrified, as I tasted my first spoonful.

Hannah: Mom?

Me: What’s up, Hannah?

Hannah: You’re starting to get old.

Me: What?! Why are you saying that?

Hannah (getting agitated, because the answer is SO obvious): You’re eating soup.

Me: And that means I’m old?

Hannah (totally exasperated): Old men. Who are sick. Eat soup.

Me: Yes, they do. But sometimes young kids who are healthy eat soup, Hannah. And other people, too.

Hannah (dramatic eyeroll; heavy sigh): Yeah, right.

Old Favorites Part I: Sam’s Secrets Revealed

Brought to you by reader demand… this is the first in a series of favorites. This entry was originally published on May 4, 2006.

That subject line is not so much mine as it is Sam’s title to the poem he made up last night.

Sam is my 10 year-old son. He has high-functioning autism. I struggle daily to find the balance between talking openly with him about his diagnosis, and letting him just be a kid.

Every parent who travels this road knows that slapping a label on your child can be social homicide. But I think Sam needs to understand why his brain works the way it does; how it makes him exceptionally gifted in certain areas like visual processing, math, and rote memorization of spoken language, to name a few.

It is also the reason that he has a 1:1 aide during his school day, struggles to sit still in a classroom, and has trouble understanding how to start or maintain a conversation.

I think he needs to know why he has these challenges in order to conquer them. He also needs to feel proud of the inestimable gifts that go along with his neurological configuration, which is different than most.

I try to be honest and open about it, so that in his mind, it is simply a piece of the fabric of his personality. But I don’t dwell on it. This diagnosis does not define him.

Sam is echolalic, which means he has an extraordinary ability to memorize large chunks of language that he hears from other people, computer games, TV shows. (We received one of our first “this kid is different” red flags when he began reciting the entire text of the children’s book “The Polar Express” — verbatim — at age three.) When speaking spontaneously, he avoids eye contact, his delivery is monotone, and he struggles to find words. But when he repeats something that he has heard, he has all the punch and inflection of a seasoned Shakespearean actor performing a soliloquy.

Sam has a school open house coming up next week. Some of the kids are memorizing poems, to be recited solo in front of a large group of parents and students. A few afternoons ago, he ran inside right after the bus dropped him off, and proceeded to recite — from memory — not one, but all five poems that some of his classmates are learning. He has a wonderful teacher this year who plays to his strengths, and Sam will be delivering one of the recitations next Thursday.

Last night, just before bed, he was running around his room, laughing because he had put on a new pair of underwear over the ones he was already wearing. He was literally bouncing off all four walls and the floor. We have a trampoline and some occupational therapy-approved swings in our yard, and Sam gets sensory integration OT sessions at school every day to help him settle into his body, so that he can sit still. While I understand that his “wall bouncing” is neurologically-based behavior, I still get annoyed when it happens at bedtime when we’re all fried and just want to shut down the parenting engines for the night.

So, while I failed at my efforts to maintain my patience, and chased him around the house with his jammies in my hand, he announced, “Mom! I have a poem!”

Exasperated, I said, “Sam, that’s great, but right now I don’t want to hear it. You need to go to bed.”

He went ahead anyway, smiling and trying not to laugh.

He is often hard to reach. When I see a twinkle of presence in his eyes, I can’t deny him. So I listened.

He smiled and said, “This is a poem about me!” and improvised the following:

Sam’s Secrets Revealed

I’m a great builder.
I am an artist.
I have autism.
I have two overdue library books!
Baseball is my favorite sport.
I hit so many grand slams.
And I’m wearing two pairs of underwear right now!

He could have pulled the actual rug out from under me and I wouldn’t have noticed. In that one brief recitation, Sam revealed to me that he knows he has autism, and that he sees it as just one item in the middle of a list of many things that describe him.

I was elated.

And I’m wearing two pairs of underwear right now.

Regarding that Inevitable Beginning of the School Year Fire Drill

Hannah: Oh, by the way, I had a firedrill today.

Sam: You did?? Hannah, did you freak out?

Hannah: No, but I threw my library book up in the air.

Sam: Last time I heard a fire alarm, you know what it felt like? Intense pressure in my lower intestine, a fast beating heart, and my brain felt like it was on fire.

So, What Could Be Worse than Two Months In A Hotel?

Seven hours in an airport, with three kids, stuck waiting near the gate because of frequent weather updates from the connecting airport. Followed by a missed connection, which resulted in a night spent in the connecting city. With no luggage. No toothpaste. And no clean underwear.

Did I mention the kids? How about the sister-fights at the back of the plane during boarding, after the toothpasteless night, which had me worried that we’d be booted off the plane and added to a never-let-these-fools-fly-again list. All while Sam sat in a nearby seat muttering sweet nothings about guns and bombs, since he saw pictures of them at the security checkpoint. Each time, I spoke sternly about the potential consequences of such mutterings, to which he responded, loudly, “MOM, DO YOU REALLY THINK THE GOVERNMENT IS MONITORING OUR CONVERSATIONS??” Then he continued his Monologue of Weaponry.

They let us travel anyway. So much for Homeland Security.

Oh, Well NOW I Get It

Sam: Mom, don’t you think violence is funny?

Me: No, Sam not at all. In fact, it really upsets me that you think that.

Sam: Mom, girls like dolls. Boys like action figures. Girls like gentleness. Boys like violence. That’s why we have different bathrooms.

Unintentionally Existential Question of the Day, Thanks to Hannah, Who Has Been Obsessed with Puke Since She Had the Flu Two Weeks Ago

“Mom, if I threw up in the woods, would you have to clean it up?”

Discuss.