Assorted questions from the abortive reddit AMA, email, and The Month of Son ask page.
A stereotype I have of people on the spectrum is that they don’t love in the way that neurotypical people do. Your descriptions of your time with him certainly sound affectionate. Do you think it is fondness or just familiarity on his part?
Both, I believe.
There is a set number of people with whom he will interact — family, friends of family, teachers, therapists — and he seems indifferent to the rest, so he’s not indiscriminate. When we take him to the playground, for instance, he is the politest child you can imagine, patiently waiting his turn for the slide and never pushing past another kid. But he also does not interact with them socially. Compare this to how he behaves around people he knows. The more familiar he is with someone, the more likely he is to come hang around (or on) them, squeeze their arm, sit next to them on the couch, and so forth.
He gets excited when his grandparents visit, even to the point of insomnia if they arrive too late in the evening. To see him in those instances is to know that there is genuine affection, and not just familiarity.
Follow-up: Does he have aversions to some people?
Again, he only really reacts to those he is familiar with. But, yes, sometimes there are aversions. For instance, if he is watching TV and suspects that I might tell him to turn it off, my entrance into the family room is greeted with a hearty “PAPA GO AWAY!”
Do you have to speak to your son differently than you do to other kids his age?
While we pretty much know the extent of my son’s ability to express himself, it’s difficult to determine his receptive language. He’s certainly capable of understanding and following a wide range of simple commands, even those he has never before heard. For example, when I recently told him to “go downstairs and bring me the mouse,” he disappeared for a few moments and returned with the mouse in hand. I had never uttered that exact request before, but he had no problem parsing it. This is in stark contrast to his expressive language, where he very rarely utters something new.
Even so, when making requests of this sort I tend to make them as simple as possible, and emphasize the key words. In the example above, my exact enunciation was probably more along the lines of “Go downstairs. And bring me the mouse.” We’ve noticed that we can chain together about three requests maximum, before he loses focus.
Conversationally, I speak to him as I would any other child his age. When we are in the car, or on a walk, I just chatter at him about whatever is on mind. I didn’t used to do this — for a while I thought there was “no point” in doing so, on the theory that he couldn’t comprehend what I was saying anyway — but one day I realized that I didn’t really know if he could understand or not, and forced myself to keep up a one-sided conversation.
At first this felt very weird to me, a situation I called “the Reverse Harveyeffect.” In the play Harvey, you may recall, the protagonist holds animated conversations with a companion that only he can see, leading others to view him as insane; in my case I was speaking to a child that everyone could see, but that I alone “knew” couldn’t understand. But after a while this became natural to me, and I keep this monologue up whenever he and I are together. And I know he hears me, at the very least; heaven help me if I accidentally say “swimming pool”, for instance.
It’s often suggested that ASD has a heritable component. Do you buy that theory? Do you consider yourself 100% neurotypical?
I buy this hypothesis, yes. And although folks in IT self-diagnosing as slightly autistic has been all the rage ever since the Wired AQ Test was published, I’ll go ahead and do so anyway.
Ironically, I don’t think this is evident to my friends and acquaintances, because it’s something I’ve worked to overcome. As a child I was not super comfortable making eye contact, for instance, and this persisted into my teens. At some point I realized that this was a limitation in job interviews, where eye contact is viewed as a sign of confidence and trustworthiness, and so trained myself to hold eye contact more regularly. Now I can stare down the best of them. Likewise, if you saw me at a party, and if i was making an effort to “fake it”, you would probably be unaware that I generally find parties unnerving.
What are your favorite/least favorite terms to refer to an autistic kid? What are your favorite/least favorite terms to refer to a non-autistic kid?
Some people dislike the word “autistic”, because they feel it defines the child completely in terms of his or her disability, and prefer “person with autism”. I’m fine with either, but tend to use the “with autism” formulation because it’s just as easy, and doesn’t raise any hackles.
I have heard children with autism, especially those with Aspergers, referred to as “little professors”, which I find charming.
The term I generally use when referring to non-autistic children is “neurotypical”, because I prefer “typical” over “normal”, and because “neuro” clearly calls out the distinction.
Does your son enjoy reading?
It is one of his favorite activities. It is unclear how much he comprehends, but he’s always been fascinated with words.