The Squirrelly is inexplicably three. I have no idea how that happened. It’s as if time were some sort of nonspatial continuum in which events occur in irreversible succession from the past through to the future, or something.
And while “The Squirrelly” suited him well when he was an infant and toddler, a more dignified blogonym seems appropriate for someone of such a wizened old age.
And so fair readers, I give you “Squiggle.”
Though he will, of course, continue to maintain his secret identity.
In the year and a half since Squiggle was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), he has been averaging about 25 hours of therapy a week, the bulk of which is Applied Behavior Analysis. He has made great strides, thanks to an incredible team of professionals who work with him five days a week. His eye contact, for instance, has improved immeasurably, as has his response to his name. This is fairly incredible when you consider that these two symptoms–the earliest hallmarks of ASD–were the most obvious manifestations of his condition when he was diagnosed at the age of eighteen months.
These days, his most noticeable deficiencies are in the area of expressive language. While he will ask for things he desires (“want Booty” is a common utterance in our household, and not just by me), usually say “hello,” “goodbye,” “good morning,” and “good night” unprompted, and occasionally point things out to us (“that’s a truck!”), he’s not much of a conversationalist. He seems to have taken his father’s aversion to chit-chat to it’s logical conclusion. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for us to know, at any given time, what he wants or how he’s doing. We can usually deduce his needs, but he doesn’t exactly spell them out.
Which is kind of ironic, given his obsession with spelling. (The kind with letters–not Tori Spelling, thank god). We suspect there may be a touch of hyperlexia in the mix. He learned his alphabet quite early; he wrote his first word at 2 1/2:
(That, by the way, is what he does when you request that he “smile for the camera.” )
He has a special affinity for writing As and Es. We will sometime find them scrawled, in erasable crayon, on a cabinet and doors, occurrences we have come to attribute to “The Mad Voweler.”
His current favorite toy is the Superman Laptop, which is no surprise they apparently used the Autism Society of America as their focus group for market testing. (“I like it, but it needs more buttons, bee-boop noises, and letters.”).
“I’m Superman!” says the toy, in a voice completely unlike any actor who has ever portrayed Superman in any medium. “Can you help me find the W?” Squiggle presses the correct key, and the toys crows, “Good job!” It’s cool that Squiggle likes it so much, but it makes me kind of sad. I grew up thinking of Superman as a role model, someone faster than a speeding bullet and faster than a locomotive; my son will grow up think of him as someone so helpless that he has to enlist the aid of toddlers to find the “F” on a keyboard.
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We still believe that Squiggle is “high-functioning,” through it is too early to determine whether is has Asperger syndrome, Kannerian autism, or just some hodgepodge of traits that will eventually be diagnosed as PDD-NOS.
The question of his cognitive abilities is a tricky one, unfortunately. He’s maxed out some tests; on others he falls on the low end of average. As with most attempts to quantify intelligence, the results largely depend on what specific skills they are measuring and how they elicit his responses. And, obviously, his disinclination to express himself verbally complicates any assessment.
We are currently considering our schooling options. Our hope is to eventually enroll him in a FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) preschool–in which a mix of ASD and neurotypical kids share a classroom–but their services are highly sought after, and there is a considerable waiting list. In the meantime we will likely have him attend a regular preschool a few times a week, accompanied by a therapist who will help facilitate his learning and integration. Squiggle has attended music class for years (one class a week–not continuously), and does well in group settings, so we think he will fair well (and possibly thrive) in a classroom setting.
* * *
Though much has changed in the last year and a half, one thing remains constant: Squiggle has the most delightful disposition you are ever likely to encounter. Seriously, the kid could charm the pants off of another pair of pants. We recently received a thoroughly objective, dispassionate, and clinical assessment on his progress from the University of Washington, and, even here, the psychologist couldn’t help but describe Squiggle as “endearing” and “sweet.” This seems to be the consensus opinion, shared by everyone who interacts with him (except for our cats, who still view him as Monkey the Napwrecker*).
Raising an autistic child is frequently frustrating and often exhausting, but it also brings it’s own rewards. In many respects it is like watching a foreign movie: sometimes you feel like you don’t have enough context to understand everything that is happening, but you appreciate that you are seeing a story completely different from the conventional narrative.
Squiggle is different than typical kids, but that’s okay. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be the son we love so much.