Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Autism Diaries VIII: time traveling full circle

Ever in search of new avenues for mischief, J delighted when landing on "I've got a gun in my pocket." What a satisfying reaction that earned him at school.

I tend to find the professionals' reactions less satisfying than J does. That is, I prefer descriptive reports, with their implicit assumption that we parents will handle things appropriately, to the usual well-meaning advice & lecture: "Could you please tell him that that's it's totally inappropriate to threaten his classmates. He can get suspended for this." But what really gets my goat is the occasional interrogation: "Has anything changed at home? Has he been watching violent TV shows?"

People keep forgetting that, with autism, the usual rules don't apply. And that, when it comes to individual members of this highly heterogeneous population, the parents really are the experts.

Besides telling J how important it is not to threaten people in school, casting it in part, as usual, in terms of self-interest ("Do you want to get into a good high school in two years so you will later be able to get a good job and earn lots of money?"), I decided to go out of my way to make quality time that evening.

Homework dispensed with, we spent over an hour discussing galaxies, black holes, and time travel. Before I had a chance to describe to him the "grandfather paradox" (what happens if you go back in time and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother, such that you no longer exist as his murderer), J came up with a related puzzle all on his own, inspired by his fascination with 9/11 (an event of which he'd only become aware within the past year). What if, he asked, he took a picture of the "New York Cemetery," traveled back in time to the morning of 9/11, photograph in hand, and locked all the doors to the World Trade Center before anyone could enter. "Then would the pictures of the graves disappear?"

Duly impressed, I had him look up "grandfather paradox" on Wikipedia--along with galaxies, black holes, and time travel.

The next day at school pickup, I found him sobbing. He'd had a very bad day, they told me. He'd started to make death threats again.

"I didn't threaten anyone," he sobbed, inconsolably.

Now I don't trust J anymore than the next guy does, but I do trust his hot, swollen, tear-stained face. So I embarked on an interrogation of my own, and the dust gradually settled.

The threats weren't oral, but in writing. He'd written them not as actual threats or notes-to-self (a la Dylan Klebold), but as part of his literacy class "free write." The someone in question wasn't someone from school, but the 9/11 hijackers. And, no, he wasn't "going to kill" people who were already dead; rather, he was going to travel back in time and kill the hijackers before they got on their airplanes--"New York Cemetery" photograph in hand.


RMD said...

Thank you for sharing.

I don't have any interaction with autism, so your stories provide at least a glimpse into your world.

And this is such a tender story of someone who is trying to figure it all out . . .

Mrs. C said...

That kills me! You know, we have our world leaders saying things like they want Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," but a kid wants to right an injustice that happened years ago (killing terrorists or Hitler, or whatever) and gets into trouble.


I've also heard of zero tolerance going nuts in public school strip searches:


Sheila said...

One would think that he would be rewared for writing about an act that would save thouseands of lives than punished for it.

I have 2 sons with Apserger's. When my husband deployed, the older son asked his father if "he was a cheap soldier or an expensive soldier." This son had spent most of his life playing Age of Empires and knew the difference between cheap and expensive soldiers. But the concept (and the fact that the concept exists) is very uncomfortable for most adults to accept.

Our kids just see it as fact.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is tricky. While you want kids to be creative, thoughtful thinkers and writers, public education wants them to do that in a box. Open your mind but not too much. Alison