Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "normal" child inside, III

The miracle child who stars in popular accounts of autism has several unfortunate effects on autism families. One, his/her "story" raises false hopes. Two, it may lend credence to expensive and time-consuming but ultimately futile "remedies." Three, to the extent that the child claims to be speaking for all autistic kids, bearing witness to "what goes on inside our minds," and telling everyone "what we really want," s/he may be spreading misinformation about what autism "really is"--and further compromising decisions about optimal treatments.

Four, s/he delays our acceptance of who our own child really is. And five, his/her miraculous emergence and/or recovery diminishes our appreciation for the smaller miracles that our own children may sometimes exhibit: that moment of extended eye contact; that first expression of curiosity; that first one or two-word utterance; that revelation of unexpected ability.

The actual miracles of truly autistic children range from small social breakthroughs of the sort that parents of typical kids take for granted at much younger ages, to unusual non-social skills like multi-digit mental arithmetic and photographic memory.

For me personally, the actual miracles of J's that have impressed me the most involve him using his manipulative mind to compensate for his social deficits. Never is this more apparent than when he impersonates someone on his iPhone.

When he's not impersonating anyone, then even those who don't yet recognize his phone number can almost always tell it's him. This is because he quickly lapses into naughty words, questions about ceiling fans, or requests for people to make the hand sign for his favorite number ("Sign 2!").

But when he is impersonating someone, generally his father, he's been trying with growing success to pass as normal. Here's his recent exchange with F, one of the people whose ceiling fans he's hoping to get on film. He's pretending to be D, his father, and, as is apparent below, he had F fooled until the very end--despite the occasional grammar mistake.

J: J and H [J's sister] wants to come to your house. Obviously, it would only work on weekends because of school days. Any available dates? --D 
F: We don't have any plans to go away until October (Columbus Day weekend I think) 
J: That's good. How about Sept 7-8? 
F: I have a training sat morning. I'll check w/ C and get back to u ASAP. U. How are you guys? Kids started school yesterday but E missed today and will miss tomorrow due to throwing up... 
J: Any weekend in Sept is fine. [sic!] 
F: Ok. I'll come up w/ a date 
J: Sign 2
J: Sorry, that was J on my phone saying to sign 2.
J: By the way, H had been eating lots of tomatoes lately*, so just keep an eye on your tomatoes when she comes. 
F: Hmm. Are you calling me from a new phone? I have a different # for you. 2 phones? You calling me from J's new phone? Oh, and we always have tomatoes on hand :) 
J: J doesn't really have a phone yet. 
F: Didn't he get one for his birthday? 
J: He just got a broken phone so he can pretend he has a phone. 
F: Ah. 
J: Sorry, J was on my other phone. Don't believe him whatever he said on my other phone.
Unlike Carly Fleischmann, he'll never get on 20-20 for this. But those who know him well were pretty darn enchanted.
*J is always looking for opportunities to slander his sister with claims that actually describe him rather than her.

1 comment:

Deirdre Mundy said...

Wow... the only clue there is really the lack of sympathetic response to the child throwing up!

(Note to J: Correct response is "Oh! That's Awful. I hope she feels better soon." You can use this for any non-terminal illness. People like it when you pretend to be concerned about minor viruses. Then they're more likely to accede to your request to visit their ceiling fans....)

Really, it sounds like you could teach him to pass for normal online! Just remind him to imitate a normal person..... (As someone who does most of my work online, I actually have online job interviews from time to time. So if you can teach J to pass for normal in those, he may be able to work from home when he's older!)