Those who know me even a little bit, probably know a couple of things about me. The first is that I am the father of a moderately Autistic son, for whom I have cared for the last seven years. The second is that I am a father of children ranging in age from mid-thirties, to seven.
This puts me in a somewhat unique position, in that I have watched my older three children grow from babyhood into “full blown adults.”
All of my children—including the youngest (Autistic) one—are intelligent. I’m not going to tell you that they’re substantially above average intelligence (though I reckon it likely the case), but I will tell you that, up to the time my youngest came along, I never expected I would have major problems with any of them making their way past that “magic year” of twenty-one—much less past eighteen.
My judgement on this has proven to be pretty valid.
Further, I have had some small involvement with nieces, nephews, and the children of others. Enough such interaction have I had, as to be able to pretty readily tell whether a child was having issues with things they were expected to have mastered. To be honest, I can often tell well before whether or not a child is likely to have such problems.
Of course, it’s not always true that I can do that, but generally, you can see the signs pretty clearly.
What has this to do with the title and premise of this post? Simply this, when I tell you that my son is pretty substantially “behind the curve” in a variety of ways, Im not speaking from a position of naiveté. I have watched and dealt with any number of children who’ve had various kinds of concerns (often not really even understood yet to be so). I know pretty well what that looks like, and how to evaluate “where they live.”
So when I say to folks that my son really didn’t know his name until a bit over a year ago. Oh, he sort of answered to it, and to be fair, he knew it was his name (first only until very recently), but if you asked him, “What’s your name?” He could not tell you. It was even worse when it came to strangers, but to be fair, that’s to be expected, as he has tended to have “trust issues” to the extreme.
By seven though, most children know their address, one of their parents’ phone numbers, their name, often the ABCs, how to read at a very low level, and they have some idea how to write.
What if I told you that Garrett recognizes maybe two or three pieces of Roman writing symbology at age seven? He can generally recognize threes, lower case Es and maybe one or two other letters or numbers. Real reading or writing is something to be hoped for in the distant future.
On top of this, there are many concepts you would mostly expect a child of seven to grasp. For example, the idea that, just because the sun starts setting slightly later in the evening doesn’t mean time changes along with it. I grant you that my son’s expectation is not entirely unreasonable. He thinks the Museum or the Zoo should stay open longer because, “The sun is still up Daddy.”
I won’t say either, that non-Autistic children around the same age may not have problems understanding this concept, but with Garrett, it’s a matter of some effort to accept that what he wishes to be true is not actually the case.
Some of the things with which he cannot deal, are more common among people his age. “You have a card, you must have money!” and “Why would you want to save money Dad? There are all these cool things we could buy with it!” By these childishnesses, I am not remotely surprised, nor do I consider them particularly abnormal.
The problem is, most folks hearing about the things that do concern me, appear to be unable to understand just how problematic they can be, and frankly, the level or abnormality for the “symptoms” in question.
It may come to pass (nobody quite knows for sure), that my son comes to understand those things that are mysteries to him today. I think we can be sure that will be the case for some of them at least.
Will he ever learn to read at any significant level? Will he ever understand writing well enough to master it—even in a rudimentary way? I and others responsible to get him there on these and other similarly grave issues, will continue to answer them with a resounding, “Yes!” if I have my way.
I know though, in the back of my mind will be a doubt until and unless he manages to master the things in question. Again, I will continue to work diligently to get him where I would have him be, doubts aside, but one can never entirely assuage those concerns, short of that moment of sufficient success.
Perhaps one of the most important hopes for me, is that I can help him to motivate himself towards goals that seem insurmountable at present. How? By letting him dream, and giving him the idea that, if he’s willing to do the work, he can achieve those dreams. Desire can be an excellent motivator after all.
Today, Daddy bought his boy a simple “Lego pack.” Normally, I take the pieces out of the packages and put them together. On the Christmas break, he actually did a large part of a small set. Tonight, I insisted on eating before doing the build.
Garrett took it upon himself to start—without looking at the “instruction book.” The cool part? He was doing what the book said he should be doing, in order to complete the police car he started on.
I was able to use that to have him do the rest of the set. This is the kind of thing I want to do. To motivate him in ways he maybe doesn’t even realize.
A quick note though, when you meet someone who probably has experience and even years beyond your own, before assessing what they’re saying and assuming you can comfort them with “Lots of kids are slow like that.” Or similar, please think twice about doing so. Not only is it probably not comforting to hear that, it’s probably mildly annoying.
Thanks for reading, and may your time be good.