I wonder how many of my fellow parents of special-needs kids dread driving with their little love-ball of behaviors? I figure that for every autistic kid who takes to a car like a happy panting dog, there must be another autistic kid who takes to a car like a freaked-out cat.
So let me just express my gratitude to the cosmos and the gods that we’ve got a dog here. Dar even likes to stick his head out of the window…uh, when we let him.
If you’ve ever been a new parent, perhaps you’ve heard the advice: if you need to calm down baby, take baby on a drive until baby falls asleep. Yeah, Dar may not have emerged from that phase.
Actually, that’s not true. He hasn’t fallen asleep in the car in years. His brother, who is pushing five, will fall asleep after maybe two hours on the road. Last summer in Alaska demonstrated that even eleven hours in a car seat doesn’t get Dar snoozing. Too much to see.
I think Dar genuinely digs the landscape rushing by, how his eyes can switch it from clear pictures to a blur whenever he chooses. Probably a more intense version of how he already perceives reality.
Years ago, Dar would freak out in the backseat only when we were stopped at a particularly long light, or waiting in the parking lot for Mommy. He doesn’t do that anymore. His learning curve is long, but still parabolic. He gets that eventually, we’ll be on our way. The back of the car is quite the happy place for him.
That said, he does struggle a little bit with his seat belt. He has been known to try to escape his restraints. Occasionally we catch his feet on the floor – even while the belt is on. Luckily for us, unlike his brother, he hasn’t quite sorted out how to unbuckle himself.
If the outside temperature is anything above about 65˚, and we’re not on the freeway, I like to leave Dar’s window open, because I know how much he loves it. (I also feel that when you live in California, you should drive with the windows down as often as possible. Smell the quality of life.) Wifey worries that someday Dar will try to jump out his window. I recognize the concern, but it wouldn’t be like Dar to break free of his restraints and then leap out a window into an unknown fate. That would require two major efforts in a row. It’s the same reason I generally trust him on balconies and near pools. Sure, he could try, but he’s cautious.
Anyway, while driving, I don’t really need prompting to keep an eye on Dar. One reason is that I like seeing him as happy as he usually is while there. A second reason is that Dar occasionally throws things at me from the backseat. We still don’t really comprehend why he does this in a car, on our deck, in our yard: throwing his stim objects where he can’t get them. Appeals for our engagement in games? Cognitive dissonance: I want it, I don’t want it? Whatever it is, it’s dangerous while driving. The only solution is to keep things away from him. Once or twice, his shoe has landed in the area near the gas and brake, and I’ve slightly freaked. I guess that’s the price we’re paying.
As a general rule, though, driving with Dar is more of an unalloyed pleasure. Besides his typically sunny mood, I enjoy being able to say whatever I want to a captive audience. It’s all the venting of driving alone, with none of the shame of driving with my wife or other child. Dar gives absolutely no sign that he understands anything I say. He doesn’t even react to any change in my tone. So I just let my comments rip on all the other drivers and pedestrians.
Me: “You’re changing lanes in an intersection. Did you get your license in the mail or something?”
Me: “I know this is asking a lot, but could you put down your phone for just five seconds out of every minute for a change?”
Me: “Oh please, walk like you’ve got 400 years to live. No, the rest of us have nowhere to be, that’s fine.”
Me: “So for some reason, you think it’s acceptable to drive 10mph on a single-lane city street. See, when I don’t know where I’m going, I pull over to let normal people pass me.”
Me: “Really? I suppose using your signals would be a violation of national security?”
Me: “Oh, that’s great. I’m sure you’d love it if I did that to you.”
Me: “See you and I are such different people. I don’t make other drivers unnecessarily use their brakes. For you, that’s no big deal.”
Me: “You are the first car in a left-turn-only lane. AND you just let the entire light cycle go by. That’s awesome. You know, I would have brought a book if I’d known we were going to be here FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.”
Dar: “Daddy, could you tone it down?”
I’m kidding, he doesn’t say that. Believe me, the first day he ever calls me “Daddy,” this blog will cover that for a month.
But that’s okay. Because when I drive with Dar, I love him more.