And now to let you in on a little secret: Dar is actually a lot easier than some kids. In some ways.
When he’s not fussy, he’s actually kind of an angel. As a kid in a house – not in the real world – he’s very independent. He takes care of his own stimming and rarely demands attention. This of course doesn’t count his regular “tee-tee-tee”ing sound; at this point we hear that the way that New Yorkers hear car horns.
Compared to his three-year-old brother R, Dar is far less demanding. No matter how long I play with R – an hour? two hours? – the minute my butt touches the seat in a separate room, I hear, “Daddy?! Where ARE you?” And part of me still loves it, because I’ve never been called “Daddy” by Dar. But I don’t mind admitting to you R can be a little exhausting. Dar is mostly happy doing his own things.
We push Dar to do vocabulary exercises, and he can squeal or squirm against those. He doesn’t love me holding his hand as we walk around places, and that resistance isn’t fun. But we’re learning each other’s areas of toleration, and at this point we can happily tolerate each other 95% of the time.
Dar makes family car rides and TV room time easier simply by not expressing a preference. R will insist on this Beatles song or that Queen song and begin blubbering if we choose the wrong one; I can only imagine what some parents go through juggling two or three such patterns of requests. Likewise with the living room TV in the evenings. Occasionally Dar will bring me his talker (an iPad) and ask for TV even when the TV is already on, and I take that as a sign that he wants us to change it from his brother’s preferences to Dar’s apparent favorite, Sesame Street. And we do that, although HBO recently screwed us by turning our previously hour-long Sesame Street distractions into disassociated half-hours.
It’s not just about media selection. The other day, I was walking to the park with Dar and our dog, Mosley. Mosley tripped along the path, as he often does these days (long, separate story), and his 80-pound body fell onto Dar, rolling Dar into patches of ivy. I freaked; Dar didn’t. He just picked himself up and kept walking. This is so typical of our little un-neuro-typical boy. There’s something bulletproof about him where he doesn’t get bothered by the same physical discombobulations that other kids experience. Maybe he’s too stoic, but for us, stoic is an unalloyed upgrade.
One exception remains restaurants; he can’t typically last in them longer than a half-hour without screaming to leave. A second exception is bath time. He loves baths until the moment we bring out the nozzle to wash his hair. Once again his brother has shown us the way. Eventually, R’s neuro-typical talking skills taught us that water in his eyes is the true irritant, and a ready towel to the eyes can really reduce R’s discomfort. However, in Dar’s case he doesn’t understand when we say “CLOSE YOUR EYES!” Thus, no matter how close we keep the face towel, washing his hair is, for us, still the third act of a horror movie.
That said, Dar’s random twenty-minute screamfests are pretty much a thing of the past. His second-year-of-kindergarten team has commented that his behavior has considerably improved from his first-year-of-kindergarten. 95% of the time – I’m guesstimating on that number – he’s Easy like SunDar Morning. Somehow, Dar is more or less used to his routine, used to us. Let me very dramatically wipe my brow: whewwwww.
Last summer, Dar had one of his random meltdowns just before we got to Four Corners, turning all of our photos of that particular location into fodder for awkwardfamilyphotos.com. But that kind of thing didn’t happen even once when we drove to Tahoe over Christmas, or around the East Coast over Easter. When his brother gets angry about his usual 3-year-old issues, we tell him something like “Do you or do you not want to win the Best-Behaved Child of the Trip Award?” Nowadays, it’s not much a contest.
Dar has got a certain “this too shall pass” thing happening now. That doesn’t mean he can talk, and that’s still stressful. But most of the time he seems okay just hanging out.
Maybe, just maybe, autism has something to do with his stoicism. And so maybe, for the very first time, I’m willing to put myself in that group of parents who talk about their autistic kids’ condition like left-handedness or freckles, a sort of good-news-bad-news thing. Maybe I can ease up a little.
Okay, I’m not that easy about it yet. I’m still more easy like Wednesday afternoon.