Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Living The Penguin Life

Some time ago, Mom-NOS came up with the perfect metaphor for autistic kids in the neurotypical world.

Here, I present a lame imitation, because I have been watching A Wish For Wings That Work, and it so fits our world.

We live in a duck world. The world is full of ducks- versatile creatures who swim, dive, and fly. They can soar magnificently through the skies, then plunge into the depths. Nobody worries about the waddling, because hey, everybody waddles. So its cool.

My kid is a penguin.

The difference between ducks and penguins is not so great as between toasters in hair dryers. You would never mistake a hair dryer for a toaster. But with ducks and penguins, they are both birds. It might take a minute to point out differences. After all, they both waddle. They both swim. They both have feathers. They are both birds.

At the same time, a penguin is not a duck. Penguins waddle, but they walk upright. They swim, but instead of just kicking with their feet, they use their wings as well. Penguins are excellent swimmers, and they get the waddling thing done in their own way.

But they cannot fly.

Penguins living in a duck world spend their lives being ridiculed and pushed about not being able to fly. After all, they are birds, they have feathers, why can't they fly? Teachers push them to fly. Peers tease them about not being able to fly. There is an obsession with flight in their families, because after all, this is a world where birds fly!

Penguins cannot fly. They are not made to fly. They're penguins, not ducks. They can swim far better than ducks, but that is ignored by ducks in a duck world.

What is great about A Wish For Wings That Work is it shows us that it is important to have a variety of talents and gifts in the world. A duck and ice water don't get along, but penguins swim beautifully in it. We need penguins. Just in case Santa falls into an icy pond and needs to be rescued.

Another interesting sideline is how Opus treats Bill throughout the film. The rejection of others who are disabled by people with their own disabilities is something we are noticing more and more. On the surface, Bill has no talents to share. But look closer at the clips. Bill has loyalty, he has the brains to know who can help. He may smell of brussel sprouts, but he is not useless. He's trying to live in a duck world, too.

And best of all, Opus does fly at the end. With some help and support, some appreciation for the talents of others and support for their challenges, we can all live in a duck world. Or perhaps, just the world.

Monday, November 01, 2010

When Silence Is Not Golden

My son is autistic.

He repeats words and phrases to comfort himself and make himself laugh. He sometimes picks up on words when you least expect him to, and then repeats them for weeks.

He uses language to communicate emotions by attaching emotions to words, even when those words may make no sense out of their original context. He often repeats blocks of words and phrases he has heard before, modifying them slightly to fit what he wants the words to do.

When frustrated or angry, he often runs out of words and cannot process language effectively, either expressive or receptive. The result can be a meltdown or an attempt to escape the painful emotions.

He loves people, but is unsure how to talk to them or react to them, and finds them confusingly unpredictable. He also loves and fears dogs for the same reason.

He reads beautifully, but hates doing it because it "hurts".

If someone is hurt, he is the first to be in at their side and trying to make them feel better.

He loves math. His favorite game is to think up math questions to ask and giggling over the answers.

If someone teases or bullies him, he does not have the social skills to manage the situation or the language skills to effectively report it to someone else. He is hurt and sad, but cannot explain why. He gets grumpy and touchy, but can't express the connections to the problem.

He understands you better if you use sign language while you are speaking. If you show him "I love you," he will say, "I love you, too!"

If you ask him about his day, he will recite his schedule, or script an answer. But he gets grumpy if you don't ask.

I remember the silence. I remember the days of wondering what was brewing in that golden head, and eagerly awaiting every sound, every word. My son's voice may not be what anyone expects, but if you listen, he is filled with the joy of the world around him, and is sharing it the best he can- and has insights to share in seeing the world through his eyes. You just have to take the time to listen.

So listen up. Joey is speaking.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!