Wednesday, July 21, 2010

i hate wii

Games are hard for autistics. Yes, these kids often do well in circumstances with clear patterns and expectations. And it's true that a game, once learned and loved, can become an obsession. The problem, however, is learning the game and dealing with all the human details that go with it.

In Chutes and Ladders, for instance, you have to take time to distribute game pieces and find the dice. With Uno, you must shuffle the deck and deal out the cards. These necessary parts of any game are bewildering and excruciating for autistic kids, or at least for Martin. My son perceives these activities as needless hurdles between himself and the pleasure of the game.

And so it is with Wii. Martin's cousin has a Wii. Martin loves to play Wii golf and bowling. He is dreadful at both, but enjoys the swinging of the arms and the sight of balls flying or rolling on the screen. What he doesn't understand and cannot tolerate are the moments when you must scroll through screens to note which player is playing, when you must reset the game, or see the score. He doesn't want any of those things. He simply wants himself and his playmate to swing their arms endlessly and watch the balls forever.

Today, in a fit of frustration at the more mundane moments of Wii, Martin went crazy. He hit his cousin who is bigger than him. Then he hit his cousin who is smaller than him. After being sent home, he still seemed mad and confused. So no more Wii.

As far as I know, the only game Martin can play is an adapted board game about presidential trivia. When we get through our first game of Candyland, I'll let you know.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

white house briefing

Martin was the star. As we entered the various White House rooms, Martin called out the names of presidential portraits. Benjamin Harrison. John Tyler. We started to get looks of bemusement from adults and slack-jawed confusion from youngsters. People began to edge closer to Martin as he moved from one room to the next, pointing out obscure nineteenth-century leaders. At the end of the tour, one fellow tourist asked Martin for a high five and declared, "I'm so glad I visited the White House with you." Martin said "OK," but his excited smile made it clear that he was very happy.

Our day in downtown Washington DC began and ended on high notes. Our White House tour was scheduled for 7:30am. After finishing and finding some breakfast, we had time to kill before our next museum of choice opened. We headed for the air and space museum, which we thought would have exhibits on planets that Martin might enjoy. Unfortunately, it was busy, both with visitors and visually. It was a little too much for Martin. He got very overstimulated trying to find airplane models he could crawl inside. We left in a hurry, trying to pull him together on the sweltering city sidewalks.

After more cool drinks and some time to calm down, we entered the National Portrait Gallery. Martin marched up to the desk staff and asked for the president pictures. With their direction, he made a bee-line to the second floor. Turning a corner, he spied a huge painting of George Washington. He began to sprint and started to sing. He made his way through the entire gallery 13 times. As far as we could tell, he made each trip with a slight variation. He visited each portrait while singing various president songs and raps. He said only their last names and then their first and last names together. He insisted on going through in the stroller. Sometimes he jumped up and down with excitement. He has asked to go back to the portrait gallery more than a dozen times since we left yesterday morning.

It was a great day. We were so glad because we knew there was potential for sadness. It was unclear whether Martin really understood that a White House tour did not involve a personal interview with Obama or a chance to stand on the Truman Balcony. But Martin was OK. In fact, he loved it. We bought him a new pack of president cards - with pictures featured in the portrait gallery - and Martin has had them in his hands ever since. And some of the people we met on the tour will go home with a nice story about cute little boy and his presidential knowledge. On our trip, autism helped Martin make new friends.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

why is summer hard?

Parents of autistic kids are always trying to strike a balance between the routine and the new, between comfort and the unknown. During these long summer days, I'm constantly moving between letting Martin do the things he likes and trying to offer him at least a little structure. I ask myself questions such as, "Should I ask Martin to work on this handwriting workbook or let him play with figurines for another half hour?" or "What can a reward for good behavior possibly be on a day when a kid has already played in the sprinkler and eaten 2 popsicles?"

Martin is doing pretty well, almost too well. He really likes the lack of structure. In fact, he resists the moment we impose even a bit of order on his day. That's the autism paradox: a love of order alongside a refusal to try to new forms of order. Once you struggle to get an order into place, you're tempted to keep it for the next 15 years.

So who knows what will happen on Friday. We'll try to tell Martin about visiting the White House, including what we can see and what we cannot see. We'll ensure him that a White House tour and visit to the National Zoo will be more fun than he can possibly imagine. We'll try to convince him that new is good. But I'm not a great salesperson. I too eagerly acknowledge complicating factors (hello, I'm a decent historian). I'm far too willing to admit - and be flustered - when a problem arises.

So we're in a summer mystery zone. A place between order and chaos. A time between old and new. Martin seems to like it. The question is whether or not it's good for him.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the final countdown

Readers, readers, I've neglected you. Life has been too full of road trips and popsicles, pool visits and evenings on the porch. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm finishing up copy edits on a book manuscript. So life is busy. I could have blogged about so many things, including:

1) Martin's recent insistence that he is Jewish;

2) The worst meltdown of 2010 that occurred in the parking lot outside a public swimming pool - a fit followed by a day of bliss in the waters;

3) A visit to Martin's hometown - Durham, NC - where all the folks who showered love on him as a baby got to shower it on him once again;

4) Picking gooseberries;

5) Ongoing impersonations of the Swedish Chef;

6) Martin's budding relationship with a stuffed duck and stuffed quail at the local children's museum, a partnership that involves cooking the birds fake food and giving them fake medical checkups;

7) Continued bickering (which is conversation, I'll admit) with little sister;

8) More bike riding;

9) Dramatic increase in fear of dogs; and

10) Martin's summer in which more and more people meet him and have no idea that he has social and verbal difficulties.

I could tell you a lot about all of these things, but I'm saving my words for the end of next week. On Friday morning, our family is scheduled to visit the White House. 5 more days until Martin's dream comes true. Turn up your Europe CD; it's the final countdown.