Overall, it would be really helpful to have a typical child first, and then have a child with autism. If you got to choose, that would be the ticket. As it is, I am never quite sure where we stand at my house as far as development goes. I know we used to be way behind in many things, especially social and emotional development, but then over the last few years I have often felt like we are catching up. Once upon at time, we worried that our child would never speak. Now we worry that he never shuts up. Once upon a time, we worried that he would never engage in pretend play. Now we have a hard time stopping him from pretending. Once upon a time we bemoaned the fact that all toys were ignored in favor of light switches and sliding glass doors. Now our house looks like a toy bomb went off in it. And once upon a time we worried that he would never engage in play with peers. Today, I am currently exhausted from two days of non-stop play between Alex and his great second grade friend Lily (which happens to be his current grade too.) It must be noted that she is a very tolerant play mate, but the fact can't be ignored that they played for hours in a cabin out in the woods. They played pirates on the bunk beds. They talked back and forth on walkie-talkies. They made a cave in a closet. They built things with the cushions and furniture. They played hide-and-seek, and ghosts in the grave yard, and let's push snow into a creek, and now we'll stir muck up with sticks in the pond. They PLAYED, and I barely had to prompt or intervene. I am happy, and tired, and loopy, and giddy. But I still don't know exactly where we are. Because then the other mom said, "I don't know how you do it, you are so good at working with him."
Oh, how I hate statements like that. Not because they are not genuine, or even because they are not true. More because they are true. My son takes a lot of work, and he takes more work than other kids his age, but I tend to forget that fact. In our day to day world of hard work and accomplishments I celebrate the forward movement, and file the rest in the circular file. And I truly forget, at times, that we are on a very different path. But reality always comes back, and actually it is not that bad. It is just that right now, my son talks incessantly, more like a four year old than an eight year old. He is constantly asking questions, which is wearing and thrilling at the same time. Because he didn't do that back when he was four. We had other things going on then, so now we get that barrage while other parents are enjoying the quiet of constant readers or game players or i-pod listeners. And really, it is all good. Every real question he initiates moves him towards a bright future, keeps me smiling, and makes all the work worthy. And although part of me hates reminders that we are not typical, there is another part that does not care, and even has a growing pride in our accomplishments and his hard battled development. Every new stage is a victory to be celebrated, and I need to remember that most of all.
Which leads me to my current amusements, and the reason I started writing in my near exhaustion state. Alex has started initiating more and more novel things over the last year, trying things rather than staying in his safety zone. Branching out in new and interesting ways, often when I least expect it. So, what now? Well, after getting home from our long days of adventure I figured he would mostly be ready for bed once he was back to his routine. Imagine my surprise, when after his bath he says, "I'm going to do secret things. Stay here.". Outside he goes, in boots and pajamas. I see him scouting around the yard. A few minutes later Kevin comes in and says, "He's digging." "Really, where?" "In your garden." So, I go to peek out the window, and there he is, digging in the empty garden. Then he stops, goes and picks up a tin pot, chucks the contents on the ground, and takes it to the hole. He then turns it upside down and covers the hole. That, for me was amusing and amazing enough. Far from his typical safety zone, and well into territory I had always hoped and dreamed he would gravitate to. He was building a secret entrance to a spy lair, and in spy fashion, he said nothing about it when he came back in. But the best was yet to come. When I took the garbage out later, there was a potted plant on top of the pot. He had gone into the kitchen at some point, and picked out a plant that would make the entrance look less conspicuous. I am just worried that he and his dad might really build a secret room down there, and half hoping they will.
So, life on the autism spectrum is anything but dull. I never know what to expect, but as long as I can see good progress and get good laughs along the way, I know we are doing fine.