Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

They Say It's My Birthday...

I'm 43 today. I'm not especially impressed. Aside from it being a prime number, there's really nothing special about 43, you know?

On the other hand, any day when you get presents is a good day, right? (My favorite, because it was so unexpected: A t-shirt Baroy tracked down after we saw it on a TV show--or was it a movie?--after which I laughed for about three straight days. It says, "You had me at Shalom.")

I do find it funny that people just assume that I don't want to talk about my age, now that I'm, you know, old. That's so not me. Me tells everyone she encounters exactly how old she is. As I've said probably a dozen times today, I worked hard for these years. I want credit for every single one of them.

N's birthday is Friday. 6. Now THERE'S a birthday worth celebrating. I'm feeling really down about it, though. I invited all of the other 16 kids in the class (late, admittedly, but via email), and the only RSVPs I've gotten have been nos. Part of me knows that at least half the class will show up on Sunday without RSVPing, or after doing so at the last minute. Part of me worries that he's become the kid everyone thinks is so weird that they won't even show up at his birthday party, you know?

The thing is, he won't even care. His Best Friend of All Time, WeeyumWise, will be there. His friends Joey and Sam and Ben from our "group"--the people we went to Big Bear with--will be there. He'll undoubtedly ignore anyone over and above that who shows up anyway. But I want him to have lots of friends around. I want him to have lots of friends, period. I live in a world of fantasy, apparently.

Case in point: He came home from school with ripped and dirty jeans. I smiled when I saw him, and said, "Well, SOMEbody had a good time at recess today."

"Yeah," N replied. "I played doggie and fetched rocks and sticks."

"And who did you do all this fun stuff with?" I asked, smiling even more broadly.

"Ms. F," he said.

Oh. "Anyone else?" I tried hopefully.

"Nope, just Ms. F."

Then, yesterday, on the way to religious school, just Em and me, Em suddenly asks about whether I think N could use some therapy. The conversation meanders a bit until she asks, quietly but firmly, "Mom, are you sure that N isn't a little bit autistic?"

I know I seem compelled to say this almost every time I write about her, but I need to say it again: She's 9. This, from a 9-year-old.

What follows is a long conversation in which I explain to her about the number of people who have assessed and are assessing him, and how none of them think he's actually autistic. But she's firm on this point, asking me several times, "But isn't it possible that he's just a LITTLE BIT autistic?" We talk about spectrums, and how maybe he's further along the spectrum than she is, but everyone says he's still well on her side of normal. She seems completely unconvinced.

"OK," I say. "Tell me why YOU think he's autistic."

"Well," she says slowly but without hesitation. "He doesn't look you in the eye much when he talks to you. He has a hard time playing with other kids, and he seems to play by himself most of the time. He has a really hard time making friends with kids. And he won't even LISTEN to me when I tell him to get out of my room; he just screams."

If you toss out that last one (her personal gripe against him these days, though the screaming/tantruming is a concern I've been working on with him), she's right on the money.

I told her that, in the end, it doesn't really matter what label he has or doesn't have (OK, we here all know that's bullshit--sorry, mom--but she doesn't), that what matters is helping him to be the best Noah he can possibly be, and I'm not going to stop trying to do that whether he is or isn't 'really' autistic.

But, really, it gives a mother just a leeeeeeeeetle bit of food for thought when her 9-year-old--whose entire experience with autism includes two friends of hers she's known for several years, a boy in her religious school who is having a Very Hard Time and has thus been the subject of more than one conversation on autism lately, and the new boy in her class, who has a one-on-one aide but is otherwise indistinguishable from the rest of the kids--thinks that the experts around her are missing the forest for the trees.

Not to mention how perversely proud I am of her, carrying on the tradition of practicing medicine without a license. That's my girl!

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