Blazing A Trail


“Do penguins fly? Does bacon come from pigs? Where were you born, Daddy? Were you ever a little boy, Daddy? Are you finished growing up now, Daddy? When will I be finished growing up? What is a battery? What’s in a battery? What is an engine? Is a motor an engine? Is an engine alive? Am I alive? Am I a boy? But, am I a real boy? Am I real? Is Santa real? Is God real? Are fairies real? Are angels real? I can see Santa. Why can’t I see God?”

Daniel, now 52 months of age, is extremely curious about the world, and everything in it. Toys are made for the sole purpose of being dissassembled. It is only through their complete destruction that one can see the sum of the whole through its many parts. He presented a wheel from his favorite Hot Wheels car, cradled in the palm of his hand, proclaiming with satisfaction, “this is a wheel and wheels go round and round and round then cars can move…....”.

Until very recently, in place of normally-developing speech, nonsensical, babbling, rhyming words compulsively – perseveration – spewed from his lips, seemingly powered by his twirling whole-body motions and flapping hands.

While perseveration has greatly diminished, the barrage of questions increases daily, individually abating when he reaches whatever satisfactory conclusion he feels he needs.

He uses this new tool, this intentional communication, to dismantle the world and life in the same manner as he does his toys, whittling it down to smaller components of whys and whats, in order to categorize and comprehend. Dinner topics have expanded from those of 10 months ago, when his primary concern was to constantly reaffirm who we were to each other. “Okay, so you are the Mommy and you are a girl. And you are the Daddy and you are a boy. And you are the sister and you are a girl. And he is a poodle and he is a boy. I am a Daniel.”

A few months later, he expanded his profiling knowledge of us, including our birthdays which included month, day and year. It has a charm, albeit, not in public, where he has announced my date of birth. Including the year.

He’s very protective of whatever knowledge he acquires. He caught the teacher off-guard one day in class, correcting her for not accurately “naming” a camel. He then presented a dissertation to the class about Dromedary and Bactrian camels, something the teacher later admitted to me she herself didn’t know.

During another story-time, she was again chastised by him, “that you must tell me what type of whale that is because there are many whales, and you must say Orca, or killer, or blue, or white, or sperm or humpback or finback ”. Those are the cute times, the amazing times.

Then there are those not so cute, not so amazing, but difficult and confusing times like yesterday. A new set of circle-time songs came home from school. Our assigned task is to “pre-teach” him the lyrics because unless he feels sure of the words, he refuses to participate in circle-time singing, becoming “very beligerent and disruptive, requiring removal from the classroom and one-on-one time in the hallway to calm him down”. Hmmm. Autistic with Sensory Dysfunction Integration. Just a few short months ago, any music would cause him to cover with ears with his hands, curl up in a ball with his backs toward us, screaming “no” repeatedly, and not even in rhythym, I’d like to add. Sometimes, I think their desire for him to simply mimic “normal” overrides true teaching. Ah, well, I digress.

He enthusiastically clapped his hands as his sister and I began singing the new song. Nine beats into it, ” How much is that doggy in the win….”, he exploded into a rage screaming, “No, no, the words are ‘how much is that penguin in the window’ you stupid dummies!”. Before I could reach out for him, he rocketed across the room, head-first into the fireplace. His sister and I screamed “noooo!” at the resounding crack of his head against the rough brick surface. It didn’t dent his red-hot head or rage. He was winding up for Smash Two when I grabbed him, pulled him into my arms, holding him tightly calming him, despite his repeated protests, “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, Mommy’s here…..”.

In this new hobby, Figuring Out Daniel, one of my key roles is that of detective, getting to the bottom of IT, whatever it is. Lately, I’ve noticed he absorbs multiple conversations, but is unable to separate them in the retelling. What comes out is a melange of facts. Determined to figure out where he acquired the idea that “penguin” and not “doggy” belonged in this classic song I said, “Daniel, Mommy needs to talk to your teacher. I want to find out about penguins. You must calm down so I can speak to her”.

He immediately threw the switch, sniffling, protesting abated, wiping huge tears from his eyes with the back of his hand proclaiming, “Oh, you are the best Mommy ever…..”.

The simple version of the teacher’s response was, “Oh, yes, that’s right. We did teach them that last week, ‘how much are the penguins in the window’, so NOW you MUST tell him the song has changed and we are learning new words and the new word is doggy. He’s so incredibly bright, you know, that sometimes we forget”.

So, it seems, we all continue to blunder our way through. I’m no longer sure he is the one being taught. Maybe, we’re all just blindly following his, at times, blazing trail, uncertain where it may lead.


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