For me? I look at that symbol and say, “I get it.” Yep, I really get it. In my own way. What am I talking about? Well, to me, that puzzle piece symbolizes that I have to piece together what is on my son’s mind because he has a hard time telling me. Unless you’ve lived with someone with ASD, or who knows very little English and offers very little clues to what they are thinking, you really don’t know what I mean.
He could laugh and the room is silent. He’s not looking at anything in particular, so I have no idea what is so funny. He doesn’t actually tell me. Every communication he initiates, knowingly or not, is like that puzzle piece. If I don’t match the colors and interlock the pieces just right, the whole thing falls apart or I end up putting a piece where it doesn’t belong.
Today was a puzzle. We went to a birthday party. It was very special because my son really only knows two other little boys and this was one of them. He is a very good, smart boy with wonderful parents. I love this little boy’s mom. She gets it too.
We’d never been to their house before. We’ve never been to anyone’s house for a birthday party. We’ve been to Chuck-E-Cheese for other parties, but those always, without fail, result in meltdowns, for obvious reasons. This was different.
As this was something new, I tried to prepare him. He listened. For a couple days, he kept saying, “We’re going…..?” as a question. He wanted me to fill in the blank with the answer. I repeatedly told him we were going to E’s house for his birthday party.
When the day finally came, he repeated the “We’re going…?” and I repeated the answer. As he took his morning bath, he began to cry. “Towel. Clean!” he said. He always immediately wants a towel to dry his tears. I asked him if he was scared to go to E’s party and he softly responded, “Yes.”
Puzzle Piece No. 1. I’m not sure we were actually communicating. If we were, that’s phenomenal, even if he was scared. The trouble is that I don’t know. Often, he will say “yes” to just about anything.
“T, is your hair purple?” “Yes.”
“Do you have a pet rabbit?” “Yes.”
“What is it’s name?” “Pokeman.”
So, as I said, I wasn’t sure since the correct answers were “no” and who’s Pokeman?
Later, he asked to watch “Blue’s Big Birthday”. Amusing because he was, in effect, preparing himself for the party. He asked to watch it in the car, but I was not as prepared as he was and had no DVD to offer.
We arrived and everyone was friendly and wonderful. There really could not have been a nicer bunch of people with whom to share T’s first home birthday party experience. All the children at the party were good. All were indifferent to my son. My son, though? He put on his “autism shield”. He walked around the house. Then, he headed into the birthday boy’s room where he promptly found a toy ATM and played by himself. He continued to play by himself throughout the party.
He interacted only with me and the birthday boy’s 3 year old brother, just briefly. The birthday boy’s dad had made a fantastic giant Angry Birds’ pig piñata and hung it from a gazebo in the backyard. All the kids got turns at knocking it down. My son? Never lined up. Walked right in the middle of other kids blindfolded with a large stick and saw no danger.
When the piñata finally broke open, he had no interest in bending over with the other kids and picking up the loot. He stood there and twirled around, despite my prompts to get in there and get something. A very sweet mom (who I also learned later was a teacher) scooped up a small couple handfuls and gave them to me for the little guy’s bag. At that point, I swear I almost cried. I felt so bad seeing the complete disconnect of my son with these nice children.
Puzzle Piece No. 2. – Was he understanding that he was having the disconnect or oblivious? I’ve talked before about how he appears not to be listening and then shows me hours or days later that he heard every word. So, the question was whether he knew he could not get into that group of kids and grab for candy and toys because that was sensory overload? Or was it that he was sealed off and thinking about something else?
I want to say that he knew but sensory overload stopped him from getting into the group of kids. He could not and cannot tell me if that was the case. He cannot communicate with language that way. And so my heart was heavy for him.
Inside, they all sat down for cake. My little guy sat but kept trying to put his feet up. I continually had to prompt him to keep his feet on the floor. I wanted to help the other moms, but it was all I could do to keep the little guy seated, his hands off the toys of the other kids next to him and out of meltdown stage because he wanted the cake so badly.
While the other kids ate, my son struggled to hold the fork. He could not scoop up the ice cream like all the other kids, so I had to feed him. He enjoyed the cake and ice cream and no one made any remarks about his mom feeding him. They were all preoccupied or too polite.
After they were eating, the birthday boy’s mom had prizes for the kids who guessed numbers or answered questions. My son was lost. He had no idea what was going on and he zoned out, getting up from his chair, playing with doorknobs and locks nearby. Judging from his fidgeting, I knew he’d reached maximum capacity and we said our thank you and goodbyes. The birthday boy hugged my son, which was very sweet and we left.
Puzzle Piece No. 3: When we got home? He cried. Spontaneously. Without warning. I was afraid it might be the party. I asked, “Are you sad?” “Yes.” “Why?” “NO! Clean, clean!” “Are you sad that you did not talk to the other kids at the party?” “Yes.” “Clean! Clean!” Then he says to me, “Does your tummy hurt?” I ask if he wants to use the bathroom. No. Then, about an hour later, he runs to the bathroom and is a bit sick.
Puzzle, yes. I get it.