My son is seven years old. I love my son to the moon and back, round the universe infinite amounts, more than any other boy that ever existed, catrillion, gazillion, multiplinnion times more than he can possibly imagine. I tell him that, every night, just before I tell my daughter a variation of the same. I love every cell in his body, every hair on his head, each blackcurrant juice moustache. He gives the best cuddles, and cries the warmest, plumpest tears.
My son is bright and able. He uses an extensive vocabulary which is often more creative and daring than other children his age. He hears phrases on television; he stores snippets of adult conversation; he remembers juicy morsels and interesting combinations of sounds. Like a magpie he collects these bright words and and he polishes them in his mind. Skilled in subtle mimicry, he will weave his treasures into a conversation so that most of the time you will never know. He is seamless in his skill and he uses words to cover his uncertainty about the right thing to say. The stolen words of others are safer. They are tried and tested, practised and honed. He has held them in his hands, turning them this way and that and he has viewed them from all angles. Occasionally, he will throw in a pebble that stands out and glows a strange colour. Then you might notice. Then you might think he is a little eccentric. The thought may pass with the wind and not stick.
My son’s skill for mimicry may get him a job one day. He is a dab hand at mastering previously unheard accents, a professor of comic timing and comedic facial expressions. He has studied how to work a crowd and what makes people laugh. He hides his skills well, as he is also shy. To the family he performs in abundance. We live with his alter ego – Citizen Khan, Community Leader. Sometimes he forgets himself, and his mimicry takes over until he remembers, once more, to mimic the seven year old boy he knows best. He has a lovely sense of humour, and yet ironically, he doesn’t understand a joke, one bit. This brilliant mind that can manipulate an audience, reaches its full-stop at wordplay. For seven years we have listened to endless ‘knock-knocks’ as he perseveres in acquiring the art that so eludes him.
My son is friendly and seeks company. You will see him running around with his pals, just like any other seven year old boy. He is popular and lively. He races round the playground. He is a spy or a kung fu ninja warrior. He battles and roars and races. He is safer that way – the complex rules of quieter, slower, more thoughtful play are harder to conquer. There he may seem unsure. There he may withdraw. You won’t catch him hanging around to chat when we go visiting acquaintances. He will take himself off to absorb himself in his special interests, wrapping them around him like an invisibility cloak.
My son plays better than anyone else I know. He will play for hours with his little people or animals or soft toys or Lego. His bedroom is a kingdom full of adventure. In his room he relaxes for he is king of all his lands. In his Kingdom, his rules are unchallenged and make perfect sense. He does not have to take turns, or share, or stop, and he can absorb himself completely in endless scenarios, replaying them until he knows them as intimately as he knows his fingers. His room is treacherous to intruders – full of unexpected dangers – the once experienced, never forgotten pain of a trodden on piece of Lego or Playmobil. We accept that what seems chaos to us is a carefully staged play at interval for him. If we try to be helpful by tidying, we can ruin his day as we prevent him from finishing his grand climax that is waiting in the wings to go on when tea is over and he can rush back upstairs.
My son has compassion in buckets. He sobs during Merlin, worries about the homeless, races out to protect the cat when another comes into the garden. He will be the first to rush over to his big sister and comfort her if she falls over. He may also get distracted and part way through comforting get cross because he has noticed she messed up his jigsaw when she fell. Equally, if he is absorbed in a game when a crisis occurs, he will complain vociferously if her wailing is too loud and overloads his senses, making him forget what he is doing.
My son’s senses are sharper than yours and mine. He is more sensitive to the everyday sounds, sights, smells and feelings that the rest of us may never stop to notice. He can tell if I’m cooking his favourite macaroni cheese from the other side of town. He stretches my cooking creativity to the limit as I puree a curry sauce for him, separate his food into piles, try and make the perfect hummus. He sees things and stores their location and it is him I go to when something is lost. He cries like he has died when hurt, and he is a stoic trooper when sick yet again because his brain up-scales the motion of the car. He is logical about his choices. Clothes will be chosen on softness and cuddliness over fashion or colour. I am jealous. He is himself more than I will ever be.
My son can be unreachable at times. I can dance around him, shouting that dinner is on the table, that we need to leave for school, that the earth has exploded and the moon has turned to jelly and he won’t hear. This may be because he is concentrating hard on one stimuli to shut out all the others that are competing forcefully for his attention, or it could be because he is watching a television programme involving one of his special interests. Conversely, there are times where this single focus is required but his senses are tired and cannot latch on to the thing that I want. He will wander round his room as I read a story. He will play, and chatter and drive me wild with some misplaced notion I have that he should be sitting on my lap concentrating, and yet if quizzed, he will have heard it all and is processing many sensory channels at once. These are the dangerous times, when his engine can overheat and meltdown – when I didn’t heed the warning signs and turn off my need for a Gina Ford like routine!
My son is on the Autism Spectrum. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. It impregnates his very soul and it is beautiful. It makes him more daringly, intensely, creatively himself than I could ever hope to be. The reality of an Autistic brain can be so much more exciting than the words on the diagnostic page – so much more than the ‘triad of impairments’, because Autism, I have seen, brings with it a ‘myriad’ of possibility.