Friday, September 4, 2009

Fruit Blood

Yesterday, Ben bit into a plum, gasped, and cried out, "Oh no! Fruit blood!" He was genuinely disturbed to think that his plum (which he always just calls 'fruit') might have been injured when he bit into it. Or maybe he was just disgusted that said fruit had blood.

I'd like to climb inside Ben's brain for a day or two and see how it feels to be him. There are times when I watch him and I'm overcome with grief and sadness--until I look a little more closely and recognize that my values, my joys, my comforts are not his. His peace comes in different ways. For example, last summer I took Joey to one of his baseball games and Ben was with me. Joey's was the first game of the day, and we had arrived especially early to the ball field. No other parents or spectators had yet arrived. Joey ran off with his team to some remote spot to warm up, and Ben hopped out of the car and headed toward the still-deserted bleachers. I was reading my book in the car, which happened to be parked just beyond the outfield, looking straight toward those bleachers.

When I looked up, I saw Ben sitting in the center of the top bench of the bleachers, silhouetted in the setting sun behind him, completely alone, and my eyes filled with tears. It was such a poignant scene--my little blond-headed boy, all alone, staring at an empty baseball field. I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation and sadness for him.

But then I looked closer, and my perspective suddenly shifted. I realized that Ben felt neither alone nor isolated. Sitting there in the summer quiet with hands folded on his lap, the sun warming his back, the breeze brushing his face, he was entirely peaceful. And that's when I realized that my own experience is not an accurate way to measure his. Where I might feel lonely, he feels safe. Where I might feel rejected, he feels content.

But all things have their opposite, and I'm trying to keep a perspective on that as well. So, in busy, high-energy situations where I might feel energized, Ben feels confused and chaotic. Where I might feel curious to explore a new environment, Ben feels overwhelmed.

I find that if I can remember how different Ben's experience is from mine, even in identical circumstances, it makes it easier to understand his behaviors. I've been reading a great book called "Early Intervention & Autism" (James Ball), and Ball says that parents of autistic children should hang a sign on their wall that reads: "Behavior is communication. Behavior is communication. Behavior is communication. Get the point?" I'm slowly getting the point.

The trick is learning to translate what the behavior is trying to communicate. When Ben melts down and all I can do is try to hold him while he scratches, bites, kicks, and spits on me, I desperately need to know what he's trying to say. Maybe someday I'll become a master translator. For now, it's one melt down at a time and we don't always communicate very well at all.

The speech therapist at the school called me today and reported that the testing is all complete. She didn't give me any indication of the results, but we've set up a meeting for next Wednesday to discuss them. And THEN we'll set up an IEP meeting. In the meantime, Ben's been doing well in school. Generally focused, generally able to control his impulsivity. Not putting much effort into his assignments yet, but...we'll get there. We can only handle so much fruit blood at a time.


  1. I still love the fruit blood story. I think that's the cutest thing ever!

    And Heather, I think you're a really good mom.

  2. In not too long, you'll have enough stories to write a book (hint!). And you definitely write very well. :)

  3. Thank you Makayla. I value your support a great deal, truly. I wish I shared your confidence in my parenting skills!

    Jen, the stories are fun to share...but I wouldn't be in a position to write about navigating the seas of autism until we've reached some kind of shore. Maybe once we're through elementary school, or junior high, or high school... But thanks for the compliment. :-)