A Wibbly-Wobbly Ball of . . . Stuff

Wibbly-Wobbly Ball

Before we start, take a look at this very short clip from Doctor Who, in which The Doctor explains the true nature of time. Trust me, it does relate.

That was pretty good, wasn’t it? Now for the explanation.

In a recent blog post, ASD guru and Aspergers role model John Elder Robison tackled the use of terms high-functioning and low-functioning when it comes to describing people with autism. Here’s what he said:

Much has been written about calling people high functioning or low functioning. With all respect to you and your situation, I don’t do it anymore and I suggest you don’t either.

It’s not accurate, and it’s degrading. . . . Suggesting that “you’re a real high functioning autistic” feels to me a lot like “you talk pretty good for a retard.” People say the former to me all the time today, and they said the latter to me quite a bit 50 years ago. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.

Robison then goes on to talk about how dividing people up based on their “functioning” status misses the point of how autism works:

We now know that our functional level changes with time and other factors. As bright and capable as someone like me can seem, I can have meltdowns during which I become essentially nonfunctional and have no more usable intellectual capability that someone with an IQ of 70. It’s true that is not a lasting condition for me, but it happens, and when it does I would just as soon not be stigmatized for it.

As I said in my last post, my kids are showing me that autism can shift and swirl over time. Not for nothing is it called a developmental difference. It’s a matter of how and when a person develops social, cognitive, and communication skills. Some people develop more slowly or more unevenly than others. Some have persistent, nagging glitches in their development that affect them throughout their lives, while others overcome some challenges as they mature—only to find new challenges crop up. For many, it’s a mixture of both permanent and emerging attributes. So it’s awfully simplistic to reduce such a complex thing as autism to a question of high or low functional skills.

Forget the Spectrum.

But I want to go one step further. I want to suggest that along with abandoning the high- versus low-functioning distinction, we should scrap the image of a spectrum altogether. When we use this term, we evoke a kind of linear gradation, with some people lower down, or farther back, on the scale than others. But one problem with this approach is that people are assigned their place on that spectrum according to different criteria. Is it IQ? Is it verbal communication? Is it eye contact? Social skills?

Someone with limited verbal skills may well have an off-the-chart IQ. Or someone who can appear gregarious and outgoing in public may be masking significant social struggles, only to melt down in private. Where would you place each of these people on the spectrum? How would you decide? And most important, what purpose does it serve?

The Autism Ball.

Rather than talking about a spectrum, I’d like to suggest we talk about a sphere—a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, autism . . . stuff. There’s no low or high end. There’s no up or down or forwards or backwards. You just happen to be somewhere on that sphere, and your fellow autistics are somewhere else on it. No one is farther along than anyone else. No one is of greater value than another because he or she is “higher functioning.”

This is why I like the Doctor Who clip. It paints the picture of time, or in this case autism, as something that isn’t static but full of life and energy. And that makes it unpredictable: wild and mysterious, wonderful and dangerous.

So let’s imagine a ball that contains all the possible symptoms and manifestations of autism, all wibbling-wobbling around. Things like hand flapping, mind blindness, rigid thinking, sensitivity to loud noises, toe-walking, perseveration, narrow focus of interest. Imagine that ball also containing the comorbid conditions connected to autism: OCD, depression, ADHD, ODD, etc. Finally, imagine that this ball contains the positive traits of autism: laser focus, attention to detail, unflinching objectivity, a quirky imagination, a strong sense of justice, and an innate innocence.

Now, imagine your own ASD profile as a line running through the ball in one end and out the other end. As that line travels through the ball, it intersects with the various ways your autism manifests itself—not all of the traits, just the ones particular to you. No two lines are in exactly the same place, and no line is in a better position than another. They’re just there, marking out their own individual quirks and challenges, strengths and gifts.

High? Or Low?

All of this theorizing has a point. In an earlier post, I described how misleading the term “mild autism” can be. I gave some examples from my own kids of how difficult things can be for them, even though they would be considered high-functioning. As Robison said, people with high-functioning autism still have autism, and it still affects them profoundly.

We recently went through a rough patch with one of our kids, in which we saw just how much he keeps things hidden inside of himself, especially his awareness of how different he is and how hard it is for him to feel like he fits in. But on the outside, he presents as a clever, quick-witted, amiable boy. So while he seems very high-functioning, a lot of “low-functioning” stuff is going on underneath the surface: depression that can keep him in bed for two days straight, lack of empathy, misunderstanding of other people’s emotions, learning glitches, and an inordinate need for physical stimulation. He can navigate the outside world, but only for a time. Then he shells up when he’s home or alone. Where would you place him on the spectrum? Is he low-functioning or high-functioning?

Then there’s another one of my boys. You need only five minutes with him to “see” the autism: his odd gait, his lack of eye contact, his unusual speech patterns, his stimming, and his tendency to disappear within himself for a time. But hidden behind all of these quirks and tics is a very intelligent, sensitive child with keen insights into his own behavior and the people around him. Where does he fit on the spectrum? In the higher-functioning part of the line? Or the lower? Why?

Get on the Ball!

Mind you, most of this is irrelevant to me. I just look at them as my kids, with all of their strengths and weaknesses, their beauty and awesomeness, and work with each of them based on who they are. But it does make a difference in the universe outside of our home. It makes a difference when I attend IEP meetings or when I have to explain some unusual behavior to a friend or neighbor. It also makes a huge difference in the way society treats people with autism. If you’re a Bill Gates kind of autistic, you are given as many opportunities as you want. But if you’re nonverbal or if you’ve got some other trait that people might call low-functioning, you’ve got fewer chances to show just how awesome you are and what you can accomplish. And that’s sad, because you risk accepting a bleaker narrative about yourself and your potential than if you were given the opportunity to shine.

If we can get away from defining people based on their so-called levels of functionality, we can get closer to seeing each person as a precious individual with his or her own unique set of talents. We will stop assigning each person a value based on what he or she “contributes” to society. Each person is a gift, and you don’t assign a value to a gift based on its usefulness. You treasure it for what it is: a token of love from the One who gave it to you.

So get off the line and get on the wibbly-wobbly ball!

Dude, That’s So Intense

iPad Boy

Isn’t this a cool picture? That’s our eight-year-old boy playing Fruit Ninja on the iPad. This is quite a common sight in our home. It’s just one of many contortions this kid does. He’ll fold himself backwards over the back of the sofa. Or he’ll have his legs crossed, yoga-style, and suspended in the air while he rests on his shoulders. Or he’ll curl himself up in a ball, with one leg sticking out at a highly improbable angle. Or a combination of many different poses. He’s never in the same position for more than a couple of minutes.

When he’s not twisted up, he’s like a perpetual motion machine—hopping, dancing, mock-battling, wrestling with his reluctant little sister. Dinner is always difficult for him. He’s usually the first one out of his seat (within three to five minutes), running around or hopping up and down. Even taking a walk can be an exercise (sic) in unique movement.

A Fun Walk

He’s not the only one, either. His next-oldest brother is very much the same way:

Upside Down Buddy

Now, this is a marked contrast to his younger brother who will, at odd times, simply plank.

Plank BoyKatie and I think he does this as a coping mechanism when he gets overwhelmed. He just shuts down for a few minutes, presses his internal reset button, and then he’s back at it again. He’s just as hyperactive as his brothers, but he has a different way of dealing with overstimulation.

Funny enough, though, if you put any of these kids in front of a computer on Minecraft, they can sit still, absorbed, for hours. They may be at odd angles again, but they’re still.

Isaac Newton Explains.

So what’s going on?

Katie and I think it’s related to something called Intense World Theory. Pioneered by a pair of neuroscientists in Switzerland, Intense World Theory posits that people with autism are hyper-aware of everything going on around them and within them. ASD folks feel everything so intensely—both physical and emotional—that their attempts to compensate need to be just as intense. It’s like an autistic version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there has to be an equal and opposite reaction.

So our armchair contortionists are merely reacting bodily to the busyness around them and in their minds. Their world is so intense and so full that they react to it in a similarly intense, involved way. Or it’s so intense that they need to shut it out at times, as our little one does, so that they can press their internal Reset button.

This also explains their ability to become so absorbed in the world of video games. It can be very loud and frenetic, but it is also limited and contained. Just a small screen (okay, small-ish) that they can turn on or off. And as noisy as it is, it’s also pretty predictable. So there’s an element of safety and comfort there. Of course, engaging in the virtual world doesn’t really help them get out their pent up energy. It only helps them suppress the need for it and, therefore, suppress their need to (over)react to it.

It’s Just Too Much!

All this can be kind of cute, but there’s another, more troubling, side to it.

Take my oldest son, for instance. He likes to go to Teen Gamers, a monthly gathering of middle- and high-school students hosted by the local library. It’s a place where kids can hang out, play video games, and have pizza, all under adult supervision. I don’t mind that it’s all about video games. Considering his social anxiety, it’s a golden opportunity for him to expand his social circle.

But as much as he enjoys himself there, as soon as he comes home, he hurries up to his bedroom and spends the next couple of hours in virtual seclusion. The same can happen after a long day at school or after we all go somewhere as a family. In fact, after just about any situation where he is out of his comfort zone, the boy high tails it to his room, turns off the lights, and burrows under the covers with his 3DS or his iPod Touch. The outside world is too much for him to handle, and he needs time to decompress.

Something similar happens with my older daughter, although with her, the reaction isn’t always delayed. She is just as likely to melt down right in the middle of a store or restaurant as she is to wait until we get home. That’s why we’ve come to expect her to spend a considerable amount of time in the bathroom at church on Sundays.

That’s how intense the world can be for these two. It can actually hurt to be engaged in it for too long.

Silly? Stubborn? Sullen?

I like this explanation a lot. It helps me see that my kids are not being antisocial—at least not on purpose. It also gives me some more insight into the way their brains are wired. And most important, it helps me adjust my plans and expectations.

I know, for instance, not to expect them to be able to handle a marathon day at Disney World. I should be happy to get three hours out of them—and that’s with one or two breaks so they can regroup. It also helps me understand what school is like for them. They spend six hours trying to maintain an ordered exterior while everything around them (and within them) feels like it’s set on overdrive. Of course they’re going to need some serious decompression when they come home—whether that means time on the trampoline or some mini-hibernation. There’s no way we should expect them to do anything productive like homework right away. And on days when there’s a lot of homework, we know we need to break it up into smaller chunks—or tell their teachers that they’ll finish it the next day.

Now, I know that they can’t expect this to go on forever. They’re going to have to find other ways to cope when things get too rough. There aren’t too many workplaces that have yoga mats or dimly-lit quiet rooms for decompression. And God help you if you take too many breaks! So we are trying to teach them how to increase their tolerance and find other, less obvious, ways to deal with all that frustration and overstimulation. It’s all part of living with ASD. They’re not being silly or stubborn or sullen. They’re just trying to survive.

Who’s Speaking for Whom?

people-not-puzzles-300x225So there was a bit of a dust-up in the autism community this past week. Suzanne Wright, one of the co-founders of the well-known advocacy group Autism Speaks, published an article about the group’s conference in Washington, DC. In the article, Wright characterized families touched by autism in rather vivid terms:

These families are not living. They are existing. Breathing—yes. Eating—yes. Sleeping—maybe. Working—most definitely—24/7.

Wright goes on to describe the challenges that many families with autism face: financial worries, therapy challenges, concerns about their children’s health and safety, anxieties about the future. All in an attempt to rouse policymakers to come up with some kind of strategy to address the coming “national emergency” of all these autistic children growing up and becoming a huge burden on society:

Close your eyes and think about an America where three million Americans and counting largely cannot take care of themselves without help. Imagine three million of our own – unable to dress, or eat independently, unable to use the toilet, unable to cross the street, unable to judge danger or the temperature, unable to pick up the phone and call for help.

It’s an impassioned, heartfelt call—even a demand—for action.

An Aspie Pushes Back.

Well, many people with autism found the letter deeply offensive. They thought that it overemphasized the burden that many families face and, worse, that it dehumanized the people with autism that Autism Speaks purports to speak for. Painting an extreme picture, Wright gave the impression that all people with autism are as helpless as those with the most extreme forms of the disorder. They are all part of a “national emergency” that needs to be addressed immediately. Critics also detected a subtext implying that the goal of Autism Speaks was to rid the world of people with autism: to cure it and prevent it. And they saw in that desire a rejection of who they are.

The article was so one-sided that even a member of the organization’s science board—an fellow with Asperger syndrome named John Elder Robison—resigned his position in protest.

We do not like hearing that we are defective or diseased, he wrote. We do not like hearing that we are part of an epidemic. We are not problems for our parents or society, or genes to be eliminated. We are people.

This isn’t the first time that Autism Speaks has drawn fire like this. In 2009, the organization produced a video, I Am Autism, that also painted a bleak picture of the disorder. In it, autism itself spoke about how it is coming to take away our children, bankrupt us, and destroy our marriages. It spoke, again, as if children with autism were so defective that they were no longer “there.”

A Two-Edged Sword.

All this controversy got me thinking some more about my own experience.

On one hand, I can relate to the picture painted by Autism Speaks. I know what it’s like to be scared about my children’s future. I know what it’s like to feel worn to the bone from dealing with autism-related challenges from my kids. I know how it feels to face financial limitations or to have to explain one or another child’s unusual manner to a neighbor at the park or a stranger at the store. I know what it’s like to grieve when the news of a child’s diagnosis is delivered—I’ve done that one six times!

But that’s not the whole story. My kids aren’t problems. They aren’t the sum of their challenges. They are smart, funny, and innocent. They are perceptive, clever, and talented. The more I get to know what makes them tick, the more I am learning that autism is behind some of the things that make them so awesome.

Moving toward Acceptance.

I see how Autism Speaks’ approach can strike a chord, especially among those with young children or those struggling to embrace a recent diagnosis. In a sense, they’re saying, “Hey, we get it. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s scary. But you’re not alone. We’re here, and we understand how tough this is.”

I don’t think, however, we’re meant to stay at this point of feeling overwhelmed, terrified, or devastated. In each autism-touched family that I know, there comes a point when everyone calms down, takes a breath, and readjusts their expectations. There comes a point when they are able to look past the label and see the beauty and goodness in their children. It’s supposed to be a natural progression, like the five stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sooner or later, you have to get to acceptance. You can’t stay stuck in anger or depression. You have to keep moving—if only because your kids are moving, and you have to keep up with them!

By constantly banging the drum about a national epidemic, by playing the fear card over and over again, organizations like Autism Speaks inhibit people from moving to the point of accepting their children as precious gifts from God. They also are complicit in fostering a kind of victim mentality in families touched by autism. “Look at how hard our lives are. Look at how damaged our children are. Pity us! Help us!”

Who’s Talking?

In the past, I supported Autism Speaks 100 percent. I wore their lapel pin and wrist band to help raise awareness. I followed their blog. I attended seminars sponsored by them. I even raised a good amount of money for them.

But now I’m not so sure. As John Elder Robison said, I’m not sure that Autism Speaks really does speak for my kids. I don’t want my kids growing up feeling like victims. I want them to be victors. I want them to use all their gifts—even the ones that autism has given them—to show the world that people like them can make a huge difference. I want them to embrace everything about who they are, even their autism, and turn it into something that glorifies God and lifts up the people around them. And they can’t do that if they think of themselves as problems or burdens.

Autism awareness is important, but only if it leads to acceptance. Not just pity or tolerance but acceptance.

Hey! Dads Rock Too!

I had a good chuckle when I came across this blog post today. Called, “20 Reasons Moms of Kids with Special Needs Rock,” it has such gems as “Because we have bad days and breakdowns and bawl-fests, and then we pick ourselves up and keep right on going,” and “Because we never stop pushing for our kids.”

Lists like these are fun to read because while they do give some insights, they mostly include items that we can relate to—items that most parents of “typical” kids have often no clue about. But it struck me that dads need the occasional shout-out as well. After all, they have their part to play as well. At least they should be playing their part! So without too much tought, all in good fun, and in no particular order, I would like to propose to you . . .

Image

20 Reasons Why Dads of Kids with Special Needs Rock

1. Because we are sticking with it, day in and day out, when many dads give up or skip out. No wimps here!

2. Because we listen to our wives’ worries, fears, and frustrations patiently without trying to “fix” everything.

3. Because we take on our share of the load in everything, including the laundry and the diapers and the dishes.

4. Because we fight for our kids at every IEP meeting, never backing down or giving in.

5. Because many of us work 40-plus hours a week and don’t bat an eye when we come home to absolute chaos. We just dive right in and get to work.

6. Because we guard date night jealously, even zealously.

7. Because we have memorized the alphabet soup of our kids’ diagnoses—and we understand what they mean

8. Because we know that marriage is not about gourmet meals, nightly sex, and an immaculate house.

9. Because we have no problem staring down the gawkers at the mall and in the park.

10. Because we know what “fun” means to our kids, and we aren’t too proud to share it with them. Even if it means wearing silly hats or rolling around on the floor.

11. Because we know how to “gently” restrain a flailing, screaming, melting-down child.

12. Because we don’t complain when the money earmarked for our favorite hobby has to go to insurance or a new therapist instead.

13. Because we don’t care if the other “dudes” our age seem to be having more fun.

14. Because we never say, “That’s her problem, not mine.”

15. Because we have learned how to suck it up and not gripe and complain. Especially not to our wives. Most of the time.

16. Because we can spot the difference between a spoiled-brat tantrum and a genuine melt down at twenty paces. And we know how to respond accordingly.

17. Because we don’t mind when our wives fall asleep on the sofa at 8:30 in the evening.

18. Because special-ed teachers tremble when we enter the room.

19. Because we have learned how to see goodness, beauty, and progress in every tough situation.

20. Because we never, ever, ever give up.

Do They “Get” Religion?

We had quite a bit of drama last Sunday over getting the kids to church. One in particular—our second, a 12-year-old girl with Aspergers—gave us a lot of grief. First, there was the feigned illness excuse. Then there was the pulled muscle stratagem, in which she faked a sore back because she had been throwing the football with her brothers the day before. Then, when all else seemed lost, she pulled a very clever ploy: the constipation gambit. Just one minute before we absolutely had to get out the door, she ducked into the bathroom, locked the door, and protested that she really had to go, warning us that it would take a long time.

By this point, I was done. I had been working with the others, trying to get them ready, all the while fielding this girl’s anxious protests. So by the time she played her final card, I gave up and told her to stay home. I also made sure that the computers were not accessible. I may have been done, but I was not going to be anybody’s fool!

Then came the afternoon, when she was set to go to Sunday school, or CCD as we Catholics call it. She had sworn up and down all day that she would not try to get out of it, but as soon as the time came, the same old excuses came up. Only this time with far more emotion: desperation, anxiety, fear, anger, recrimination, exaggeration. You name it, she threw it at us. Again it was clear that, short of physically throwing her in the car and dragging her to class, it just wasn’t going to happen. (Note: she’s big for her age, and not all that easily moved. If I were to try the physical approach, I would likely look like an abusive dad.)

This was all so frustrating for me. This girl is getting close to her confirmation, and to this point everything related to God or faith or the Church has been a struggle. As you can guess from previous posts, I take my faith pretty seriously, and one of my highest goals is to see all my kids come to a personal embrace of their faith, just as Katie and I have. But this is probably the best picture of how this girl’s guardian angel must feel on Sundays.

Image

Literal Brains, Spiritual Truths.

It took me a few years to get to the point where I’m not all that surprised by this. For quite a while I tried to force my expectations on them, wondering if they would ever accept the faith that is so important to Katie and me. It’s hard to admit that this may never happen because of their ASD, but I’ve come to realize that it’s a very real possibility, if not a downright probability.

After all, teenagers on the autism spectrum tend to have a harder time with religion than their neurotypical peers. ASD kids are very concrete thinkers. Inference and abstraction are foreign concepts. So the thought of an invisible Person whose presence and influence can be detected by intuition and emotion can seem absurd. Aspies tend to be fiercely independent and unwaveringly evidence-based, so there’s not much room for faith in a brain like that. There’s not much room for the idea of submitting one’s heart and mind to an exterior, mysterious God. If my girl were in the upper room with St. Thomas, she would have outdone him in his demand to probe the wounds of Christ before believing that he had risen from the dead.

All this can make the whole idea of a religious service, whether it’s a solemn Mass or a nondenominational electric guitar-fueled gathering, extremely foreign. Then, when you consider all the sensory issues involved—incense, lots of unfamiliar people, loud music, all that sitting and kneeling and standing—it’s a melt down waiting to happen.

At times this has left me wondering if I should even bother to teach the faith to my children. Maybe it would be better just to aim for good, moral kids who stay out of trouble. If their brains are wired so differently, why pretend they’re going to “get it” anyway?

Meeting God.

But I just can’t do that. I may have to accept a different script for my children’s lives than I had intended, but I’m still not giving up. For all the trouble it can cause, and for all the creativity it can demand to get them to Mass, I still believe it’s worth it.

That’s because I believe in a God who acts—and who acts dramatically. You see, while many of my convictions about religion were formed by the Catholic intellectual tradition—I studied philosophy and theology at a Catholic liberal arts college—these convictions came to life for me because of a deep interior conversion experience.

It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that when I was a junior (32 years ago this month, in fact), I had an experience of God that was intensely personal. Everything I had learned in my brain became real to my heart, and I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was real, that Jesus loved me, and that his Holy Spirit was alive and working in my life. I felt a joy I had never known before, as well as a freedom from guilt and a new sense of purpose to life. I’m convinced that without this experience, I would have lost interest in God years ago.

That’s why I’m not giving up. I know that God is bigger than ASD. I know that he loves my kids. And if he loves them, he can’t help but want to show them his love. So I believe that somehow, somewhere, in some manner, he will do for my children what he has done for me. He’ll make himself known and touch their hearts. I don’t know when. And I certainly don’t know how. But I believe deeply that he will do it. I just have to adjust my expectations of what that will look like.

Doing My Part.

So in the mean time, I’ll keep doing what I can. I’ll keep making sure that they have the data in their minds so that when God moves, it can transfer to their hearts. I won’t try to force faith on them. And I certainly won’t get my expectations too high about their emotions or their spiritual intuitions. Where some of my friends’ older kids are beginning to own their faith, I’m not expecting my kids to do that any time soon. At this point, my main concern is to make sure that the information is there. It’s to help them feel as comfortable as possible in church. I know they may never be all that comfortable. But at least it’s a start.

So here I am doing my part. The rest is up to you, God. Good luck!

And if it never happens for them, if they never “get” the experience I had, I won’t sweat it. As I said above, God is bigger than ASD. He’s also bigger than any one model of religious experience or salvation. Even if they can simply come to accept the premises of faith and try their best to live an upright life, I’ll be happy.

Because you made them the way they are. You know who they are. And you won’t let them down.

Autism Blues Celebrates 1000 Ausome Things #AutismPositivity2013

autismpositivityflasblog7

So here we are at the end of another Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month. This year, I discovered this really interesting site. It’s a “flash blog” called Autism Positivity. I’m guessing that a flash blog is something like a flash mob. It appears out of nowhere, does something really cool, and then disappears. The goal of this flash blog is to present 1,000 pieces from people touched by ASD—pieces that celebrate the positive side of the ASD constellation.

So what’s “ausome” about being an ASD dad? Simply put: my family.

• First, there’s my oldest, a thirteen-year-old boy with PDD-NOS. Socially, he’s catching up with his peers. He’s beginning to find his “tribe” in the heartless scrum that is middle school. He has a quick wit and a nimble mind. He also has a rich vocabulary. So what if he sometimes can’t distinguish between the literal and figurative speech some of his friends use? It’s helping him learn the ways of that alien species, the neurotypical adolescent.

• Then there’s my twelve-year-old daughter. She is as aspie as they come, and she knows it. And she owns it. And she uses it to her advantage as often as we’ll let her. She can retreat into her own rich, private world for hours but still come out of herself when she sees the need. She clearly marches to her own drummer, but she is beginning to show that she “gets” where her brothers and sister are at. Plus, she has my mother’s smile. What’s not to love?

• Then comes my nine-year-old son, whose Aspergers reminds you of Mozart or Albert Einstein. Intellectually, he’s got enough wattage to light up the Manhattan skyline. He can’t stand to wear denim jeans (“They hurt!”), and he is never happier than when he’s on the computer building new worlds in Minecraft. A passionate soul, he has an exaggerated sense of justice, taking deep offense at every joke or slight. But that same passion can fuel him for hours as he builds complex Lego structures without a blueprint or develops a new outside game for his younger siblings to play.

• Next up, my seven-year-old son, who has high-functioning autism. He has the brightest smile in the universe and the sweetest disposition—when he’s not melting down. And when he does melt down, he recovers with amazing speed and is very quick with a repentant hug and heartfelt words of contrition. He doesn’t quite know how to make friends on the playground yet, but it doesn’t bother him. He’s content just to swing on his own, staring into space dreaming his dreams.

• Then there’s my five-year-old little girl, who has ADHD and may well be aspie. She’s an impish little spitfire of a thing. Some might call her restless or easily distracted. I call her Little Pip because she’s always hopping around. A daddy’s girl from the day she was born, she loves nothing more than a warm cuddle or a kiss on the cheek. What does she dislike? Clothing tags. Hates them with a passion. Now if only I could get her to look me in the eye!

• Then there’s the youngest, a four-year-old boy with PDD-NOS. He too is perpetually on the move—except when he decides to “plank.” He is extremely passionate about Angry Birds—so much so that he will play the game with any projectile he can find. Including his dinner. Which, of course, cannot be eaten sitting down. He is very good at mind-blindedly annoying his siblings. Or his mom. Or his dad. But he often gets a pass, because he does it with such a broad grin that we tend to melt.

• Finally, there’s my wife. (No, I’m not going to tell you her age.) She’s not on the spectrum, so she’s not officially “ausome.” But it doesn’t matter, considering how awesome she is. Day in and day out, she lays down her life for her kids and never complains about the work. No regrets. No recrimination. No remorse. Just a lot of love and a dogged determination to help our kids become the best version of themselves possible. A psychologist friend once told me that raising one special-needs kid is about as demanding as raising three neurotypical kids. So there’s Katie, raising the equivalent of 18 children, and doing it with nothing but grace, wisdom, wit, and energy.

So that’s what’s ausome about ASD. It’s funny, but because we live and breathe this stuff every day, we can’t always tell when our kids are being aspie or being just plain kids. We simply don’t know what neurotypical looks like!

But that’s probably the biggest blessing of all. The labels don’t matter. What matters is the love. What matters is enjoying our kids for the wonderful constellation of gifts and challenges each of them has. What matters is knowing what every dad should know: that to touch your child is to touch heaven itself.

Dude!

Take a look at this story about an aspie fellow trying to survive a conversation with an alien species—in this case a neurotypical alpha male. It’s really quite entertaining, but it also gives a glimpse into all the work that folks on the spectrum often have to put into supposedly normal, everyday interactions. If only the exchange had been videotaped!