My son, Billy, absolutely loves to visit the library. Admittedly, he is more attracted to the DVDs and videos than to the books, but I'd rather let him check out DVDs than to spend a small fortune at Target and Best Buy every time he wants to see something new. (Which is just about every day!) He loves his DVDs and videos! He doesn't just watch them; he collects them. He sorts them. He stacks them. He works his way through every bonus feature. He even watches them in all the available language selections! When he gets tired of that he sits down at the computer and clicks on Amazon.com. There he can troll through the media listings and fill imaginary shopping carts to his heart's content.
I made the mistake once of leaving my credit card info in my account after placing an order. Guess what I received in the mail a few days later? Yup. Two Clifford DVDs. (Thank goodness it was only two!) I showed the evidence to my son and he immediately gave himself up.
"Billy, did you order these DVDs without asking Mommy?"
"Yes!" he said, and quickly added, "Sorry!" He reached out and gave me a hug.
And then, just as quickly, he looked up at me. "Cut with a scissors?" he asked.
Translation: Okay, I said I was sorry, would you just go ahead and open them already?!
I was still in a bit of shock that he had been able to complete the ordering process by himself, but since it was my own fault for not deleting my credit card info, I acquiesced and let him keep the DVDs. He ran upstairs to play them on his portable DVD player. "Thank you!" he called out to me over his shoulder.
There are several important things you've just learned from this story:
1) Billy may be autistic, but he's not stupid. (I say this all the time, particularly when he does something that blows me away.) If he is motivated enough, he will figure out a way to get what he wants. Even if it takes stealth. On the other hand,
2) Billy did not lie, even though he knew he might get in trouble. (Billy has never lied to me, ever.) This is the flip side of the coin when it comes to social cluelessness and autism... autistic children seem to lack the level of social awareness it must take to develop cunning and deceit. Not such a bad thing, if you ask me.
3) I am a marshmallow... a big softie, a pushover, a mush. When my child looks up at me with those innocent blue eyes and a smile that lights up the whole room, I melt just like a marshmallow at a campfire.
Thus, when he comes to me with his tote bag full of borrowed videos and asks me to "Go to the library, please," nine times out of ten I will stop what I'm doing and start looking for my car keys. Yesterday we made a detour to pick his big sister up from field hockey practice before heading out to the place where the audio-visual materials live. She opted to stay in the car and start on her homework, so Billy and I went in together. In reality, Billy practically ran inside and I quickly followed.
He strode with purpose to the drop-off bin. Plop! Plop! Plop! Three videocassetes were fed through the slot and dropped to the bottom. He bent over and peered through the slot to assure himself that they had made it safely. After all, they are his friends. Then, with a shout, he was off... walking quickly to the children's section, swinging his empty bag wildly.
"Billy, watch where you're going!" I call out, returning waves from the two library assistants working behind the long desk. Everyone here knows Billy. I wince as he nearly collides with an oncoming woman and then smile at her in passing. "Excuse me!" I said, and hurried to catch up with my son who had just turned the corner. Hopefully she noticed the Autism Speaks logo on his bag.
On this particular day, Billy is in the mood for Rugrats. He pawed throught the ten or so well-worn videos and could not find the two titles he was looking for. No other videos would do. So, off to the children's book desk we went to put in a request for transfer from another library; a great opportunity for Billy to practice his social skills with the librarian. He was able to make his own requests with only a few verbal prompts from me. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, he paused on our way out to select a music CD, Barney at the Beach. Hmmm. Barney for an eleven year-old boy?
Oh well, whatever floats your boat, my son!
As usual, I asked him if he wanted to look at some of the books and as usual, he said no. "I want The Halloweiner!" he insisted. Every night we read a story together before bed. He will want the same story over and over for about four or five weeks. Just when I'm about to get really sick of it, he switches to the next one and we will read that for the next month or so. The book-of-the-moment for September-October just happens to be The Halloweiner, by Dav Pilkey, so at least it is appropriate for the season. (One time he got stuck on a Christmas book in June!) The librarian checks out his CD and we practice social skills once more.
As we were leaving we ran into a woman I know casually; her daughter and mine attended the same pre-school. They may have had a playdate or two way back when. In any case, we smile and wave when we see each other around town, that's about it. She noticed the back issues of The Writer that I had just checked out. (I know, I know. I'm supposed to be writing, not reading about writing... but I always like to have something to read in the car for the times Tricia's soccer or field hockey practices run late.) If I'm prepared, they never do!
She asked if I'm writing and I tell her the truth; that I'm just beginning. She tells me she's writing a young adult fiction book. "I hope it's not another book about vampires," I quipped. "Oh no," she replied, "There's no violence at all in this book!" (Good luck with that.) Then, to my surprise, she invited me to join her writer's group; they meet every Wednesday afternoon at the library. It's a small group, she assured me. "One woman is writing a children's picture book and two are writing novels," she explained. Sheesh, this reminds me of Voltaire... "everyone is writing a book!" Could there really be so many aspiring authors in one town? We exchanged e-mail addresses, but I doubt that I could do Wednesday afternoons in the fall; perhaps come springtime when our family's schedule is lighter.
Once said family was finished with dinner and the dishwasher was humming away, Tricia sat down at the table and asked me an unusual question. "Mom, what's your favorite Jane Austen book?" I paused a moment and answered that although I liked them all, my favorite was probably Pride and Prejudice. "Why do you ask?" I said. At thirteen, Tricia reads what I would consider to be an above-average amount of books for a person of her age. She usually cannot wait to finish her homework so she can read for fun.
She sighed. "Oh, I'm just getting tired of all these books for teenagers," she said. "They're all the same. A girl meets a boy she likes, at first she doesn't think she'll get him, but in the end she always does," she complained. "It's like they're all the same book, except some are about wizards, some are about vampires, and some are about zombies. It's always the same romance story." Hmmm, I thought, I'll have to file this away to share with my friend from the library!
Frustrated, she pushed a copy of Sense and Sensibility toward me. "I started to read it, but by the time I got to page fourteen I was all confused. The words are too hard, like Little Women," she went on. (Last year I had suggested that she might like Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Alcott's Little Women, but they had proved too difficult for her.) "I like the characters in the Twilight books (Stephenie Myers), but the writing is so... so..." she paused while her brain searched for the right word. "The books for teenagers are just too simple!" Hmmm. This was a tough one. The classics were a bit too tough and mainstream popular fiction would probably have questionable content. Of course, one could argue that the popular fiction for teens has questionable content...but I digress.
I went to our own bookshelves and searched the jackets. Agatha Christie's dialogue would be a bit hard for her, although she enjoys mysteries, and Shakespeare would be out of the question. I considered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith), but thought it would be a bit of a downer. It's a great story, written from the perspective of a young girl, but it's main themes are somewhat heavy. Perhaps in a year or two.
"How about these," I said, pulling out a boxed collection of Jan Karon novels. (I know she likes to read series books.) I pulled out the first in the Mitford series, At Home in Mitford, and handed it to her. "What's it about?" she asked, looking at the cover. "It's about everyday life in a small town," I replied, "If you like good characters, there's a lot of great ones in here." She looked at me skeptically. "Father Tim?" she said, raising an eyebrow. "Just read it," I told her. "You gave Jane Austen fourteen pages, try fourteen pages of this and if you don't like it, then just try something else." She took the book and surprised me again by commenting, "You know, Mom, you're very well-read," before disappearing upstairs for the rest of the evening. Wow, a compliment from a teenager... it must've been a very good dinner.
That night as I was putting Billy to bed, I popped my head into Tricia's room. "How's the book?" I asked. "Mom, I'm hooked on it!" she exclaimed and jumped up to follow me into her brother's room, babbling about the various characters. "But who's the thief?" she asked. I told her she would find out herself, all in good time. She groaned, gave me a kiss, and bounced back to her room. Let's see, there's about five or six books in that series, so she should be good for a couple of weeks at least! She's got her mystery, she's got her interesting characters, and she's got a writing style that speaks to her level of comprehension.
That's what Tricia's getting from her book.
"I want The Halloweiner!" Billy says, and he dissolved into a fit of giggles. He opened the book and began to read, "There once was a GROUCH named Oscar..." and he looked at me, waiting for my reaction. "No, no, no!" I said in mock annoyance. He threw his head back and laughed some more. "Oscar is not a grouch, " I continued, "Oscar is a DOG!"
"Oscar is a grouch from Sesame Street?" (giggle giggle)
"No, no!" (looking stern) "Oscar is a DOG!"
We go on this way throughout the entire story; everywhere he sees the word DOG, Billy substitutes the word GROUCH. He's done this hundred times and he still finds it as hysterically funny as he did the first time. (Autistic humor.) It's a game, and it makes him laugh, but it's teaching a lesson: verbal interaction between two people is a give-and-take process; you look to the other person's face for clues to their reactions during your conversation. Exaggerating my reactions makes him more aware of them.
He's got his predictability, he's got his repetition, he's got his snuggle time with Mommy.
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