My husband shared this post over on his blog yesterday that states things so much more clearly than I ever can, so I decided to share it over here too since he doesn’t really love having new visitors over on his blog. We spend a lot of time talking about the fact that Brinky’s not talking and what, if anything, we should do about it. But is this sweet boy causing any problems because he hasn’t started talking?
No, he’s not. Anyway, on to Lee’s post.
Brinkley is twenty-eight months old and he doesn’t talk or point at objects to indicate interest. He loves to play with string, dental floss, and even spaghetti noodles, wrapping them around his fingers in elaborate, intricate patterns; nothing captivates him so completely. These characteristics—repetitive behavior and lack of communication—are, according to developmental psychologists, two key autism markers. The third primary marker—impaired social interaction—could not fit Brinkley any less. He loves to make eye contact, he laughs and smiles all the time, he’s very friendly when he meets new people, and he’s not the least bit shy or reserved in social situations. So is my son autistic? More importantly, do I give a damn if he is or he isn’t?
What is autism? The fact that Katie and I have read about it and discussed it as much as we have and I still can’t give a definitive answer is, to me, more telling than any answer I could give. As I understand it, there are three major autism markers—impaired communication, repetitive behavior, and impaired social interaction. Brinkley clearly meets the first two requirements and just as clearly does not meet the third. So then he isn’t autistic, right? Not so fast.
It seems now that we have an autism spectrum, and a child can be placed on that spectrum if he or she meets some of the requirements to some degree or another. This is, to my knowledge, a fairly recent development; certainly the extent to which parents are aware of the ‘autism spectrum’ is new. Now you can have a diagnosis for your weird kid no matter what—if you don’t know what else to do, you can place him or her on the ‘spectrum.’
Well, I think that’s a load of crap.
As far as I’m concerned, my kid is weird. He’s weird, but he’s healthy and he’s happy. As my friends and family know, I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for more than four years now, and I bring it up in this context only because this ‘autism spectrum’ brings to mind a maxim I heard when I was in rehab: if it causes problems, it is a problem. I had a lot thrown at me in rehab and not all of it stuck, but that one did. Long-time alcoholics are masters of denial, and one of the most common things we do is create our own criteria for classifying a person as an alcoholic—criteria that we then conveniently fail to meet. For example, I told myself that alcoholics drank all day (many do, of course), and since I didn’t start drinking until after work, I was not an alcoholic. Did I drink too much? Yes. But was I an alcoholic? No, because I didn’t drink in the morning. Driving drunk was another criterion I used: alcoholics drive drunk, I never drove drunk, therefore I wasn’t an alcoholic. I could admit that I drank too much, but not that I was an alcoholic—why did that classification matter so much? It mattered because alcoholism is a disease—at least how I reckon it—whereas drinking too much is simply a bad habit. Habits are quirks that a man can deal with on his own and in his own time; a disease is something else entirely. If I was an alcoholic, it meant that I was sick and that I needed help. It meant coming to terms with the terrible things I’d done to myself and to others, and accepting my weakness and failure. There’s another false criterion for you: alcoholics fail, and I’d never failed, so I wasn’t an alcoholic.
What does this have to do with autism? I’m getting there.
As an inveterate alcoholic I was driven to avoid that definitive diagnosis at all costs. Why? Because if I accepted the diagnosis, there would be no question of what I had to do: stop drinking immediately and get help to do it. The ambivalence and uncertainty I’d used to avoid taking responsibility would be stripped away, and there’d be no more hedging or equivocating. That stark certainty was scary as hell, and I didn’t face it until my family forced me to. But what if the tables were turned? What if the uncertainty was what frightened me? In my case, there was no uncertainty. My mind, my body, my family—it was all coming apart. Soon I would be alone, and soon after that I would be dead, and I knew why. I knew exactly what my problem was. More importantly, I knew that I had a problem. Only the disease allowed me to repress, deny, and project. But what if I didn’t know? What if I wasn’t sure?
Brinkley isn’t doing everything his sisters did when they were his age, and he’s doing some things they didn’t do, mostly weird things. But they were day care kids; he’s stuck here with me. They’re girls; he’s a boy. They’re two-and-a-half years apart; Brinkley is seven years younger than his closest sister. Moreover, I’m in a position to notice things now that I might have missed before, back when I worked for the bank every day and drank every night. My gut feeling is that my son is fine—peculiar and obstinate, but fine. I trust my instincts as a parent, but I can imagine what I might do if I didn’t. If I didn’t know that my son was going to grow up to be happy and healthy—and let’s face it, no doctor can promise me that about any of my children—and I didn’t trust my own character and judgment as a father, would a diagnosis of autism make me feel worse, or would it be a relief? It would be a challenge, of course, but the next steps would be clear: behavioral therapy, psychological evaluation, possibly some medication or another. More importantly, I wouldn’t have to figure it out on my own, because the doctors would guide me.
What I’m hinting at is uncomfortable to suggest, but here it is: I suspect that the autism spectrum has, in some instances, been extended and improperly applied to children because their parents can’t handle having a weird kid that doesn’t act like every other kid. Parental micro-management relying on cookie-cutter developmental milestones and unsubstantiated Facebook boasts (‘my eight-month-old is fluent in three languages!’) is a fast track to madness. Worse still, it can make you overreact to developmental lags that would otherwise correct themselves, inviting the medical community to slap a label on your child for no reason other than that you can’t be happy if your kid doesn’t hit the proscribed milestones when your friends’ kids do. If my son is happy doing things his way, but I’m bent out of shape about his way of doing things, is he really the one with the problem?
That brings me back to the rehab maxim: if it causes problems, it is a problem. What the counselors there said was that it doesn’t matter what name you give it, if alcohol is destroying your life, it’s a problem. You can’t hide behind semantic distinctions and arbitrary criteria: you’re miserable, everyone you care about is miserable, and alcohol is the cause of that misery. You only need the one criterion: if it causes problems, it is a problem. Well, the inverse is true as well: if it’s not causing problems, it’s not a problem. If Brinkley is autistic, the disease will disrupt and degrade his life and mine to the point that I won’t need a doctor to tell me things are very, very wrong. If you have to ask a doctor if there’s a problem—not what the problem is, but whether there is a problem at all—with an otherwise healthy and happy child, the child may not be the one with the problem.
None of what I’ve said should be interpreted to mean that I don’t believe that autism is a real disease—of course it is. It is a disease, but it’s slowly becoming a catch-all diagnosis for weird kids. I don’t want my kids to be like everyone else—everyone else is already like everyone else. In a world like that, a little weirdness can take Brinkley a long way.
I hope no one is offended by these words – as he said, we certainly believe autism is a real disease, just not that it’s necessarily the right diagnosis for every kid. We’d never ignore something we thought was a true medical issue for our kids either.Read More
My whole family loves Honest Toddler so much. I realized this morning that we may read a little too much Honest Toddler (if that’s possible) when my first thought when I took a glance at Brinkley eating his breakfast was that Honest Toddler would approve.
Blueberry pancakes (frozen, of course – don’t think I’m such a good mom that I’m making homemade blueberry pancakes on a Wednesday morning), served on the couch, in front of shows (Dora specifically). What more could a spoiled toddler want in life?
Brinky’s actually very particular about his meals – or really about everything. He likes his routine. And his routine includes settling down when I bring him his breakfast in the morning to keep him occupied while I head off to the bedroom to get ready for work. And if he really doesn’t like his breakfast, he can just hand it to one of the dogs conveniently waiting close by.
Linking up with Greta and Sarah for #iPPP:Read More
As my kids enjoy another “snow” day at home today (where the roads are wet but school was cancelled anyway), I thought I’d finally share the fun pictures I took of Brinky during last weekend’s brief snow. We don’t get snow often, and for some reason generally only at night after he’s gone to bed. Then it tends to disappear before he can experience it. Last Saturday morning it snowed for about an hour and started sticking, at least to our deck, so we let Brinky out to play in it. And I took one million pictures. Here are a few of my favorites:
Linking up for this week’s Essence of Now:
We started Brinky in a toddler gymnastics class a couple weeks ago. Since he’s a stay-at-home kid, unlike my girls who were daycare babies (and quite a bit older than him), I thought it would be good for him to be around other kids closer to his age and learn a little bit about being in a setting where there’s some structure and he is supposed to listen to a teacher. So far, it hasn’t been as bad as I expected it to be. There are moments he enjoys it. He doesn’t enjoy circle time at the beginning of class, but he loves the free time to play on all the gymnastics equipment. Except when other kids want to use the same equipment he wants to use. I make one of my girls go with me as extra support each week. The first week Reagan joined us, and last week Jenny came along. She put herself in charge of photography (with my phone).
What he likes: the tumble track (really long trampoline).
What he doesn’t like: being dragged off the trampoline because he’s just supposed to go one way and then get off and wait in line again. (Excuse my appearance. I don’t believe in dressing up for toddler gymnastics class.)
Then I tried to convince him it was fun to move on and wait in line again.
We eventually got him to move on to other equipment, like the rings.
But he still threw himself down on the mat in protest.
Jenny helped by observing and wondering why I forced her to go along with me.
Then we moved over to the pit, which he did like.
He just decided to hang out in there for a bit.
Last thing he tried was the slide. He had so much fun going down the slide that he wanted to climb back up.
And was a little mad that it wouldn’t work. But that was sort of the story of gymnastics class for him. He likes it when he can do exactly what he wants, and he’s mad the rest of the time. It was slightly better week two than week one, and I expect it to improve as he adjusts to the setting!
Linking up with Greta and Sarah for #iPPP:
It’s so hard for me to believe that my sweet baby boy is two years old today! But he is. I won’t repeat the birth story, but you can go read it here if you’re in the mood. And I will share a few pictures showing how much he’s grown and changed over the last two years.
One week old:
One year old (still pretty bald):
Around 18 months with all of his curls:
And a couple weeks ago at almost 2 with his cute haircut:
He’s growing up – literally! He was a little over 34 pounds and over three feet (by one inch) at his 2 year checkup this morning. I swear my girls weren’t this big at his age.
He’s still such a sweet boy. He still doesn’t talk, so he can be my baby a little bit longer. He walks and runs and jumps and climbs everywhere. And he gives the best hugs. I can’t wait to continue to watch him grow and develop his own personality. And I’d bet this is the last year we won’t have to truly separate his birthday celebration from Christmas!
This week’s Monday Listicles topic is a fun one that I swear I could happily do every day: 10 pictures from your cellphone. I was going to go through my phone pictures and include a random selection, but Brinkley was so cute this evening that I easily managed 10 (or so) just during an hour of hanging out with him. So…
10 Cellphone Pictures of Sunday Night with Brinkley
1. After dinner, random ball throwing time (he’s such a boy) and dessert, we headed to the bath to get his sticky hands, and the rest of his dirty body clean. He was having fun making waves in the water.
2. Once he was dressed he clearly wanted to play in his room for a bit. First up, opening and closing the doors of his dresser. Hard. Just like he enjoys opening and closing the cabinet doors in the kitchen. So much fun.
3. The cat made the mistake of wandering into Brinkley’s lair. She left again after Brinky grabbed her tail, which shouldn’t have surprised her since he does it every time.
4. We went to see what his sisters were doing and found Jenny sitting on the floor, reading fan fiction (her favorite thing to do right now), listening to her favorite songs, and watching TV. She’s a multi-tasker, that Jenny. It may not look like it, but this is actually really clean for their room.
5. Reagan was up in her bunk, chilling out and reading whichever Percy Jackson book she’s on now. Dogs were hanging out on Jenny’s bunk since it was available.
6. Back in Brinky’s room, he kept trying to look past me at one of his favorite things – the string that hangs down from the attic stairs in the hallway. It fascinates him.
7. Then he paused to stare at me when he noticed I was taking pictures. And he actually didn’t close his eyes for once! Isn’t he a cute one?
8. A little bed jumping time.
9. Taking a little time to pull and twist the curtains.
10. Then he started sucking his thumb and climbing onto his crib (where he no longer sleeps) and I decided play time was over and we moved on to the bed to snuggle for a bit before he went to sleep. (I’m not sure why Darth Vader’s laying in the middle of the floor.)Read More