Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sam's Secrets Revealed

That subject line is not so much mine as it is Sam's title to the poem he made up last night.

Sam is my 10 year-old son. He has high-functioning autism. I struggle daily trying to find the balance between letting him know and understand his diagnosis, and letting him just be a kid.

Every parent who travels this road knows that slapping a label on your child can be social homicide. But I also think Sam needs to understand why his brain works the way it does; how it makes him exceptionally gifted in certain areas like visual processing and strategizing, math, and rote memorization of spoken language, to name a few.

It also is the reason that he has a 1:1 aide during his school day, struggles to sit still in a classroom, has trouble with reading comprehension, and has difficulty understanding how to start or maintain a conversation.

I think he needs to know why he has these challenges in order to conquer them. He also needs to understand and feel proud of the inestimable gifts that go along with his neurological configuration, which is different than most.

My goal is to always be honest and open about it, so that in his mind, it becomes part of the fabric of his personality, but also not to dwell on it so that it does not define him.

Sam is echolalic, which means he has an extraordinary ability to memorize large chunks of language that he hears from other people, CD-roms, TV shows. (We received one of our first "this kid is different" red flags when he began reciting the entire text of the children's book "The Polar Express" at age three.) When speaking spontaneously, he avoids eye contact, his delivery is monotone, and he struggles to find words. But when he repeats something verbatim, he has all the punch and inflection of a seasoned Shakespearean actor performing a soliloquy.

Sam has a school open house coming up next week. Some of the kids are memorizing poems, to be recited individually in front of a large group of parents and students. A few afternoons ago, he ran inside right after the bus dropped him off, and proceeded to recite -- from memory -- all five poems that some of his classmates are learning. He has a wonderful teacher this year who plays to his strengths, and Sam will be delivering one of the recitations next Thursday.

Last night, just before bed, he was running around his room, laughing at his mistake of putting a new pair of underwear over the ones he was already wearing, literally bouncing off all four walls and the floor. We have a trampoline and some occupational therapy-approved swings in our yard, and Sam gets sensory integration OT sessions at school every day to help him settle into his body so he can sit still. While I understand that this is neurologically based behavior, I still get annoyed when it happens at bedtime when we're all fried and just want to turn the parenting engines off for the night.

So while I was failing at my efforts to maintain my patience, and chasing him around the house with his jammies in my hand, he announced, "Mom! I have a poem!"

Exasperated, I said, "Sam, that's great, but right now I don't want to hear it. You need to go to bed."

He went ahead anyway, smiling and trying not to laugh. He is so often hard to reach, that when I see a twinkle of presence in his eyes, I can't deny him. So I listened. He smiled and said, "This is a poem about me!" and improvised the following:

Sam's Secrets Revealed

I'm a great builder.
I am an artist.
I have autism.
I have two overdue library books!
Baseball is my favorite sport.
I hit so many grand slams.
And I'm wearing two pairs of underwear right now!

He could have pulled the actual rug out from under me and I wouldn't have noticed. In that one telling and hilarious piece of poetry, Sam revealed to me that he knows he has autism, and that he sees it as just one item in the middle of a list of many things that characterize him.

I was elated.

And I'm wearing two pairs of underwear right now.


Blogger Kafaleni said...

I remember this - it made me smile the first time and it has again today!

2:00 PM  
Blogger KDF said...

Aw! Thanks, Kaf. Yep, I moved some of my old posts over from my old blog once I figured out how to republish them on the original dates! Bloggy time warp.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Meyerson said...

K - that is great (and thanks for letting us in on your blog).

There are a lot of similarities (and a few differences) between Sam & my 6 year old nephew, C.J.

When a 5 year old names the entire list of dinosaurs in an A-Z book from memory, some of them 15-20 letters long that you would have trouble pronouncing, you can't help but take notice.

He's also into: computers and computer games, counting in many foreign languages, trains, natural sciences (my sister has to keep getting him non fiction books from the library) and, it seems, something new every day.

And he's much better at relating to others than even a year ago.

7:05 AM  
Blogger KDF said...


I just started responding to you here, but my comment is getting so long that I think I'm going to make it a new blog entry instead.


8:39 AM  

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