Friday, September 7, 2007

Report from Hoople: Day 3 (Wherein There Are Two Accidents)

Nota Bene: For the next eight days, this blog will function primarily as a Remote Parental Communication Device. Although reflective content is not to be expected, in the unlikely event of well-behaved children and uneventful timespans (such as today) the text may be of interest to more than one other human being on the planet.

Because I don't want to alarm anyone unduly, let me point out (before I begin the ponderous recitation of my day with the kids )that the accidents to which the post title refers had to do with the personal hygiene of a three-year-old. The title seems apropos only because this accounting is usually the first thing I hear from CG when I pick her up at daycare and ask her how her day was: "Um, I had two accidents."

Matters continued to go suspiciously swimmingly here at "12," as Archer calls our house. I'm tending to focus more on getting a lot accomplished at the office (reading student work, preparing for class, answering administrative queries, etc.) that I might in other circumstances have put off until evening, because I covet work-free evening time to knit and watch TV. (Top Chef last night ... oh my Lord, Noel. You'll want to grab Howie and shake him until he grows hair.) Sure, I have the same desire for a leisure zone when I'm not alone, but I seem to be more comfortable with multitasking and less desirous of a clear work/life separation when Noel is around multitasking right alongside me. Maybe it's that alone time feels like "me time" -- I have this sense of almost guilty entitlement to enjoy and indulge myself. (That has not extended to breaking the No S Diet rules, however, although each alone night so far I have thought fleetingly about having some chocolate because these are special circumstances, darn it.)


We can carry on pretty good conversations with Archer these days, as Noel will attest from talking with him on the phone. Ask him a question, and as long as it's something he's interested in, he'll try to give you an answer. But it's what answer he gives that's revealing of his autism. Several exchanges just like this happen in our house every day:

Parent: What did you do in school today, Archer?
Archer: I watched a video in the library.
Parent: What was the video about?
Archer: The total time was 30 minutes and 52 seconds.

Parent: Did you sing a song in music class today?
Archer: I sang track 2 of 11. That CD counts down from 2 minutes and 5 seconds.

Parent: What book did Mrs. McKenna read to you today?
Archer: Mom, that book has 65 pages.

It's a simple matter of relevant details. What you and I assume are the salient features of an event are not what Archer focuses on. Sometimes we can't get any information about the plot of the video or the subject matter of the book; those just weren't the details that Archer found important, so they're not what he noticed. He was too busy watching the display on the VCR, or counting the pages as they go by.

He's learned that he's supposed to pay attention to the story (so he can answer questions and get rewards), but the story is obviously a distant second best to the real experience -- the enumeration of its structural quantities. Ever since we can remember, he's kept time with his hands (flashing his private number signs at breakneck speed) while watching videos, singing songs in church, or just running around the house. Since he became attached to electronic calculators, he's been using them to time things -- keying in 1+1, and then hitting equals over and over again to make the numbers advance. At speech therapy, he got so attached to the therapist's stopwatch whenever testing was being done that he insisted on seeing it at all times. We finally got him weaned off of it to the extent that he gets a timer from the supply closet when he arrives, sets it for 50 minutes, then leaves it outside the room so he's not constantly interrupting the scheduled activities to check on it. Noel bought him a kitchen timer last week, and he sets it up whenever he's watching TV so that he can keep track of the time.

Maybe somewhere, sometime, that obsession with time and changing numbers will translate into socially useful activity. While watching football on TV last week, Archer suggested that he could start and stop the clock when he grew up. Doesn't sound half bad at this point, and I can guarantee he'd be a conscientious -- some might say single-minded -- timekeeper.

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