Circular Logic (#213)

The very concept of the "waiting room" feeds into Charlie’s worst anxieties. What is a waiting room but a bland space of generic chairs, coffee table-like tables, old magazines, fusty toys, a TV playing the same old Disney movies—and, even more, a bland space that is prelude to more waiting in an even blander examination room and–ultimately–to being poked and tapped while Mom and the Doctor talk about you in the third person?
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Charlie got up for the bus but, a half-hour later, ran out the door with a cry and started crashing and bucking in his seat. "It is all right, we can drive him," the bus driver said and the aide slid the door shut. The bus pulled over a block after driving off with a still-bucking Charlie and I ran coatless down my street, shoes unbuckled and house unlocked.

"Charlie. What’s wrong?" I placed a hand on his arm. "Charlie. It is a privilege to ride the bus. Please get off with Mom."

Crying, Charlie climbed out and watched, incredulous, as the red schoolbus pulled away without him on it. He was silent and weary as I drove him, and perked up to be in the school building, only to fall asleep on a beanbag after one round of working at his desk. I drove back, got him up from the beanbag, talked with his teacher ("he hasn’t been himself this week," said most sympathetically), and we went home, where Charlie plopped himself on the heater vent.

"Lunnsssbox."

"You can eat your lunch. Then we need to go see the doctor."

It only took about 30 seconds of us being in the doctor’s waiting room for Charlie to start crying out and thrashing. I slipped my co-payment to the receptionist and held onto my boy who was several times the size of the wide-eyed preschoolers and their parents (who were trying not to look). In light of Charlie’s reactions to seeing me wearing a sweater and skirt that reminded him of tough mornings when he attended his old school, I was not surprised that merely being in the doctor’s office evoked such a strong response. Charlie only comes to the doctor’s office when he does not feel well and–starting with the bland waiting room–what happens only gets worse.

But I was surprised that, under the eyes of several moms and their younger children, I very calmly declared to Charlie: "You can sit on the bench. The other kids are all sitting in their chairs and you’re older." And Charlie sat and cried softly, then was quiet. He went up the stairs to the exam room, looked out the window, lay on the exam table and–eyes fixed on me–said

"Schoolbus."

The doctor did his prodding and poking with a tongue depressor and Charlie assented without much intercession from me. We had seen this doctor almost a year ago about a sore that Charlie had gotten under his tongue. "Nothing I can see wrong, keep on applying chapstick to his lips. How’s he doing with the autism?"

I sort of smiled–true MSHA moment. "Great–yeah, he did get kind of upset in the waiting room just now but he’s started a new school and he loves it, learning to read."
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Charlie was slow to put on his coat and hat and shoes after the doctor left. We went for a walk-run around the neighborhood before a trip to CVS to get a mailing folder for Aunty Jen’s birthday present. Charlie was very hungry and asked so many times for "green apple" that Jim had to make a late night trip to Pathmark for more. Charlie did his favorite, usual nighttime things: Long hot shower, lying in bed listening to music, catch with Dad, "beddtime, goo’nigh."

How quickly–instantaneously, really–Charlie had snapped out of his anger in the waiting room, going from tantrum to sitting calmly in a minute. It is because, while he is learning how to read, school and his home ABA program are teaching Charlie lessons that will last him beyond knowing that the sound "a" makes is the /a/ in apple. They are teaching him Control and Coping–that is, how not to hit the panic button but to deal with his anxiety.

The remedy for Charlie’s head-banging is not a helmet but teaching him how to read and write, and this is one of the main lessons covered in Autismland 101 . The best solution is not the most obvious, or the easiest, but often the one that requires driving in circles and more circles, until you get back to the exit ramp that you passed a long time ago.

Though a native Californian, I did not get my driver’s license until after I had graduated from high school. I was content to get rides from my mom and older sister and was nervous about the multiple decisions you have to simultaneously make with the steering and turn signal and the business of switching lanes and your blind spot and—–I never had a car of my own till I had finished graduate school.

"If you’re about to miss your turn-off, don’t try to swerve back and make it, you don’t know who’s coming. Just go to the next exit and turn around," Jim, Mr. Ex-NYC-Taxi-Driver, once counselled me. "Don’t panic." I had this advice in mind on Monday when that large truck drove into my path on highway 78–don’t force yourself right back onto the road, you can always take the long way round and come back–and it was with me in the doctor’s waiting room and in all of those sudden, difficult, crazy moments that hit you from behind in Autismland.

Comments
4 Responses to “Circular Logic (#213)”
  1. Eileen says:

    Ok, so I am learning to drive in circles, but I don’t always know if I am that great at reading the signs. Maybe I need glasses. Thanks for being my navigator and helping me to read the signs. Though, I have been keeping in mind that we are not all driving on the same road with the same vehicle.

    Hope Charlie is alright. I wonder if he has a problem with the bus or if he is just not feeling well. That is wonderful how he was able to manage his behavior in the waiting room and doctors office.

  2. gretchen says:

    Funny- I have started a post called “waiting room” and will have to finish it.

    Also, Henry had to visit the doctor yesterday. He has an ear infection. I still have to hold him still when they look in his ears. But the difference this time was that instead of just yelling or crying, he was using his words, saying “PLEASE STOP. PLEASE STOP.” It’s enough to break a mommy’s heart.

    Hope Charlie has a good day today.

  3. SquareGirl says:

    Ahh, control and coping…the really important things…sound like Charlie is learning…sounds like your patience is helping him learn.

  4. Mothersvox says:

    I’m do glad Charlie recovered from his bus episode and that the day was smooth . . . The image of you running down the street no coat, shoes unbuckled, house unlocked is a familiar one around here . . . not quite having enough time to be make the change of plans due to tantrum AND present ourselves int the world as the cool, calm, and pulled together autism moms we are! LOL!

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