The End of Cuteness (#314)

“Well, he sure is cute.” Well-meaning, if rather flustered, people have often said that while regarding Charlie (and after they have heard “he has autism“). And Charlie (if I, his mother, may say this with some inpugnity) is cute. He was an adorable baby, a round-cheeked toddler, with long lashes and dark eyes.
The lashes and the big eyes were as much in evidence as ever today, a day in which Charlie did not act very cute; a day in which the reality of Charlie as nearly nine years old, 4 and a half feet tall and 75 pounds at least, was very evident. “B’ack car, b’ack car, shoes on!” were the constant requests until the evening. One moment Charlie was trying out the water hose on the grass or riding strong and powerful on his bike, the next, the mayhem of screaming and Charlie’s body twisting and arching and Jim and me running and hanging on to him. He would calm down, lying on his back, panting, and then start moaning again. Amid all that, he also put away his bike without being asked and attempted to use the rake to gather dried-up leaves.

When you’ve got big changes on the horizon and as near as your grandfather’s house, who wouldn’t have strong feelings, of fear, of anxiety?

I have been thinking, the biggest change is not from an external source. It is internal to Charlie. It is the simple reality: My autistic boy is growing up, physically and mentally, intellectually, cognitively, but his language and communication abilities still lag far, far behind, so that if there is one thing that Charlie is “impaired” in, it is in being able to talk to us.

Today Jim and I decided that it is time to end Charlie’s verbal behavior sessions. He has been doing them with the wonderful, wonderful Miss Cindy for a year. Many of the VB programs overlap with his school and home Lovaas ABA sessions; his home consultant has noted that Charlie has been talking more and more. Charlie’s school speech therapist uses PROMPT and his articulation and clarity have indeed been getting better and better, and it seems to be time for more ABA (for his academic programs, like reading and writing) and more speech therapy. And more activities like aikido and other sports, and a social skills group.

Most of the children who do therapy at the verbal behavior center that Charlie has been attending are far younger than him (3-6 years old). The center is stocked with toys, equipment, and videos for kids of those ages and Charlie has often been motivated to mand for Barney videos. He indeed watched two of these last Thursday when his weekend anxiety was beginning, and I think he got so upset today when he realized he would not see the purple dinosaur singing those same old songs.
Enough is enough.

Charlie grows to love what he is exposed to—Jim’s jazz CD’s are a slow-growing interest–and they are musical food to last a lifetime, and that is what we, as Charlie’s parents, must prepare him for.

Is it possible that us autism parents’ fear of our autistic children becoming autistic adults prompts us, unknowingly, to over-emphasize the “cuteness,” to say “it is all right he has this childish thing” when one’s child is–academically, intellectually–far beyond that sort of thing?

One hears plenty about autistic children–Kanner did call it “infantile autism”–and (aside from Temple Grandin), little about autistic adults (this is the case at the well-publicized Autism Speaks). Why is it that Charlie at nearly nine is “too old” to get into the kind of autism school he has shown himself to be so successful in? Why do we always hear about Early Intervention and preschool, when the reality is that most of our kids’ life will be as adults? As autistic adults?
Charlie sat down glum but expectant for a home-cooked dinner of hamburgers and cauliflower, and for me to read him a Little Bear story. “How about a walk to the train?” Jim asked and off he and Charlie went. I ate my dinner standing up before grabbing a jacket and rushing to meet them, Charlie riding on Jim’s back. “We used to take this walk every night,” Jim said of past years as we three headed home. “We’ll have to try to keep that up,” I said.

“Mommy hand,” said Charlie.

2 Responses to “The End of Cuteness (#314)”
  1. Dori says:

    What is it with the long lashes. My BOO BOO is also very “cute” with those amazingly long eyelashes!

  2. I read somewhere that gluten intolerance had something to do with the long lashes–????. Charlie has always had them. How old is your child?

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