Mercury Rising; Magnificent Ride

Triumphant return after a magnificent ride on a 100 degree day (the two photos below were actually taken before this one)

So with the mercury rising up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or certainly feeling like it, plus it being nice and humid besides hot, Charlie handled a day off from school—very well. And we didn't even go to the ocean.

Actually, it was better that we didn't go to the beach, having done so on both Saturday and Sunday. As you may have guessed, Charlie adores the beach and loves loves loves to swim in the ocean. He's long had trouble balancing that love with the reality that he can't always be at the beach swimming in the waves; for years, we avoided going to the ocean except for our annual 'two weeks in August' at the rented beach house, as Charlie's agony at leaving the beach was intense. Getting Charlie off the beach was like tearing a part of himself from himself and he wept all the way home so sadly anybody's heart would be broken. He's learned to modulate his feelings as he's gotten older, but I suspect Charlie, knowingly or not, tries to create routines—rituals—like riding the ferris wheel, to help himself handle being sad and knowing he'll miss the waves.

Indeed, though Charlie enjoyed our stormy (as in the weather, not anyone's behavior) trip last Monday, he didn't want to stay for long. He even seemed a little puzzled to find himself at the beach on a Monday. Too, he gets a total workout when he swims these days but doesn't realize that he's over-tiring himself, or that he ought to moderate his activities.

Monday Charlie did get a total workout (as did Jim and me, though we went halves with him), with one nice new twist. Charlie woke at 8am and he and I went right out for a walk—a good thing, as it was probably already nearing 90 degrees then. He and Jim did a morning bike ride, after which Charlie pulled a watermelon out of the refrigerator, placed it on a cutting board, and told me 'cut.' He proceeded to eat a very large bowl.

And then it was time for a little adventure.

We loaded (well, Jim did the lifting) up the bikes on our spiffy new bike rack and drove out to where there's farms, green acres, and pretty green rolling hills (yes, we were still in New Jersey), to a quite picturesque little town. A couple of years ago, a friend had invited us out there to ride bikes with her sons and some friends, for a birthday party. We had driven out to the town one or two times since, but hadn't brought the bikes out there till yesterday.

Charlie could hardly wait to ride on the path  Charlie issued a number of no's in the car, with a couple of all done's for good measure. But soon as we parked the car by an old train station, he got right out, called for his helmet, and sped off down the dirt road with Jim behind him. Charlie was 'magnificent' (quoting Jim) on the ride. It was certainly extremely hot but there were plenty of trees and shade the whole way. The return trip was partially uphill and Charlie was as game as ever (i.e., as fast as ever).

We made sure Charlie was sitting in the car with the air-conditioning on at full blast as Jim and I put away the bikes (and Jim was duly shepherded to sit in there too, while I tightened the straps). A stop at the now-favorite Mexican fast food place for burritos left Charlie happy and chatty on the trip back. Once home, we'd just put away the bikes and I was putting together some things for his lunch when Charlie asked for a walk.

I always make sure to bring a water bottle and certainly on a day when the evening air was heavy and thick. Insects chirped rhythmically overhead and we ran into only a few dog-walkers and power-walkers who were walking a little less intensely. Charlie himself kept up a good pace though he didn't, as he often does, run—wisely, as it was hot.

As we rounded a corner on a residential street, I sighted a group of a dozen or so kids around Charlie's age walking in front of us. Some had scooters, some had backpacks and headphones. They were clearly in a loose group and they were dawdling, laughing, doing wheelies. Charlie was walking at the same fast pace and I could tell we would overtake the group. The next thing I knew some of them turned around on hearing Charlie's voice (saying sounds that weren't complete words). Then he broke into a run, I followed (I'm regaining my old cross country runner shape thanks to all this conditioning with my coach), and the kids literally scattered, some of them issuing mock screams (I think they were mock) and squeals and jumping onto neighbors' lawns.

We were soon past them and then I could heard the giggles and the rest. Charlie remained in high spirits and I thought a moment and got into what Jim would call 'Dr. Chew' mode and, turning round to the kids, said 'hi,' light and friendly. And wondered if the time is at hand to contact a few local school districts and make inquiries about their character education programs, and does it include a unit on individuals on the autism spectrum, especially teenagers and adults?

I didn't feel mad or bad—the kids' reaction, and actions, seemed a little ridiculous and over-the-top—this wasn't a heckling situation, but a reminder that Charlie often does things that are rather readily misinterpreted and simply not understood. We go through enough to understand why Charlie does what he does and to explain it to ourselves and each other. Parents of so to speak 'typical' kids are most likely not going to know how to explain Charlie; who knows if those kids might even bring up their, ahem, 'encounter' with Charlie and me to their parents. 

And if they could have seen Charlie on his bike, pedaling at full speed up a hilly dirt road in 99 degree weather—-well, if they had been walking in front of Charlie, they might have jumped out of the way too. 

He is really fast.

Jim and Charlie going for a bike ride in lovely, shady country

8 Responses to “Mercury Rising; Magnificent Ride”
  1. emma says:

    That looks like a great place for bike riding! But hot!!
    I have never known how to explain to children why Dimitri is different!
    Also, have some experience with the mock screams, I think that age, the 12 to 13 yrs are more tricky.
    Some younger children have managed to “include” Dimitri in there games as he becomes the default “monster” to run away from. Something which upsets me A LOT. Dimitri thinks it’s fun for a while then gets bored, so I glue that smile on for a while. Sometimes the children are disappointed when Dimitri stops chasing them and come over and ask why he doesn’t want to play anymore. One time a boy asked me (quite reproachfully I might add!) why I had told him and his sister to stop making Dimitri laugh (that’s how he saw it) – which they were doing by running up to him and “surprising” him by pulling faces and copying his noises.
    Once kids hit the teen years, for one thing they believe themselves to be more “world wise” and may be don’t ask questions as much, another, they try very hard to be cool. Interestingly there was one “cool kid” in our neighbourhood who always spoke to Dimitri – all the other kids copied his behaviour.
    No real advice, just keep saying “hi” to them I guess. (Ooops, I’ve written rather a lot!)

  2. autismvox says:

    The word for today is ‘record temps’ as in 101! I’m just hoping our power doesn’t go out from over-usage.
    One thing that I have not been doing of late is saying, in Charlie’s presence, ‘he’s autistic.’ I don’t know where Charlie stands as far as grasping what ‘autism’ is but something about the way he’s heard the word said by us (a bit too defiant?) now irks him. Sometimes I just say ‘He’s different’ and then kick myself for talking about Charlie in the 3rd person.
    We seem to be in a stage of deep ‘inbetween-ness.’ Charlie is much more aware and observant of other children than he has been–I think he sort of gravitates to swim by them in the ocean, for instance. He always notices boys his age and a bit older riding bikes and skateboarding. Right now, the combination of his size and his quickly, clearly limited language really mean that he stands out, much more than when he was little and we could be a bit (only a bit though) inconspicuous.
    I’m so inclined to be defensive, I really just wanted to be friendly!

  3. Louise says:

    To me, that group’s behavior didn’t seem to be so much a recognition that Charlie is “different” or “weird,” so much that is is extremely fast and startled them. If an adult had run through the pack without saying “Excuse me,” they would have done the same thing. (I only posit this from my years of watching grade-school kids and pre-teens at the charter school I was involved with.)
    You don’t have to explain Charlie, or ask them whether or not they were taught how to deal with autistic children. They probably didn’t even notice, since kids that age are so wrapped up in their immediate group dynamics.
    How about if you had just said, “Isn’t he fast? He sure loves to run!” as you continued through the group? Then if they see Charlie, they will think, “Fast kid – he loves to run!”
    Is it possible for Charlie to participate in actual competitive running or swimming? He would be a find for any coach. He loves the activity and is obviously proud of his abilities. Are there sports opportunities specifically for kids on the spectrum? It seems like it would be a tremendous opportunity.

  4. Jill says:

    It sounds like the boys were just fooling around, in high spirits, screaming playfully, not in real fear or mocking Charlie.
    They were probably thinking “Who’s this kid? How come he’s with his mom? Why is he making those sounds? Is he goofing with us or is there something “different” about him?
    I doubt they said anything about encountering Charlie to their parents. It was just one of those little summer incidents: a dog inside a fence runs along next to you, wanting to play; you get soaked by someone’s lawn sprinkler; some old guy yells to get off his lawn, you find a dollar…
    The usual.
    If they knew Charlie, they’d probably say hi and let it go at that if they didn’t get a response. Boys are generally good-hearted creatures (at least mine are and their friends, too)It’s too bad there isn’t a boy Charlie’s age on your block who you could get to ride bikes with him or shoot hoops or watch a video.

  5. autismvox says:

    There’s Special Olympics, with which we (unlike many) have not had a successful experience. It remains to be worked on.
    It was pretty clear that the children knew Charlie was disabled. He was vocalizing, all without words—it would have been hard not to notice. The children make quite a scene of scattering and throwing their scooters and squealing, and running into people’s yards—quite a bit of mayhem— beyond what I (based a bit on a few years teaching middle school) think they would have done had some adult (like me) come charging up the hill. It was quite a sight!
    It was boys and girls, I should have noted! I’m oversensitive I’m sure but we always have to weigh in Charlie’s understanding, sensitivity, and how he might respond (in the present moment or later), and craft our responses.
    We’ll see what happens on the next round of walks…..

  6. emma says:

    Dimitri reacts badly if I use the words disabled or special needs to explain his behaviour (or need for a seat on the bus)in his presence. I don’t know how he understands the words either, but he knows he is being spoken about…
    It’s hard not to be sensitive. I sometimes judge it this way, if the behaviour would be hurtful to a “typical” kid that age, then they are being mean. How do the say it? “laughing with the person not about them” (not that I like it either way – but I have been accused of being oversensitive too…)

  7. autismvox says:

    And sometimes (often) it’s so hard to tell what the laughter is about.
    On Tursday, at the supermarket and then at the dentist, I ran into two mothers who we know and shared quite a few laughs. We were all coming from the same place, for sure.

  8. Jill says:

    Hummm. It’s a different story with girls in the mix. My daughter and her friends used to love to scream when they were younger. Just scream. For no reason. They even used to try and see who could scream the loudest! I think it had something to do with being prepubescent: nerves and hormones and over-the-topness.
    Since girls were there when Charlie ran past there was probably an element of showing off on the part of the boys mixed with girls’ love of screaming and drama.
    Kids at that age are obsessed with fitting in, with not being different. Charlie probably made them feel uncomfortable and unsure of themselves. At that age, girls spend every minute wondering bow they look and seem to others. They want attention and they want to blend in with the crowd. It’s a mob mentality that only a few very decent kids who have been taught to have compassion manage to resist. It’s an age I wouldn’t want to relive for a million dollars.
    Any one of those kids alone would probably be nice to Charlie but when the group factor comes into play it’s a different ball game. Sad but true.
    I was curious about how you and Jim think of neuro-typical kids Charlie’s age. Do you distrust them? Is there an element of wishing Charlie could have friends and communicate better?

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