Expensive Flea Bags

My youngest son and I enjoy driving down to the nearest big-box pet stores each weekend and seeing the caged animals up for adoption. Particularly, we like the kittens.

Every time we go, my son asks if we can get a cat. I ask how much the adoption fee is, and it’s invariably $85 or more.

This past weekend, they wanted $85, and the kittens had mucus-y eyes and visible fleas on their kitten-stomachs. Give me a break. The county shelter is selling cats two-for-$55 right now. I know what’s up with these little non-profits showing up at Petco and PetsMart. They’re just old women who like cats, and they’re running 501c3s that will let them write off the cat food while “fostering” any old flea-ridden, stanky, meow-box they can find. The cats cost so much because these cat ladies don’t want to get rid of them.

And I don’t blame them. When I get older and my kids have all moved away, I’m totally opening a “no-kill shelter” called Miss Kitty’s Pitter Paws Sanctuary Haven, and that’ll be my excuse to pet mangy cats all day long. (Because I like cats. Get it? I’m being sarcastic, but not really.)

Can’t we all just get along? While flapping our hands?

(Some of you may remember that one of my children was recently, formally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism.)

So I don’t know what the hell I was thinking, trying to hook up with the “autism community” online. No, wait — I do know. I was thinking, “Oh, hey, maybe I can meet local parents of kids with Asperger’s, and my son Dallas can meet another 12-year-old Aspergers kid who also likes video games, Roombas, and energy-efficient vehicles. And they can hang out on weekends without anyone telling them they act weird or talk weird. Yay!”

But I was completely delusional on that front, because that’s not what the online autism community is about. Nope. It’s not really a community at all, but a bunch of splintered factions, each of which pursues its own cause. Here are the separate causes, as far as I’ve been able to gather:

1. The curebies. Curebies are people who believe that autism has some environmental cause, often one (such as vaccinations or the mercury in our tuna) that might lead to a huge, class-action lawsuit. They get online and talk about all the stuff they’re spending money on to cure their kids, and how they’re getting other people to pay for it.

2. The anti-curebies hate the curebies, and they’re very vigilant about it. Like, if you go on their forum and say, “Oh, hi, you guys. Y’all seem cool. I’m looking for a playmate for my son, who is really good at math and likes Roombas,” they might say something like, “Oh my god! How dare you insinuate that non-savant ASD kids aren’t as GOOD as your kid, and need to be chelated into what passes for normalcy among you stupid, rude, hypocritical NTs!!!!! Leave our forum immediately, curebie! We’re trying to talk about American Idol!”

3. Embittered adults with autism. These are the people who make me want to say, “Dude, I’m sorry that your parents were ashamed of you and made you undergo chelation and biofeedback… but could you please not call me a stupid, rude, hypocritical NT? At least not where I can read you saying it? You don’t even know me. I’m here trying to get help for my kid.” The worst is when they’re abusive to NTs, then say they can’t help it because they have autism. Hello — if I can teach my son not to call people names, I think your mom should’ve taught you, too.

4. There are the “autism parents,” who wage daily battles to force everyone in the world to treat their children with respect. Or, if not actual respect, then with special consideration born of fear of lawsuits, maybe. Some of these autism parents have kids with more than just autism, though. “Hi. My name’s AspieMommy, and I’m mommy to Darren, 14, who is ASD, OCD, BpD, and Tourettes; Shelly, 8, who is PDD, OCD, OPP, and GGG; and little Wendell, 1 and a half, ASD, PCP, TNT, and EGBDF!” A lot of times, I notice people identifying themselves this way and then asking forum strangers for help. “Can I get a ride to the support group? Anyone want to form a playgroup and/or babysit? Can I bum a cigarrette?” I have to wonder if some of them are real. What’s the acronym for Munchausen?

A subset of the autism parents are the autism parents who also have autism, themselves. I can’t compete with that, I guess. I mean, they make that fact pretty clear.

5. The biggest factions of all? The political ones. The “movement” people. Every autism organization in America, it seems, hates every other autism organization in America. Every member of Factions 1 through 4 above seems invested in a giant competition for the leadership of “the movement.” For instance, the adults with autism think they should run their own movement. Which makes sense to me… until they start hating on the parents of kids with autism, saying those parents can’t really advocate for their own children, since they themselves don’t have autism. They all have blogs, and they all complain about what’s fair, and which blog should be the leader, and how unworthy blogs shouldn’t have as many readers, and blah blah blah popularity contest disguised as real discourse.

6. Then we have the celebrity autism parents, and then the celebrities who’ve played autistic characters, and they’re throwing in their two cents for this organization or the other. And then the celebrites who don’t want to admit their kids have autism, because Scientology thinks that’s a sin…

And, oh my God. Can I please just meet someone whose autistic kid might want to play with mine, without all the bullshit?

No, apparently not. What was I expecting from the freaking Internets, huh? Okay, fine. We’ll be at home, playing video games and reading articles about the High Wire, the car of the future, which my son happens to know all about, if anybody out there is interested.

Good Books I Wish You Would Read

First of all, please, please read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Thom Haddon. If you’ve already read it, press it on others. Not only will it help you to understand what some autistic peeps go through on a daily basis, it’s also a damned good book. Seriously. It made me cry, it was so awesome. And it’s on a lot of high-school reading lists, so get your kids to read it, too.

The other book I recently read and enjoyed was Things You Should Know, a story collection by A.M. Homes. Yes, I know that I’ve told some of you that A.M. Homes scares me, and I’ll never read stuff by her again. But this one’s safe. It contains almost nothing about child abuse. You can read it at night without worrying about monsters coming to kill you. And the price of the book is worth it for the very last story alone. Teaser: It’s about Nancy Reagan, and you will both laugh and cry.

That’s all for this section. Besides those two, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction, which isn’t worth linking to unless you, like me, are weirdly obsessed with bead crocheting or Christmas crafts. Also, I tried to read a novel that was highly recommended by a lot of book-bloggers, but I couldn’t get past the first two chapters. I won’t name it, because there’s no need to be mean. I’ll just say that, by the end of Chapter 2, I was like, “I get it! You’re drunk, and you like to drink, and you black out all the time because you drink so much! I don’t care!” ‘Cause, seriously, I didn’t.

Someone turned us on to a local gelato place.

And my life will never be the same.

An All-New Way Not to Care What Others Think

Back to the Asperger’s thing. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that my son is experiencing an intensifying of his symptoms, now that he’s embarked on the magical journey that is puberty. One of his more noticeable symptoms is the tic’ing. (Ticking? Ticcing? He has tics.)

When he was very tiny, he flapped his hands, which is a very common tic for autistic peoples. He flapped for years, until people in his family made enough jokes about it to persuade him to stop.

Then, he started clearing his throat, instead. And, I wish to God I could go back in a time machine and realize that the throat-clearing was an actualy tic, and not just a bad habit, like boys spitting out the windows of their cars. Because I have to say that I’m probably the one that made him stop the throat-clearing, with my constant nagging, because hearing it was driving me crazy.

So, now, he doesn’t flap or clear his throat. He does something silent, but very noticeable, involving his head, his face, and his hands. Sometimes his arms in their entirety. I’ve been struggling really hard with the compulsion to control his tic. Other people tell me, “Dallas is doing that thing again. It’s getting worse.” And I whisper, “Shh. Just let him.” But it kills me. I admit it – sometimes I really want to say, “Dallas, could you maybe flap your hands, instead?” No… let’s be very honest, here. I have said that to him. But he can’t flap his hands instead, and he can’t go back to clearing his throat. The tics are involuntary. He can’t not do them. And, it’s not like they bother me, on their own. But I imagine him doing it at school, or out in public, and that people will stare or even make fun of him. And it kills me. I worry for him. I can’t help it.

And that’s not all… Lately, he seems to get upset more easily, and therefore he prefers to spend more and more time alone. That’s not always possible, though. Social obligations do oblige us all sometimes. For instance, over the weekend, we went to a family dinner at a local restaurant. It was a belated Father’s Day celebration, with my dad and my youngest brother and his family. Normally Dallas passes on family dinners, but this time he had no choice.

As always, I prepped all three of my kids ahead of time. I explained what we’d do, with whom, and how they’d be expected to act at each stage of the game. Dallas was worried about the restaurant we’d chosen, because he’s a little particular about his food. My boyfriend Tad and I assured him that this restaurant had the pasta and pasta sauce he preferred. He nodded his head. He was ready to roll then, ready to do as duty required.

When we got to the restaurant, all my preparations came undone. There was no preferred pasta. Instead of the regular menu, they had brunch. All different foods, nothing like we’d described. Dallas stared at the menu and became visibly upset.

It’s not that he’s so spoiled that he can’t eat something new. It’s that he has a hard time with unexpected change, and with plans being derailed. (My boyfriend would argue that’s probably a trait that he inherited from me, not a symptom of autism at all.) Add to that the stress of forced social interaction in a crowded, noisy, public place, and maybe some of you easily imagine how upset Dallas became.

I invited him to take a walk with me outside. He accepted. Away from the restaurant’s windows, he said, “I don’t want to cry, but I can’t stop myself.”

“That’s okay. Cry,” I said. “Sometimes I have to cry, too. Go on ahead.”

He cried until he was done. Then we stood under a tree and talked about the menu options, Italian restaurants in general, and the custom of Sunday brunch with bottomless belinis. As we walked back to rejoin the family, Dallas thought of something new to worry about.

“Everyone in the restaurant is going to wonder what we were doing. They’re going to look at us and know that I was crying.”

“No, they won’t,” I said. “Everyone in there is dressed up nice, and they’re drinking. All the women are worried about how they look, and all the men are worried about hooking up with the women. All people think about themselves more than anything else. They won’t even notice us.”

And they didn’t. And Dallas ordered the pizza, and the rest of the brunch/lunch went off without a hitch.

And, afterwards, I realized that most people are too self-involved to worry about my son’s tics. If they see him tic’ing and want to know why, we can tell them why. But, hopefully, most people will probably be too polite to ask or to stare. If they want to go home and talk about Dallas’s tics behind our backs, there’s nothing I can do about it, so screw them. It doesn’t matter. Our lives are filled with family, family lunches, good times, video games, gelato. Movies, school work, work-work, housework. Internets and books and flea-ridden-kitten sightings.

I realize, then, that I really don’t have time to worry about what people think, about anything at all. And the best “cure” I can give Dallas? Is to teach him to fill his life with good stuff and not worry, either.

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Posted in Aspergers, domestic, parenting, pop culture, stories on 06/25/2007 11:41 pm

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