When J starts dancing joyfully in front of a window while the sun is shining brightly and there is not one single cloud in the sky, you know you’re in for stormy weather. Don’t ask how he does it because I have no idea how to answer that. The truth of the matter is that J can predict the weather better than any forecast. I am seriously considering hooking him up to a NOAA radar so they will have the benefit of his accuracy. The boy KNOWS when we’re getting snow, and he savors this knowledge almost as much as if he knew the winning numbers for the lottery.
The only other reason I can think of for J’s enthusiasm is that he taps into his inner Prospero and makes the weather turn with some sort of super-power. Either way, it’s uncanny how he manages to know, and how we have learned to follow his lead.
Rain Man had Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt whizzing through phone books and making impressive mathematical calculations. Mercury Rising has an autistic boy cracking top secret government codes. These are probably instrumental in motivating people to ask “what is J’s special talent?” They usually do this in whispers, with a conspiratorial smile and a little shrug. They want to be “in the know;” they want to share this information with others. You know “pssst, I know this autistic boy who…” “OMG, are you serious!?”
To this burning question I answer “predicting the weather” with a deadpan look on my face. The veil of disappointment that falls over their previously happier expressions is quite fun to watch. It’s almost like when you’re sitting on the beach, sunny day, and see a band of rain showers approaching and, suddenly, they’re upon you. People are expecting to hear he’s a musical savant or he can recite all of The Canterbury Tales…backwards…in Middle English. Everyone has a story to tell about a kid in a movie or in 60 Minutes or, of course, Temple Grandin. The word “exceptional” never comes to mind, it seems, because Autism IS the exception and that isn’t enough for them.
Not every human being on the planet is destined from greatness or infamy. Some of us, even those of us who are as exceptional as J is, are destined for a nice, balanced, average existence…of a slightly altered degree of normalcy. Being in tune with Mother Nature to the point of being able to anticipate her moves before the rest of the population is considered a novelty…or rheumatism.
The point is that J can and does figure the weather out before we do, and ahead of the forecast. Maybe it IS rheumatism, but I’m thinking it’s more of a keenness of perception that was more prevalent among us before we stopped paying attention to our surroundings. Perhaps, in another life, J was a farmer and he’s carried that through many reinventions of his self. I don’t know.
All I know is that we initially thought J was being cute when he ran to the hallway closet and dug out all the blankets, piling them on his bed. Then we noticed that he would switch from his usual red Chucks to his Lands’ End squall boots or snow boots. Eventually we figured out that he was the only person dressed for winter when it was a mild Autumn day and two days later, boom, we were shoveling snow and wondering how the weatherperson could say “it’s veering North and we will be lucky if we see an inch of snow on the ground by tomorrow.” People who know us start out thinking it’s a cute story, and then -after the first and second instance of correct weather prediction on J’s part- we start getting phone calls at night, asking what J has been up to “because the weatherman…” I just say “look, he’s got the squall boots and three blankets; he’s only played one CD and this one didn’t have Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, but he did listen to Winter Wonderland four or five times. I’m guessing a two-hour delay for schools, and then it’ll melt before the end of the day…he took out his jacket but not his fleece vest.”
I suppose that if J is willing to listen to Nature more closely and attentively than we -mere mortals- are, the least we can do is pay attention to his cues. J’s love of music doesn’t extend to playing an instrument, but that doesn’t mean loving and feeling the music isn’t a talent. The same goes for his love of Art, books (at times it is the binding that fascinates him, I’ll tell you that much,) movies, textures…I cannot go around saying that my son is a savant of any sort, except maybe on the subject of cheese and pepperoni, but I don’t think that counts. We sometimes walk away from these “special talent” wink-and-smile conversations feeling like we have the most incompetent autistic child in the planet, and -quite frankly- I don’t see why we should or why others should feel that we are, somehow, shortchanged.
Not every autistic individual is what you’ve seen in movies. I am eternally grateful to Temple Grandin for her work and courage; she given me the means through which I can understand some things about my child a little better. I think her mom, Eustacia Cutler, is even more of a rock star; at a time when Autism was an even bigger mystery than it is now, she had the courage to try to understand and help her daughter. I like to think I believe in J to a similar degree as Ms. Cutler believes in her daughter; I like to think that we both approach our children with a degree of matter-of-fact chutzpah while still understanding that they are capable of much more than people think.
Yes, J can predict the weather because he understands Nature in a way the rest of us seem to have forgotten…
THAT, my friends, is a special talent…