This one, I must point out, was a chirpy one. He’s obviously been in practice long enough to have witnessed the progression of Autism from “it’s the mother’s fault” to the iffy slippery slope where you don’t quite know what the parent is going to blame the kid’s condition on…and then came the Sheldon Cooper comment. “You watch The Big Bang Theory, don’t you?” He said this as he placed my neatly stacked, clearly indexed, conscientious sample of documentation regarding J’s “journey” as an autistic individual. It may not be the mother’s fault, but clearly there’s something punctilious about this middle-aged woman who sits before him explaining the map.
“I have to say these are the neatest files I have ever been given by a parent.” And elegantly frantic scribbling on his notepad. “Usually I get a notebook handed to me, and a get whatever you need from there.” Nervous titter from me, and a clumsy apology: I thought it would expedite things? “You even gave me a nice index.” Mentally I am cursing colorfully and in more than one language. “Well, it was a reminder for myself…I wanted to make sure that I had included everything your form letter requested.” I hate it when they hmm…
We spoke briefly, in spurts and jolts, of the change J experienced overnight when he was 22 months old. We discussed his development. He asked me about my other children. I explained that TGG and J developed at very different speeds, and he hmm-ed again. “What do you mean by different?” Well, I said: TGG was super-fast about everything…turning over the Sunday we brought him home from the hospital…J waited six months. J didn’t walk until well after his first birthday, and TGG was escaping his playpen when he was six months old… They were just different babies, and everyone thought I was just comparing them because I liked TGG better.”
Mental cursing goes into overdrive as the doctor’s eyebrow twitches almost imperceptibly and he scribbles some more. “But you don’t subscribe to the theory that it is a detachment between mother and child that causes Autism, do you?” Well, no, I said…J was breastfed for four years because I realized he was not making eye contact, not responding to his name, and so on and so forth, but everyone thought I was exaggerating. At this point a voice inside my head is screaming SHUT…UP!!!!! (I think it’s Doc Martin, but I cannot be sure because I am aware that the doctor is looking at me.)
At this point, without me intending for it to happen, I answer a question about something by mentioning my mother. The comment makes the doctor put two-and-two together, and it is clear that I am Leonard Hofstadter…
and Penny going up the stairs while talking to Leonard’s mom all rolled into one extremely organized, ridiculously neurotic bundle.
During this encounter, J and Dada have been in another room and J has been assessed for things like signing his name, answering simple questions. Dada, wise man that he is, has remained silent for the duration of his interaction with another adult. I, moronic middle-aged woman that I am, have been all too voluble. First I was Sheldon, then I was Leonard, then I am Penny and Leonard’s mother is all over the place, pecking at me… In the words of my long-ago ancestors: oy vey.
When J and Dada walk into the office where I’ve been sitting (and sweating) I am overjoyed. I try to keep it in check. J asks for his water and cookies, and sits quietly to eat and drink while the doctor’s eyes dart from one of us to the other two. A few more questions followed by a few more answers that probably come across as prevarications on my part, and I’m handed yet another clipboard with yet another assessment that I am to fill out before we are free to go.
While sitting in the waiting room completing my assignment I revisit all my blunders since we arrived. “I’m sorry,” I tell the receptionist, ” could I have some paper towels? We seem to have made a small lagoon with the snow we dragged in with our shoes.” I then recall that I got down on my knees to dry the floor and the soles of J’s boots; the lady that was sitting with her three boys just a few chairs away looked at me as if I’d just fallen from Pluto (after its demotion from planet-hood, of course.) I concentrate on answering the assessment sheets (I’ve done this before…I got this!!!!) and then I add up the scores… J sits at a solid “he’s autistic!” and yet I feel like we somehow are meant to bring in a more “damaged” item of a human being. Why is that? Why is it that when a personable young man who pretty much minds his manners and follows instructions walks in, I feel like an idiot?
On paper you get a disaster, and in person you see someone who navigates quite nicely. When I see J on paper I want to let my shoulders droop in despair, and when we go to be assessed in person I feel like I’ve lied on every form I’ve filled out. Somewhere in my subconscious I am sitting (all of 8 years old) with a band-aid on one knee, a scrape on my elbow, chewed-on fingernails, too-short lopsided bangs cut by my aunt in one of her “let’s just take a little…bit…more…off! Oh…,” and I want to make sure that the doctors know it’s not the 8 year-old who’s raised this child and addressed his “issues.” The fifty year-old also wants to scream that she’s not as uptight and anal retentive as her folder seems to illustrate. “I really meant to come in and throw the papers in the air and make you dance for them,” I feel like saying.
On the way home I am quiet. Dada asks what’s up while J repeats TARGET TARGET TARGET from the back seat. “Oh, I can just picture what that psychiatrist is going to write in his report,” I sigh. “Ah, you mean: this young man is perfectly normal and his mother needs several sessions with me because she made an index and has mommy issues?,” Dada says with a smile. “What????,” I jump in my seat. “It’s what you’re thinking…and, heaven help us, we’re none of us “normal,” he releases the steering wheel briefly to do rabbit ears, and then resumes his position as the capable driver. “Were you going for normal? Why are you always going for normal? Normal, someone has told me REPEATEDLY over the years, is relative. It’s also no relative of ours…” That makes me laugh…I’m being quoted to myself, and I suddenly feel like I make sense.
J keeps saying TARGET TARGET TARGET TARGET over the voice of the navigation system. I think she (we call her Amy Farah Fowler) is about to say “yes, yes, we’re going to Target…put a sock in it!!!” Dada says “he sounds like a missile launching system. Why didn’t he do that at the doctor’s office???” I sigh: “manners…we tamed the manners of the socially-inept…go figure!”