Okay, I feel like an idiot.
Yes, that’s egg on my face and those
are crow feathers between my teeth.
A couple of months ago, a child was placed
with us…a nine-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. I did what any foster parent would do: I Googled Asperger’s
and read up on the symptoms. They are imposing. Among others:
Carrying on one-sided conversations without
noticing that the other person isn’t listening. (Yes, I understand that most wives do that when relating information
to their spouses, but this is different.)
Awkward gestures and movements (No, I haven’t seen your husband dance. Why?)
Acting as if they don’t understand
something that is said, or as if they don’t realize they have hurt someone else’s feelings (The operative word
here is “acting.”)
Anyway, when the boy arrived, he was adorable.
He brought his teddy bear with him and had an untamable mop of chestnut hair. He
talked to himself a little, but not much. He couldn’t follow instructions well, but he was—after all—nine.
He lost or forgot many things. But all in all, the behaviors were not bothersome, and indeed were some exhibited by my normal
grandson, who is also nine.
A question I might have asked myself after
a week (a short week:)
HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD OF THE HONEYMOON
His caseworker asked me if I had noticed
the Asperger symptoms and I said that it was hard to tell. As a matter of fact, if the symptoms were present, they were so
minor as to not really differentiate the boy from normal nine-year-old behavior. He was forgetful. Disorganized. Smart mouthed. But so was every other kid that age.
It is now two months later. You know what is coming next, right?
The boy plays with his hands. They are
characters that battle one another for superiority on earth and they each have super powers.
“Hey. Are you the man who is going
to save the world after the end of the world?”
“Yes, I am. What are all those little
metal pieces sticking out of you?”
I don’t know. What is all that slimy
stuff on you?”
clue. AWRRRRRGWHHHHHHHH!” (One hand launches itself at the other, and the
boy wrings them wildly together while making the sounds of missiles and bombs sailing downward and hitting their targets.)
He begins softly enough but increases the
volume if no one pays attention. And he just goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and…
He stands out in left field during his
baseball games and throws his arms out at odd angles. He tosses his team cap into the air and bobs his head until he gets
the cap to land on it. He runs from the dugout after an “ at bat”
and the coach has to call him back for his cap and glove.
When you give him instructions, he tunes
out after the first three words and whines, “I know, I know.” (Well
this one isn’t Asperger’s. It is ODD. I did mention he had ODD as well, didn’t I? )
And while we’re talking about whining,
let me say that this child is GOOD at it. If there is nothing to whine about, he makes up something. It goes like this:
HIM: What’s for dinner?
ME: chicken and noodles. (It is cooking
on the stove in front of him.)
HIM: It smells good. I love chicken and
noodles. But you’re probably going to put tomatoes in the chicken and I hate tomatoes.
ME: There are no tomatoes in the chicken
HIM: Now I can’t eat dinner because
you put tomatoes in the chicken and I hate tomatoes.
ME: No, I didn’t put tomatoes in
the chicken and noodles. But when you whine like that I wish I could.
HIM: See? You’re going to put tomatoes
in the food. I can’t stand tomatoes. (Sniff, snort)
Get the picture? The kid isn’t horrible.
On the other hand, the mental health professionals nailed this one, and I would have given DSS a different report if I hadn’t
jumped to conclusions. One symptom is awkwardness in social situations, lack of eye contact and empathy. This young man makes
eye contact, and he seeks out kids to play with. But empathy? Well, let me just say this about that: No.
He has a hard time taking turns and his
one and up most interest is playing video games. As a matter of fact, he is obsessive over video games, which is another symptom
of Asberger’s. (Not playing the games, but playing them obsessively.)
All this would have become apparent to
me in another week if I had just told the caseworker that I really had not formed an opinion about the child. But no…I
had to show my expertise. After all, I have been fostering for more than ten years and I have researched all kinds of developmental
problems for this website. I usually know what I’m talking about. AND I understand the honeymoon period, even though
Charlie and I didn’t have much of one.
So if all that is true, why didn’t
I shut my mouth and open my eyes? This boy might have been placed in counseling earlier if I had watched and waited. I might
have not enrolled him in the summer ball program, but instead might have chosen swimming. I would have made more intelligent
choices about battles I had to win. (He can’t stop the loud role-play game; I just turn up the car radio and sing.)
One of the first children placed
with us was from another county. The caseworker described her as obese and severely developmentally delayed. We weren’t
sure what we were in for. But she turned out to be an “Annie” look-a-like with an infectious laugh. If we had
taken the caseworker’s word for it, we might not have accepted the child. But we decided to wait and see.
The only thing which has changed over the
last ten years (other than my hair graying and my face wrinkling and putting on pounds) is that I have become too sure of
myself. I got a check about my attitude with this little boy. I KNOW BETTER than
to make flash judgments. You knew it all along, didn’t you? YOU don’t jump to conclusions.
Why didn’t you remind me?