I wish that I were the type of mother who came by her mothering skills naturally, who knew instinctively what normal looks like and did not always wonder, when faced with one of her children’s many quirks: Is that the autism or is that just quirky? Does quirky = autism?
Well, take today — Sam was invited to a classmate’s house for a play date. Because the other mom and I don’t know each other very well, she invites me to join them once John gets home from school. Lovely of her. She is very nice and I am happy to get to know someone who has been nothing but warm to me, especially since we just met the week before at soccer.
John gets home, I grab his itouch and we start loading into the car. John is excited and says, “Sam school?” I tell him, no, we’re going to get Sam at a friend’s house. As soon as we arrive, John rushes by the other mom and heads upstairs. I have no idea why — he’s never been here, but the mom waves him up, saying that there’s nothing he can get into there. I’m reluctant to have him out of sight, but now Sam runs up to me dressed up as a Ninja Turtle. His little friend is behind him, dressed as a boxer, and looking a tad impatient.
I take in the scene. This little boy seems a lot more mature than Sam and I’m sensing the play date isn’t going that great. That’s okay, right? Not every play date is going to be terrific, but it looks like at least they both wanted to play dress-up. The other mom says something to her son and he and Sam turn and head back downstairs. She beckons me towards the kitchen and offers me a drink. We trade chit-chat — she’s a school counselor I had no idea, she knows someone I know…
And she IS lovely, this is lovely — the idea that I’m the type of mother who gets to have coffee with another mom because our kids are having a play date. But it’s a sham because I am not able to relax. There’s one boy above me and one below. Who knows what John is getting into. And Sam’s face? It looked a little lost and confused even if determined. He can be persistent when trying to play. So I say, “I’m just going to check on John,” and excuse myself.
Upstairs, I find him splayed on the older sister’s bed. The older sister is, of course, also there and looks a little aghast at the sight of him there atop her many pink pillows. “Oooohh boy,” I say, forcing a smile, “sorry he stormed into your room, what a surprise that must have been!” and I scoop him up.
Downstairs, I give John his itouch, hoping it will keep him grounded, and I rejoin the other mom. Her son joins us with a sigh. I ask him where Sam is. At that moment Sam comes yelling up the stairs: “IT’S POOPY TIME! IT’S POOPY TIME!” and heads towards the bathroom. I’m sure my face is red. The other mom says “It’s movie time?” I say no and suddenly I see she gets it.
Even though I know it’s coming, I pray it’s not.
“MOM! CAN YOU WIPE MY BUTT?”
So let me ask you. Is this behavior, Sam’s that is:
a) typical 5-year-old acting out?
b) attributable to being on the spectrum?
c) bad parenting?
I’m thinking maybe c? — have got to teach that boy to wipe his own butt.