Tuesday, May 16, 2006

His Father's Son

My son is probably not autistic. This, after much consideration, is my amateur conclusion while I wait for the as-yet-unscheduled appointment with the specialists who actually know what they’re talking about. Bub has always been a fairly self-contained sort of fellow. The first thing he did when he emerged from the womb was to attempt to stand upright, bearing weight on his legs. His attitude was clearly that this whole infancy stage, well, sucks. As soon as he could crawl, he morphed from a demanding infant (shall we say) to a sturdily independent toddler who could spend hours entertaining himself by creating careful, symmetrical arrangements of books and DVDs, edges lined up perfectly. I have always found this endearing – he’s so organized! so neat and tidy! so not unlike his mother, who has always felt that household objects ought to be arranged at angles of neither more nor less than 90 degrees!

Bub began talking at the appropriate time, producing an enthusiastic "ba" at all the appropriate, ball-throwing occasions. By eighteen months, he had a vocabulary of 50 words, including "cherry," "hippo," and "shoe" – not, however "mama" or "dada." This left me at a disadvantage when it came to filling out milestone charts. Can your baby say at least 10 words (in addition to "mama" and "dada")? Um … yes? By the time our appointment with the speech therapist rolled around a few months ago, he was saying "elephant" and "zebra" with beautifully precise consonants, and independently reciting The Cat in the Hat, with or without provocation, but he had fewer than ten words that he actually used to communicate (juice! cookie! tunes!). The speech therapist played a game with bubbles – she would blow bubbles in his face and then hand him the bottle: "Take this to mama!" (pointing) "Take this to mama!" The Bub stared at her, unimpressed, and then peeled open her hand, placing the bottle on her palm, and shouted, "More!" This, apparently, is not a typical response, or a good sign.

I’m often amazed at the preternatural listening skills and obedience of toddlers as young as eighteen months old. "Put that on the table!" their mothers instruct, and the children put it on the table. I’m not even talking about the girls, those irritatingly verbose creatures who jump up in their cribs on their second birthday and announce, "Today’s my special day! Grandma and Grandpa are coming to give me presents, and when they get here we will eat cake!" (It’s the subordinate clauses I can’t get over, never mind the awareness of present and future, of human beings not actually in the room.) The Bub does not make remarks about visiting relatives, or listen to what I say, even if it’s "Look at the doggie!" or "Do you want a piece of chocolate?"

That said, he could simply have an introverted, logical personality. He comes by it honestly, after all – his father is said by those who have known him longest to have activated his emotion chip at the age of twenty when, as a matter of scientific interest, he decided it would be beneficial to round out his life experience with some emotional awareness. Today, he is warmly sympathetic to the emotions of others, so long as those emotions are clearly identified and explained to him, and he even experiences emotions himself, in exact proportion to his logical evaluation of his circumstances. As in, "We have decided to stop after two children, and I’m ready to schedule the vasectomy whenever I’m given the signal" as opposed to, "We have decided to stop after two children, but having surgery seems like tempting fate to smite my children, and the thought of retiring my breasts and uterus forever makes me feel sick and woozy." Like his father (and grandfathers!) before him, the Bub is more attentive to numbers than to people, more inclined to recite song lyrics than to express his feelings … but that doesn’t mean he’s autistic. Probably.

1 comment:

Mary Joan Koch said...

I am optionated so please ignore me if I am totally off base. Your description of Bub certainly could apply to two of my brothers and my first husband; all are scientists.

I am sure my brother Stephen, who has lived in a chemistry lab, could have easily been diagnosed as slightly autistic, but he was just Stephen, the odd, brilliant chemist.