April 15, 2011

Nouns, Nouns Everywhere

I'm a bit slow on this ... but for those who may be as yet unaware, April is Autism Awareness month.

It's April. And I am aware. Because I live on the spectrum with my son. My oldest, my first-born. And I'm lucky, because sometimes I get to take a vacation.

He doesn't.

Which is not where I meant to go with this post, to the fact that Asperger's Syndrome is a forever thing, and that sometimes it makes me sad for the things that he'll miss, the things that will be harder for him. And for his siblings, too. But it's the wee hours of a Friday and my brain isn't firing on all cylinders, because by Friday, I'm usually pretty darn sleep deprived. And after a long week, those rose-colored glasses slip a little down your nose, and not everything is so cheery.

Which I guess is why, when I started thinking about how I'd blog for Autism Awareness, I kept thinking, how much more aware can I be? My kid's very high functioning, and I know that means there's a lot about autism I don't know. But I am aware of his kind of autism. I'm aware of his triggers, his tantrums, and the things that bring him back. I'm aware of how he talks, and how to listen so he feels like he's heard. I know how to help my other two get a word in edgewise so they can feel heard, too. I get them. And I get him.

And then I read this lesson plan on autism from the PBS NewsHour written by my friend at Bigger Box of Crayons. It's a cool lesson plan. A way for kids to learn about other kids, to open their minds and their hearts, to learn something new that will make them better, kinder, more patient people. A way to make a difference for people like my son and the many others who live on the spectrum with him.

The best lesson plans teach the teachers, too. And sometimes even the parents. 

My son was my first. And some things that might have been little tiny red flags from a baby Peabo didn't resonate with me as anything other than quirky. Maybe because I had nothing to compare them to. As an infant, he wouldn't let anyone but me and his dad hold him. He never made eye contact for long. He was eight weeks old when I flew him across the country to visit his grandparents for the first time, and he pitched a tantrum so long and so strong over the change in his routine that I had to call a doctor friend for help (she said, "drink a beer," and whaddya know, it worked).

And when he learned to speak, he only learned the nouns. Just the nouns.

His very first word was "happy." I know, that sounds like an adjective, doesn't it? Not to mention an emotion, which Aspies are notorious for misreading. But for Peabo it was neither. It was the first word in his favorite book. So for him, "happy" meant "book," which is most decidedly a noun, a big ole person-place-or-thing kind of noun. Every word that followed was a noun, too, until sometime after his second birthday, after he'd labeled his world and the whole alphabet and given every letter its sound.

Six months later he was reading. Because letters and sounds are objects, too, just like nouns, and his brain is an object-oriented database.

He processes the world in objects. In nouns.

Now I am more aware. Because his parsing his world into parts of speech makes sense to his grammar nut of a mom. His world is just a little clearer to me. And maybe that will give me another way to help him.

If you're feeling more aware, too, take the next step and do something about it. If you're a parent or a teacher, put that lesson plan to work and teach people - of all ages - to understand. E-mail your legislator and beg for increased funding for special education and autism research. Help. It will make a difference.

Because my son lives on the spectrum, surrounded by nouns.

Though I'm very glad that "happy" is one of them. Even if it's an adjective.

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