A Mind of My Own
Posted by Gail | Filed under Autism
Chapter Ten: Social Interactions (Part 1)
When Malcolm was in kindergarten, a bevvy of girls took care of him. He was like a real live doll for them. I appreciated their attentions. But I wouldn’t really say they were his “friends” since he hardly even noticed they were there.
At 10 Malcolm had few friends and almost all of them were girls. While my daughter, Alexandra, has never had trouble making and keeping friends, Malcolm has always seemed distant. Kids at school would talk to him and he would appear not to notice. I’d point out that someone was speaking to him and he’d look at the person as if he were in a different dimension. Adults would say hello, or ask how he was and he’d completely ignore them. The people who knew he processed information differently were very understanding and went to the trouble of engaging him in a conversation. Whatever they were rewarded with, they felt privileged. The people who didn’t know him were quick to judge him as rude because he hadn’t responded. I could have turned every such response into a battle but that wouldn’t have done anyone any good. So I just took a page from Malcolm’s book and didn’t “see” or “hear” them.
I remember the first time I cried in front of Malcolm because he wouldn’t talk. He was about four and I’d just had it. “Why won’t you talk to me?” I sobbed. “I love you so much, I wish you would talk to me.” The next night as we got ready for bed, Malcolm said, “I’m tired so I’m going to bed now.” He must have been working on it all day.
Since he was a man of so few words, Malcolm was also very independent. He didn’t (couldn’t? wouldn’t?) ask for anything. He climbed the handles on the kitchen drawers to sit up on the counter and help himself to tomatoes. That’s where I found him sitting with five tomatoes lined up beside him, each with a bite taken out of it. He was two.
He would get himself a container out of the cupboard. Any container would do. Then he’d climb on the toilet and pitch himself forward so his tummy landed against the sink, turn on the water and fill his container. Then he would drink.
I put food in the fridge and in cupboards and drawers where he could reach so he could feed himself when he wanted to.
Malcolm’s primary friendships were with Alexandra’s friends who have known him forever, love him, and put up with idiosyncratic – sometimes unreasonable – behaviour. Teodora (Teddy) and Callie were extremely tolerant of Malcolm’s sometimes-exaggerated responses. At one point Malcolm designated Callie as his “replacement sister” should anything happen to Alex.
Teddy was so fond of Malcolm that she offered to swap siblings with Alex. This brings us to Ivana, Teddy’s younger sister. Iva was Malcolm’s best friend for many years. She was quiet, tenacious and tolerant. She was very good at encouraging Malcolm’s positive behaviours. And she knew how to make him feel very special. He loved her so much that sometimes I would catch him reprimanding himself for speaking harshly to her.