Saturday, June 20, 2009

When all else fails...

I had a curious conversation with my 9 year old daughter today, as I washed her hair. Her hair goes all the way down to her bottom, so it is an ordeal that usually involves bending, wringing and soaping a couple times. Ironically, her conversation escapes me now. I don't know if this means I'm getting old, or if I just wasn't listening.

Listening is an art. It doesn't come easily. It requires concentration and integration, both of which I am deficient in. However, I fake it well. I learned how to listen better when my son was diagnosed with Autism. You would think it would be the reverse, since Liam rarely spoke. But I tuned my ear to listen to anything that might remotely sound like the word "Mommy." Funny, since I hear it incessantly from my 3 year old control freak. But with Liam, it was a precious moment and I listened intently for the day when he would finally utter the words.

He did...and does. Once he figured out how to say it, he soon discovered it was the fastest way to get what he wanted. It took over 5 years, but at least he says it now. Within two years, he went from a couple word vocabulary to a plethora of words, sometimes mixed up together in weird combinations. How? He listened. He googles You Tube to find it on the internet. He goes to and plays the same trailers over and over and over. He reads everything he can find. (We later discovered he was reading all along since about 3 1/2...but like any genius, he also realized he had more attention when WE thought he couldn't understand us!)

Now Liam listens...too well. Every word I DON'T want him to repeat, he says. He has a unique way of painting a picture with words. When he has his hand slapped, he tells me his daddy has 'angry hands.' When he wants to eat something, he asks us if WE would like some first. (Knowing the logical next step if we don't want it is to offer him This worked for a little while. Then we figured out we were being played.) Now, he almost sounds like any ordinary kid. He says, "Wow, it's so cool!" and "What the ...?" Of course, he says it three or four times in a row, but as long as he doesn't fill in the blank on that last phrase, I'm good with it.

Autism doesn't make your kid stupid. Quite the contrary. It exercises a part of his brain most of us probably never use. Liam is intuitive, too. Each morning that I am determined to be romantic with my husband is the one morning he just can't seem to find something and he requests my help. Of course, when he requests, it is like hearing SpongeBob laugh over and over and over. (Thanks Gayle.) It is the best form of birth control there is, and I am a firm believer that the Catholic church should exploit this idea if they want to win a few friends.

He also knows when my husband has bought popcorn, even though he can't see where my husband put it. He loves popcorn, and lives for it when we have it. God only knows why. Something in the chewing I guess. But if the world ceased to have popcorn, Liam would find it somewhere on the planet and ask for more. And when he can't find it, he will suggest it...again, and again, and again.

Autistic kids learn through repetition. A LOT of repetition. The autistic mind learns best by doing things over and over and over. Thus, the reason why Spongebob is so popular with them. He is just LIKE them! This repetition has trained my mind in the process, even though I'm not autistic.

So I was surprised when I couldn't remember what I had discussed with my daughter. I usually pride myself in knowing what my kids are thinking and needing. This time, I was gone. Nobody home. The brain took a holiday and left the body behind. Sad. I think it had something to do with our planned return to California, an owl sanctuary in Ireland we were supposed to visit before we left, and a determination that her best friend is not very friendly when around a little boy that teases her (but we secretly know the kid has a horrible crush on my daughter.) There was also something about me promising to let her take only showers in California (the water pressure sucks here.) Oh yeah, and a question as to whether horses in California make me sneeze like the horses at Markree Castle did last weekend.

Finally, after rambling endlessly about the glories of locking bathroom doors and more than one toilet in the house, she looked up at me with a look that defied her years and said, "You haven't listened to a single thing I said, have you?"

I said I didn't. I guess I did afterall.

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