C’est Normal: The Enabling Environment

It was quite a while before we realized that aspie-kid was more than a trifle unusual. Part of that was not denial, but rather the mental yardsticks employed at home. An aspie kid with parents who have diverse disabilities doesn’t really stand out. (The neurotypical kid once joked about feeling left out for not having any kind of exceptionality. “You were speech-delayed,” I offered, but our dear loquacious English major pretended to not be mollified.)

For example, Aspie kid has some minor sensory issues, and has always been particular about not wanting to wear anything but soft, loose clothing. So what? Who doesn’t have clothing preferences? Aspie kid doesn’t like spicy foods, and even in high school will eat “naked noodles” (pasta without sauce) more often than not, and is quite content with plain white sticky rice. Hardly a crisis; as far as I can tell, teenagers’ natural forage is pizza, and as a subspecies, doesn’t really require an extremely broad diet beyond what’s required for nutritional balance. Only one style of nubbly hairbrush is acceptable to the kid (natural bristles are intolerable), so there’s no telling if the long hair thing is another sensory issue about not wanting to get haircuts. But hair elastics are cheaper and much less hassle than regular trips to the salon anyway, so no complaints here.

The extended family did note the disinclination to join into the chit-chat in favor of hanging quietly on the edge of the gathering. But what this child lacked in mobs of kids visiting our back yard to play has certainly been made up for in a steadfast friendship with a particular pal, which friendship has lasted more than a decade.

In later years the teenager’s bedroom floor became the stereotypical mess of clean & dirty clothes and books and snack wrappers et cetera (once again, heavy on the et cetera), but we have to find a certain charm with the periodically-resurfacing habit of lining up objects along shelves – there may be snack dishes piling up, but the computer accessories are tidy!

The other part of not immediately seeing the offspring’s exceptionalities is that they didn’t particularly stand out because we have an enabling home environment. I don’t mean “enabling” in the pathological sense, but rather that home life is designed to reduce problems on a variety of levels.

Dad is hard of hearing, so the children grow up reading television captions. This certainly seems to have aided reading and vocabulary skills, and reduces comprehension problems for those of us with Auditory Processing Disorder. Well, at least when we’re watching television. Mixing up people with hearing impairment and APD at the dinner table can lead to some incredibly recursive conversations as we verify and correct what’s being communicated. Text messaging (as a replacement for phoning each other with voice messages) was just made for families like ours.

For the teachers, yet another child who repeatedly has trouble remembering to finish or turn in assignments, and who loses winter coats et cetera (heavy on the et cetera) isn’t rather notable. (If the jigglyness doesn’t include interrupting the class, the teachers won’t have time to worry about it.) Thankfully this was the second child, so the ADHD mom had time to figure out some coping strategies of her own for keeping track of objects and tasks, and started working on them with the kid. Of course, dad despairs of the two of us ever sitting through an entire movie or television show without popping up for something-or-another. But gee, isn’t that why the Pause button exists?

In the natural environment of the home, our respective disabilities are relatively minor. Sometimes dad doesn’t hear people calling for him, once in a while the grilled cheese sandwiches get overbrowned because Mom gets distracted, and periodically the lawn gets shaggy because the kid is busily perseverating upon some obscure detail of computer gaming. When all else fails, you send the kid to track down dad and let him know that mom’s has finished making a fresh batch of sandwiches and it’s time to eat. The grass will of course, still be there tomorrow morning.

1 Comment

  1. 8 September 2006 at 11:48

    Yes, it’s amazing how neatly an aspie teenager can line up his favorite things in a room that otherwise looks as if it’s about to be condemned by the health department.

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