Last weekend I had a doctor’s appointment and decided to take my autistic son with me, as he loves outings and car rides. The decision to bring Nick is always a risky one, and not for the faint hearted: having him along can turn an ordinary event into an adventure.
But I decided it was a good risk. Usually the doctors office is virtually empty first thing on a Saturday morning, but not this time. The waiting room was almost full. There were several families there, mom and dad and their obedient, well behaved, quiet children sitting beside them reading books or playing on their Nintendo game sets. In comes Nicholas, whooping and hollaring and clapping his hands fiercely. Looks of surprise from all those assembled is something I have become more or less insensitive to, but while it no longer deters me from taking Nicholas around, I do notice that they notice.
On this occasion Nick refused to sit down, opting instead for standing in the closet. I watched out of the corner of my eye to see if he was having difficulties or just attention seeking. Sure enough he soon comes out and begins pacing up and down in the waiting area, clapping loudly and making his usual noises: Ya eeee, wayoooo wayoooo…. Naoo No No. “Nicholas no clapping and no silly sounds in the doctor’s office…” I remind him, “just like at school please”. This works for a few moments. He sits down for about 30 seconds, then he is up and back to his frantic pacing and random verbalizing. He invades the personal space of one family and they looked mildly alarmed. Silently I pray that we get admited to a patient room soon.
Soon we have more trouble. “Go Yet!” Nick exclaims – he had decided that this outing was all done. Then he starts to grab my arm and pull with all his 10-year-old considerable might. “Go Yet”! His tone becomes more insistant and he adds a few cries for good measure. He pulls me off my chair. Once I gain my balance and am on my feet I stand in front of him and, looking at him directly, I try to re-establish control with the “FIRST/THEN” strategy: “First doctor, then go” I state strongly. “Go?” he asks. I repeat my first/then and sit back down. I distract him with a kleenex which he spends a few minutes twirling while pacing the length of the room. Phew – we are good!
A smile came to my face as I remembered reading about a similar moment in Ian Brown’s book “The Boy in the Moon”. Ian Brown is a writer for the Globe and Mail, and has a son who is similar to Nicholas cognitively, but with greater physical challenges. He describes the experience of a doctors office with his son – something like walking naked into a Sunday church service with a lit roman candle up his butt while singing “Yes we have no bananas”
I totally relate to that analogy. It is the feeling of being loud and in-your-face. It is the feeling of being absurd and inappropriate, and an unknown ability to stop it, control it. No guarantees that it will go well, or blow up in your face (or out the reverse like Mr. Brown’s roman candle). Simple outings can be in consecutive moments embarassing then funny, then silly and then humiliating. That is lifewithautistickid.