This is my sister Radha’s second blog post about life as an autism mom.
Just because my son has grown so much in the last few years, we nicknamed him Gumby*. So that’s what I’ll call him here.
Years before Gumby agreed to taste oranges, he loved to watch people peel them. If one of us sat down with an orange, he would come running. He would wait till the first piece of peel was off, and the juice, released suddenly, would burst into the air, and then he would laugh and follow the arc in the sunlight with his gaze.
We soon learned to find a pool of sunlight to sit in, staging the whole thing just to entertain him. There’s something so infectious and fun about playing with food just to make an autistic kid giggle.
It was only one instance of how the energy we bring to the room is what Gumby feeds off. We could deny it, rage against it, or submit to it, but in the end, we are the sun and moon and stars for him. He knows when we are happy or just faking it. If we walk into the house still in outside world mode, he asks us to fall onto the couch and tickle him, repeating the request and simulating the action until we surrender to his need for contact. It’s no mean feat to horse around with a lanky, strong fellow who randomly drops his guard, so we have to focus. Otherwise we could end up with a foot in the nose. Ow.
He wants to burrow into our ribs, it feels like. Gradually, we relax into it, and the laughter in his voice tells us we have succeeded in leaving other distractions behind.
It’s the same with conversations, cooking, any household tasks, or guests who might drop in. He watches and listens, runs underfoot, tries to direct and choreograph the actions, and thrills in being part of the group. We give him little chores and he quivers with delight. Guests occasionally get arranged and told where to stand or sit, and most comply with good humor. You can’t drop in Chez Gumby and not expect to be a chess piece in his game of life. He once managed to get a census worker to rub his feet.
Observing him, I’ve realized that the Gumb has us all as balls in the air. He juggles us because he has to. That’s how his mind works. All of us are in the front of his mind all of the time. If one of us leaves the room or changes what we are doing, or someone new enters, all the balls fall on the ground. He picks them up, with the new ball (or data) added on, and resumes his juggling.
He’s a busy guy. This is why he sleeps early, because shutting his room door is when the balls go into their box for the night and he can still his thoughts. I respect him so much for knowing when he’s had enough. There’s only so much OJ and juggling a boy can take. He sleeps the sleep of a hardworking guy who’s earned his rest.
Ever conscious of being the burst of juice in the air, we have learned to be predictable so he can understand our cues. In turn, he’s expanded his definition of what’s acceptable, and so we all muddle on. It’s not as simple as that, I’m sure you know that. Flexibility isn’t his forte, and boundless energy unfaked is no one’s natural demeanor! We all have to dig deep some days.
It’s a huge responsibility to be that burst of juice, that ball in the air. The only way to handle it gracefully is to do what we do without getting too self conscious about it. His understanding of us is very nuanced, and he wants that arc of energy, not the effort behind it.
The answer to the question “What does Gumby want from us?” is simple–everything, but don’t talk about it.
*disclaimer: Gumby is the clay animation figure created by Art Clokey. We use the nickname in affection, and I am not making any money off the name.