Introduction to Daniel

Daniel is 7. When he was around 3 and still not speaking very much, we took him to the Richardson school district to get him evaluated. Indeed, it was more than his speech delay that prompted us to take him — there were his behaviors, many of which my wife insisted were odd, but which I had insisted were within the realm of normal, using myself as a standard; there was a tendency to collect and carry around Matchbox and Hot Wheel cars rather than play with them; there were sensory sensitivities; there were the tantrums. All of this taken together resulted in the diagnosis of autism.

Shortly thereafter Daniel was put into PPCD. We have to say that we were generally quite pleased with the outcomes there. His language and social skills improved. He became friends with several of the children there — in particular two boys who behaved just like Daniel, and who in turn seemed to think Daniel was just the greatest thing since chocolate ice cream. Daniel moved from merely playing next to children to (sometimes) playing with children — including his two siblings. Of course, Daniel tries to direct the play so that everyone is doing what he wants them to do, but it’s a level of interaction we had not seen before he was five. Today, he is very much more verbal, he plays with both his brother and sister, and he still tries to direct play.

Daniel is very curious. He wants to know what things are made of and how they work. He is a deductive thinker, is able to make associations, and can see right through to the correct cause-and-effect relationships. For example, when he was five and I was reading him the book Wacky Wednesday, I pointed out one of the cars; it is missing its back wheels, and the person in the back is walking the back of the car with his legs. I asked him what was wacky in the picture, and that was one of the things at which he pointed. I asked him why it was wacky, and he said, “The wheels are missing. And the bottom of the car is missing so his legs are sticking out.” You cannot actually see that the bottom of the car is missing; Daniel correctly deduced it was missing. To say your average 5 year old cannot do that is an understatement.

His current interest is sharks. And Star Wars. Both he and his brother are obsessed with Star Wars, and they especially love the bad guys–Dylan loves Darth Maul and Daniel loves the Storm Troopers–and the Lego’s toys. Daniel also has a fish tank because he loves fish.

Daniel has a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to doing things. I have to encourage and encourage him. A good example of this was with drawing. He was having me draw him cars and trucks (with which he was obsessed at the time), but he would not draw the pictures himself. One day, I just kept insisting that he draw. He was getting upset, but I kept insisting. Finally, he drew a “road” and asked me to draw a car on it. Well, that was something, so I drew his car. I kept getting him to draw the “roads” until one day I insisted he draw the car. He, again, started getting upset, insisting he couldn’t do it. I told him I wanted him to try, that I wanted to see his cars. He asked me if it would make me happy. I told him it would. He drew some circles, and some were actually quite good. Of course, Daniel could immediately tell which ones were good and which ones were not, and he wasn’t going to put up with being told the bad circles were good. “Yes, but look at how good these are” did manage to work, and I managed to encourage him to draw a car. His cars are boxes on circles, but he was drawing. And now he draws all the time, first making cars and houses, and now drawing Star Wars characters.

Daniel also love building things. He loves blocks and Legos. And he’s showing more and more interest in building things. He loves going to the Perot Museum and building things there.

His language has been improving quite a bit since his diagnosis. He still primarily uses language to inform others and to ask for information, but we was five before he carried on an actual conversation with his mother, Anna, while we were driving home from somewhere.

Daniel is a bit sensitive to sounds, but he also has a tendency to use that sensitivity as an excuse when he doesn’t want to hear something, like “Clean up your toys.” What this says to me is that he knows we understand he is sensitive to sounds at times and that we sympathize with him about that, so he is trying to exploit that sympathy to avoid doing something he doesn’t want to do. For those who think that there is a deficient theory of mind in those with autism, I invite them to explain that level of metaunderstanding.

I spend a lot of time with Daniel, perhaps in no small part because I get him. Of course, I get him because the two of us have very similar minds. We may have difficulty truly understanding neurotypicals, but we have little difficulty understanding each other.

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