The Intuition of Autism

 

Not my baby, but remembering the memories clearly and with a smile.

Not my baby, but remembering the memories clearly and with a smile.

 

I was a 19-year-old college student with an Education/Psychology major home for summer break. His name was Zachary. No, he was not a summer fling, past boyfriend, or random stranger. He was a nine-year-old child with Asperger’s Syndrome whom I nannied every day from 9-5 over the summer while his parents worked. I cannot recall exactly how this opportunity fell into my lap. But after meeting Zachary and his mom, sitting in their living room while she spoke quick and nervous and he walked in circles reciting golf statistics, I noticed that I felt two things. First, I felt compassion for his mom. She was tired and she was on-guard (mainly for him). She was nervous that I might not be the perfect fit for her precious boy that only she knew to his deepest depths. And for him, I felt fascination. I admired his natural ability to stay in his Zachary centered world. His inhibition to not care about this stranger in the room wearing green JCrew Shorts and a white t-shirt. (I remember outfits and food in the imprinting moments in life.)

The initial meeting lasted 45 minutes or so. During that time Zachary tuned me out, or randomly shouted “get her out of my house!”. His mom would respond evenly in a tone not to disrupt and cause further rage. His disconnect between emotion and impact towards others was huge and I found it fascinating! I needed to get to know this child. I needed to find ways for him to let me in. I needed him as much as he needed me. Though he didn’t know that at the time.

His mom spent a long time explaining the food routine. Breakfast involved milk in his Barney cup placed to the right side of his plate. Two pieces of cinnamon and sugar toast cut into quarters and stacked on top of one another. The napkin was to be unfolded and placed to the left side of his plate. She also revealed the red flags if Zach were to begin escalating towards a melt-down or rage. At this point, I felt like I was in over my head, but at the same time, compassion and curiosity ushered me forward. Her breakdown concerning how to handle one of his rages went like this: “Let him run and flap his hands.”  That’s strange I thought. “Let him yell, but address him calmly if he says unkind things to you. And when you do this, ask that he try to look in your eyes.” Easy enough I thought. “And once he gets calm, encourage him to take deep breaths.” Got it. Easy (sort of). And how many rages will I have to encounter anyway? I was young, naive, and thought I could waltz in there with my AC Moore craft project and have inspiring moments of connection with the nine year old who had no problem saying, “You are a stranger, you don’t belong here, get out, get out!”  My craft lasted one day and I did 80% of it.

It did not take long for me to realize that connecting with Zachary involved just being there. It involved being patient and waiting for him to “invite” me into his sacred bubble. I recall sitting on his couch and reading a book while he played a golf video game on the computer next to me. This game highlighted famous golfers, and as he played he recited over and over again the years, the winnings, and the statistics for each player as they appeared on the screen. Over time, I got used to tuning it out, but in some ways it was frustrating. Hours of high-pitched nine year old noise.  But then there was a moment, a day when he asked ME a question. And then he asked it again. I thought he was talking to the screen. He was talking to me! Out of the blue, he shouted “Who is your favorite golfer?”  Not knowing an ounce of the game and only Tiger Woods, I chose Woods as my final answer. Zach then gave me all the stats related to Woods. For the next 30 min. we had a connection about something I knew NOTHING about. He didn’t look at me, he paced, he recited, he told me when I said something wrong. He let me in. That’s it. That’s all I needed. I was invited and not yet asked to leave.

The days continued like that. Some days it was lining up 100 matchbox cars and reciting the statistics related to each car and driver. Other days it was throwing basketballs and repeating NBA stats. I learned a lot that summer! My favorite days were when he was willing to go in the pool. He challenged me to swim to one end and he counted in his mind the perfect seconds. He didn’t ask me to do this for him. He needed control and I knew that this was a comfort for him. For a child who is built like a circle trying to fit into a square world, it was almost impossible for him to feel any sense of personal control. The world, with its surprises and social rules that made literally no sense to him only pushed him to draw further inward and find his own moments of control. That control equaled comfort to him and that’s when he felt the safest. I was happy to swim laps for time in knowing that he was feeling safe.

These moments of connection sound warm and fuzzy as you read the words. But the highs were high and the lows were low. Very low. When Zachary had enough of me, he would scream horrible things to me. He would yell and demand that I leave. He would hide in the bathroom, lock the door and pound the walls. I could do nothing, absolutely nothing. There was no reasoning, no bribing, and certainly no asking for him to talk to me. I simply had to wait it out. Eventually peace would be restored and I would count down the hours to 5:00 and my exit.

This leads me to the intuition portion of this post. Intuition is the most magical part of Autism. It’s the gift these children have that we should admire and envy, and at the same time encourage within their deep souls.  It’s their ability to vibrate with life according to the energy he/she feels within a room, a new place, or meeting a new person. It’s how they respond and react. It informs their sensory world and speaks louder than any English word. We are not blessed with their vibrational frequency, but they are. And if we can quiet our need-to-talk humanness, we are bound to learn a lot from these children. More importantly, they are bound to let us in. Why? Because we are honoring how they are made. It’s that simple. We are honoring who they are as a unique, separate, and perfect being.

Zach was the first to teach me the power of intuition via the Autism brain through the lyrics of a song. Nearly every day, Zachary would sing or play the song, “Closing Time”, by Semisonic. I must have heard that song a thousand times that summer, and every time I hear it as an adult, I always think of him. At the time, I never gave the song much thought. I chalked it up to one of his routines, like the Barney cup to the right side of the plate. And then twenty years later, walking the Jersey Shore boardwalk towards the beach park with my three-year-old twins, I found myself thinking of Zach and thinking of that song. And then it hit me: the lyrics. “Closing time. Time for you to go out into the world. Closing time. Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” It continues…So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits. I hope you have found a friend.”

Every day of our time spent together those two summers, Zachary, in the easiest and kindest (I believe) way he could, was asking me to leave his home. His intuition knew to relate to the words of a song. To him, they were words, not emotion. And this song bridged the gap in having to speak to me. The piercing and painful act of speaking to another human in that time of his life was just too much. But a song spoke for him and his intuition in leaning on this friend of a song comforted him.

This is why I love the work that I do. And furthermore, this is why I love parenting the child that I have. Children on the Autism Spectrum have an intuition, a power, a light, that we would be lucky to have an ounce of. Yes, they are different and they are difficult and they are at times hard to like, but they are perfect in every sense of the word. And if you have a child like this in your life as a teacher, parent, or family member, I challenge you to one thing: when the rages happen, when the outbursts seem too dark to bear, I ask that you look beyond the behavior. The behavior is a response to the child’s inner language. Look to their heart and be tender with them. Trust your intuition as much as you admire theirs. And most importantly, love that child in a way that’s tender and patient. And understand that the child may never say he/she loves you. But know that it”s okay. They do love you, they just haven’t found the right lyrics of the song to tell you.   

Blessings, Love and Light,

Sarah

 

 

Closing Time

Semisonic

Closing time

Time for you to go out go out into the world.

Closing time

Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.

Closing time

One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer.

Closing time

You don't have to go home but you can't stay here.

I know who I want to take me home.

I know who I want to take me home.

I know who I want to take me home.

Take me home

Closing time

Time for you to go back to the places you will be from.

Closing time

This room won't be open 'til your brothers or you sisters come.

So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits

I hope you have found a

Friend.

Closing time

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

Yeah, I know who I want to take me home.

I know who I want to take me home.

I know who I want to take me home.

Take me home

Closing time

Time for you to go back to the places you will be from

I know who I want to take me home.

I know who I want to take me home.

I know who I want to take me home.

Take me home

Closing time

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end