Kids shove kids. Brothers shove brothers. I know this, but …
Monday, May 12th, 7:23 a.m.: Suspects’ Father was emptying the dishwasher while suspects watched “Sesame Street” in the living room. Suspects’ Mother had left for work early, otherwise Suspects’ Father would have been in the recliner finishing his coffee and trying to wake up. At time stated above, Suspect 1 emitted high screech-like cry, which continued for what Suspects’ Father later reported as “several hours,” at the end of which time Suspect 1 stopped screeching and Suspect 2 began wailing. Suspect 2 then ran into the kitchen where Suspects’ Father was standing and produced tears and other signs of physical distress. Suspects’ Father reported examining Suspect 2’s back and finding teeth marks and red oval mark of approximately the radius of Suspect 1’s mouth. Suspects’ Father reported yelling at Suspect 1.
Monday, May 12th, 7:48 a.m.: Suspects’ Father reported turning out kitchen lights after having put jackets on Suspects prior to taking both Suspects downstairs to put Suspect 1 on school bus. Suspects’ Father reported screeching and crying “of an escalating nature” out by the front door at this time. Suspects’ Father came out of kitchen to find hair of Suspect 2 in tightly closed hand of Suspect 1, both Suspects crying and wailing. Suspects’ Father reported yelling, “Alex, no! Touch nice!” and separating the two, after which Suspect 1 petted Suspect 2’s head in a “somewhat rough” manner, screeched a bit, and grabbed arm hairs of Suspects’ Father.
I later suspected that Ned had pulled one over on me; in pro football, the player who slaps back often gets the penalty. Ned’s been known to shove first. Then an arm, an elbow, a push and a “Naaa!…” . Neither boy talks, really, and in such moments neither boy needs to.
Alex doesn’t seem to understand Ned’s affectionate touches. Ned’s hugs do tend to resemble tackles, full of arm and body weight. Alex starts squirming while Ned hauls himself off and stands there looking at his brother, his look of confusion often thickening to a pout. If I see these moments, I step in, the giant therapist who kneels down and says, “Group hug!” as I interlock their arms and hold them close until they get the goddamned message.
The message, I’m afraid, is more for Alex. Biting, hair-pulling, screeching for a video, refusing to eat at the table with the rest of us, rattling the bedroom doorknob and screaming an hour after bedtime until he keeps Ned up and chips away at mom and dad’s evening. Always with the screeching. My vision of his future has darkened. How’s he going to hold a job if he can’t hold a conversation?
“Maybe it’s only a phase,” Jill says. But she doesn’t believe that anymore, and neither do I. Maybe it’s his dawning self-awareness. Maybe it’s frustration that he can’t talk. But why can’t he talk? Doesn’t he want to communicate with us on our level? Talk to Ned and you can see the flicker of recognition, even if what comes back is still babble. Talking to Alex can be – I admit this with a heavy heart a month short of his fifth birthday — like talking to the recliner.
Other people are starting to notice. Last week, in McDonalds, Alex screeched and yelped and wouldn’t stay in his chair. A man who was at the next table with his girlfriend loomed in and said, “You stop giving your daddy a hard time. He bought this you this nice breakfast…” It was good natured, get-the-kid-on-our-side kind of comment. Alex calmed down. The man looked at me and said, “I used to work with them. The grown-ups, you know. Oh, they used to spit and bite…”
“They only way they have to express themselves,” his girlfriend added, closing the incident.
A few weeks ago on the playground, Alex grabbed a little girl by the hood and tried to pull her off her tricycle. He loves tricycles. “Alex, no!” I said. “I’m sorry,” I said to the parents and the little girl. “I’m sorry. Alex, no.” I met the parents’ eyes but didn’t get back from that critical, “Oh, that’s okay.” There was no camaraderie of parenthood, not a blink of sympathy or understanding. It was as if I’d apologized to lizards, or to people who knew there were adults like Alex but who didn’t know that, once, those adults were still just kids.
Jeff Stimpson, 49, is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at http://jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, and The Autism Society news blog.Tweet