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Navigating Strange Territory

It’s “Spirit Week” at my son’s school. A designation he is largely ignoring. And that was just fine on Monday aka Pajama Day. He hasn’t worn PJs in years and I couldn’t very well send him along in his boxer shorts (especially in this chilly Minnesotan climate). Yesterday was Crazy Hair Day which did appeal to him. He was tickled to go to class with blazing blue hair, as seen below. Today’s theme is a more standard school pride schpeel - students were asked to wear the school colors or a t-shirt or sweatshirt emblazoned with the school’s name. “Nope” said my child, with complete disinterest. But a big yes to tomorrow, and the school’s somewhat sad annual Halloween alternative. They celebrate Book Character Day because someone’s uber religious parents complained about Halloween being a satanic holiday or some such nonsense. But my point to all of this is that my son does not feel the need to acquiesce to peer pressure. He has always been on his own trajectory. He only participates when the plans and interests of others intersect with his own. He is not being willful or contrary. It is simply a function of his atypical autism. Something that has been on my mind even more lately as we’ve just gone through his annual IEP Review and have yet another evaluation of some sort tomorrow. Thankfully he has been making huge gains from year to year, academically and with regards to his social behaviors. Though we’re still working on the little things, like the tying of shoelaces (damned Skechers with velcro!) and encouraging him to eat with silverware. Surely enough his hand creeps back into the scene, sometimes even picking up food from his plate only to place it on a fork or spoon. But he is finally washing his face at school after lunch. In the past he came off the school bus every afternoon with PB&J filth smeared on his cheeks.

I digress. Back to the big picture I think that we, as a society, are grappling to come to terms with the rise of autism. Or the rise in cases diagnosed. Or both. Which means that the topic is going to crop up more frequently in various forms of media. First the news outlets ran with the autism-vaccine scare. And autism has even been mocked by The Onion in this info-graphic: “Autism More Common Than Thought” And, inevitably, it’s been ending up as a poor plot device in bad TV shows. The latter generally reinforces an unfair expectation, that all people with autism should be savants of some sort lest they be uninteresting. And sure, there are well known savants, like the jazz musician Tony DeBlois. Or the artist Stephen Wiltshire, who can recreate every detail he sees after brief helicopter rides over major cities. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. Anyhow, I’d like my ramblings to be a gentle reminder that we all perceive the world differently. Sometimes the differences are subtle. Sometimes they are striking. But there are and always have been different ways of being. We are all better off when we are mindful of that reality, without inflating it. And so ends my public service announcement for today.

my son, the anime character

Bonus: Morrissey is on the mend and returned to the stage last night at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Plus: Sometime in the near future, when the craving strikes, I will give in by making a veganized version of this corn dog recipe. It’s been too long. Also on the recipe to do list? A vegan butternut squash spaetzle. And hey, vegan candy corn! Tis the season and all.
And: Tomorrow in the Twin Cities, Punch has a $3 “Return of the Dead Pizza” coupon offer, good for these “dead” pizzas. Ooh, make mine cappricciosa or quattro stagioni!


  1. Maley wrote:

    Lovely and thoughtful post.

    While it’s silly that his school had to nix Halloween, Book Character Day is a great alternative. Really clever. Many schools would have just gone with nothing.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  2. Sharyn wrote:

    Thanks Maley. This post has been in draft mode for weeks and weeks.

    Cleverer still? Parker’s chosen Halloween costume is from a web cartoon rather than a book. To circumvent the rules he opted, on his own, to go ahead and make a book of it. Dang, I love that kid!

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  3. belsum wrote:

    Hey Sharyn! I had lost track of you but was happy to notice your comment on Jon’s most recent post. I’m astounded at what a young man Parker is already. Can it possibly have been that long?! Love the blue hair.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  4. Sharyn wrote:

    Belsum! Crazy to think that Parker was brand new and all back when I was working with you. He is TEN YEARS OLD now. A DECADE OLD. So very strange. But he is an extremely entertaining companion.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  5. saint paul susie wrote:

    Hear, hear! Your little man seems to have his path figured out better than the rest of us. I’m still guilted into school colors.
    Wonderful writing and perspective. I appreciate your work. Thanks.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

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