Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fever

The thermometer read 104.4 degrees earlier today. Ben lay in bed: lethargic, in and out of restless sleep.

At one point, there was a sudden loud noise in the house. After a few beats, Ben said, barely in a whisper, “Did you hear that?”

Whenever Ben has a fever, he almost always says or does something that startles me – something that comes out of nowhere and seems like a developmental leap for him. Chris and I have remarked on these incidents since he was an infant, only half joking, that fevers make him smarter.

Coincidently, a study came out yesterday that confirmed anecdotal evidence that fever may temporarily improve behavior of children with autism disorders.

It wasn’t the first time that someone else had confirmed my sense that fever has a strange and noticeable effect on Ben. A few months ago, I was fascinated to read a discussion on the Hyperlexia Parents Network newsgroup where many parents wrote about their mostly non-verbal children suddenly becoming loquacious in the throes of a fever.

The change that I see is subtle; not the same “awakening” reported by parents of children who are on the severe end of the spectrum. During these last few days of on-and-off fever, for example, Ben was up in the middle of the night, wide-awake and reciting stories, which is not so unusual. But he was adding improvised, spontaneous commentary to his lines that I hadn't heard before. When he was playing with trains and reciting Thomas stories, several times he looked over at me and added, "Hey, Mommy" or "Look, Mommy" before the lines, almost as if he was telling me about the story rather than reciting it in his own world.

In general, it also seemed like he was making more eye contact and that he was more often talking to me rather than talking near me.

Then there was the “Did you hear that?” question.

But it’s not like he becomes a sparkling conversationalist once the thermometer goes above 100. When the fever broke, the first thing he did was leap up and start quoting lines from a Dora episode.

While fever may temporarily lessen the characteristics of autism, luckily for me there is nothing that will ever lessen the characteristics of Ben.

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