Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Five Years Old
Dear Ben -
You are turning five years old today.
You're a big kid now - at least, this is what I keep telling you.
Especially when you continue to insist on eating spaghetti one noodle at a time with your fingers or still ask me to carry your 43 pound self from one place to another.
But you have grown into an amazing big kid, and you do so many things now that I could not have imagined.
It seems like only a little while ago, we were worried about how your imaginative play skills were lagging behind your typical peers.
Now, you create elaborate and nuanced pretend worlds that leave your friends struggling to keep up with your rapid-fire imagination.
Most importantly, you are able to pretend you are 1) firing a laser and 2) falling into lava, which allows you to play with nearly any typical five-year-old boy.
Experts told us that you would probably have trouble showing empathy or strong emotions for others, and that we would have to teach you that over time.
But last week, your teacher described to me how big tears welled up in your eyes when she had to break it to the class that Dr. Martin Luther King - the subject of circle time that day - had died. You told her you wished that the class could gather around him and protect him, led by you with your magic sword.
You hadn't known until then that good people - not just witches and dragons - die, too. And you cried.
Last year I worried our living room would be forever taken over by your Thomas the Tank Engine railway and that you would develop few other interests.
As of today, you haven't played with your trains - really played obsessively - for months. It seems you'd rather act out a story with us, or make up a pretend adventure with action figures (which you now actually play with instead of stacking into various architectural forms.)
The clinical literature on Hyperlexia warned us that although your reading abilities would advance far beyond your years, you would never really comprehend what you read.
But it seems that each day, you are acting out and improvising on a plot line from a book, or generalizing vocabulary from a book to a real situation, showing us that you do often understand and comprehend.
(A side note: You have just become interested in the Magic Treehouse chapter book mega-series, and this week read 3 chapters of your new book aloud on your own, missing only the words "mirage" and "sarcophagus.")
I read that you're not supposed to develop what's called theory of mind, or the ability to anticipate and imagine what someone else might be thinking and adjust your behavior accordingly.
But when I came to pick you up early from school after a recent and unfortunate behavior incident, you saw the look on my face and immediately launched into a description of the event that can only be described as a fast-talking PR spin.
You ended the story with: "...and next time, I'll never do it again and I'll be a good friend and everyone will play together and laugh and laugh and laugh and...I want to kiss you, Mommy."
So much for not understanding what others might be thinking.
They told us that you would prefer to be alone and would have a hard time making friends.
You have friends. Friends who who light up and shout your name when you get to school, friends who have inside jokes with you, friends who hug you. And you hug back.
They told us that kids on the autism spectrum often seem emotionless and have a lack of facial expression.
But you are full of joy and silliness and enthusiasm and all of it shows on your face.
Now, just to be honest with you, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. We have challenges. I am often mystified and stymied as to how to help you cope with frustration and navigate the world.
And I know there are tough times ahead. The gap between you and your typical peers will keep looking bigger in some areas of life. I'm glad you don't realize yet that those boys at school are dismissing your interest in The Little Mermaid, but pretty soon you will.
We'll get through it somehow, because we've gotten this far.
And I still will shout from the rooftop that I love you exactly the way you are, and that the things that make you different are some of the things I love the most about you.
Welcome to five, buddy.