Adrian has taken Martin to a birthday party, for two girls Martin knows from the neighborhood playgrounds. I stayed home because I had to work. Honestly, though, I’m glad I had to work. I have not yet arrived at the place where I’m comfortable with Martin around other children.
Of course I don’t mean that I don’t like Martin playing with other children. Quite the opposite: Since he turned the corner a couple months ago from parallel play to interactive, we’ve delighted in watching him discover his friends in new ways.
What I dread is watching adults realize that Martin is not quite like the other kids. We have chosen to reveal Martin’s condition only to family and to friends who have cause to interact regularly with him. So I’m not out there shouting the word autism to strangers, or even to acquaintances not really within our inner circle.
Which means that ofttimes I’m uncomfortable and/or making excuses.
Example: Last weekend Adrian, Martin, and I attended a housewarming party for friends in Westchester. The first couple hours, Martin was the lone child present, apart from a lovely 11-year-old who—whether from boredom or geniality—was willing to chase and chum around with our toddler. During those hours, none of the adults gave Martin a second glance, other than to comment on his being cute.
Toward the end of our visit, however, another family showed up with a five-year-old and a three-year-old daughter in tow. A basis for comparison. Within minutes it was evident that their three-year-old had better self-control and was far more advanced in language than ours. And so, because I don’t like anyone thinking my son is unintelligent, or even developmentally behind, I started covering for him. When Martin spun in circles, I smiled knowingly and said he was tired and over-stimulated from a long week. When he used only simple declarative and imperative sentences, I said that he is bilingual, and that his English is playing catch-up to his second language.
Perhaps I was just imagining that the other Westchester guests were wondering what’s wrong with Martin. (Now is a good time to note that, some months ago, Martin would attract the curiosity of even non-parents, who seemed to register that he was “off.” We’ve made enough progress that few now seem to notice without parental perception, or another child for comparison.) Moreover, apart from the hosts, we knew hardly a soul at the party. I had no reason to cover for Martin the way I did. It’s an instinct, I suppose. It’s also a reaction to watching how my child still lags behind.
Adrian confessed to being nervous about today’s birthday party, too. He was shaken last week by a playground visit during which he and Martin ran into an acquaintance and his son, who is half a year younger than Martin. That boy and his father were playing “pretend baseball,” imitating throwing and catching and running the bases. Adrian has been working hard with Martin on pretending skills, which is one of Martin’s toughest areas. Adrian expressed sorrow that Martin lacked the skills to join the pretend baseball game.
I have this to go on: With persistence, we may just resolve Martin’s ASD before he is old enough himself to make these dreaded comparisons.