Parents enjoy identifying ways their children are like them, right? That’s why we have expressions such as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and “chip off the old block.” When I was growing up, I knew a boy so like his father that everyone just called him “Chip.” I don’t even remember his given name. Daniel, I think.
When your child happens to have autism, the process gets reversed. You start looking for ways in which you are like the child. Autism has a genetic component and, like other immune disorders, tends to run in families. Hey, I find myself thinking, do I have autism? Maybe just a little? Is there a reason I’ve always liked to be by myself, a reason I was an awkward child? (Okay, fine. I’m still awkward.) Does everyone trace patterns on wallpaper? Does everyone count the number of steps she takes on each sidewalk square or section of parking lot? Does everyone need to locate all three cats before she can start the washing machine, just in case the 14 times she checked to make sure no cat was in the washing machine were inadequate? Does everyone inspect her front bumper upon arrival home to confirm she didn’t run anyone over, even though she surely would have noticed if she’d run someone over? Or is that only me?
I see so much of myself in Martin’s behaviors, the same behaviors we blame on autism.
Martin dawdles. I dawdle. I seem incapable of moving efficiently from task to task, or focusing on one task. As a corollary, I run late. Virtually always. When I absolutely need to be on time (say, to a deposition or hearing), I comically overshoot the mark and end up half an hour early, hanging out in a random hallway.
Martin remembers numbers and dates precisely, but his episodic and short-term memory are subpar, along with his desire to pay attention. He knows every train station between our home and Midtown Manhattan, the number of moons Jupiter has versus Saturn, the order of his classmates by height, and exactly what we did on November 17. Yet he has no inkling where he left his socks, or what I said we are having for dinner.
Martin has favorite times on the digital clock. They are 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, and so forth. If he happens to see one of these times, he makes a special sound, a delighted “haaaw!”
I recall a conversation once, when I was eight or nine, about the length of movies. I said that Superman (referring to the original 1978 version with Christopher Reeve) was two hours and 22 minutes long. My mother became chastised me, saying I was making that up and could not know the length of Superman off the top of my head. But I did. As part of our subscription to HBO, my family received a booklet each month with the program line-up and a description of each movie. A year or two earlier, Superman was a full-page write-up in the booklet, followed by “(2:22).” The same number, three times. I wouldn’t forget such a thing.
Martin has informed me that, on the digital clock, 4 has four lines, 5 has five lines, and 6 has six lines. I already knew all that. I knew that because I count line segments on the digital clock, have for as long as I remember. 1:11 has the fewest total segments, six. 10:08 has the most, 21. Digital 6 minus one line makes 5. Digital 6 plus one line makes 8. Digital 6 with one line moved makes 0 or 9.
In November 2014 Martin informed me that first Saturday and final Sunday stood alone. He told me this from his bathtub, and although no calendar was nearby, I didn’t need to ask him what he meant. On the paper calendar, November 1 (a Saturday) and November 30 (a Sunday) were each the only date in their respective rows. In February 2015 Martin told me one week was empty. Again, no explanation needed: The last calendar row contained no dates.
I get frustrated with Martin when he doesn’t pay attention. That’s so unfair of me. When I was in first grade, I took dance class. I never knew any of the steps, because I didn’t pay attention to learn them. I didn’t pay attention in baton, either. I faked the moves and occasionally got caught. Once, at an assembly for baton, a special drawing was held, with much fanfare. I was present but didn’t listen at all. When my name was picked for a prize, I had no idea what I’d won, or what to do. Until someone poked me, I didn’t even realize my name had been called. Did I have autism? Do I now? Maybe just a little?
Should I be treating myself with diet and supplements?
Will I be satisfied if Martin grows up to be like I am now? Or do I want him to be better?
Maybe just a little?
The prize I won, all those years ago, was a fancy new baton, which I was supposed to report to a table to retrieve. I carried it proudly but still never learned the moves.
And you probably will have guessed this already: I just went on imdb.com to check what that website says about the length of the 1978 version of Superman. According to IMDB, the movie was 2:23 long. Wikipedia says the same thing. Ha. That’s what they say. The HBO guide listed Superman at “(2:22).” I can’t find that guide on-line, but I still can see the numbers in my head.