Goodbye on His Own

Special education means special transportation. Martin does not have to wait at a bus stop. Instead, a bus (yes, it’s the short bus) picks him up at the end of our driveway and delivers him back after school.

(Hurray! We have a driveway, and we live on a dead-end lane. Waiting for the bus is so much easier than when we had neurotypical kids parading past.)

When Martin comes home, I walk to the end of the driveway to meet him, and once he’s off the bus we follow a little ritual. (According to the principles of RDI, I vary the ritual slightly each day, to facilitate Martin’s dynamic intelligence.) I ask him how his day went, take his heavy backpack—containing a lunch cooler with glass and/or stainless-steel containers, a stainless-steel drink holder, multiple notebooks for my communications with his classroom teachers and his therapists, and sometimes spare clothes—and hold his hand while we wait for the bus to turn around at the dead end. Then I remind Martin that we need to wave good-bye to the bus driver and the matron, and I count to three, and we wave together as the bus passes us and beeps.

Yesterday afternoon something new happened. As usual, Martin took his time to descend the three steps and land on the driveway; he still tends to look forward instead of at his feet, so big stairs can be challenging. He walked two steps toward me, as if to begin our ritual—

Then, instead of coming to me, he turned around by himself, waved through the still-open bus door, and called to the driver and matron, “Goodbye! Goodbye! See you tomorrow!”

This may be one of those occasions when I need to explain, for anyone not raising a child with autism, what the big deal is. The big deal is twofold: (1) Martin did something different, and (2) he displayed awareness of those around him and their needs. He realized that the driver and matron were leaving, and that people who are leaving expect goodbyes.

Martin says goodbye a lot. He does so after I say, “We’re going. Let’s say goodbye,” or, “What do we say now, Martin?” I cannot remember a previous occasion on which he wished someone goodbye unprompted. Will he do it again this afternoon? Maybe. Maybe not. Often a new skill emerges, disappears, and then at some later date shows up in regular use. I’m less worried about consistency right now. The key is that social awareness is within Martin. With every bit that his body heals, we unlock more of the intangible.

So Far Gone

The week before last I posted about what’s disappeared: lethargy, toe-walking, aimless drifting, low muscle tone, sleep problems, clumsiness, and most of Martin’s echolalia. Those are all behaviors that Martin used to have, that he no longer has, and that popped immediately to mind when Adrian and I were discussing treatment costs.

Not long after publishing that post, I was walking home from Martin’s school, pondering his progress, when I remembered “transitioning.” It was a slap-my-own-forehead moment, like, Oh yeah! Transitioning! Until mid-summer 2011, transitioning—i.e., the ability to stop an activity and begin another—had been one of our biggest concerns. Martin’s teachers at his old school mentioned it constantly; moving from the gym back to the classroom prompted a tantrum, as did moving from circle time to table work, or music to snack. We experienced the challenges at home, too. I needed only mention bedtime or going out or a visitor’s arrival in order to upset Martin.

Martin (like most any toddler, I imagine) still has trouble leaving the playground or his best friend’s house. (A five-minute countdown helps. “Martin, in five minutes it’s time to walk home. Five minutes.” Sixty-second pause. “Martin, in four minutes it’s time to walk home. Four minutes.” And so forth.) It’s been months, however, since straightforward change of activity posed problems.

Transitioning is so far gone as an issue that I didn’t even happen upon it when making the case for what we’ve spent on treatment. And I’m not the only one who forgot. “Transitioning?” Adrian asked when I brought it up later. “That’s right. Geez, that was forever ago.”

With a little more consideration, I’ve come up with other issues so far gone that they didn’t make the initial list of what’s disappeared.

Bolting, for example. I can remember a time when I could not pause to greet a neighbor, because Martin would be half a block away within seconds, never once looking back to check his mother’s location. Now, unless he’s really engrossed in a sandbox or something, Martin makes eye contact even from across a playground, keeping tabs on me. Not quite as close tabs as I keep on him, but still.

The inability to sit. I went months without being able to listen to a sermon in church. I was too busy pulling Martin out from under the row in front of us, or chasing him down the aisle, or retrieving him from whoever’s personal space he’d invaded. Last Sunday I heard every word of the sermon, relaxing with my arm around the shoulders of Martin, who was flipping the pages of a book.

Injuring himself. For a time bruises appeared on Martin so constantly that I stopped trying to track their sources. He banged into furniture, fell because he wasn’t watching his step, shook his head so fiercely that he smacked it into walls, tipped chairs over while attempting to arch his back enough to see behind him. Today, if there’s a bruise, there’s an identifiable cause.

Adrian says sometimes that a day will come when this whole chapter will be a distant memory.

I’m working on sharing that dream.

Twenty years from now Martin will be playing U.S. Open tennis, or making his debut at the Met, or accepting a Rhodes Scholarship, and I’ll smack my own forehead and recall, Oh yeah! Autism!