My eight year old son is nonverbal. He has Autism. Also, I am convinced he is a secret day-trader on Wall Street.
If not, he could be training for the Olympics. I’m not really sure what the deal is, but Lucas is in a constant hurry. If there’s something we need to do, he needs to do it quickly and then, just as fast, run off to do something else. There’s always a pressing issue that needs his attention in another room.
His meals are sometimes akin to the Nathan’s hot dog contests. He’s greeted by a French toast breakfast that is cut into easy-to-eat servings, but even that isn’t streamlined enough for him. Rather than pick up one piece at a time, he sees it as the opportunity to wedge as many into his face as he can at once. The imagined visual of chipmunk cheeks may be adorable. The actual visual of his mouth being unable to close over his overflowing food and watching him use the back of his wrist to keep it from falling out as he chomps up and down is not. To be frank, it’s terrifying. He looks like a rabid Pac-Man.
It has toned down a bit as he’s gotten older. Amazingly, now he picks up three or four pieces at once and, while he might only stick one or two in his mouth, he holds the remaining pieces against his chest, as if a guarded poker hand. That way, they are easier to rise up to his waiting jaws as soon as he clears room for them. No wasted moments in this life. He has stuff to do.
What stuff? I have no idea. It’s usually in another area of the house. All I know is that it’s important. Sometimes I’ll follow him in out of curiosity. Most times, it’s because a TV is on. Other times, there’s no reason at all. He just has to get going.
That’s the thing that has always perplexed me about my little guy. He’s in a hurry to run and do nothing. When I tell people that he gets up in the middle of the night and darts out of his room, the assumption is that he must want something. A kid doesn’t step into the kitchen lest he wants to eat. So when my son races towards the food area of the house at 3:30 in the morning, the natural thought is that he’s trying to gank some crackers. You’d think, right? Most times he is.
Not all times, though.
I’ll hear the crack of the gate on his room, which is only there for aesthetics at this point. He kicks it open like the Incredible Hulk approaching a gunslinger in the wild west. As soon as it swings out in the hallway, his feet pound away on the hard wood floors and I sit up in bed. With a roll of my eyes and a toss of the sheets, I come chasing after.
I’ll find him there, in the kitchen, eyes half closed, wandering around in a haze like the mule with a spinning wheel. I sometimes step back and say, “What? What do you want? Show me.” Confused and exhausted, he’ll walk in circles before putting his hands in the air, as if he were a captured criminal, passing me on the journey back to his room. There was no reason for him to go there. There was no reason for any of it.
Now here’s the kicker. He gets up within minutes and does it again. Those nights are the worst nights. If it wasn’t for the fact that he eventually goes into his sister’s room and wakes her up with a one-finger biff to the forehead, I’d just let him be.
As the kids would say, he has no chill. In fact, he has the opposite of chill. Heat? Is it heat? Maybe. Either way, he doesn’t have it. It’s my job to teach it to him.
A few years ago, that would have been an impossibility. A few years ago, I too was chill-deficient. I got worked up easily and stayed worked up even easier. My mood was just as high strung as his. Teaching him to relax would be like my cat teaching you not to throw up. It went against natural logic.
We often say that you have to lead by example and, many times, that’s said as a piece of inspiration. You’re supposed to hear it and think, “Yes. They shall see my example and be moved to follow.” In this case, it’s literal. Without setting an example in my own life, I wouldn’t even begin to know how to show him to relax. Running around screaming about him running around screaming would be insane. Eventually, I’d just be one of those parents loudly yelling, “Why is this kid yelling loudly!? Arghhhh!” Everyone else would get it, but I wouldn’t.
So, I try to pull back. I hold his hands down as he gets so amped up he’s nearly shaking. I speak calmly and take deep breaths. His gaze tells me that it’s annoying to him, but he’s paying attention. Slowly but surely, I’ve seen changes. They might be tiny, but they’re changes in the right ways. Small moves towards your goal isn’t a failure when you consider that the alternative is giant leaps in the other direction.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always super cool. I get angry at times and I’ve lost my temper, but it’s nowhere like I once was. Hopefully my changes will eventually be his changes. The day-trading will come to an end. The midnight kitchen runs for no reason will die down. Then we can all be little Fonizies.
That’ll be chill, right? Yeah. It would be.