My eleven-year-old non-verbal son with autism has life figured out. Just like his father, he has many events he doesn’t want to go to and appointments he doesn’t want to keep. There are places he won’t leave and things he won’t do.
Me? I make up excuses. I blame the weather and my health and the late time I went to sleep the night before. Want to meet for lunch next month? I’ll have to check my calendar…oh, darnit. I got a thing.
My guy Lucas is slicker than that. Do you know what my little man does when he doesn’t want to go along with the gang?
He lays down and refuses to move.
That’s right. He plants himself firmly on the ground, spreads his arms out snow-angel-style, and makes eye contact. To paraphrase Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, “F you, move me.”
I should point out that my little fella is far from little. He’s enormous. Closing in on a (fingers crossed) vertical growth spurt, my son is pretty hefty and, as of this writing, we share t-shirts…and he’s outgrowing them. Lord help me.
He knows he’s big too. That’s part of the problem. If he lays down on the ground, he’s aware that you need to buckle down to hoist him up. It’s a mammoth task for a mammoth boy and he knows it can be enough to get him out of anything, provided those tasked with picking him up are unable to.
Now, if I learned anything from years covering professional wrestling, it’s that you can’t lift another grown man without some sort of help on his part. Even in the case of a deadlift German Suplex, which most fans assume is a legit slam done by the thrower, the throwee goes somewhat limp in a helpful way. It’s a matter of shifting your center of gravity rather than completely becoming dead weight. Because of this, in conjunction with the thrower, the one taking the maneuver leans back and…
OK, sorry. Didn’t mean to get all JG’s Raw Insanity on you, but you get the idea. You can’t lift a man unless the man wants you to lift him. My man, Lucas? He doesn’t want you to lift him.
As soon as he suspects that he has to do something boring, my kid goes boneless. I watch as he melts to the ground like a freshly flattened cartoon character. He locks eyes with you in the most infuriating way possible and rests his head on the concrete, linoleum, dirt, or whatever else is underneath him at the time.
There have been horror stories about Lucas’s lay-downs. Whether it’s baths or birthday parties, if he doesn’t want to do something, he uses the stop, drop, and don’t-roll technique to achieve his goals. He figured it out a while ago and knows that it works with everyone…
When I started to suspect this was a problem, I knew I couldn’t let him know that it works. If he knew that laying down on the ground would stop the annoyances of life from annoying him, he would do it constantly. He might do it with everyone else on Earth, but with Dad, it couldn’t be a thing. I knew he was growing.
Now the real question is how do I manage it? I can’t start elbow-dropping or throwing cinderblocks upon his prone body. Nine times out of ten, he does it in public. So even the slightest jarring reaction is sure to earn glances from strangers and, make no mistake, they are definitely staring. They watch because it’s shocking to see a boy with autism throw himself on the ground. Also, they want to see how I get out of this fine mess. It’s dinner theater without the dinner for these people.
What they find is one of two responses. The first is I tickle him. That’s the fun one. I will dig my fingers into his stomach and make some ridiculous noises. Depending on his mood, he will answer with a giggly tirade from his little chicklet smile. It’s adorable, fun, and usually gets him up. That’s the easy way.
Then, there is the hard way. The hard way is the hardest on me. I simply power him up.
That’s right. Heart surgery survivor, mid 40s, and usually exhausted as I am, I summon past experience of leverage from amateur wrestling to reach my arms around his frame and power him up to his feet. It’s the reason why, as I type this now, I am hunched over. We had a lay-down moment three days ago that I am still paying for.
I can hear you asking the question. What about not being able to lift a man without his help? You can’t, but you can pull him halfway up. With all my strength, I drag him halfway to a standing position. Seeing this shocking show of Ted Arcidi strength, Lucas will scramble to get his balance and stand up on his own.
I no-sell it like the Undertaker. No panting. No screaming. No show of physical pain. Rather, it’s my turn to Iock eyes with him, which I do, and say, “There. Now let’s go.” I act like it ain’t no thing.
As we walk away, I can already feel my lower back tighten up. But he will never know that. By the time I’m limping the next morning, he has forgotten all about that unpleasantness. I just hope that he will wait a few days before doing it again. If the tickle method doesn’t work at that point, I’d be screwed.
He’s a great boy, but he knows how to test his limits and he knows who he has the highest limits with. When it comes to me, there’s no laying down when we have something to do. I taught him that when he was small. He knows it now when he’s big. Hopefully, he remembers it when he’s enormous.
That day is right around the corner.