When My Son on the Autism Spectrum Points Out the Details I Miss in Our Day


April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s also National Poetry Month.

This could be random coincidence. But the coincidence is nicely poetic, because as literal as my son on the autism spectrum tends to be — working to understand symbols or inference — his heightened sense of awareness of the world around him reveals the stuff of poets and artists. Stuff other people might filter out as unimportant.

Take patterns, for example. I may not notice patterns, but my son does. Everywhere. It seems to me like their predictability reassures him, and that he would like life to follow patterns so he isn’t surprised by what’s coming; he’ll know how to react. When he doesn’t find this repetition, he creates it. He wants to wear the same kind of pants. Eat the same food. Watch the same movies.

It’s like a refrain he can keep coming back to and join in on, because he knows the words. Even if we eat at a new place, he orders the same thing, because he knows how to order it.

Beyond patterns, he hears and sees singular details I miss: in the whiney pitch of car’s transmission, in a streetlamp that burns a slightly different shade of yellow. By pointing them out, he makes me stop my oblivious march through the day to see each day. And at the end of the day, he comes back with a refrain: “Remember when we saw that streetlamp that was a different color?” Of course I remember; we just saw it 10 minutes ago. “Remember that joke we made about the cash register not working? The ‘crash register’?” No, I’d forgotten that one. That was a good one.

The repetition may reassure him, and for me, it serves to sear those details I would have forgotten into my mind. Now we have a shared narrative, like a poem created to commemorate the day. And when he gets overwhelmed by all those details or loses his place, I can recite it with him, or for him. “Remember that streetlamp?”

A version of this story was originally published on Elaine’s blog, Dispatches from Planet Elainer.

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