This Is The Handy Small Child

Tomorrow, he turns four.

He was born a month early, via surgery. I had to wait 45 minutes in the OR while the team went off to deal with a real emergency. I was terrified, but I joked that I’d reached the ‘waiting in line’ part of the roller coaster ride.

And I remember the moment when he emerged. The team probably delivered half a dozen babies a day, but they still went ‘awww’. I guess you really have to love babies in that job.

I was numb, but I heard them. And I felt it– this unexplainable, mystical sense that a new life had entered the world. I’m not a particularly mystical person these days, but moments of life and death, they still stand out.

My son. The handy small child mentioned in my Author Bio. He’s very handy! He’s always willing to be picked up and swung around. When Publisher Kate sent me an offer letter, he didn’t know what had happened but he sure liked it a lot.

He’s not what might be called a ‘normal’ child. It’s official!  He has a diagnosis of autism, and he’ll be attending a special preschool in the fall to help him catch up on the life skills he’s behind on. But the things that earned him an autism diagnosis are only a small part of what a strange and wonderful child he is.

He’s sitting on the porch right now, singing a little song he’s made up as he plays with chalk. Earlier, he carefully wrote out some basic math problems, and layered the alphabet on top of itself to make a star. Now he’s lining up the chalk into a rainbow and admiring it.

He spends all his time making art, or learning how to make art. He loves letters and numbers and colors– and he loves the solar system. He loves the solar system enough that it figures into his autism diagnosis, but there’s still room left in that amazing brain for castles and kirigami and logo design and math structures and color theory and an astonishing mastery of phonics. He’s comfortable with a number of different art programs, and doing searches on YouTube, and he’s learning how to build levels in Little Big Planet.

And he’s such a happy child, given how intense and focused he is on anything he does. He only recently discovered tantrums, which usually come when he realizes he doesn’t have the power over his world that he thinks he should have. They burn out quickly, as soon as something distracts him. He’s defiant, but he’s always been a master of saying NO, even as an infant.

He has a phenomenal ability to model and manipulate structures in his head. (The school evaluators called him ‘severely gifted’.)  Sometimes it’s figuring out how to fold and cut a paper so he gets the shape he wants when he unfolds it.  Sometimes it’s more abstract: I’m pretty sure he’s working on a foundational model of mathematics right now, as he asks me, “What’s 2+2? What’s 2×2? What’s 8+2? What’s 5+5?” I answer, and he asks new questions, testing his understanding.

He never asks why. He hasn’t gotten there yet.

Against all this wonder, the markers of autism seem small. I’m sure they’ll grow larger once he’s put into a daily social environment again and he has to learn that playing with other children isn’t a full contact sport. Once we start really insisting on the toilet training, and a speech therapist starts working with him on his eccentric speech patterns, it’ll be harder for him. But he’ll learn a lot and he’ll cope. He’s already learned so much.

I know I’ve been bragging a little. I don’t talk much about my life outside of writing here.

But tomorrow, he’ll be four.

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