The Adventures of South
South was diagnosed Autistic at around three years old, though I had known from about a year on that he was. As my third Autistic child, I assumed he would fit right in with my other two and things would go along as they were–just goes to show you, an Autistic Mom can be just as caught off guard as a NT mom. (About a year after this, South would get a new diagnosis of PDD NOS.)
It was like having Iron Man–the child version, dropped in my lap…literally.
“The Wiggly Socks”
Balancing the basket on one hip, I made my way to my son’s room and peeked inside. My eight year old was busy at his table, industriously cutting bits of paper into different types of shapes, drawing blue lines on them, and taping them together in various forms. I watched for a moment before entering the room.
“Hey South, it’s time to get ready to go okay?”
He studiously ignored me as he continued working–he only had two or three pieces of paper left of the table so I sat down on his bed, putting the basket beside me. Reaching inside I pulled out a pair of blue sweatpants–the kind that looked well worn but in reality had been purchased a few days ago and washed until they seemed old–exactly the same as I’d done for the other pairs I’d bought him at the same time. It never seemed to occur to my son that no matter how much he grew, he always had the well-worn, soft, tag-free and comfortable sweatpants that were the only pants he would tolerate in just his size. I held them on my lap until he put down the tape.
“Come on, we don’t want to be late.”
He darted an irritated look my way but complied, muttering softly to himself. He stood in front of me and looked at the basket as I handed him his pants. He took them, turning them in a circle over and over again as his fingers slid over the surface of the pants waistband…then he stepped into them, left leg first, pulling them over his blue tag-free boxers. It took several moments for him to adjust the waistband to a comfortable place before he held out his hand and offered his thoughts on the matter.
“There, now the doctor-lady can’t see my man-parts.”
I eyed my son, “She’s not that kind of doctor and she’s not going to want to see your man-parts. She’s more interested in what’s in your magnificent brain.”
He raised an eyebrow in a parody of my own; he didn’t look convinced. Shaking my head, I pulled a shirt from the basket and handed it over. He inspected it, counting the buttons on its front twice before nodding his head and, satisfied, put it on, left arm first and taking care to button every single button from the bottom all the way up–then he counted them again. He smoothed any wrinkles down his shirt front with his hands and I turned back to the basket hiding my smile. He was very proud of that shirt and called it his surfer shirt because it had a Hawaiian palm tree print on it and faded from the dark blue of the shoulders down to an almost white-blue at the bottom. His shoulder length blond hair swung forward and his overlong bangs shielded his eyes.
“Do you have my socks?” he asked and I pulled them out, inside-outing them before hanging them over and glancing at his face before dropping my gaze to the floor in search of the shoes he would need. South could not abide the toe seam of socks, so he wore them inside out. He called them ‘Wiggly Socks’ when they wouldn’t stay up too, and that could mean a complete meltdown if it happened.
“We got to get moving kiddo, it’s important we get there on time.” I reminded him, having a good idea of how long the socks were going to take.
“I know, I know…you told me a hundred times.” he stated, though in point of fact, I’d told him twice at breakfast and once more not ten minutes ago.
Sitting down on the floor he began the arduous task of not only getting the socks on his feet, but adjusted for minimal irritation. This took nearly fifteen minutes, but it was fifteen minutes he needed–we would be late–I waited anyway and when all was as it should be with the socks, I had located his Iron Man sandals and pushed them towards him with my foot. They were the kind with straps at the front and back–easier to adjust for comfort, but in South’s case…it allowed for another option entirely and I watched silently how, left foot first, he put on one, fastened the back strap and then moved on to do the same on the other. He left the front straps completely un-strapped. This of course would cause the sandal to slap about a bit when he walked, and made walking itself a bit odd–but it worked for him.
Taking up the basket once more I looked around.
“Do you have your day bag ready?” I asked, hoping for a yes.
“Yeah, but I need to get my helmet.”
I nodded and headed back down the hallway, dropping off the basket at the washer and dryer before waiting for him by the interior garage door. I took my purse and keys off the counter, looking at the wall clock. We were definitely going to be late.
When South came out of his room he had on an Iron Man backpack and his plastic Iron Man helmet and arm piece. He also had several of the taped forms fitted around various parts of his body–he had made his own additional armor.
“Is everything in your bag,” I asked him, not commenting on the armor which actually looked fairly realistic with the blue lines accenting any corners/curves, “Gameboy, paper and pens (for emergency blueprints), flashlight, tape, and goldfish crackers?”
South pulled down the front of his mask, completely shutting his face inside the helmet. His voice, robotosized, answered, “Check, check, check, check, check, and, check.”
Truth be told I had a back up to-go bag already packed and in the car that held many of the same items in addition to a container of wet wipes, some plastic bags, and a couple changes of clothes. Just in case–it could make all the difference in a day.
“Alright then, are you ready?” I asked, turning to look at him as I opened the door.
South took off his helmet for a moment and sat it down. I waited until I saw him clap his hands over his ears and nod. I gave him the ‘thumbs up’ sign and clicked the switch that started the automatic garage door opener. It was so bloody loud and grating–it would make my hair stand on end. When it was done, we stepped into the garage.
“Okay surfer man, let’s get loaded up, the sharks will be circling at any moment.”
Helmet still in hand, he made a sound that was suspiciously similar to a snort, “There are no sharks in the garage woman, don’t be daft. There’s no water, they couldn’t breathe.”
I opened the back sliding door for him, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that, sharks need water to breathe don’t they?”
South climbed into the van, and buckled his belt before once more putting the helmet on his head. Before he closed the visor again, he corrected me.
“No, they need to MOVE water through their gills to breathe, if they just sat in the water they’d die.” he informed me, clearly pitying my ignorance.
“Ah, I had forgotten that. You are extremely smart.” I told him, double checking the seat belt as he closed the visor.
“I know,” came the robotic voice once more, “I’m a genius you know.” he stated matter of factly.
I agreed and shut his door before climbing into my own seat. When I was settled myself I put the van in reverse but kept my foot on the break long enough to prompt him.
“What does South do when the van is moving?” I asked.
He gave a long sigh and in the most bored electronic voice possible replied, “South will sit in his seat, keep his seat belt buckled and will not open the door or put any of his body parts outside of the van.”
“You are are brilliant.” I told him.
“Yes, we have established this,” he reminded me, “Can we go now, we’re going to be late.”
We left and managed to arrive at the office only sixteen minutes late. The psychiatrist welcomed us and once we were in her office, she turned to South and introduced herself to South
“Hello, my name is Jackie and I’m glad you came to talk to me today.”
My son paused for a moment then extended his hand that lacked any armor pieces.
“I’m IronMan South…you aren’t going to look at my man-parts are you?”
She glanced over his head at me and for a moment I met her gaze with my own, waiting to see what she’d say.
“Well it’s nice to meet you, and no, I’m just going to talk to you a little bit if that’s alright.” she told him, shaking his outstretched hand, and then turned to me, “and it’s nice to meet you too…” she said, pausing to wait for my name.
“You too,” I said, glad she hadn’t offered me her hand as I offered her a real, not social, smile. “I’m IronMan’s mom.”