|his own heartbeat||
2 June 2001
|The last time we brought Damian to see Dr. Jay was January 19th, a date I remember with extreme clarity. The day we confronted the fact that there was something going wrong with our little boys development. One of those days that changes everything even if you dont know it right away, that divide life into "before" and "now."
So his benign three-year-old checkup this Thursday was a gauge of sorts. We measured who Damian is now along with his height and weight. Theres no scale or ruler on a wall for the internal stuff, of course. You have to look and listen and remember.
Damian brought his very own doctors kit along, ready for action. He didnt need it for a while, though: first, a nurse came in to ask pertinent questions like "does he jump?" and "what are his eating habits like?" She started by addressing everything to Damian, clearly expecting a response. I winced and jumped in, "Do you know about Damian?" She said no. I said "Hes on the autistic spectrum. Its very mild and hes doing great, but..."
She finished my sentence: "But he probably wont be answering my questions." Right.
It went smoothly from then on, though I felt like we were hastening to assure her he really is a normal kid for all his issues. Its an odd thing, when you tell someone whats going on with him. Even medical professionals dont quite get it, I think. They have an image in their minds and Damian doesnt fit that image. So they either treat him like he does, and therefore massively underestimate him, or theyre baffled and not quite sure how to proceed, or theyre simply impressed by how very high functioning he can be. I like that best, of course, but I wonder if it skims the surface of denial. Perhaps the only real approach is to say "This is a child. Lets see what he can do and who he is and just use the terminology to give us insight but not preconceptions." If thats possible, given human nature. Im not sure it is. I hope so, though.
No matter. The nurse left. After half an hour of desultory play, snacking on pretzels, and reading picture books, Dr. Jay showed up. He greeted Damian warmly. Damian didnt exactly acknowledge him, and quickly slipped from Dans lap to the floor, where he got intensely involved with a wireframe bead toy, the very same toy he glommed onto to shut out Dr. Jay and this so-strange environment back in January. It felt for that moment as if time stood still and all the progress was illusion.
I brought him back to my lap, told him who Dr. Jay was, asked him if he saw him. Damian pointed readily. Okay, thats something. Not much, but something. A beginning of sorts. It got better fast, though. Damian fished out some tools from his doctors kit, compared them with the real thing. Dr. Jay declared Damians set much more colorful.
After that things were just fine. When Dr. Jay asked if he could look at Damians feet, Damian nodded his consent to having his shoes and socks removed.
When Dr. Jay put a shoe on his ear, Damian laughed. When Dr. Jay asked if Damian knew how tall kids grow when they eat broccoli, Damian was mute but readily lifted his hand to match ours in illustration of "so tall." When Dr. Jay made "scary noises" as he flew his instruments toward Damian, Damian made the selfsame scary noises, saying "pop!" and "zap!" right back.
He spoke, too, real words, but Im having trouble remembering exactly what he said. He needed prompting, I do remember that, but he spoke readily and clearly. Damian had a good time. Dr. Jay was visibly relieved. He said here was proof positive that its a spectrum, that theres no such thing as a monolithic definition of the thing.
As Damian listened, he made a rhythmic noise in his throat, mimicking his own heartbeat. When we left, we had to prompt a bye-bye wave, but Damian looked Dr. Jay in the eye as he walked out the door, and we were all well satisfied.
copyright 2001 Tamar