My daughter’s autism diagnosis process involved piles of paperwork, doctor visits, and a visit to a central observation office where we did more paperwork and hours of observation. The day before that visit I was nervous. I had spent a year wondering and waffling, and I felt extremely anxious about labeling her, about how that would impact her for the long term, about whether everyone would just say I’m crazy and making it all up. So that day, and really the whole year, I dealt with this stress by searching the internet for information so that I could diagnose myself, so I could walk into these offices fully confident. And I always doubted and wondered, until that day I found a video of a child with autism laughing.
I think it was this one, but I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I watched it over and over and I was very sure that my daughter was on the spectrum. Because this was her same explosion of silliness, her delight in being ridiculous.
Ever since, it’s the fun side, not the delays and frustrations, that make me know not only that the autism diagnosis is certain but also that it’s helpful. It’s the modified, autism-friendly library story times that are miraculously better for us, or the movies that are “sensory friendly” with the lights on.
Antoinette Portis’ Froodle is about delight in being ridiculous. It’s about play, variation, and how what doesn’t seem normal can be the way we deepen our friendships. It’s about birds who want to say silly words and not just “chirp” and “peep” anymore, and the crow who first tries to straighten them out and then learns reluctantly how to have fun. It is by far my daughter’s favorite book.
The random outbursts of silly words in Froodle remind me of those moments when my daughter is having so much fun and bursts out with quotes from a tv show–like The Octonauts or Paw Patrol. Other kids and adults find this disconcerting, but it’s her way of saying that she’s happy to see you or loving what you are doing together. She loves these two shows, both of which focus on a set of friends who work together and joke together. In real life that kind of social interaction is really hard for her. So when she quotes these shows to you, it means you’ve really connected.
I had been getting frustrated in the past six months with the fact that we barely watch anything other than Octonauts. I can’t suggest a new tv show, pick a movie, or even listen to or watch something myself without frightening my daughter or making her anxious because of the noise and my distraction. I love narrative, so not being able to watch anything new is very frustrating. I was trying to be patient and understanding about how overwhelming a new show is, but then I ran into Amethyst’s “Ask an Autistic” series on youtube, and this video on scripting:
Her joy here is so clear, and instead of just being tolerant I’m trying to find ways to be part of that joy with my daughter. This morning, the first thing she said when she woke up was that Peso (her imaginary friend but also a character on The Octonauts) was a baby but was growing bigger. And Captain (Barnacles) remembers being a (polar bear) cub. And I replied “oh, like when he was little and played with his sister Bianca.” And she smiled this sweet, joyful smile, tucking her body deep in the couch, and replied “I know it, with his sister Bianca.” “Then they get their badges, right? What kind of badge? I don’t remember” I wondered. She didn’t remember the name of the badge either, so we turned on that episode.
We’re together in this and it’s so much fun. The moments when I join her in her passions, when I know about Captain and his sister Bianca and show her that I’m really paying attention, that I too care about these characters and love them, those moments are beautiful. She sees so much value in my words in those moments and listens, looks, pays attention and feels safe.