Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Passing of Genetic Destiny?

Even as far back as when Bonnie Jean and I began serious dating, we talked about the possibility that our kids would be autistic.  It was just part of the package that came with the idea of marrying an autistic man.  I seem to remember Bonnie Jean saying that once she understood me better, she didn't think she'd have a problem with it.

When we got pregnant after a few years of trying, it wasn't too far from our minds.  The medical intake forms for the OBGYN asked if there was any history of autism in the family, and I seem to remember joking that I wondered whether the doctor would be surprised if I told him that yes there was a history of autism in the family because I had Asperger Syndrome.

When Taliesin was born I don't remember how it came up but I took one of my blind leaps and somehow ended up disclosing my autism to one of the nurses at the hospital who was absolutely fascinated by me.  Talking about my Asperger Syndrome diagnosis can be hard even with people that I trust will react well- even to the point that I've had times that the experience leaves me shaking.  But sometimes I just dive in and let it flow.  Fortunately it turned out well.

When Taliesin was late with his language development milestones or broke into sobs of tears because a stranger dared smile at him, autism wasn't far from our minds.  He was so scared of strangers that we had to tell the people who took care of nursery at the church not to pick him up to calm him down when he was upset.  He'd calm down faster if he wasn't also screaming about someone touching and looking at him.  Fortunately they were willing to believe us and reported with some bewilderment that our judgement was right, he calmed down faster on the floor than being cuddled by a stranger.

Some family members have kind of started from the assumption that every one of these signals was a definite sign that our little boy was on the autistic spectrum.  But we never saw enough to consider it a justified assumption.  We've let our pediatricians know our family history and routinely discussed Taliesin's quirks with him.  But until recently our pediatricians had never considered that enough symptoms were falling into place to be taken seriously.  It always seemed a possibility that Taliesin might just inherit a few of my quirks without getting the whole package.  During our last well visit though we explained the severe social anxiety, literal concrete thinking patterns, rigid routines, and ritualistic play patterns that our son was developing.  And now we've got a referral to the University for an autism screening.  While the result isn't certain, we're feeling more settled that they will make an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.

I'm starting to see a lot of my own limitations in my son.  As we were describing how Taliesin literally took months of acclimatization to be willing to talk to the newly moved in neighbor kids because he'd rather just stand there and smile shyly it made me think of myself as an adult at work.  It takes me a long time of adjustment- weeks to months actually-to feel comfortable with a new social group and be ready to do anything much more than just sit there and read by myself.  I'm just happy to have people around so that if I choose to take the effort to interact they'll be there for me.  After a long time maybe I'll find a few people that I can figure out how to talk to on a more chit chat basis.  When changes in seating arrangements force me to sit by new people on a regular basis I quickly become mostly silent and miserable.

Within the last few weeks my son has finally gotten over his initial shyness to try to talk to the new neighbor children.  But somehow they are just feeling confused by his choices of conversation- such as what kinds of shoes they are wearing or whether there are ravens on the roof of the building and what noise they make.  And yes- he knows what ravens look like, along with a number of other birds because his bird obsessed father has been teaching him.  So the little girls he is trying to befriend just ignore him, perhaps just not knowing how to react- especially given his history of not being up to speaking to them.  Just to example how firmly that expectation of his silence has formed, Bonnie Jean saw one of these little girls wanting to play with Taliesin's bike but being stopped by her mom who wanted the little girl to ask Taliesin first.  The little girl burst into tears, crying that Taliesin wouldn't answer.  Fortunately, Taliesin was feeling social and was willing to speak to the girl and answer yes.  And just like me at work trying to figure out how to chit chat with fellow employees, the comfort required to say that much took him months.

When we decided to get pregnant we knew this might be the result.  I've known my life was worth living and therefore worth passing on, especially if I could make it a better life for my son than I had had- undiagnosed and coping with the emotional strain of a sometimes horridly abusive home.  As much as I want to ease the difficulties, I know I won't ever be able to completely make them disappear for him, just like I can't do that for myself.  Like me, he'll be likely to susceptible to episodes of anxiety and depression.  Like me, he'll probably have trouble seeing into his own mind to understand the emotions churning there.

I hope that like me he'll have a passionate commitment to justice, gentleness, and truth.  I hope that like me, he'll be able to take a fierce joy in obsessively enjoying life.  I hope that like me he'll thirst to learn new things all his life.  And I hope that, unlike me, he'll learn much earlier in life to love and understand who he is as he goes through every step of life in his own way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Forward the Foundation

It might surprise many people who know me today as a bookworm who sometimes can't manage basic conversation skills, but I was a delayed reader.  I didn't read until 3rd grade, when I read "The Hobbit."  Then in fourth and fifth grade I read many of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.  My parents wouldn't let me read the whole series because of some of its more adult themes.  But that didn't stop by fifth grade book report from being on "Foundation's Edge" which is the 6th book in the series.  I even had a sculpy clay statue of the spaceship from the picture on the front of the book to go along with it.

One of the books my parents banned me from reading was the second of the two prequels, "Forward the Foundation."  The main character's son marries a prostitute in a really non sexy sub plot, but edgy enough that they thought a little boy like me shouldn't be allowed to read it.  As a result, I knew so many of the characters introduced in "Prelude to Foundation" without knowing much about them or what became of them.  And after all these years I've come back and read the missing piece of the story.  And I find myself kind of mourning the characters.  These characters inhabited my imagination from a very young age- and I find myself having misjudged them at times, misunderstood them at others, or simply failing to understand their life's significance.

For example...

Somehow I missed that the main character had married an android robot.  Its only hinted at in the first book, but just enough that maybe I should have guessed.  I was always dissatisfied with Hari Seldon's relationship with Dors Venaboli- but I judgmentally thought that was because the characters were immoral.  To summarize, at the end of Prelude to Foundation Hari is desperately trying to keep his new found love from leaving him and asks Dors if she'd ever really wanted to kiss or sleep with anyone or if she had just done so because she didn't want to disappoint people.  When she confesses that she simply hasn't wanted to disappoint anyone and she finds that she wants him to kiss her, all my prudish teenage brain could come up with was that the relationship had a jarring lack of depth and all I could see was two people whose sexual side was getting the better of them.  The passage is jarring for a reason.  Dors, as a robot, has a somewhat limited emotional vocabulary and that does limit the depth of the relationship.  But when I read the passage where she lies dying- killed by an assassin trying to kill her to allow the government to kill Hari, and Hari has just barely consciously realized that she is a robot for the first time and she thanks him for making her human, my harshness towards her in my past judgements lies exposed.

I didn't read Prelude to Foundation until rather late in my teenagerhood- it originally having been on the banned book list but eventually I was allowed to read it.  So Hari Seldon was someone that I knew only as a hologram that would appear at critical moments to give prophecy and guidance to the future.  I did not know him as a man.  In Prelude to Foundation he spends his time being a puppet on a string to do the bidding of a telepath robot who mind controls him for the good of galactic mankind- so reading it didn't really help me get to know him that well.  Now I know his life story- how he grew old and died, losing almost every one that was dear to him until he ended dead slumped over in a wheel chair- the tools of his equations and prophecy in his hands.  Again, the limited perspective I had of him earlier is painfully embarressing.

And then there is Eto Demerzel.  The problem with diving into adult science fiction or fantasy as a child is that your imagination has to supply the missing parts that you can't understand.  I actually for a time believed that Eto Demerzel was a computerized hologram of emperor Cleon- made to look more handsome and impressive than the reality.  Since then I have read the Caves of Steel books, and I know all about the past and motivations of Eto Demerzel- Robot Daneel Olivaw.  Lets just say that I felt really emotional reading about the robot attending Hari's funeral, giving one and probably the only public thanks if you will to a life that was devoted to the good of the galaxy because of Daneel's vision for the future.

When I first read these books they were simply adventure stories to me.  Now I'm more mature and can read them more in their proper context because I'm filling in the holes in the story where I wasn't allowed to read when I was a child.  Reading them as an adult I can now fully understand the extent to which Isaac Asimov was a master of science fiction, and I'm thrilled to rediscover his writing.