I have helped my son out of the shower and wrapped him in a large towel when he fixes his gaze on me. Looking deeply into my eyes, a sense of questioning wonder spreads across his face. For a boy who usually avoids eye contact whenever possible, this is a beautiful moment of shared intimacy. He studies me for a moment, before sweetly asking me, “What are those balls?” “They’re called pupils, son” I answer. “Not those balls” he replies, “these ones on my winky.”
Looking down, I realise he is cupping his scrotum. My heart sinks.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older”, I vaguely promise. “Not older! Now!” he demands. I sigh deeply, and hesitate. Whatever I tell him, there are likely to be repercussions.
He still has not stopped talking about the version of the birds and the bees my wife offered to him a couple of weeks ago. The first I knew about it was when he found a seed in the garden and said, “you can put it in mummy’s tummy.” “What?” I asked, before he added, “and make a baby”. He has not stopped asking about when he was an “Umbrio”, and by that I mean not stopped asking at school, at home or out and about. His T.A knows all about my seeds and where I put them. He’s also asked if Daddy got a sharp knife to get him out of Mummy’s tummy, which is a worrying assumption for him to make. He’s presented his mummy with a snail, and asked her to try growing that too. He has the high functioning autists ability to ask the most pertinent questions, and then fixate on the answers, talking about it endlessly, obsessively and inappropriately.
My wife is nowhere to be seen on this occasion. Probably skiving off downstairs (or, as she calls it, “Making the lunches, packing the kid’s bags, ironing the uniforms, tidying the living room and putting the bins out”). I’m on my own with this one. At least I know the answer this time. Last week he asked, “Why am I a boy?” He also asked, “Am I real?” today (are they reading ‘Pinocchio’ at school?).
Okay. Deep breath. Straight face. Here goes. “They’re called testicles”. A look of utter delight spreads across his face. “TEST TICKLES!” he roars, like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard. “TEST! TICKLES!”
“Not test tickles, testicles” I explain, although at this point I’m starting to wonder if the correct term is actually ‘testes’. Not that it matters. B has all the information he needs. I wonder how he will make use of it?
Of course, I love that my boy is so full of questions. For one, it shows the remarkable progress he has made in his speech. There was a time when this would not have seemed likely. And then there is the fact that he is so inquisitive, curious and, increasingly, aware of himself and the world around him.
This sense of self-awareness is a wonderful development for a boy who, for so long, was pretty oblivious to his surroundings or his place in them. He was the boy in the bubble. Now he seems to want to make sense of the world, of what’s real and what’s pretend. Mind you, he still has zero awareness of his own body in space. We both watched him walk into a door earlier, resulting in his latest bruise and a mini-meltdown.
As he becomes more self-aware, the questions will no doubt come thick and fast. How long will it be before the questions take on a more serious tone? Before he starts noticing the things about himself that set him apart from others? Perhaps most obvious will be the question, “Why is there always an adult glued to my side, all day long, at school?” How long until that dreaded day when he asks, “Why am I autistic?”
That could be the day I no longer have the answers that my son needs. Since we first began to suspect that our son could be autistic, I have been asking questions. ‘Life with an Autistic Son’ is full of such questions. What is missing are the answers.
I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand autism, or why my son is autistic. But in a way, as time goes by, that becomes less of a problem. The days of trawling through autism books looking for ‘the answer’, or more importantly, ‘the solution’ are behind me. I doubt I’ll ever lose my appetite for learning about autism, but I no longer let it consume me.
The only thing that matters is that I am there for my son when he has questions. And that my love for him is completely and utterly unquestionable.