Portraits of Autism #13

Last week I asked my boy what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas.
He broke into a huge grin and said: 'A present!'
So I push: 'what would you like your present to be?'
He looks puzzled for a second, then he understand and the grin is back: 'A bus!'
- A bus for your playmobil?
- Yes!
- And anything else?
Now he can barely contain his joy:  'A car and a taxi too!'

This is not something we've had before. Apart from a good long period between his second and seventh birthday, where every time he walked past a sweet shop he would scream, Max has not asked for presents. His interest in receiving them has been on and off - never on for long enough to open all the gifts he would be given on a birthday or for Christmas.

So contrast last week  to my attempt at getting any kind of answer to the same question last year and his reply then: 'No! No Santa! Santa is ill! There will be no presents!' And then he covers his ears - the autistic signal for 'I don't want to be around this sort of shit, I'm in danger of freaking out big way, get me out of here now.' Ok. Santa is ill. He can't make it.

Now he was happy enough when presents were handed to him - as long as there was no Santa in sight. But after he'd opened a couple that was enough. And then, of course, there is no garantee he'd play with them - not straight-away in any case, and sometimes not for months. 

Last summer he got the idea of presents. My mother was visiting and he anticipated opening up her case and finding presents. He even stipulated that the present would be a plane. It turned out he was right - I managed to sneak in a quick phone call to her while she still had time to buy one. When his other grandmother visited, she was already in the plane when he told me she was bringing a bus. Oops. So I bought one on her behalf and that seemed to go down ok. Ish.

We've been working on his materialistic streak since July. After each session of homework, he gets a sticker. Five sticker means he can choose a small gift.  The first few times he asked for bottles of bubble mixture, the only non-edible thing he'd ever really asked for. Then it was drawing pencils. Then  in August, he got a brilliant idea. He asked for his very own water dispenser, tea-glasses and tea-spoons, so he could make himself (very watery) Turkish tea. Later that month, he dragged my husband into a toy shop. Full of apprehension they went. Max picked up a small plastic airplane that he'd spotted through the window: the cheapest thing in the shop!

Now every Sunday, after he's completed his sticker chart, we go to the toy section of the supermarket. So far he has had a dozen small airplanes and half a dozen small buses.

I don't know how to feel about his lack of imagination when it comes to gifts. He really does seem to enjoy the buses and planes. And he loves playing with his other toys as well, but just hasn't gotten around to thinking that he might like to play with other things he hasn't got. This might also be a function of the fact that he's just not exposed to that much advertising. His sister never really asks for much either. For Christmas she wants the Dr Who Annual, the Guinness Book of Records, and a couple of novels. That's it.

When I walk into a toy shop, or even a book shop, I see all these little plastic things that boys, younger than Max even, lust after. I don't know what they are, but I know they are hugely significant to little boys in terms of their social positions at school. If you don't have the latest 'thing', you know, the one with the lethal rabbit that turns into an atomic coffee cup, then you're nothing, your friends won't play with you, and you will be miserable. Max doesn't even know what these things are.  Part of me is glad that he's missing out on mindless materialism and the exposure to toy weapons. Part of me is sad that he doesn't belong in this way. On the other hand, I frequently find marbles in his pockets - that all important primary school currency. If I ask him where he got them from,  he'll give me a girl's name. Clearly some kids at the school want him to belong!

But now, finally, it seems he's understood that presents can be chosen, and asked for in advance in order to guarantee their arrival. This weekend, between finishing up the Advent Calendar and making the Christmas pudding, we are going to write our very first letter to Santa together.

Now I'll just have to figure out a way of explaining letters...

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Anonymous said...

My autistic son is one for cars (predictably). Everytime he gets to choose a reward, or is told he's getting a gift, or has the choice of toys to play with out-and-about, it's always "car!". I constantly try to expand his interests and expose him to new potential-passions. I succeed sometimes, but it always gets back to cars sooner or later. At least I know what present he'll always be happy to receive! And thankfully there are a lot of very cheap cars on the market (he also doesn't have an awareness of brands or quality), so it doesn't break the bank.

Sandrine said...

I agree with you about the cheap cars! That's enabled me to give Max small presents every week for homework being done. However, here's a cautionary tale:last sunday Max told me he wanted a green car as his reward. As we approached the supermarket, he specified that he wanted this car to drive his dad to the pool... We had an ensuing episode in the shop where he was not budging from the row with the pedal cars...

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