Daily living with autism #4 — A bus ride to Neverland

Yesterday was the last day of the week-long March school holidays, so we figured let’s take C for a bus ride.

Other than a forgettable morning hike up north three days ago, mired by sweltering heat and a less-than-scenic route, we had spent most of the week at home as the boys completed holiday homework from their school teachers.

Something stress-free and outta-the-house was clearly in order, if we didn’t want this week to end with a dismal thud.

The plan was for me to take C on a joy ride to catch a public bus while his brother goes biking with mommy. Hopefully C and I could catch one of the new double decker fleets which featured not one but two exit doors and two flights of stairs to the upper deck.

As luck would have it, we ended up on a plain old single decker bus instead! Oh well…the point is to spend quality time with C, whatever bus we caught.

At least that was my plan for the day.

Reality can hit you like a bus!

Photo by Bob Coyne on Unsplash

One of the stark realities of living with C is that quality time and social conversations are rarely driven by me. In fact, to harbour such a notion with a special needs kid is a recipe for disaster!

However, an unavoidable thing with social conversations is making light, reciprocal conversations that cover a wide range of topics. Unfortunately, it isn’t unusual for C and others on the spectrum to be challenged in this regard. For they are more likely to fixate on just one or two topics nine out of ten times. They will keep circling back again and again to that topic in the course of conversing, wearing out even the most skilful and patient of listeners.

It’s fine of course if the other person has the same interest; miserable if they don’t. It’s like being repeatedly hit by a bus as the person on the spectrum drones on and on about the same thing throughout the exchange!

Another subtle conversational skill most of us take for granted, but those like C lack, is the ability to ask and answer questions and to stay on point.

Like a tennis match. You ask a question (serve the tennis ball) and the other guy hears it (catches the ball) and replies (hits back) while also asking his own question. And so the conversation proceeds; on and on, to and fro, back and forth, serve and volley. Always with the same “ball” (topic).

Not so for C and other folks on the spectrum. More often they either try but miss the ball (topical question); or let it pass altogether, while hitting a “different ball” (tangent answer or unrelated question) over the net.

In my experience, this happens daily with C.

Yesterday on the bus, it was no different.

He’s Peter Pan!

Photo by Bob Coyne on Unsplash

Each day, at some cellular level, I have to believe my presence in our conversation is both welcomed and needed by C. Doesn’t everyone desire to be listened to while they talk about what matters to them? Often hoping and believing it matters to the listener too?

But the truth is C, though he’s already 11 years old, is still talking and behaving like someone half his age. And his still-diminutive physique viz-a-viz kids one or two years younger doesn’t help either. Which means he’s been talking mostly about stuff that would interest kids who are five or six years old.

For the past five to six years!

Which is what dawned on me as we rode the bus yesterday: I’ve actually been “stuck” these past five to six years talking to Peter Pan, the fabled boy living in Neverland. The boy who won’t grow up!

That probably explained why I ended up texting a friend more than talking with C on the bus ride yesterday. It just didn’t seem like he needed me around to converse with, so busy was he looking for his fave sign…

…”Pedestrian and cyclists use crossing”

Source: v3k medium

No, I’m not proud of what I did; or rather, what I didn’t do on that bus yesterday.

Now just to be fair to me, I did try in the beginning. As he sat down happily at a window seat and the bus commenced its route to who knows where, I would sit beside him and together we look out the window. We would identify different road signs and traffic signals together. He enjoyed calling them out one by one, especially those to do with pedestrian crossings or sharing tracks with bicycles.

Each time he sees his favourite sign — “pedestrian and cyclists use crossing” — he would recite it aloud. He does that incessantly, sometimes varying the intonation or delivering it with a different accent.

It’s all pretty cute for the first ten minutes or so as we keep a lookout for those signs (he usually pays scant heed to the rest).

But the inevitable always happens.

Though the landscape changes, his laser focus to find the next “pedestrian and cyclists use crossing” sign persists. However much I try to draw his attention to other stuff we see — vehicles, buildings, expressways, street furnitures, people; even the bus with two exit doors we wanted to catch initially — our friend remained vigilant for his precious “pedestrian and cyclists use crossing” sign.

So it became for me another monotonous ride to Neverland, with Peter Pan by my side! So much for father-son bonding. The unavoidable question then looms large in my mind: how long more son? How long more?

I don’t know. And neither, I suspect, does he.

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