On choosing pets 

For many years, watching documentaries has been part of Frances’s very strict bedtime routine: if she does not watch a documentary or if she falls asleep during one, she will wake in the middle of the night crying and repeating, “I didn’t watch a documentary.”

So, I try to start bedtime early enough so that she can watch a documentary and have enough time to have her questions answered.

In the following panel, Frances (6) and I are watching one of her favourites — it is about turtles and tortoises. 

Our family hasn’t really sat through a television show or a movie in years — at least, not in a way that most people would expect. 

Even during her documentaries, the question experience is so intense that we have to enable subtitles whenever possible.

While we may not be able to watch a movie without constant interruptions, the extra effort is worth it as the questions are oftentimes more entertaining than the movie itself.  đź™‚

 

Nurturing self-acceptance

 
One of my projects has been to illustrate a story about my maternal grandparents for my children. My mother’s parents lived a life that appeared to be supported, rather than encumbered, by self-consciousness.

My grandparents exemplified self-acceptance, so I hope that they make good story subjects.
In a journal dated November 2012, I wrote:

My grandparents lived exactly as they wanted to live and didn’t bow to societal pressures to be like other Canadian grandparents. My grandmother went to work while my grandfather stayed home. My grandmother didn’t cook, clean, garden, knit or sew; my grandfather did.

They didn’t own a house; they owned a condo. There wasn’t a playground when we visited; I played in my grandmother’s home office among ill-arranged furniture. There weren’t toys; my grandmother gave me calculators and stationery for entertainment… 

Above all, they demonstrated that being different is, oddly, what makes us like everyone else.

I want both children to know that Frances is not different because she has autism spectrum disorder (that is only one facet of her uniqueness); she is “different”, as we all are, simply because she is human.     

 

Escaping the confines…

We were leaving a bookstore when my six-year-old daughter’s frantic little voice reached me. Frances excitedly  waved a book from her favourite Mo Willems series in my face:

It was as if she had always hoped that the author’s characters would develop greater self-awareness. I couldn’t stop myself from giggling.

On Technology…

 

That the world doesn’t always make sense is something to which we all can relate in some measure; however, to one who is so intensely logical, I think that it must be simply mind-boggling at times. (In this panel, she is five years old.)

Driving 

My art journal began well before our younger daughter, Frances, 7, received the diagnosis of high functioning autism spectrum disorder (aged 6), before I suspected or acknowledged that her development was not typical, and before Aspergers became known as HF ASD.

Keeping the journal has been useful in a few respects: it was sufficiently informational to myself and others to aid in the process of getting Frances diagnosed; it gave me something to do during the waiting periods between the necessary referrals in that process; importantly, I have been able to keep track of most of all the amazing things that my children have said.

Now, I realize that it has an even greater utility than I originally imagined: I feel fortunate to know our daughter, and I think everyone should know someone with HF ASD; by sharing the journal, I hope that it helps others to appreciate just how enriched our lives can be both by an awareness of neurodiversity and by neurodiversity itself.

The preceding graphic panel illustrates an aspect of my daughter’s HF ASD that is not well known outside our family.

Though all children that I have met are naturally inquisitive, there is something intensely different about my daughter’s curiosity: she is driven to ask questions, all day and all night, to the degree that she does so in her sleep; she even wakes up in the middle of the night to ask them.

Most markedly, she speaks in questions. That is, she interacts with others by posing questions but, for now, she leaves the impression that she would have asked those questions regardless of another’s presence. (My husband and I affectionately and privately say that Frances doesn’t usually require the presence of someone else for a conversation.)

Her questions are a constant source of joy and amazement for us, as they most often reflect a philosophical turn of mind, an abiding interest in science and animals and technology, or an outside-the-box perspective of an everyday thing.

Frances’s queries often catch us, my husband and myself, off guard, too, because they occur out of the blue and lack a point of reference for us.

They usually occur in rapid-fire succession, each following the other so closely that answering all of them is physically impossible. (I timed her once: 33 questions in 11 minutes.)

Admittedly, it isn’t always easy: her father, her sister and I have tacitly developed rules regarding, for example, driving with her. (Surpisingly, these “rules” are often only discovered when one of them is contravened.)

If you’re going to answer dozens of questions, you might as well steer them away from the topics that are the most difficult for you to sustain. In our case, Frances has an intense interest in dolls of all types (and babies) and, unfortunately, we simply don’t enjoy dolls as much as she does. So, under no circumstance is anyone permitted to mention or to give her a MapleLea doll catalogue or the latest BabiesRus catalogue while we are driving! (This rule was discovered when her sister and I looked accusingly at my husband during one drive: “Wait, what? Who gave her the catalogue?”)

On the occasions when someone does give her a doll or baby catalogue, the intensity of the ‘question experience’ is increased many times.

So, yes, Frances’s fierce curiosity can be slightly exhausting at times, but the gems that we receive as a result are invaluable rewards for exercising patience. These gems are now a driving force behind my journal.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the questions and conversations — in journal entries — as much as I enjoy making them available.

Going to school

It’s always difficult dropping off Frances at school: she always says that she doesn’t want to go, that she hates school, that she wants to stay home with me.

These statements can be chalked up to anxiety of the mostly anticipatory kind. She worries. A lot.

But there is yet another reason because of which taking her to school is not easy: the absence of social language and social behaviour. For example, though we are accustomed to not hearing goodbyes or being greeted when we get home, it is altogether another story when you leave a young child of whom you’re uncertain actually knows that you’re leaving. 

On one day in January 2014, I stood in the doorway in my underwear blowing kisses for the first time. It was incredible — and Frances was already almost 7 years old.

Until this past September, in fact, Frances did not say or do anything if someone left or if she was walking out the door. At the start of the school year, Frances began to say, “See you tomorrow” as she left. It was enough for me! 

Most parents can count on even a little, half-hearted wave, hug, goodbye, or slight glance at dropoff, and this would be reassuring to me. I still say goodbye, tell her I love her, and hug her if she lets me. But, by the time that she is on a mat or at her desk, she has already shut down.

Yes, leaving her at school, at times, has been heartbreaking, because I know that, had she wanted me to stay longer, she would be devastated to discover that I’d already left. (Separation anxiety and extreme emotional sensitivity are very prominent in her.)

So, despite the fact that she is highly verbal (and holds discussions that one would expect of an adult), she has struggled very noticeably with social (pragmatic) language and gestures.

I could recount so many humorous or cute (or even awkward) moments in which pragmatic language has been the issue, but I’ll save that for another time.