The above panel illustrates a typical response from Frances at bedtime. Instead of saying goodnight in return, her unique use of language — posing an unrelated question — is the norm. (She is six years old here.)
The following response is one of the most memorable:
My family and I like to reminisce about the camping trip during which we had sought shelter in a bookstore, first from an unbearably hot summer afternoon and then from a tornadic storm later that day.
I was not surprised by the fact that we ended up in a bookstore as we all love books in our family; yet, nobody in our home appreciates a book as much as Frances does.
I first noticed Frances’s fascination with books when she was about five months of age. As she approached toddlerhood, she would peruse them and turn pages in a manner suggestive of a preschool-age child. (To be clear, she was certainly not reading.)
Frances did not play with toys, and she paid attention to household objects and books only. She did not tolerate “tummy time” on the floor until she was eleven months of age, but once she did, she reached for books.
At home, from about the age of 13 months or so, she would use books to make other things, such as towers, and I often found many dozens of books encircling the dining room table like a sidewalk or lined up side-by-side as she aged.
Now, she also reads to me at bedtime, and as her tastes become more obvious to both of us, I’m getting to know her as a reader.
I have a wonderful opportunity to watch as the concept of a book gains dimension to her through reading, and I like to think that she, my ear-covering daughter, is still finding shelter there from a noisy world.
I do not know if there is a connection between autism and water, if a possible connection is merely speculation or if based on data drawn from a study*, but, to me, there does seem to be. I do know that Frances’s fascination with water can be frightening at times. If there is water nearby, she will find it.
We were at an outdoor family gathering last year, and I found myself automatically tallying the neighbouring pools — I was instantly exhausted when I counted four within bolting reach.
Now, Frances was occupied alongside other children but such tolerance of being around others expires quickly; and, though I would have been vigilant with any child, Pink Cup Dad and I took turns being hypervigilant. Her fascination with water combined with an uncanny talent for climbing makes us very nervous.
All of this when considered in light of another of her talents — noticing every element of danger in any situation — gives me pause to think. Because this latter talent borders on super-power ability — including cautiously crossing wooden bridges to avoid splinters — I wonder why it does not include water and climbing. There is a startling lack of awareness of danger.
At any rate, I do not even know if her lack of awareness in these two respects is in any way connected to being unaware of her environment in general when she is technically present but decidedly “absent” or unengaged.
It would be very interesting to know if other parents have these questions, too.
*I always intend to read the latest literature, most recent studies, etc., but the time always eludes me.
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. 🙂