With baby Ben, I felt all the radiant happiness of a new mother. Sometimes it felt as if Ben was my first—this was the way I had imagined motherhood from the beginning. In other ways, though, because I had so much experience under my belt, I enjoyed him like a third baby: a relatively easy though tiring addition to the family. When he was six months old, I signed us up for mother-and-baby music class. It was the first time I’d taken a class with one of my boys since the terrible swim class with Nat years before. But Ben was a little odd compared to the other children in the class, growling at them at first, and then acting fearful and withdrawn. I was not going to quit this time, however, and I persevered until he felt comfortable with the other babies. A little panic arose in the back of my mind but it stayed back there, not blowing up on me until Ben was two.
My fears about Ben began to grow sometime during his second year, as he occasionally struggled to answer a simple yes-or-no question, or refused to do something I asked of him with more tenacity than I had ever experienced with Max.And then one day, he pointed up at the grille in the bathroom ceiling, an ornate Victorian iron vent cover, and said, “Rabbits!” I looked hard at the thing, and suddenly, with Rorschach-like clarity, the shape of rabbits appeared in relief against the abstract pattern. I flashed back to an autism support group story told by Linda, who had been walking with her son Josh down a school corridor when he suddenly exclaimed, “Green!” After looking and looking, Linda finally saw what he had seen: a miniscule green dot of paint amidst a sea of colors, papers, and art projects. The knack of picking out the irrelevant, or the off-topic, is a very common autistic trait.
Even though I had so much evidence of normal development in Ben, he saw rabbits where most others merely saw a swirly design, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. All I knew was autism; that was the filter through which I looked at the world. I now think of this event as a example of Ben’s creative, artistic sensibility, but then I feared it was a sign of autism. Now I sometimes think of Ben as being “dusted” with autism spectrum disorder, a light, fairy’s sprinkling, just enough to make him extremely focussed and wildly creative, as well as an early reader, but not enough for a psychologist to detect, or to cause learning problems in school.
Copyright 2005, Susan Senator