Thursday, December 29, 2011

When New is Scary

Tonight just a brief little ditty on one of Gus' specific peculiarities (as any child with autism, he has a few more pronounced ones than the average Joe, and his may be his and his alone).

Gus is torn to pieces by conflicting emotions whenever he is faced with a new book or movie.
Mind you, my child is a brave soul, considering that much of our world and what we do in it, makes little sense to him, he courageously charges ahead most days and gamely adjusts his coping mechanisms, depending on how things go.
He is not a scaredy cat on his worst day, but bring a new book into the house or load up a new DVD into his player, and he goes and hides in the nearest closet, or - as he did tonight - decides to go keep the washer company out in the cold dark laundry room, rather than sit down to watch CARS 2 (our Christmas present to him).

As much as he loves all his books that he is familiar with and adores all the movies that he has memorized every line of, Gus is deeply troubled by new material.
As his mother and chief book/movie introducer, I find this his most entertaining idiosyncracy. It almost always unfailingly follows the same formula with such transparency that it allows much room for private amusement.

You can almost see the dark clouds move aside to let the sunshine into his eyes and watch his furrowed brow ever so subtly smooth out when you've made it through the first two read-throughs of an unfamiliar book. After that it is love-at-third-sight and until you introduce another book (and even after you do) this once-fearsome thome, will become one of his most cherished friends. He will request to read it until he has it memorized it and he will quote it whenever the context (however thinly stretched) allows it. He will study it on his own and recite it to himself in times of distress. He will absorb it and make it his - every last letter of it.

Movies are a bit more of a time investment. Ideally you sit down with him and talk him through it - all the way through. If you let him stop, he will want to go back to the beginning the next time around and watch it to that exact spot again, before turning it off - again. That's why neither Jacob nor I have ever seen Ratatouille all the way through (we may never see the end EVER) Sometimes you can inch further and further into a movie until you got him on board with the entire feature length, at which point he will sit and absorb and absorb and absorb. Until he has all the lines memorized, all the movements catalogued for reenactment and has completely fallen in love with all the supporting characters (Gus rarely seems to be very interested in the movie's star...a very fetching trait if you ask me).

In either medium he will protest tooth and nail for a new one to disturb his world. He looks (and is) visibly distraught. He slaps books shut, refuses to sit, marches in cagey circles nearby. Pretends to do something else, but ultimately he can't stay away and so submits himself to the torture of getting to know something new - a new story, a new character, new pictures, new songs...all things he will love in a very short time, but for now abhors with every fiber of his little body and brain.

So far, I haven't been successful in reminding him that he has not loved all his favorite books or movies when they first came into his life. I can see his incomprehension at the very suggestion that "Little Engine That Could" or "Cars" were once not liked by him. He simply does not remember a time without them.

So Christmas leaves us with five new books and one movie. We will have our share of arms flailing, hands wringing and tempers flaring, before we settle in to get to know something new.

It is fascinating to me to see a small person struggle so mightily with what most of us seem to enjoy - new stuff, new faces, new stories. I think this aversion will color all of Gus' life. He will likely struggle to make friends, but if he ever makes one - or two, or three - he will be the most loyal friend they ever make. Likewise, I sense that he will struggle with interests, hobbies, passions, but once acquired he will stop at little to pursue them to every tiniest facet possible.

I have no doubt about that. If nothing else that's what books and Pixar have taught us so far.

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