Raising Benjamin Frog – A Mother’s Journey with her Autistic SonAn autistic child’s non-neurotypical perspective on a daily walk to school with his mother. First published as a short story by the child’s counselling centre. The mother’s neurotypical perspective of the same event follows. We hope we’ve given you a glance into the way an autistic mind differs from a neurotypical mind. Written by myself and my son, Benjamin Collier.
THE CROSSING-Part 1
The Child’s Perspective
Along they walked, side by side. He’d been told enough times now to remember the rule. They always walked side by side when they walked to school. He didn’t have to hold her hand; she said that was ok as long as they stayed together. So he walked by her side and talked in his head to his imaginary friends. He was oblivious to his surroundings most of the way and the other mothers and children who walked the same path. But he noticed that some of the other children held hands with their mothers, swinging their arms back and forth. Their mothers had obviously told them that they had to hold hands. He wondered why they had different rules from his mother. He’d come to accept, but still constantly question, why rules applied to some people and not to others. The rules were different for the bigger people, the parents and other adults, and sometimes his big sisters too.
His mother greeted the crossing guard and the other mothers as they came to the crosswalk. Then suddenly, her young son darted from beside her and started off across the road. Approaching cars skidded to a screeching halt. Faces were red with panic and anger. The drivers scowled and the crossing guard blew her whistle with ferocity. The boy’s mother lunged forward and ran to grab her son from in front of the cars. As she did she could hear the other mothers shouting heatedly at her son. “Unruly child!” “That was a stupid thing to do!” “You know you never cross without the crossing guard!” And she heard some mutter under their breath, “Terrible mother” and “Ashamed of herself.” She carried on across the road, holding tightly to his hand now, trying to ignore the comments and keep calm. After all, they didn’t understand. Her son looked like any other child. Why wouldn’t they expect him to follow all the rules?
The boy heard the words they shouted at him, but he took none of it to heart. They were just repeating the rules, feeding him the information he already had. The rules were just stupid. That’s all there was to it. And there were too many of them. He preferred his world. There he could do whatever he wanted without rules and he could play all day and no one got annoyed with him. His world was safer and happier. He wondered why other people didn’t live in their own worlds too. Why did they insist on living in a world that didn’t make any sense? Why did he have to live there?
When they reached the other side of the road his mother kept a tight hold of his hand and told him to look at her eyes. He knew that was the signal she wanted to talk to him. He knew he had done something wrong again. His puzzled little face lifted and he gazed into her eyes, trying his best to concentrate on her words.
“Why did you try crossing the road without the crossing guard?” she asked in a soft voice.
A question? He wasn’t expecting that. Didn’t she already know?
“It was safe to cross,” he answered, “The cars were all far away. I knew they would stop in time and they did. I was right. Why am I not allowed to make the cars stop instead of the crossing guard? Why do I have to wait for her to say it’s safe? Why do the cars listen to her and not me?”
His mother frowned a little, at first, then something lit up in her eye and her lips curled. He believed that was what people called a smile. “Because she has the STOP sign”, his mother said, “And you don’t.”
He thought for a moment, a frown on his tiny forehead. Then he looked up at her and gave her his own smile; he knew she liked that and it’d make her happy. “Okay”, he said in his matter-of-fact voice. Maybe some day when he was old enough he could buy his own STOP sign. Satisfied with that dream of the future, he ran to the playing field. Free for a little while till the bell rang and the confusing rules would start again.
by Benjamin T. Collier
THE CROSSING-Part 2
The Mother’s Perspective
She knew their walk to school was always an adventure to him. They would set off from home and stroll along the sidewalk to the road. It was just the two of them and his four friends; Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello. He never went anywhere without them. They kept him company in a world where she couldn’t go; not yet anyway. They were his companions when no one else wanted to play with him.
At first, he would take them in to Kindergarten with him, but his teacher had become annoyed on several occasions at his lack of attention in class. So now they stopped at the playground on the way to school where he had to say “Goodbye” to his imaginary friends. Sometimes he would look so sad. He asked his mother if they would be alright until he got them after school. They were as real to him as if they were his classmates; maybe more so. They didn’t call him names.
He ran free for a while. She had come to realize that he needed a lot of freedom from the world he didn’t understand. He needed extra time to just ‘be’. She watched him as he mumbled words she couldn’t comprehend; his arms flailing and his voice getting louder with shouts and screams for no apparent reason. He was so happy, just to run and not be confined to rooms and paths and the never-ending rules she had to constantly teach him. Her baby was happy. She loved to watch him play in his world.
He had learned, finally, to stop at the end of the path and wait for her. They had made an agreement that if he stopped all by himself he wouldn’t have to hold her hand anymore. He rarely wanted any physical contact. She missed the sweet baby boy she could hold tight and hug all day. He didn’t seem to want hugs at all, but he would let her kiss him goodnight, and he held her hand if there were cars close by; only if there were cars.
They were nearing the crossing guard when he suddenly darted across the road! She screamed his name as approaching cars barely managed to stop in time. One car came to a screeching halt and she saw the look of horror on the driver’s face. Everyone, the drivers, the crossing guard, the other parents, even the other children, all scowled and shouted at her son. They told him he was a bad boy and he needed to behave better. She ran to the middle of the road and grabbed his hand.
As they finished walking across the road, the crossing guard blew her whistle and held up her sign. The other parents started to cross too. Their whispers were intentionally loud enough for her to hear. “Terrible mother!”, “Should be ashamed of herself!”, “Not enough discipline obviously!” were all ringing in her ears as she held tight to his tiny hand and got him safely across the road and away from the other parents and children.
She felt like shouting at them all, “He has autism! That’s why he sometimes behaves like he does! What’s your excuse?!” But she had tried her best not to let her son see her get angry with other people. She didn’t want him to think that’s the way people should deal with disagreements. So she asked him quietly why he had run across the road instead of waiting for the crossing guard to tell them it was safe.
He explained, in his simple, broken words, that he had looked to make sure the cars were far away and he knew they could stop before they got to the crossing. He asked her why the cars wouldn’t stop for him if he wanted to cross the road. Why couldn’t he make the cars stop if he was right? Why did they only stop for the crossing guard?
His mother frowned a little at first, then her eyes lit up and she smiled at him.
“Because she has the STOP sign”, she said, “and you don’t”.
He looked at her, puzzled. She was used to that look all too well. Then a feint grin came across his little face; a rarity for him. She loved to see him smile. Off he ran into the playing field, alone, or maybe not. Maybe he had some other imaginary friends who he left at school until the next day. Either way, he was free again, happy in his own world for a few minutes, until he had to join the other children in this world again and deal with another rule that made no sense to him at all.
by Lynne Collier
Both books are about the same journey but from totally different perspectives.
Our thanks to Dr. Merry Lin for inviting us to write our story. If you would like to contact Dr. Lin and her associates about Autism, go to LifeCare Centres.