Saturday, June 25, 2011

Getting excited about hair gel...

I am going to pre-warn all those who think this is a running blog.  Generally it is, but I do other stuff as well.  Unfortunately world-famous super-hero isn't one of my other roles.  General barefoot drunkard, yep that's my evening job.  My other role in life -my day job- is a Mum to an autistic kid.  This post is about that...

I walk in after my Doctor's appointment into the drop-in day-care D had gone to after morning Kindergarten.  It's actually not a drop-in day-care as such, but the owner, Helen, has known us since Pre-school times and in times of need she picks up D after class and looks after him if I am running late.  Without her, my life as an 'almost' single-mum, (i.e. single Mum between the hours of 7-7) with no family would be super-painful.  "CKC" as we know it, runs an pre/post school care program, so there is a whole mixture of ages and demographics in the group. Digressing.. anyway. I pick him up and he announces...

 "Mummy I want to get spikey hair for my girlfriends.  Do I have any other clothes? You know smarter ones. Can I borrow your make-up I need to look beautiful"

He's 6 and we haven't really had any discussion about how your appearance can be viewed by others.  In fact, I am glad if I manage to wrestle his clothes on the right way before school.  When he has matching sock's I almost call a national party.  We aren't a family that concentrate on how we look.  To be honest I am usually found turning up at the school gate at drop-off in running gear and hair that needs to be washed.  At the pick-up the only change in my appearance is that I now stink.  You get the idea.  However, this isn't why D's comment was so amazing, (well amazing to us that is).

He's Autistic -okay mildly- but one of the common characteristics that Autistic kids share, is that they don't give a fudge what anyone else thinks.  D falls into this group in spades.  It all comes down to something Psychologists called "Theory of Mind".  Essentially, understanding that other people have different thoughts to us.  Other people view and judge us on their own personal or social rules.  It's the basis of empathy, the basis of understanding social cues and I suppose the basis of basic grooming.

Most Autistic kids (and adults) don't have "Theory of Mind".  They don't give a 'rat's arse' what you think of them.  A lecturer on one of my courses once said you can't embarrass an Autistic person into doing something, because they aren't embarrassed.  They also believe that everyone is thinking the same thing they are; hence the random comments about unrelated topics in the middle of conversations, why you can't shut them up if they start talking and how they laugh inappropriately.  The whole "If I do this, people will think..." Autistic people just don't get it.

So to have someone on the spectrum say "I want to look good because it will make someone like me more", (although looks aren't generally considered the meter you should base your friendships), well it's huge.  It means that they are concerned about what other people think about them and what they do.

Yes, I know that most 6 year olds will want to look good for their friends.  That they will want to act correctly to get praise.  This behaviour is all embryonic.  Children pick this up from a very early age from the body cues and "un-spoken" language that we all give out every moment of the day.  "Theory of Mind" is something we instinctively learn.  I know I shouldn't make a big deal...

Yet, I understood what I huge step this was for my little one.  I realised that his request to dress up in a yellow shirt and wear a necklace of pony beads was the formation of a type of "Theory of Mind".  That this could mean that he could more easily learn social interaction.  This could mean that would develop more advanced empathy.  That social rules won't have to be taught via lists and scripts.  He is understanding that what people think of him matters.  Party? You bet ya! I almost had to stop myself writing to the Prime Minister announcing that "On this Day, D started to develop the concepts of "Theory of Mind", please make this a National Holiday"

So yes, I brought him hair-gel to spike his hair - even though I just blow-dry mine… maybe.  Yes, I let him chose the most outrageous outfit he wanted - even though he looked like a lemon.  No, I didn't let him near my make-up.  It's not that I care about if he wears make-up, but last time he raided my cupboard it cost me a $100 and I spent 2 weeks walking around with a kid that looked like he had been beaten. (Long story.. very long). *Rolls Eyes*

But Yes, we are going shopping for kid-friendly make-up on the weekend...  I mean, he has to look good for his girlfriends. 


  1. That's awesome! A long time ago (10 years, now, I think) I worked as an aide to kids with disabilities, and primarily worked with autistic teenagers. So I know how huge that is -- in fact, I was reading this post, and when your son said he wanted to impress some girls, I thought, "but wait, isn't he autistic?" Good luck with the makeup -- hopefully he currently has just enough theory of mind to want to impress girls, without enough to realize what the resulting ensemble will actually look like : ) Maybe you'll get the joy of being a daily, walking embarrassment to a teenager yet!

  2. I love that your blog gives us insight into your experience as a mom (particularly of a boy with autism) in addition to your running life. Where's the "like" button? :) Thanks, Kate!

  3. Caity, I try to get at least one post a month on D and his Autism. Two plus years ago I started running to help cope with his [then] undiagnosed Autism. Now I run because it is a part of me. I love him AND his Autism because he is a part of me.

    I think when a parent get's confronted with the "AUTISM" label, it's overwhelming. Knowing your child doesn't see the world the same way as everyone else. It takes a whole change in your thinking. People either ignore it or confront it. I confront everything and I am glad.

    In the case of D, it means I see the world in his eye's and frankly it enables you to see so much more. I have to SEE everything and HEAR everything now. In some ways I have become slightly Autistic, I tune myself to his environment and I do truly see and hear everything. It means trail runs are more exciting and beautiful; however a trip to MacDonalds - okay not so much.

    As a new parent challenged with the Autism label it's scary, it sometimes takes people who have been through that (like AngieB and myself) to show, it's isn't scary, you just have to see it in the right way. That's what I try to do here.

  4. What a great post! It's fun to see how something so small to everyone else would be such a big deal to you. We really are only as happy as our unhappiest child.