Uncovering Humor in Unlikely Places

There was a time when I turned red as a beet when C. J. would drop to the floor at birthday parties and began rubbing himself all over carpet. How do you explain to acquaintances and people you have just met that your son is in sensory overload and is pleasuring himself on the Berber because he doesn’t know how to vent his feelings in a more appropriate fashion? Pulling him up to his feet certainly wasn’t the answer—C. J. would just start screaming and fight to return to a prone position. And this will probably come as no shock to many parents of autistic three-year-olds, but having a quiet heart-to-heart with him about the social taboos of public masturbation didn’t seem to do the trick either.

Fortunately, C. J. is gradually outgrowing this particular eyebrow-raising habit, and his therapists have offered us several helpful suggestions on how to provide him with alternatives when he’s in the midst of a sensory meltdown. I have to say, however, that humor is what has saved me in this and other situations that used to leave me shamefaced. I reached a point where I recognized that certain circumstances and occurrences were simply beyond my control. And I came to understand that those I did hold a small measure of sway over were under my thumb because I was able to laugh at them.

So, when a fellow-partygoer blurted out, “WHAT is he doing?” halfway through C. J.’s carpet gyrations at yet another get-together, I finally responded with, “Well, what does it look like he’s doing?” It goes without saying that not everyone always sees humor in the same things that my husband and I do. It requires a special person to chuckle through bouts of echolalia, when your toddler automatically repeats everything you say. Similarly, it’s not easy to force out the giggles when you’re up at 2:00 A.M. because your darling is working through the inconveniences of a partial complex seizure or you’re up because you need to sleep deprive him for a pediatric EEG.

Fortunately, C. J. provides plenty of moments and experiences that are far easier to smile at. And it’s worth following his lead by not taking every little bump in the road too seriously. It’s admittedly ironic that C. J. can burst into tears when he can’t get his socks off but can still sport a grin while he’s evaluated by a neurologist or forced to swallow granules of epilepsy medication. But I suppose that is an example of one of those special imperfect talents that parents like me discover they should not question and can actually learn from.

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