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All posts for the month April, 2014

Autism – Delusions and Denial

Published April 28, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

“There are as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in a typical galaxy.” – Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, Cosmos – A Spacetime Odyssey

Babies are frickin’ amazing.

Oh sure, I know some of you are thinking, “No way!  They scream and cry and spit up and sometimes smell poopish, and they don’t DO anything really.  So what makes them so frickin’ amazing?!”  Well, I mean they’re amazing in a more scientifically, philosophically cosmic way.  Think about it:  Biology, chemistry, and physics combined with the genetics of a mother and father handed down from all their ancestors who came before them to create this unique individual – the only one of its kind in the whole Universe. THAT is frickin’ amazing.

And what’s more, each child is their own person, with likes and dislikes, personality, and talents that sometimes seem to come from neither Mom nor Dad. From the moment babies are born, their minds are full of electricity – experiencing the world through their senses, making observations and connections about what they see and hear and feel, combining these sensations with emotions – building understanding and creating memories.

As the grown-ups tasked with their upbringing, it’s easy to become spellbound by how talented and advanced our child seems in intelligence or physical abilities compared to their peers. Parents can’t help but brag! (Scroll through your Facebook newsfeed – you’ll see what I mean.) When you really think about it, it makes sense to be proud of this incredible little person you created, to boast (or even be somewhat delusional) about their talents and abilities. And it’s natural to acknowledge how special they are to you and to recognize their potential to go far in life and achieve big dreams.

It was really no different with us. We were amazed and enthralled by our boy. What a little athlete, far ahead in motor skills! He was always on the move, with an energy that could not be contained. Shortly after he was able to pull himself up, he spent his time making his way around the play-yard gate looking for a way out, like a velociraptor in Jurassic Park, testing the electric fence for weaknesses and plotting an escape. As soon as he could walk, he was running. As soon as he could run, he was sprinting down the hall and diving into a beanbag chair as though he were a gymnast performing a vault exercise. It wasn’t long before he was bouncing and jumping on cushions and balancing on the wooden beams around the garden.

At 12 months, my son said his first words: “clock” and “car”. What a smarty-pants! Most babies say “ma-ma” or “da-da”, but not our boy. Soon after, he no longer said those words…or any new words, for that matter. But the parenting books said that if your baby is focused on learning new skills, they often put other skills on the backburner for later. And our little guy was MUCH more interested in running and jumping and “being a boy”. Besides, boys speak later than girls anyway, right?

Man, he was hard to entertain! He seemed completely uninterested in the toys that were appropriate for his age group. Well, naturally! He was far too advanced to interest himself in such silly toys. If he did show interest in a truck, it was to examine it closely and observe how the wheels moved. If he played with a puzzle, he never put the pieces back into the frame but instead lined them up, one corner or side of each shape carefully touching the shape before it. When he was absorbed in these tasks, or any task really, he was so focused that he wouldn’t even respond to his name. “He’ll definitely be an engineer,” we said confidently.

Even as a little baby, our son was very visual and highly observant. I was so impressed when he became fascinated with the shadows that I cast on the wall as I changed his diapers. I would make shadow puppets for him and move my hands dramatically as he watched, mesmerized. When he became an active toddler, he noticed lines and shadows everywhere we went. He seemed almost distracted by them, walking the painted lines in a parking lot, running back and forth along a long crack in the driveway, getting on his hands and knees to examine the lines of grout in between the tiles of the kitchen floor. I remember the uneasy feeling I got at a “mommy and me” art class/playgroup, watching other boys and girls, all the same age as my son, painting pictures at the table and playing tag, while my boy wriggled from my lap and laid down with his head on the concrete floor, gazing at the contrast of light and shadow created by the sun as it streamed through the window blinds. “Maybe he will be a scientist?” I wondered, a hint of doubt creeping in.

Could it be that there was something a bit different about my child’s development? Something not-quite-right?

Everyone reassured us that he was fine. He’s a boy! Boys have lots of energy. They talk later than girls. He’s super-intelligent – that’s why he’s so observant. So what if he plays differently…that just shows he thinks outside the box! I wanted to believe them. So did my husband. We both wanted to remain spellbound by our boy’s uniqueness, by his brilliance.

In a way, our delusions became a cover for our denial.

The truth is, it is unusual for a baby to say the name of objects before saying the names of the two most important people in his life: Ma-ma and Da-da. And a baby should be far more interested in his mother’s face than in the shadows her body casts on the wall. And while finding another use for a toy may show innovation, it may also show a rigidity of thought and an inability to observe and imitate others for the purpose of learning. And what about his advanced motor skills? Was his need for almost constant movement masking some underlying developmental issue?

These clues remained vague, these questions, unanswered, until a possible explanation was offered by an unlikely source…my mother-in-law, my son’s Abuela. She said the word that my husband and I had been avoiding: Autism. And with that one word, I knew that there was no going back. I was in my alternate universe to stay. eagle-nebula-11174_640

Sleep Spiders – And You Thought Sleepwalking Was Creepy…

Published April 9, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

One night, months after my son was born, I awoke to find a very large spider working its way down an invisible thread right over our bed. I shook my husband and said, in a strangled whisper, “Don’t move! Spider!”

My mind was racing. I had to prevent the spider from reaching the sheets, but how? I remembered easily moving a small spider hanging from the living room ceiling by gently gliding my hand above the spider, catching its sticky thread, and moving it to the safety of a houseplant. I decided to try that with this much larger spider, at least to get it away from the bed. However, I underestimated the weight of the spider, and when I ran my hand above it to catch its thread, the spider plummeted into the waves of the bed sheets below. I shrieked in horror and started patting and flicking the sheets, hoping to either squish the spider or catapult its giant, hairy-legged body out of our bed.

Meanwhile, my startled husband moved to the edge of the bed where he sat watching me, confused. When I asked with exasperation, “Didn’t you see the spider? It was HUGE!” he just shook his head, rubbed his hand over his eyes, and sighed deeply. (You know – the way people do when it becomes clear that you are nuts, and it’s too exhausting for them to even try to find logic behind something you are doing.)

Slowly, my mind cleared. There was no spider. I sheepishly apologized and told him that it was ok, he could go back to sleep.

That was my first “sleep spider” visit.

Sleep spiders are a relatively new phenomenon for me. Sometimes I wake up to see one skittering across the wall, or poised on the ceiling right above the bed, or hanging from a thread over me, like that very first spider. Naturally, I find them threatening and scary, but, in a way, also fascinating. For those first five seconds or so, the spider seems real to my senses. If I blink and focus on it and tell myself it’s not real, it doesn’t disappear right away. Instead, it fades gradually into the shadows as I become more alert or evaporates as soon as the lights come on.

How strange it is to have your mind play tricks on you, to be briefly caught between two plains of existence – the dream world and reality. Strange, scary, but kind of cool, if you think about it.

Writing this post got me wondering – why a spider? Of course I find them creepy, but I’m not terrified of them like I am bees and hornets. What was the significance of a spider?

In my quest to figure out my sleep spiders, I did a Google search of “seeing spiders in your sleep.” A few sites had a medical explanation about being deprived of REM sleep, how your mind continues the dream state as you are waking up, causing you to see things that aren’t there. That made sense – even after six months, our boy was still a terrible sleeper, and I was woken up repeatedly at varying intervals every night by his crying.

That explained the reason I was seeing things in my sleep but not why the things I was seeing happened to be spiders. So I looked up the symbolic meaning of spiders in dreams. Now I must say, there are many interpretations of what a spider means, but most books and sites agreed that the spider often symbolizes a feeling of being stuck or trapped (like in a web).

Aha! Ever since our son was born I had felt trapped in an endless loop of feeding and holding and rocking and diaper changing. Of course, there was my ever-present anxiety about being a mother (like something to be feared is lurking in the shadows), the disappointment that reality did not match my expectations (like a fading dream world overlapping reality), and the perception that things were beyond my control (like being stuck in a sticky spiderweb, unable to break free).  More than that, I felt like I had lost my identity. I longed for a sense of direction and purpose, a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, a sense of self again.

My sleep spiders are so wise.  Mystery solved!

Well, perhaps not entirely.  There is one more explanation for my sleep spiders, and it is my least favorite: The spiders (at least some of them) might be REAL.

Before you shake your head, rub your eyes, and sigh deeply at that suggestion, I have one more story to tell. And, by the way, I was fully awake during this spider encounter.

Not long ago, my son (now older) was playing on my bed, while I stood by making sure he didn’t do anything that would result in an ER visit. As I pulled the curtain closed over the window at the head of the bed, the biggest frickin’ spider I have EVER SEEN fell onto my pillow. So humungous was this spider, that I actually HEARD the sound that its legs made as they impacted with the pillow. I pulled my boy from the bed and screamed something high-pitched and unintelligible to which my super-hero husband responded, leaping into the room with a “what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you?” look on his face. I pointed at the spider and only left the room when I was sure that he did, indeed, see it and that it was not a figment of my imagination.

After about fifteen minutes of thumping, banging, cursing, and moving of furniture, I heard the toilet flush and my husband emerged from our bedroom victorious. He guessed the spider had probably made its way in through the window and had not been living in our room for long. He also reassured me that although the spider was big, it was not dangerous. Pssh…who cares?! I slept with the light on for about a month after that.

Now when I awake to see a spider, I wonder – Is this my subconscious telling me that I’m stressed out and feeling trapped in my life? Or is that just a really big-ass spider dangling threateningly from an invisible thread over my head?

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