I write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels. This month’s Tease is from a novel in progress. April is National ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) Month. To highlight this, I have chosen a piece involving a character with ASD (which was also presented in an earlier Tease, with some additions).
She had to reach up to brush his hair. She wasn’t short by any measure, but he had sprouted to nearly six feet over the summer. Where had her little boy gone? The child she knew had fled, slipped out in the night while she was trying to glue together a life for him. In his place, a stranger had arrived, a lanky, teenage man-boy, with wavy brown hair and tragic blue eyes. Buried inside him was a well-disguised sense of humor, the kind that laughed at curse words (even ones she was certain she’d never exposed him to) uttered in public, often laughing even louder when she reacted to his reaction. The little boy her mind still pictured didn’t know a thing about cussing. Of course, that child also didn’t kick holes in walls, self-mutilate or engage in the worst offense of all, looking just like his father. Every day, he acquired more of his dad’s stoic good looks. Unfortunately, he also shared his father’s pension for escape and his frigorific ability to plunge an emotional pick axe into her heart. The only difference, and it made all the difference in the world, was that Austin didn’t know he was doing it. The other bastard did, and could rot in hell for it.
“What’s it going to be today, Mr. Man? Shower? Bath?” She preferred that he shower, but Austin liked baths. As long as he did one or the other daily, and included a shower thrice a week, she didn’t push too hard. It was a fine line with Austin. The harder she pushed, the harder he pushed back. But he needed guidance and that escalated the tension, creating tough choices. In her parent group, Trish spoke about choosing useful battles, if able. But so often, the battles chose them.
An acquaintance gifted her a parenting book once, when Austin was about six, written by a Hollywood couple with zero child rearing credentials, other than their fame. It only took three pages for the authors to state unapologetically that most kids on the spectrum were misdiagnosed, even suggesting that some parents sought an ASD diagnosis for their personal benefit. She had immediately tossed the book in the trash, along with a spoiled head of lettuce, Austin’s wet bed pads and the scum that she scraped out of the dishwasher tray. The golden couple had their beautiful images plastered all over the cover so she gave them an extra shove into the garbage, face first. There was no incentive for obtaining a fabricated diagnosis. Autism was no bucket of fame. If anything, spectrum disorders manifested in secret, the secrets of parents, siblings and the autistic children themselves. Who could cypher the mysteries inside a child such as Austin?
Her son grunted his choice. Bath. She turned the water on. Hot. He liked it hot, even in August, just as she liked her coffee.