A lot of people are under the mistaken assumption that people with autism are unaware of their surroundings. My experience with my son, Colin, is that they are, on the contrary, super-aware. Super-awareness can look like unawareness if you don't understand that there's a lot more to experience in the world than the average person allows himself.
Colin is a super-sniffer. He's a bloodhound wearing the disguise of a ten-year-old boy. For him, it can be a wonderfully intoxicating way to discover the world. And his autism gives him the gift of not caring what anyone thinks when he sniffs unabashedly. What freedom!
Take a baseball mitt, for example. Wouldn't you, if you could, love to just stuff your face deep into a baseball mitt and I-N-H-A-L-E the rich leather scent of it? Try it, the next time no body's looking.
Being a super-sniffing bloodhound can net you the good stuff, too. One morning, I woke up, as I've often done, to the sound of Colin rummaging in the cupboards. I called to him. As usual, we did our little "thing." I groggily called out his name and he called back, "whaa--aat?" a few dozen times, which is a clever ploy. What's going on in that cunning brain of his is this: "I can pretend I don't hear you, you'll think I'm having auditory processing difficulties, and I can keep on doing what I'm doing until you come find me."
It works, of course. Having autism doesn't mean he's unaware OR stupid. I finally had to haul my butt out of bed. I found him washing his hands in the powder room, trying to hide the evidence, if you will. He wore a large grin, like the Joker, but he wasn't actually smiling. What WAS that?!
"Colin, honey, what's on your face?"
"What's that on your face, Sweetie?"
Finally, he had to 'fess up. I wasn't going away. He explained, "I smelled chocolate and found it in a yellow can."
Yellow can?! I ventured into the kitchen and found brown powder EVERYWHERE. Colin ran in after me and grabbed his yellow can -- Nestle's Quik -- brought it to his mouth and tipped it back like a drunk getting the worm out of a tequila bottle. Which explained the chocolate "smile." Why doesn't it ever occur to me to grab a camera during these precious moments? I suppose it has something to do with the fact that these moments usually occur between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. He knew he had to move fast if he was going to get another fix before I took the yellow can filled with bliss away from him.
I was jealous. Sensible, middle-aged mothers do not have the freedom to grab a can of Quik and toss it down it back, no matter how much they'd love to. The smell of chocolate lingered in the house for days, though. A sweet reminder to those of us who don't have the gift of being a super-sniffer, super-aware.