For most children, developmental milestones are met right on time. Parents dutifully record them in baby books and scrapbooks. The first smile. The first babble. The first jar of solid food. The first crawl or step. The first word. The first "Why?"
At first, all that inquisitiveness is cute. You explain the world to them, in words and terms that they understand. They look up to you as the creator of their universe.
Somewhere, generally around age five or six with their accumulation of knowledge, those developmental milestones can take an ugly turn. The first lie. The first stolen pack of gum from the Target candy display in the checkout line. The first bad words uttered - "well, that kid is a doodie head." The first manipulation.
Generally, for parents, that initial breach of trust can be a difficult transition as they realize their child is growing up and the innocence is beginning to fade.
For parents of children with autism, hitting these milestones can be like winning the Superbowl.
Liam's first lie almost knocked me to my knees. I remember the therapists and doctors telling me that children with autism can't lie because their thought processes are too black and white. Lying requires multiple shades of gray and a different level of thinking than the typical binary choice conversations that had dotted our days for years.
And yet, there it was. A non-verbal lie plain as day as he walked out of the kitchen pantry with his face and fingers smeared with chocolate after taking a dip in the can of Duncan Hines icing I had purchased to frost cupcakes for Mairin's Teachers Appreciation Day at school. It stopped me in my tracks. Seeing me standing there with my mouth open stopped him cold, too. He knew he was in big trouble.
Throwing all parenting psychology caution to the wind, I went straight for entrapment setting up the perfect volley for the lie.
"Liam, did you just eat the chocolate icing in the pantry for Mairin's cupcakes?"
He smiled, stuck is sticky hands in his pockets, wheeled around on his heels and started to walk out of the room, fake "whistling" (do dee do do do) as if nothing had just happened. He learned how to handle this situation from old Mickey Mouse cartoons.
Thank you once again, Walt Disney, for helping us learn how to negotiate life.
I called everyone I knew and said "OH MY GOD! You are not going to believe this but Liam just LIED to ME! HOORAH!" Touchdown! I told everyone.
As time marches on, and he continues to improve, we are clearly moving up the ugly milestone ladder just as all children do. Packs of gum have appeared in jeans after grocery shopping, which much to my chagrin are never noticed until after they have been through the laundry effectively sealing the jean pockets shut. Sibling rivalry and competition have induced fights and bad words.
Finally, twice in the last week, we have reached the full-blown manipulation rung.
The kids were at their dad's house the other night. I was on the phone on a business call. My cell phone kept beeping and after the fourth Caller ID listed his number, I apologized to the other person on the phone and asked if they would mind if I just used the house phone to check on things for a second. With visions of emergency room visits in my very near future, I quickly dialed my ex.
"Is everyone ok?" I asked.
"Yes. Everyone is fine. Would you please talk to your son? It's almost 9:00 p.m. and I can't reason with him."
"Sure, put him on."
"Mom, do you have a sec? I have to tell you something. I need your help," Liam said, clearly distraught.
"What do you need help with, Liam?"
"Mom, Ms. Fuller got mad at me today. She gave me a pink paper. I had to go to the office," he mumbled through his tears.
Ms. Fuller is his very pretty blond math teacher that we think he might have a crush on.
"Ok, well, what did you do?"
"I was talking in class." (HOORAH! Another touchdown followed by a victory dance all around my kitchen. YESSSSSS! Talking in class! Calm down! Put the serious mother voice back on.)
"Ok, well you need to pay attention when the teacher is talking and not visit with your friends in class so she can teach you how to D-I-V-I-D-E."
He likes to spell out divide. We never say the word.
"Ok Mom. But can you come get me right now and take me to Wal-Mart? Dad won't take me to Wal-Mart because it is bedtime. Can you come get me? Hear this? I am crying," whine, sniff, sniff, sniff.
Note. This was clearly a critical situation for him. Liam goes to bed without fail every night at 9:00 p.m. on the dot so that he will not "miss his dreams." Missing the 9:00 p.m. mark is generally grounds for all kinds of other issues.
"Liam, why do you need to go to Wal-Mart tonight? It is almost 9:00 p.m."
"Because Mom, then you can buy a diamond ring for Ms. Fuller and she won't be mad at me tomorrow. PLEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAASE!"
It was a good thing I was on the phone because in person, the Cheshire grin on my face over something clearly so serious would have sent him into orbit.
Eventually, we were able to calm him down and came up with a plan that did not involve me driving over to his dad's house at 9:00pm on a school night to purchase a diamond ring from Wal-Mart for Ms. Fuller.
Score one for Liam.
At the ripe old age of 11, he has already surmised that diamonds are a girl's best friend.