Smart Little Snowman

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

It has been heartening to me the number of grandmas whose grandbabies have been diagnosed with autism. Whether at church or Curves or the Kroger, grandparents of autistic children come up to me with huge smiles and saying, “We have an autistic grandchild too and you’d never know it.”

I still have no idea what to expect – it’s hard having grandchildren who live 700 miles away. Samuel is a joy to our daughter and her husband, and most of those who know him.

Additionally, I don’t want Samuel Withnell identified by his condition (what an ugly word, but I can’t find one more appropriate) although the up side is that he is high on the spectrum.

He’s so smart and quick to pick things up. The school system sends a therapist every week. Considering we have here a smart kid and a smart mom, I have no doubt that he’ll make his way through the world.

Did I tell you, all the kids were home schooled to one degree or another and all have done beautifully. Nonetheless, Jean (the smart mom) is looking at having the boy evaluated this spring as she did with Sam’s older brother Isaac, now 16. With Samuel, she’s concerned he will face greater scrutiny because he is a “special needs” child.

Here’s Jean’s dilemma: The tests depend a lot on language skills, his ability to understand what his mom tells him, and his ability to express himself. He is reading at a second grade level (at least) and is doing well with his math, science, and social studies. So how to demonstrate that without encountering his known weaknesses?

Cabin fever and being shut up with two lively kids, plus a husband and Isaac was about to do them in.

Or as Jean put it in a note: “Ah, the wheels are beginning to turn again. Brian is back at work, and my oldest son is back at his Christian school. We were at home for about 10 days after back-to-back major snowstorms.”

From an occupational therapy perspective, she said these snowstorms benefited Samuel. Steering a sled down a snow chute in the backyard involves a fair amount of core strength, coordination, and balance, especially since he has to steer by leaning, Jean said. “Besides, it was plain, old-fashioned fun!”

Jean continued reading to the boys (from the Little House series) but ran out of new materials for Samuel to read aloud to her. Little House on the Prairie corresponded nicely with their history and geography because they were studying western expansion in the U.S.

Meanwhile, I’m encouraging writing and reading as helpful tools to keep up with Grandma. I have a tendency to run on and on, whereas his little notes are delightfully succinct. Maybe that’s my Pulitzer prize, but I’d rather have the love notes?

Dear Grandma

The sun is shining.

That was newsworthy after two weeks of staggering snowstorms. By the way, what you see is what he wrote. I had thought Jean might have been correcting things, but she said that was not the case. He wrote:

Happy valentine's day grama.

I went sleding. rozan gave me a sled.

hug xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxXOXOXOXOXOX

Love Samuel

Rosanne lives next door with no kids at home. What a wonderful gift for two little boys. They have 8-foot-high fences out back and it didn’t take long to learn how to slap the snow hard enough to sculpt a toboggan run. The xoxoXOXOX is a secret family code depicting hugs and kisses.

Jean skied into the church building – no one else had been able to make it in. They were mostly concerned about the vents being covered and triggering an automatic shut off for the heating system. Everything was fine. The vents were covered but had created enough warmth to keep an open pocket.“I saw some deer hoof prints,” she wrote, “and saw where they had bedded down under the bush by the backdoor (which was blocked up to the door handle with snow.)”

“Do I have fluid in my stomach?” This question comes out of left field as Samuel plays with a monster truck. Home schooling has officially begun with Samuel as the student and Baby Uriah auditing. They had been studying how the body processes food. What fascinates his mother is the way Samuel processes information. Whatever they talk about in school just gets run over and over in his mind and pops out over the next few days as questions.

We’re also wondering if he’s checking that facts remain facts. That's a given, to you and me: Unless proven otherwise, what is a fact today will be a fact tomorrow and next week. But Jean suspects Samuel is testing this. It takes patience to answer the same questions over and over (by evening, Jean says her eyes start glazing over!) but it's worth it in the long run.

Jean sends me her blog: “Yesterday my boys and I were over at a playground that has become part of our (almost) daily walk. Samuel decided he needed to inform a nearby workman that: ‘I have a small intestine and a large intestine.’ Ah, the joys of homeschooling. At least I know the boys learned that lesson!

“Everyone knows that kids learn by imitation, but a few examples really jumped out at me today. I went upstairs to put away clean laundry. When I returned downstairs, I found Samuel eating a perfectly sliced apple. He had gotten himself an apple, then used a cutter that cores and slices an apple in one motion. Now I wonder if he also imitated my habit of always washing an apple first?”

granma xoxoxoxoxoxoxox uriah had his birthday?

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