And Now for Something Completely Different

Miriam C., one of our Irish convenors, sent along an essay that I can’t resist posting, despite it being rather far from the usual fare here:

“I guess it’s the other part of me that does it”

We’re the proud and extremely lucky parents of the most amazing son.  What makes him so special is that he was born with the wonderful gifts of autism and what is referred to as ‘intellectual disability’.

Among the many amazing phenomena that Andrew (not his real name) has brought into our lives is that he cannot lie.  He has no guile whatsoever.  The only circumstance in which he can ‘deceive’ us is when he decides to play a practical joke.  It’s a good thing – and an astounding one considering the skill he has at this – that he can’t lie outside that because he is masterful at keeping straight-faced while setting us up for the comic come-down – always accompanied by a hyper-gleeful ‘fooled-ya!’  Otherwise he is extremely uncomfortable about lying of any sort and will agonise for days, for example, over not being able to tell his friend that he didn’t really like the present he got from him because pretending that he does is, well, a lie.  We suspect that he has secretly laid it on the line for a couple of them anyway.  It can get sweaty when we’re on a bus and a nice man with a completely bald head or maybe a very large tum begins to chat to him.  It’s only a matter of time before the person will be asked about hair loss or whether he has been eating too much chocolate.  (These are actual examples – just two from among countless thousands that have had us wishing a hole would open up in the ground and swallow us away to somewhere else.)

A couple of weeks ago I had an exchange with Andrew that ran like this:

“Andrew!!! Did you eat the entire packet of cakes I put in the cupboard yesterday!”

(Without looking away from his computer) “Yes I did.  They were delicious Mum.”

And there was the apple-slogging incident from last autumn when Andrew and his friend Vic showed up with a large bag of eaters.

Andrew: (Feet turned inward, body writhing in obvious discomfort, face red as a beetroot, eye-lids half closed and the sheepiest grin you ever saw on anyone’s face.)

“Mrs O’ Reilly gave us these apples Mum???”

“That was very kind of her.”

“Did I say it right, Vic?”

Vic turns a whiter shade of pale.

Andrew’s friends are understandably terrified of him – he has innocently drawn down storm force gales of parental wrath on them all.  I once met him on my way to the shop loping about by himself on a space on our estate known as ‘The Green’.

“Where’s the crew, Andrew?”

“They told me to wait here for a bit because they don’t want me to know what they’re doing in case I get them into trouble.”

I wondered if I should maybe alert the authorities or some parents or something but decided instead not to have heard what he said.  They’re all still alive and healthy, thank God.   But I can’t speak for any of their potential or actual victims.

Among the many unusual things about him that we love about Andrew are his love of household utensils as play objects – and his uncontrollable fascination with toiletries of every kind.  Every Christmas day the same plot unfolds: terrific excitement over the new toys in the morning and by mid-afternoon while I’m busy with the turkey, he’ll shoot past with a clothes hanger (a particular favourite) or maybe the garlic crusher (one he chose himself as a present from us), animatedly enacting some exciting game filled with characters and events that are completely sacrosanct.  Whatever world he is in during those solitary games, it’s a place he point blank refuses ever to share the least detail of with us.  Once when buying him some clothes for a special occasion, we were at the check-out counter beside which was a box of hangers discarded from clothes that had been sold.  Andrew carefully picked out two of them and leaned forward to the assistant sagely, confidentially ‘you know, these hangers are very rare’.  Somewhat baffled she made him a present of them.

But it’s the toiletries that are the end point of this narrative.  Andrew’s fascination with them has struck me many times as being almost in the realm of addiction.  We cannot keep a can of shaving foam safe.  EVERY tube of toothpaste ends up squashed out onto the sink and used as a sort of finger-painting exercise on the bathroom sink or mirror or wall – or all three.  After numerous near fatal asphyxiation episodes we have had to abandon ever buying anything that comes in aerosol form.  Toiletries are a world of irresistible, sensory fun for Andrew.

“You PROMISED us you wouldn’t do this again! You’ve got to try harder about this Andrew!!!”

“But I did try harder!  I didn’t do it all afternoon even though I really wanted to.  It was only a little while ago that I did it!”

We’ve had to build into our lives an acceptance of the fact that toiletries are a major expense.  We can’t keep many things under lock and key because it’s so impractical. Last week I went to our bedroom to find what looked like a scene wherein a small bomb had exploded in a pot of bite and sting ointment – all over my dressing table and its mirror.  Let’s just say I didn’t need detectives to work out who was responsible.  Resignedly cleaning the awful, clinging, smeary mess up I resolved not to remonstrate with him.  Nobody who had the least notion that he was up to no good could leave such an obvious trail.

So, a couple of days later while sitting here at this computer, Andrew arrived in looking for Sudocreme (the ointment in question) for a large spot that had formed in the dead-centre middle of his forehead.  A humdinger it was too.

“Well Andrew, I think you know what happened to the Sudocreme?”

“You said it was cream so I put my finger in it to stir it around but it wasn’t like stirring cream, it was very thick and it covered up my whole finger – in fact there was way too much of it for just one finger – in fact it covered up my whole two hands.  It was very hard to wipe it off – nothing worked. I had to get a towel out in the end.  But then I wondered if you might be cross about all that Mum. ”

“Andrew, please, please will you leave the toiletries alone in future?  Once and for all?  It’s an awful nuisance when you do this kind of thing, you know.”

“I always say yes when you ask me that and I mean it but I don’t know what it is.  I stop and stop and stop and then I just have to do it for some reason.  I guess it’s the other part of me that does it.”


  1. anonymous on July 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    thanks for sharing my son also has autism. he also likes to joke but does lie, and i can tell from his voice usually. he doesn’t understand the social consequences of lying, so he’s ashamed because he does perceive we don’t like it. he can’t help it but he’s improving anyway.

    he isn’t a toiletries fan (i wish hygiene were in his vocabulary) but he also has a similar fantasy story line going, complete with characters, weapons, and music as he plays. the constant challenge of staying creative as his parent is my biggest job, and greatest joy.

    you’re a great mum, he is lucky to have you!

  2. Miriam C on July 1, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Thank you Tim and Angela – ‘Andrew’ is an amazing instructor 🙂 – full of wisdom.

  3. Angela on June 25, 2011 at 3:44 am

    This is wonderful. I can sure relate to Andrew’s “other part of me”. Priceless.

  4. tim on June 24, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Wonderful to read this…(you make reading easy by the way, for me, a not so good reader)
    I can see why you are so proud of your son
    Thank you for sharing this with me (us)