Monday, October 4, 2010

The Great Puzzle

"I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.  But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?'  Ah, that's the great puzzle." -- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventure in Wonderland
Norrin is not the same as a typically developing boy his age.  I've known that for quite some time.  And it is obviously apparent, on Saturday afternoon during our first appointment with the neuropsychologist.  It is another attempt at solving the great puzzle: Who is Norrin?

"How old are you?" The neuropsychologist asks Norrin.  Although he knows the answer, his eyes are void of any expression as if he hasn't heard the question.  I often wonder where he is at these moments, when his eyes glaze over and staring off into some world that only Norrin knows. She repeats the question.  

Joseph gives Norrin shoulder a nudge.  "I'm fine."  Norrin answers in his high-pitched voice.  The neuropsychologist smiles and says, "You're a big boy for five."  "He said 'I'm fine'," I say, correcting her.   The neuropsychologist looks at me then back at Norrin.  She nods, "Auditory Processing Disorder..."  

We spend the next two hours in a small office where the neuropsychologist asks question after question.  Sometimes Norrin answers quickly, other times Norrin stares off or wriggles his fingers in front of his face.  When he retreats into his little world, the neuropsychologist looks at me and Joseph.  "What do you do to bring him back?"  We repeat his name until he wakes up and then (if he knows) he'll say the answer; I wonder if he's been listening all along and just pretending he's someplace else.   

There are some questions, the neuropsychologist thinks Norrin can't answer and she is impressed when he does - especially for xylophone.  She wanted to skip that picture after asking once, but I point to the picture and say in a firm voice, "Norrin.  What is this?  It starts with the letter X."  From then on, I repeat all the questions that I know he knows.  (When he answers, he uses that high pitched voice and when I tell him to "fix it" he repeats it in his deeper natural voice.)  But still there are questions he cannot answer, i.e., "what are shoes for?" or "what do you say when you leave?"

I am often surprised by what Norrin knows.  Like the time when Norrin held up a blank piece of paper and a pencil and said: architect.  He said it so clearly and so sure of himself that it caught me completely off guard and I wondered - where he heard that word and how he knew to associate it with a paper and pencil.  Or the day that I found his magnetic letters arranged into words: Dora, red, bird, home.  Or when he's in his room and picks up a book - reading out loud.  Always beginning with announcing the title, author and illustrator.

And then there is so much about Norrin that I long to know.  What is it about Kipper the Dog he loves so much?  I'd like to know about his day when he comes home from school, to talk about it at the table over dinner the way families on television do. Does he know he's different?  Does he care?  Where does he go when he stares off with that blank look - is he listening?  Does he dream?  If so, what does he dream about?  But dreams are an abstract concept that he cannot comprehend.  

He is my son, and yet in so many ways, a fascinating stranger to me.  I know his favorite color, book and toy.  I can tell you what Norrin loves to eat and describe how he eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a donut.  I can tell you that Norrin loves to swim and that he can be on a swing for hours without getting dizzy. I know he's really tired when he's sitting very still.  But what he thinks?  How he thinks?  Or how he feels?  I still have no idea - I am waiting just like everyone else.   

Norrin on his 4th birthday - HHG


  1. Seriously, I find this fascinating...and well described. I'm not autistic but I can relate to that "leaving the body" phenomenon. Sometimes...often I'll seriously just go wandering off in spirit rumbling through some place or thought or feeling. My homeopathic doctor once detected that in my scan and said I spend too much time day dreaming. What he doesn't know is that that's when I'm communicating, listening, learning, remembering and sourcing my understanding and art or just having me-soul time. He has this notion of norm, thus saying my "day dreaming" is excessive. But in my tradition Oshun governs imagination and her children are adept at it and bring forth their art and creations from it.

    Autistic Norrin might be but some behaviours are acts of genius, spirituality or just individualism...and this culture needs to recognise such instead of seeking one very narrow definition of "norm".

  2. I love how you prefaced this post with the quote from Lewis Caroll. I LOVE Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and I can see how the name of your blog is so fitting. I love reading your work about your son, as it's so passionate, and I completely agree with Camille about our culture needing to open up in terms of accepting aberrant behavior. Unrelated, the blog is looking great, chickie!

  3. Such a wonderful insight to your world, Joseph's and Norrin's. I am enjoying my slow paced day reading your blogs, I am beyond impressed. :) Thank you.


AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.