I've been thinking recently about the idea of a "spectrum" as it relates to autism. I mean, I know that when we talk about the "autism spectrum," we're talking about a range of degrees to which a person can be affected by the characteristics that define the diagnosis. When we say "autism spectrum," we're generally talking about a spectrum of ability that ranges from "high functioning" (whatever that is) to "low functioning" (whatever that is).
But lately I've been thinking about the other spectrums that seem to come along with autism. I was talking not long ago to Bud's former teacher, the incomparable Ms. Walker, who told me that she often thought about working with children with autism by looking at the number line that runs across the wall of her classroom. When she works with a child with, say, dyslexia, she can usually predict that on any given day, that child is going to walk into her room with a level of challenge that falls within a particular range on her imaginary number line - let's say, somewhere between 40 and 60. But, she said, with Bud, she knew that on any given day, he might enter at any point on the number-line of challenge. One day, he might walk in at negative 150. The next, he might be at positive 125. Each day stood as a discrete point on the number line, seemingly unconnected to either the day that came before or the day that would follow. Her strategies for intervention also had to run a spectrum, she learned, because a strategy that was powerfully effective one day, might be woefully inadequate the next.
I thought about another kind of "autism spectrum" a couple of weeks ago, as we celebrated Bud's eleventh birthday. All day, I walked around with a single line from the Sting song "All Four Seasons" running through my head: "That's my baby. She can be all four seasons in one day..."
It wasn't until after I put Bud to bed that night that I had time to reflect on the day and on why that particular song kept occurring to me. I thought about the ever-changing seasons of Bud's behavior over the course of the day - a day that he'd been anticipating for months. Those seasons ran a full spectrum, cycling rapidly from sunny and bright, to stormy and imposing, to placid and serene, and back to glorious and sparkling.
I thought, also, about the seasons of life - the spectrum of stages we all go through - and the way that most of progress through those seasons in a linear way, embracing the one ahead of us as we let the one behind us fall away. But Bud does not seem to be progressing through the developmental stages in life in quite the same linear way. His development, it seems, is more fragmented, with different aspects of it moving at different paces, making him seem at once so innocent and childlike, so angsty and preteen, and so grown-up and mature.
I thought about his multi-stage, full spectrum development as I looked at his birthday presents - each of them treasured in its own way. Among them, I saw:
A Teletubbies board book, designed for chubby toddler hands;
Teletubbies colorforms, for ages 3 and up;
A DVD and a set of stuffed characters from the PBS preschool show Dinosaur Train;
Chapter books from the PBS Kids show Martha Speaks, geared to children in the early elementary grades;
An amazon.com gift card - just right to meet the independent spirit of the 'tween demographic in which he finds himself age-wise (and which he used to by another Teletubbies board book and two Caillou VHS tapes, which he doesn't watch, but which he needed to complete his collection);
A boombox with an iPod dock, probably a big seller with teenagers, which he uses to play his country music - most definitely popular among college students;
A set of DVDs from the first season of the National Geographic series Be the Creature, featuring the Kratt brothers, formerly of the PBS Kids show Zoboomafoo, and now in a series oriented to teens and adults;
A banjo, perfect for plucking out some homespun bluegrass - which, though certainly appropriate for all ages, may be most popular with the grandpa set.
He loves them all.
That's my baby. He can be all four seasons in one day.