Dad I Am Teasing


Last night as the three of us sat down to dinner, Edward asked, “So Owen, how was your day?” with a conversational hand on Owen’s shoulder. Even weeks ago this remark would have hung in the air, or maybe I might have tried to answer for Owen. But that would have been the extent of that conversation, unless Owen articulated one of his repetitive phrases, like “A robot” or “Gaston” or “Johnny Appleseed.” But more likely Owen would have kept on eating his supper, looking like someone who has no particular interest in anyone but himself, and no interest in anything but his food.

Things have changed a lot around here, in the last month.

I jogged into the the other room to get Owen’s letter board. “Ok Owen, ” I said “You might as well join the family conversation.”  I grabbed a handy capped pen and sat beside him, pressing the pen into his hand and pushing his arm up into neutral starting pose. Owen began to point at letters on the card. I said each letter out loud as he went. (Some typers say that hearing the letters as they touch them helps them to focus their crazy busy minds.)

“Tre” – he paused – “errible.”

Oh dear, I thought, “terrible”?  What happened? A few days prior when I asked Owen what happened at his day program, he had spelled out “Nothing.”  How do you feel about that? I asked. “Negtive (sic)” he typed in response.

Owen must certainly have felt the saddened energy at the dinner table. His eyes sparkled. He grinned. He began to laugh. Whaaaat? I stared at him.

“Dad” he spelled out “I am teasing.”

Edward burst out laughing. He got us. Classic comedic timing. Saying something unexpected. Leading your audience in one direction, only to reverse on them.  I was giggling til tears rolled down my cheeks, and Owen couldn’t say his part in the blessing that followed because he was so amused with himself. (I can hear Aunt Abigail now, “Oh great. Another smart-ass in the family.”)

Imagine that you are a witty clever guy, who can never say the amusing things you think up.  Imagine that when a method is discovered that will let you “speak,” it is a slow, letter by letter delivery, hampered by your random uncontrolled body movements and compulsive behaviors. That means even though you can now communicate, miraculously, suddenly, you often lose the punchline before you can get it out your fingers. So Owen had to feel good to surprise us like that. A long time coming.

I think I have never been this busy nor as aware of the privilege of being someone’s mother, with a front row seat on the opening of a mind. This summer we have explored history, culture, science facts – what a richness! Owen never got any formal schooling, so it’s all good to him. The old challenges do not just go away – I still have to fight Owen’s uncooperative body ( and possibly his mental anxieties) and fetch him, command him to  come to the table and sit down, and to set down his plastic stuff. This is pretty physically exhausting, and can be hard to understand. I think he wants to learn this stuff, why doesn’t he come? why does he run away to his drawer of plastics? Why does he still collect, chop, and mouth plastics??

It’s hard to help someone if you don’t understand him.  We all mouth the platitude “Don’t judge a book by it’s Cover,” and yet we all do it.  We evaluate things and people by their exterior look all the time. And in this case it’s more than usually hard to do otherwise. My son’s self apparently has two halves:  the guy who yesterday was disputing his mom’s opinion of translation of the Latin religious works of Emmanuel Swedenborg (“I disagree” he spelled out to me, to my great surprise), but today is escaping out the back door to run away and root through the neighbors trash in search of interesting plastic.  Medical minds, professional minds, will want to say to Owen, me and Edward this cannot be true. If a person has intelligence, a person does not display these kinds of behaviors. If a person is cold, he puts on a coat. If he is hot, or thirsty, he indicates as much — of course, right?  Isn’t that where the phrase “Too dumb to come in out of the rain” comes from?

Enter Ido, who can explain everything. Next time I will introduce you to Ido (EE-doh). Ido Kadar, is the author of  Ido in Autismland. I have been reading it all August. It is wonderful. It has helped me to understand Owen so much. What Ido has to say, we all need to hear.

Maybe you should just order your copy, while you wait. Remarkable things (as well as the same old taxing things…) are happening, every day, for Owen. In fact, I see already small changes in Owen’s behavior that suggest a shift. There is hardly any time to write about all we are discovering!  Maybe next time Owen will write you himself.

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7 thoughts on “Dad I Am Teasing

  1. Gray Glenn September 15, 2018 / 2:23 am

    I have noticed the lapse in your communications and had the repeated thought to check in–but didn’t. Oh, the joy to read this development in the story–and not missing the message that exhausting and demanding and hard are still in play. I sometimes amuse myself by trying to figure out if I regard my special needs boy as ‘mentally impaired’ or as a ‘gifted’ or as just HIS normal self. It is amusing because I cannot actually put the regard into any preset category. Perhaps this is one of the great uses these people have: blowing our pat ideas to bits. Loving blessings on you all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • wystansimons September 17, 2018 / 1:44 pm

      Yes – blowing our pat ideas of categories to bits is an excellent use, isn’t it. Especially if this is followed by opening be your minds to New riches, new ways of knowing. Love you Gray.♥️


  2. Janice D Lumsden September 17, 2018 / 3:16 pm

    Hi Wystan, I love reading of your treasured discoveries about the inner life of Owen. This story reminds me of an experience I had when I was in college and working summers in a nursing home.

    One summer there was a young man on our floor who had a PhD in Chemistry, but who had a brain tumor removed. The surgery caused so much damage that he was left as a paraplegic and had poor muscle control of his mouth. Feeding him a meal took at least a painstaking hour. None of the other aides had the patience to do the task, so it was often left to me.

    This man also had quite the wit, which he still painstakingly used. Fortunately the semester before I took a class on the root of the English Language. One chapter was on each of the sounds we used in forming our works and what part of the mouth was used to form it.

    I was thrilled that I was able this new knowledge to practical use as I worked to decipher this young man’s pearls of humor. Each word he attempted to say, I mentally ran through what other sounds were produced by that area of the mouth until I word by word pieced together what he was saying. It broke my heart that such a brilliant, witty man was left with this. But, I think it made his current situation a little more tolerable that someone took the time to appreciate his punchlines…even if time delayed.


  3. Natalie Girin September 19, 2018 / 5:45 pm

    Dear Wystan, I am in awe of you…. I always have been. I remember “Great Aunt Mary” explaining to me that you had to have a special surgery on your back. I was young and you were one of my dear cousins that met to embrace the North woods of Wisconsin every summer. You romped and played with the rest of the cousins as usual and showed us that no matter what challenges life offered (including loosing loved ones), with a loving support system (family included) and your amazing spirit to not only accept what life has to offer but to embrace even greater things, we could have a happy and purposeful life. With your darling Owen you continue to show us what is possible….


    • wystansimons January 1, 2019 / 3:17 am

      Dear Natalie I am so glad to have found this lovely letter – somehow I missed it. What a great perspective you have on the way one challenge prepared a person for another “layer” — lately I have, with the recent house problems right at Christmas, felt more like a kid at the ocean pummelled by surf than like a child of the peaceful Northwoods lakes!!
      Thanks for your positive take. Love ♥️


  4. Rob Simons October 1, 2018 / 3:41 am

    Thanks Wystan . . . enjoyed reading this. As a fellow Simons Wise-Ass, I appreciate Owen’s perspective, charm and humor. It was fun to see this technique in action at the lake. It was amazing to see . . . and gives us all hope and joy. Best, Rob


    • wystansimons December 31, 2018 / 11:33 pm

      Rob thanks so much for the light in you and the ability to be delighted. I loved seeing the bond you created with Owen Iver Thanksgiving. So much communication is beyond words.


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