Chalk Meets Cheese

April 19, 2011  
When our first child signaled his imminent arrival all those years ago, he tried to do so six weeks early.  With the help of drugs and the will of a thousand kung-fu masters, the little darling held off another couple of weeks, finally ambling into the delivery room, back to front and upside down, one month before his due date.  To the soundtrack of Hope Floats no less (ahhh, dear old Harry Connick Jnr with the sideways smile).  Jaundice and then phototherapy rounded out the first week of Eldest's life.  He was born into an Aussie near-outback summer, so he rarely wore clothes before the age of four months.  We saved a fortune.

When Middle decided to show his face two weeks early, it was an entirely different scenario.  Short, sharp and sweet, we were home from the hospital the next day.  It was also the middle of a southern Australian hills-country winter so the poor little mite was a bit starved of sunshine for a few months.  Middle was born looking like a wise old man - keen to get here early and show up his older brother.

Youngest was excitedly anticipated, being the first Pink One and all, and she essentially fell into the world after an induction on her due date.  That one was fun, despite the rather indelicate pronouncement that I had a 'boggy uterus'.  Well what did they expect? If you get three cars in three years stuck in the same mudpile, things are bound to get a little messy.  After pethidine (evil, evil stuff) wiped my memory of the last four hours of labour with Eldest, and Middle's speed-demon 23 hr hospital stay gave us whiplash, I was determined to savour this last birth - so we videotaped it.

I have watched that tape exactly three times.  Once in the hospital after she was born, once on her first birthday, and once the day The Bearded Avenger went in for the ol' snippety-snip.  The first three hours of sound consists of me wailing "Check the camera!" and "Is the camera still on?" and "Go get the damn camera!" - and the last twenty minutes is me asking over and over, loop-style, "Is she still a girl?" It's so embarrassing.

Of course, it's not everyday one gets to see one's own vulva stretched around a bowling ball, so there's that.

I have three extremely different children.  I think it's God's way of keeping himself amused.

After autism had slapped us around for a bit, we figured we were pretty clued in to the way the world worked.  Crap happened, we thought, so being the crap connoisseurs we were, we were fairly confident we could recognise the next delivery of crap when it came.  Then when Middle began showing the same early warning signs that Eldest had - predominantly lack of communication - we panicked.

We became convinced we were raising a second child who wasn't 'normal'. But since we'd never had a 'regular' child before, we didn't really have a baseline for comparison.  He was a bit odd, in sort of the same way as his brother, so as far as we knew he was on the spectrum too.  Middle's speech delay was addressed with three months of speech playgroup and before we knew it he was five and starting school, yappering away like any normal kid.

Something was still going on though.  The kid could read.  Not "Oh wow, Little Johnny knows his ABC's already, isn't that cute!" but "Why is that child reading his mother's library books?"  His morning reading sheet - laid on each kid's desk by the teacher - was a whole page of 12pt font when everyone else's was two or three sentences.  And because we don't do 'normal' well in this family, we panicked some more.  Advanced reading became 'hyperlexia'.  Preference for books over toys was his 'collecting'. We were seriously gearing ourselves up for a future spectrum diagnosis.  But then his teacher pulled us aside one day.

"I think Middle needs his work extended.  I'm not able to provide him with enough individualized attention in the basics as he is years ahead of where he should be.  There's a very real possibility that he is gifted."

Well day-um.

What do you say to that? Uh, thanks? Oh and by the way, we have an older son who has severely scorched our nerves so we're not the best judges of child development - we thought there was something wrong with him - sorry we dropped the ball?

Middle began sitting in with another class for reading and comprehension about halfway through his first year of primary (elementary) school - a class of Year 2 students.  At the end of his first year of school we made the decision that he would skip Year 1 altogether.  He was now 6-12mo younger than everyone else (but luckily very social, so he made friends quickly - well colour me stupid, there's a big 'may not be autism' sign for you!)

Here we are, several years later.  Middle is rather short for his age, and has always been the youngest in every grade since he skipped.  No autism. No Asperger's. No trouble adjusting to older kids.  Nothing.  The kid is more attuned to life than I am sometimes! Of course we're proud - and look, I'd be lying if I said all this advancement wasn't pretty damn nice after years and years of battling bureaucracy and funding cuts and low test scores and social struggles and exhaustion.  Because it is.  The Bearded Avenger and I mostly walk around looking stupid and being unable to answer Middle's maths problems so that's a fun new element to add to our topsy turvy lives.

But then.


At the end of February, Middle sat a test.  Not just any test, nope.  This one was a special test to determine whether he would gain a place in an advanced program in high school.  In my city (of over one million), there are only three high schools that offer this Dept of Education-driven program, and only one south of the city, where we live.  Five hundred and twenty four children in Years 6 and 7 - all of them top of their classes - sat the test.  They were then scored (auugh) in relation to each other.

Middle ranked 99th.

He was probably one of the youngest - if not the youngest - kid to do the test.  He 'competed' (auugh again) against kids who are 12-18mo older than him.  And he broke the hundred. We have an interview, and have heard that the top 100 are generally offered places in the program right off the bat. If this is true, Middle could actually have the choice to start high school a year early, skipping Year 7 entirely, and making him 11½ when he walks in the doors.  We may not choose to go that route - there's the option of deferring for a year so he's a little older - but wow.

I may have cried several (okay, a lot of) tears when I opened that envelope.

You see, when you've walked (run, sprinted, back-pedaled, skipped, inched) the autism road for as many years as we have - Eldest was diagnosed nine years ago this month - you lose track of life, you really do.  Everything is so wrapped up in therapy choices and communication and special ed classes and NEPs and funding.  Focus is always on what the child cannot do.  Expectations are generally low.  Everything is a struggle.  Sanity is a thin thread.

With Middle, I have downplayed the gifted thing for years, because every time I hear my own words through my own ears I can't help but put it through a bragging filter - kind of like, oh look at me, with the super-smart kid, isn't he clever, nee-ner, nee-ner, nee-ner!  Even to Middle himself - we compliment and congratulate just like any decent set of parents would do, but we temper our praise as well.

All our energy has been focused on Eldest for so long that when we held in our hands real evidence that Middle was special too, that by God we hadn't stuffed up this parenting thing to the degree we thought we had, that we had actually contributed genes and the environmental aspects that went into creating this utterly unique individual - it kind of blew our minds.

So this is me bragging on my kid.  My awesome, extraordinary ten year old kid who knows more maths than his mother and could give his father a run for his money in abstract thinking.  My kid who has worked damn hard to earn his place in this world, just the same as his older brother, and I love him more than my bursting little heart can hold.

Your time to shine buddy.  I am so very, VERY proud of you.

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