As parent we are quiet thrilled when our little ones get their first teeth. If I had it to do over I think I would have hammered my oldest son’s teeth back in his gums. You see I’ve been “helping” him brush his teeth ever since. Once he got his braces off I slacked up on the assistance. I thought surely now he’ll be so excited over his lovely mouth he would actually brush by himself. I kept telling myself when the braces came off he would be so much older that he’d be able to handle this. It was only logical that he would. You see this is a child that cannot drink out of a glass if someone else touches it after he has poured his drink in it – it’s ok before the drink is poured. He must check his glass, silverware and plate prior to each meal to ensure they are clean enough for him. If not he will place the offending tableware in the dishwasher and get another (which is fine unless all the lights in the kitchen have working lights bulbs). If all the lights are working he can see too well and nothing passes inspection and all the dishes land up in the dishwasher. He will not eat a cookie, sandwich, cracker – anything that someone else has touched. His food on his plate can not touch. Carrots must be only with carrots, potatoes only with potatoes. Any violators will be cordoned off and not eaten. It only seems that someone so concerned with the state of his food and what it is being served on would also be concerned with the mouth taking in the food. This logic however does not work.
Somehow, the mouth doesn’t matter. We have an ongoing battle about brushing teeth. The first request to brush his teeth is totally ignored. I ask to see his teeth and he says fine I’ll go brush them. He will then go downstairs. After a moment he returns and I say let me see the teeth. I look at the teeth and know there is no way on earth a toothbrush has seen the inside of the mouth. He is then told he is losing video games for the rest of the day for lying about his teeth and not doing what he is told. I begin to search for the game controllers (some are hidden because he knows this is coming). The third request means he will go downstairs and look at his toothbrush. After locating most of the game controllers I go and check the teeth. They are not clean. The fourth request means he will go downstairs and use mouthwash. There is nothing worse than looking into the mouth of a teenager who hasn’t brushed his teeth in three days but has used green mouthwash. All of the tarter and gunk in his mouth is dyed a hideous shade of green. I have four kids, two dogs, and three cats, I don’t have a weak stomach anymore. I’ve seen more barf than the bathroom attendant at an anorexia convention. But tarter build up dyed green can’t even be described as disgusting, it’s worse than that. So, after four or five attempts to get him to brush independently, I am screaming, “why did we pay for braces if you are going to let your teeth rot out?”
We both go downstairs. I pick up his toothbrush which is completely dry and he starts whining about you don’t really need toothpaste and please don’t push too hard. I touch the first tooth and blood gushes from the gum. It is a good thing the sight of blood doesn’t bother me. I guess it if was squirting out like a fountain I might get squeamish, but bloody teeth, noses, knees and elbows are just not a big deal. I have the teenager sit in the theatre seats so I can brush his teeth. He’s taller than me and I can’t reach very well unless he sits down and he’s not about to sit on the toilet. It works pretty well because the chair leans back like a dentist chair and I can get his mouth really well. We started this after his last dentist trip. I figured I wasn’t getting the back very well, because the dentist chewed me and him out for letting his back tooth rot out – literally.
So how am I supposed to get my son to be accepted socially if he turns people green the minute he opens his mouth. And, why is the clean freak so filthy?
I had a recent experience with my son that really opened my eyes to his lack of self awareness. He is wanting to get his learner’s permit so that he can start learning to drive. Now I have resisted this idea with all the force I could muster. I think it’s a horrible idea to put this child behind the wheel of a car. But, I finally realized, I am more likely to win the war if I concede this battle. My plan is that we get the permit, but I will continually tell him I don’t think he can pass the drivers test. But here’s the thing that struck me while we sat at the DMV, as Michael tried to fill out the form for his permit, one of the questions was eye color. Michael looked at me and said, “What color are my eyes?” Looking back at him, I expected him to give me his goofy grin he gets when he thinks he’s been funny. Instead, he looked at me just blankly waiting for an answer. “You don’t know what color your eyes are?” I asked surprised. “It’s not like I look at myself all the time to know what color they are.” He explained to me, a bit perplexed that I was acting like the question was odd.
I answered. Now that I’ve had time to step back and think about this, it’s really struck me how unaware of himself he is. He lacks the ability to look at himself and see what others are seeing. I realized if you don’t know your own eye color, you probably don’t notice the acne or oily hair. Heck, his eyes have been there forever and he’s still unfamiliar with them. Why would I assume he’s even noticed the acne, it’s only been there about a year. Trying to get Michael more self aware is another one of those strange conflicts of autism. The child is self centered. It has been a long road teaching him to consider how others feel. I am so programmed to say, “now look at his face. How do you think that made him feel?” I’ve even said it to adults! He is fully aware if there happens to be a seam in his sock and he can not tolerate such. He is certainly aware of a speck on his glass. But he isn’t aware of how he is perceived by others. He can not see himself as others see him. To do so, it would be necessary for him to put himself in their shoes. Seeing anything from someone else’s perspective is difficult for a child on the spectrum. I’ve known this for years. It just never struck me that it included his ability to see himself.