December 25, 2008

Ratification of the 2008 Seattle-North Pole Trade Agreement


Ratification of the 2008 Seattle-North Pole Trade Agreement

Merry Christmas, youse guys.

May 12, 2008

Happy People Like You

One of the greatest things about having children--aside from the perpetuation of your genetic material and the necessity of having sex to do so--is that you again have an excuse to listen to Sesame Street albums.

It's not just that the songs are catchy and clever and rife with jokes that only an adult would get, but that everyone involved in their creation clearly had a blast doing so. Where the Disney songs are pitch-perfect and saccharine-sweet, most of the Muppet tunage is a sloppy, silly, hilarious mess. And you totally know those 70's-era guys wrote this stuff on some high-quality spleef.

You can find five of my favorites over on muxtape:

I Like You: The classic Sesame Street song, sung by a major character (or two major characters in this case, Ernie & Bert), neatly encapsulating a positive message, and scintillating as all get-out.

For The Birds: I defy you to not laugh during this song. Defy! If you listen to your music over speakers at the office, player this sucker on volume 11.

The Letter U: Some of the funniest songs are performed by major artists parodying their own work. This sounds like a standard, high-energy Melissa Etheridge song, until you really pay attention to the lyrics.

Bein' Green: Sure you know it, but have you listened to it as an adult? Do so, and you'll see why it's been covered by everyone from Ray Charles to Van Morrison to the Boston Pops Orchestra.

I Hope That Somethin' Better Comes Along: Okay, totally cheating with this one, as it is actually drawn from The Muppet Movie. But it would be unforgivable to omit it (as they did on the Muppet Show 25th Anniversary Collection ... which is why we are now raising a generation of boys blissfully unaware that, someday soon, the girls toward whom they are currently indifferent will be driving them bananas). Fun fact: Jim Henson does both Kermit's and Rolf's voice in this track.

January 17, 2008

Social Skills

Raising an autistic child is a little different than raising a neurotypical. For instance, the other day The Queen and I had this exchange:

Me: Squiggle is getting really good at talking to strangers.

The Queen: I know, isn't it great?

And today there was this:
Me: How was the library?

The Queen: Okay, but there was little boy about Squiggles age playing with the puzzles. And when Squiggle tried to play with him, and the boy said "No, go away" and Squiggle cried.

Me: My son got his feelings hurt and cried in public? Yes! High five!!

In other words, we work hard to inculcate in Squiggle the same behaviors and emotional responses that the mass media seems determined to eradicate from everyone else.

November 15, 2007

Scholar Squiggle

So how is Squiggle?

Well, I'm glad you asked. Squiggle is terrific.

He started preschool a few months ago, a small class run by FEAT (Families for Early Autism Treatment). Ten students total, ranging from the middle to the high-end of the spectrum. One boy shares Squiggle's hyperlexia, and I understand they get along like constants and vowels. They spend their free time happily writing words and numbers--if not "together," exactly, then at least in close proximity to one another.

At the Easel

(An aside here, for the young men of Teh NetarWeb: don't make the same mistake I did and fail to become a special education teacher. It's a field populated exclusively by smart, beneficent, and heart-breakingly lovely lasses. I am so totally not kidding about this. Four years at a university and I did not spend as much time in the company of pretty college girls as Squiggle has in the two years since his diagnosis.)

The preschool occupies the upstairs floor of a house of worship, which means that I now got to church several times week. A very strange twist of events for a guy like me. It would be as if a religious person were to attend one of my Secret Atheist Meetings, where we plot our War On Christmas and write letters to the Supreme Court urging them to replace "In God We Trust" on coins with "Ask Us About Our Secular Humanism!" We are of course deathly afraid that Squiggle might catch The God while he's there, but we have a plan in place: if anyone speaks to him about how to live a meaningful life or help his fellow man, he knows to immediately pull his emergency copy of "The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell" from his backpack and hold it in front of himself while slowly backing away.


Squiggle is still not much of a communicator. He's great at labeling things and he vocabulary is pretty vast, but he rarely makes requests or tells us things unprompted. It's like the idea of doing so doesn't even occur to him. Still, there are great improvements. He's begun using complete sentences, which is a pretty big deal. He's gotten better at selecting from a verbal list of things to choose from (in the past he would just reflexively repeat whatever you said last). And he's become drunk on the intoxicating power of "no." In the space of a few months he went from a Know-It-All to a No-It-All, cavalierly nixing all of our proposals.

Me: It's pretty late. Do you want to go to bed?

Squiggle: No go to bed.

M: Do you want to read a book?

S: No read a book?

M: Do you want to do a puzzle?

S: No do a puzzle.

M: Do you want to sing a song?

S: No sing a song.

M: Do you want to play a game?

S: No play a game.

M: Well, then what do you want to do?

{Long pause while Squiggle considers.}

S: Go to bed.

He's gotten to be such a contrarian that he naysays all comers, even himself. One recent morning he was in the next room coloring, and I heard him sing: "Take me out to the balllllll game. Take me out to the--no song!" {Silence}.

Punk'in Patch

By the way, someone asked what Squiggle did for Halloween. The answer is: fell asleep in the car on the way over to our friend's house. We threw him on a spare bed and he snoozed through all the mayhem.

S'okay, he didn't have a costume anyhow, just a stylish shirt with pumpkins on it. And he got plenty o' Halloween at preschool that day. While he was there, I got an IM from The Queen:

The Queen: When I dropped him off, his teacher was wearing pumpkin glasses
Q: But she had to take them off
Q: Because they were terrifying the kids.

Me: hahaha
Me: That's the great thing about Halloween with autistic kids
Me: they're easy to scare.
Me: "Today we're going to drive to pre-school ...
Me: by a different route!!"

Anyway, long story short, Squiggle is healthy, happy, charming as all get-out, and just about the--no post!

September 06, 2007


We're trying to get The Squiggle to say "I don't know" when he doesn't, well, know something. It's rough going, because it turns out that he's a bluffer par excellence. If he doesn't know what something is, he just makes something up. But there's no hint of deception. He really sells it.

{I hold up a Hotwheels.}

Me: What's this?

Squiggle: It's a car.

M: That's right.

{I hold up a mug.}

Me: What's this?

S: It's a cup.

M: It is a cup, good job!

{I hold up an huge binder clip.}

M: And what's this?

S: It's a flongle.

M: It's a-- what?

S: A flongle.

M: Look, if you don't know what it is, just say "I don't know." What is this?

S: I don't know.

M: It's a clip.

S: A clip.

M: Exactly.

{I hold up a pair of needlenose pliers.}

M: What's are these?

S: Those are jemplons.

Hopefully we'll be able to break him of this habit soon.

On the other hand, we're going to feel like idiots if we later find out that flongle and jemplons are the words for clip and pliers in Aramaic .

Reading the Dictionary Squiggle reads the dictionary,
in preparation for another round
of What's This?
July 03, 2007


Squiggle was walking around the house yesterday, counting to himself. I realized he had reached the nineties and was curious to know what would happen, so I stopped to listen.





Here he paused for a moment and thought. Then:

Oh, great. Kid's got a rollover error.

June 27, 2007

Photo Finish

Squiggle's daycare was creating emergency kits for each child. One of the things they asked the parents to supply was pictures of themselves. That way, if there was a natural disaster, and the child was separated from his caregivers, he could at least find comfort in seeing them in a photograph.

It's embarrassing how long we agonized over this. We were all, like, "Oh god, not that one--I don't even think I brushed my hair that morning. Maybe one of these two? Tell me: if Mount St. Helens just erupted, and you were cowering in a log cabin at the base of the volcano hoping that not to be consumed by molten lava, which would you find more soothing: this picture where I kind of got a goatee thing going, or me in the leather jacket and the sunglasses. I mean, you can't really see my eyes in the sunglasses one, but I look pretty awesome."

But, then, you never know. Maybe in the post nuclear-holocaust wasteland, your standing in society will be judged entirely by the genetic stock you hail from. And Squiggle will assume his rightful place as superior to those kids whose misguided parents bequeathed photos where they are squinting into the sun or wearing unfashionable jeans.

June 17, 2007


Father's Day fell on Friday in the Baldwin household this year. Squiggle was sitting in my lap as I read stories, kind of leaning against me listlessly, as he had been feeling under the weather all day and had eaten very little. Then, without preamble, he leaned over and gave me my gift early: BLAAARGH!

Awww. He made it himself--how sweet. And it's always nice to get a present that came from the heart. Or thereabouts.

March 16, 2007


The Squirrelly is inexplicably three. I have no idea how that happened. It's as if time were some sort of nonspatial continuum in which events occur in irreversible succession from the past through to the future, or something.

And while "The Squirrelly" suited him well when he was an infant and toddler, a more dignified blogonym seems appropriate for someone of such a wizened old age.

And so fair readers, I give you "Squiggle."

Though he will, of course, continue to maintain his secret identity.

Secret Identity

In the year and a half since Squiggle was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), he has been averaging about 25 hours of therapy a week, the bulk of which is Applied Behavior Analysis. He has made great strides, thanks to an incredible team of professionals who work with him five days a week. His eye contact, for instance, has improved immeasurably, as has his response to his name. This is fairly incredible when you consider that these two symptoms--the earliest hallmarks of ASD--were the most obvious manifestations of his condition when he was diagnosed at the age of eighteen months.

These days, his most noticeable deficiencies are in the area of expressive language. While he will ask for things he desires ("want Booty" is a common utterance in our household, and not just by me), usually say "hello," "goodbye," "good morning," and "good night" unprompted, and occasionally point things out to us ("that's a truck!"), he's not much of a conversationalist. He seems to have taken his father's aversion to chit-chat to it's logical conclusion. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for us to know, at any given time, what he wants or how he's doing. We can usually deduce his needs, but he doesn't exactly spell them out.

Which is kind of ironic, given his obsession with spelling. (The kind with letters--not Tori Spelling, thank god). We suspect there may be a touch of hyperlexia in the mix. He learned his alphabet quite early; he wrote his first word at 2 1/2:

First Written Word

(That, by the way, is what he does when you request that he "smile for the camera." :| )

He has a special affinity for writing As and Es. We will sometime find them scrawled, in erasable crayon, on a cabinet and doors, occurrences we have come to attribute to "The Mad Voweler."

His current favorite toy is the Superman Laptop, which is no surprise they apparently used the Autism Society of America as their focus group for market testing. ("I like it, but it needs more buttons, bee-boop noises, and letters.").

"I'm Superman!" says the toy, in a voice completely unlike any actor who has ever portrayed Superman in any medium. "Can you help me find the W?" Squiggle presses the correct key, and the toys crows, "Good job!" It's cool that Squiggle likes it so much, but it makes me kind of sad. I grew up thinking of Superman as a role model, someone faster than a speeding bullet and faster than a locomotive; my son will grow up think of him as someone so helpless that he has to enlist the aid of toddlers to find the "F" on a keyboard.

* * *

We still believe that Squiggle is "high-functioning," through it is too early to determine whether is has Asperger syndrome, Kannerian autism, or just some hodgepodge of traits that will eventually be diagnosed as PDD-NOS.

The question of his cognitive abilities is a tricky one, unfortunately. He's maxed out some tests; on others he falls on the low end of average. As with most attempts to quantify intelligence, the results largely depend on what specific skills they are measuring and how they elicit his responses. And, obviously, his disinclination to express himself verbally complicates any assessment.

We are currently considering our schooling options. Our hope is to eventually enroll him in a FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) preschool--in which a mix of ASD and neurotypical kids share a classroom--but their services are highly sought after, and there is a considerable waiting list. In the meantime we will likely have him attend a regular preschool a few times a week, accompanied by a therapist who will help facilitate his learning and integration. Squiggle has attended music class for years (one class a week--not continuously), and does well in group settings, so we think he will fair well (and possibly thrive) in a classroom setting.

* * *

Though much has changed in the last year and a half, one thing remains constant: Squiggle has the most delightful disposition you are ever likely to encounter. Seriously, the kid could charm the pants off of another pair of pants. We recently received a thoroughly objective, dispassionate, and clinical assessment on his progress from the University of Washington, and, even here, the psychologist couldn't help but describe Squiggle as "endearing" and "sweet." This seems to be the consensus opinion, shared by everyone who interacts with him (except for our cats, who still view him as Monkey the Napwrecker*).

(* Gunning for the 2008 "Most Nickname-Intensive Post" Webbie Award, here ...)

Raising an autistic child is frequently frustrating and often exhausting, but it also brings it's own rewards. In many respects it is like watching a foreign movie: sometimes you feel like you don't have enough context to understand everything that is happening, but you appreciate that you are seeing a story completely different from the conventional narrative.

Squiggle is different than typical kids, but that's okay. If he weren't, he wouldn't be the son we love so much.

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