Simply Complexing

The other day I was watching Mr. L laugh loudly, unabashed and with so much exuberance in his joy at a Thomas the train YouTube video. As I was enjoying his openness I was thinking about how much different teaching him at home has been compared to what I thought teaching would be like when I was his age. It then dawned on me how completely complex my first born is, how his level of complexity leaves many stumped and often leaves my husband and I wishing if only for a day we could follow his thought process and read his mind. So we could at least have a starting point with some clarity of where his thoughts go and how they work. And yet Mr. L is also so simple. I mean literally it can take nothing more then a leaf or for someone to repeat his words for him to have such an instant level of pure joy.

In some ways I feel like I have to drop down into the trenches, and crawl along on my stomach getting the dirt of his previous thoughts caked in my hair, in my nails, and stained into my jeans to just grasp at a compromising idea to please him and to budge him forward. While understanding at that same moment that I could grasp at weeds of recommendations of well meaning professionals and veteran parents who have raised their kids already, but know nothing about autism, and how useless those dried up and weathered weeds would be.

I often have to play detective and work backwards sometimes to just a few seconds and sometimes I have to think back days or even weeks to connect the dots and piece together the problem before even thinking about what the possible answer would be. The problem could be that his sibling stuck together 2 Lego pieces that he had intended for something else and now he can’t get them apart. Which if you didn’t know how much his siblings admired him and wanted to play with his things when he wasn’t looking, could make finding him sitting on his bedroom floor yelling and crying with nothing in his hands to be tricky to figure out. Especially if he didn’t have the vocabulary yet to say, “My Lego pieces are stuck” or “Please pull them apart for me”.

This Lego problem happened yesterday and after asking, calming, and reassuring my son who is on the autism spectrum, I was able to convince him that I truly wanted to help. Mr. L then with a flushed face and sweaty hair held out a clump of small Lego pieces pushed tightly together that he had left up on his dresser and he said, “It’s broken. I just can’t!” After seeing the problem, I was able to show him the answer. I did this by holding the legos in front of my mouth while I separated the pieces and said, “Pull apart”. I repeated this phrase 4 or 5 times while breaking down the hard little pieces and by the 3rd piece I had Mr. L repeat the words as well. I had done the work close to my lips so he would associate the words to the action.

Once the current problem was resolved my kiddo quickly mulled over his collection of tiny legos and with excited fingers handed me other random stuck legos and quickly repeated his new learned term, “Pull apart please!” Apparently he had stumbled across this problem a few different times and hadn’t wanted to waste his time trying to translate his predicament. These specific pieces were not random to him. By the time he was satisfied with all the scattered projects “pulled apart” I probably took apart 10 Lego pieces and he had repeated those words many times too. Not only did I calm his frustrated heart, I had taught him a new tool for future problems.

But there have been times when I couldn’t figure out the problem, and I couldn’t teach him a new coping skill. There have been times when all I could do was hold him while he cried and mourned for whatever was out there in his sea of thoughts that my little row boat was unable to find. Other times his complexity is obviously exciting even though I don’t get to see it. You can see the gears turning in his eyes and you can feel the thought process burning a hundred miles an hour and he is ok with leaving us behind. At these times he has things to do, thoughts to explore, and ideas to work through. My only hope is that some day he will find the vocabulary and the communication skills to catch me up to speed. If nothing else, perhaps his blooming art skills will show me where his mind travels to 🤞

As I mentioned before though, he has this innocent simplicity to him as well. He likes root beer, bottled preferred. He likes to make people laugh. He likes to draw trains, share the sound that train makes (with his mouth), and then tape it on a wall. He lets his little brother share his twin sized bed even though they don’t really fit anymore, and he has been found holding his brother in his sleep so he won’t fall off. He will share his last Oreo with his little sister. He likes to watch his dad play football video games and cheers for my husband as though he is actually running on the NFL field himself. He likes plain pasta and cheddar cheese. He likes footie pajamas.

I guess we are all a little complex and simple at other times too. What is something you simply like?



  1. “finding him sitting on his bedroom floor yelling and crying with nothing in his hands to be tricky to figure out.”

    “and after asking, calming, and reassuring my son who is on the autism spectrum, I was able to convince him that I truly wanted to help.”

    It makes me really happy and reassured reading things like this! Whilst I haven’t had a communication problem, I’ve reached that point of yelling and crying so many times in childhood, but never without compassion from family. Also in adulthood, as recently as 2018. Because it was never seen as anything but obstinance, and an over-reaction, they saw it as something to be put up with and dealt with through punishment.

    It’s ironic, isn’t it. A common theme seems to be that, when autism is more obvious from early on, there’s more understanding and help from those around them, and it’s given earlier. So that when it’s less obvious, you can suffer in a much different way, and potentially worse, as being misunderstood for so long inevitably leads to things like suicidal thoughts, despite the fact you’ve had less of a communication problem, and you’ve instead had an information problem from early on.

    Anyways, I relate so much to descriptions of your son, and actually the person who lives in my city who first introduced me to thinking about autism, she has an autistic son who’s a bit older than yours, whom I’ve interacted with quite a lot. And he seems to have a lot of similarities with your son! (Asking you to repeat things he’s said, fascination with Thomas trains). I get on very well with my friend’s son, and feel I have a connection there that others may miss!


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