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A Different Lens

Our columnist is inspired by a book author who embraces the challenges of raising an autistic child.

by Fran LoBiondo

Fran LoBiondoTurning 60 has not been wonderful for me. I have some symptoms that have to be checked with an MRI. Vertigo, bad balance, inability to retrieve words from my memory, et cetera, et cetera. There are more, but I forget what they are.

But life goes on. We still have blooming morning glories on our deck, and they never fail to cheer me up. Our poor Gregory sat at the table last night and his chair collapsed. He was not injured because he hit a house plant behind him, and knocked over a glass of water, thereby delaying our meal while we gathered up the sopping tablecloth, started the washer and mopped up the lake on the floor. And gave him a more reliable chair.

Last week, I turned the corner of the kitchen counter and smacked my foot into a metal barstool. No one thinks it’s necessary to push in their chair in deference to the cleaning lady’s feet.

The pain was indescribable. I screamed and bent over and cried out my pain, and said some bad words, scaring Greg, who is unfazed by profanity, but rarely sees me cry. It turns out to be a deeply bruised toe, which hurts less every day.

I have learned to be grateful for the bumps and bruises as I cruise through life, especially when I think about son Gregory, who just turned 27. He must spend a lot of time just trying to live his life with so much confusion about the rules.

I borrowed the novel, Ginny Moon, by Benjamin Ludwig and read it in three days. Ludwig is scheduled to visit Vineland and do a presentation and book signing at Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland Campus’ One Book, One College Program. (It occurred last Wednesday, October 16.)

Ginny Moon is the story of an extraordinary girl with autism on an unforgettable journey.

Ginny is not like Greg, in that she has more life skills and language than Greg does. But she does act up and start hitting people for what looks like no reason. But in Ginny’s brain, mean people deserve a good smack.

Greg also lashes out and hits or pinches his parents or fellow students, suddenly and inexplicably.

For instance, one time the school called me to come and get him because one little girl had worn her hair in an up do for the first time. She thought it looked pretty.

Greg took one look at her and said, “Fix the hair.”

He said it so many times the staff sent him home. But in his mind, any change from the routine throws him into a tizzy. Everything should stay the same, and new chic hairstyles are not permitted.

Much of Ginny’s dialog remains inside, in her brain, because if she answers a question honestly, she could get hit. She grew up in foster homes because her mother hit her and screamed at her when she interrupted Mom’s assignations with her boyfriends.

When the social workers came to take her away, she fought violently to stay despite being neglected, beaten and molested by her mother’s boyfriends.

I have been inspired by this book. Anything that can be explained to me about why Greg does what he does is always welcome.

He likes music, and in his school his teacher used the computer as a reward for finishing his work. The aides often played “name that tune.” Greg had an iPod at home and knew lots of his brother’s and Dad’s songs, but he didn’t know the lyrics. So he would repeat one line in the right tune, and everyone tried to guess what song he wanted.

When someone guessed right, Greg’s face would light up with a smile and he’d run a few laps around the room.

When Greg left that classroom, everyone missed him and his quirky ways of communicating.

The author of Ginny Moon, Benjamin Ludwig, and his wife decided to become foster parents. While attending Special Olympics events with their daughter, he was struck by the distinct speech patterns and inventive use of language of all the athletes. He used those patterns when writing about Ginny.

There are many times when my husband and I ponder what Greg wants. When he says, “Dad, I need help,” it could mean the batteries need changing in the electric keyboard, or he opened too many sites on You Tube and can’t access his favorite show, or the toilet is clogged.

Our life is an unsolvable mystery, and we work to accept that.

Life Sentences