Our son is addicted to numbers.
Jordan’s obsession rivals that of my coffee dependence which is a heavy burden to bear. Like his father he is constantly seeking a “quick fix” of it at any time, any place, and at every opportunity. This is raising a huge concern with me. Not the coffee. I can quit that any time if I want to. What I am worried about is the numbers.
Math has always been my nemesis. A confused and abolished soul I am while visiting the numeric world. I sometimes find myself wandering its land aimlessly, occasionally befriending alphabet outcasts like “x” and “y”, all of the while planning a daring escape from its brutal grasp.
Sure I can add and subtract, multiply and divide. Sometimes even without resorting to the calculator. And I understand the need for math. It is an important part of life. Under silent protest and sometimes deafening headaches, I calculate a few figures every day at work. Each week it is with a not-so-silent protest that I add up numbers as my wife fills up the shopping cart. My wife is good at math though. She knows that for every five frustrated comments I make, the total cost of items are adding up to more than $200. Yep, math and numbers are all around us. I hate it.
But it gets worse.
To my utter dismay and disgust, the world of shifty digits has embraced my son, Jordan. At only 3½ years old, his autistic mind finds comfort in the structure and safety of the consistent and logical patterns. One and then two and then three . . . And for a boy whose autism prevents him from coping with simple daily transitions, he is remarkably accepting of these number patterns being rearranged to form such things as phone numbers or the time on digital clocks. But change the order of his trains and there will be hell to pay!
It is with ease he will identify numbers that are visible in reverse through glass doors. With excitement in his eyes, he will watch intently as the microwave counts down until the 0 appears as his sister’s bottle is warmed. Sometimes all he needs is a sleep-deprived parent to count out loud to him — starting at one and usually ending before 500 — in order to help him find the back of his eyelids again at 2 a.m. Full of pride he points and relays — in his own secret language of vowel sounds and grunts — the numbers on my tape measure. I always stop the job at hand to practise with him because the look he gives me says that his smile is the only thing worth measuring at that moment. He’s right about that for sure.
When it comes to numbers, I don’t foresee his interest dissipating. Quite honestly it scares me. Therefore, I realize that if I have a hope of understanding just a small piece of autism and my son, I will have to parachute into the numeric world and walk among the enemy. Not just walk with them. I will have to befriend them.
I think I would rather quit coffee instead.
Nonetheless, in preparation for a gruelling uphill battle with math, I did a little bit of homework. While researching supports for children with autism I came across some numbers that made me think my mission for math may be more of the kamikaze kind.
Earlier this year, Canadian Parliament generously granted $1 million toward the fight against autism. A wonderful gesture it seemed until I did my math homework. The money will be spread out over the next five years, equalling $200,000 per year.
When I crunched the numbers a little more, and with the help of my calculator, I realized it works out to be approximately $2 per child over five years. More simply stated, 40 cents a year will go toward supposedly helping an autistic child like Jordan in some way.
What?? Forty cents a year will not enable agencies such as KidsAbility to hire more occupational therapists to help with the overloaded waiting lists. It will not let Trellis send their infant developmental workers to visit an autistic child in need more than one time every six weeks. Forty cents a year certainly will not be enough to help the 500,000 affected families cope with the worry and fear of raising a child with autism.
The government acknowledges autism as a serious concern but has yet to take a significant stance in the fight. It doesn’t matter how you do the math, 40 cents is not enough. One out of 75 children are in a lifetime battle with autism. The scariest part is that this number is steadily rising. Just another reason for me to hate numbers.
So with a cup of coffee in hand, I reconsider my ambitious plan to practise my math and think of other ways to get inside the mind of my son. But when it comes down to it, Jordan loves numbers. I’ll have to embrace the fact that he is passionate about them and do my best to endure that world. But who knows, maybe he won’t love them so much when he is old enough to understand the real math.
One in 75 children has autism.
Jordan is one in a million. That one is a number I am willing to love.
Published in the Guelph Mercury, August 6, 2012