Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Angel Gabriel

Note: Not sure I am up to this post.  Easier to try and be funny than talk "serious".  But pretty topical these days 'round these parts, so, internet, I ask for your forbearance regarding the poor writing.  As a band-aid solution, I have placed a MIDI version of "My Hometown" by Bruce Springsteen after the jump.  You may wish to press play as you read this post to let The Boss's tune paper over my lack of skill.


        The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
       his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame

                                             - Basque carol

I can still clearly remember the day my wife told me she was pregnant with who would turn out to be our first son.  She sat me down on the bed in the bedroom of our tiny Ottawa apartment and said she had "something to tell me".  My first thought?  "What!? I'm not ready! I'm only 32!" 

I wouldn't describe the pregnancy as an "accident", so much as a "surprise".  Truth be told, at the time, the wife and I had been boppin' along  "without a net", so to speak, for quite a while. I would describe it as just on the cusp of "long enough for each respective party to wonder if there were plumbing problems".

Unsurprisingly (and justifiably!), my immediate reaction on hearing the news was met with, well, disappointment.  But I like to think I rallied like a champ and came around to the idea with lightning speed.  Not sure the wife had same impression.  But regardless of my attitude, the package was being readied for deployment!

Asperger's syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger's syndrome typically exhibit social awkwardness and an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. 
                                    - Excerpt from definition of "Asperger's syndrome" - Mayo Clinic Web Site 
The little guy took his time coming out.  The due date came and went with no action and mamma and dadda waited patiently (sleepless, uncomfortable mamma slightly less patiently than "you know hon, your tossing and turning at night is kinda breaking up my sleep" dadda).

A week after due date we went to see a movie (Seven Grams, as I recall).  After the movie, I innocently offered "well, hon, I thought that was pretty darn great, what did you think?"

The response? "Yeah....I'm just hot."

The very next day we saw our midwife, who administered an inducement "lite", and that night, we were off to the races! 20 some-odd hours, a decree that I was now in a platonic relationhip and an edipural later, I was a father.

Behavioural Traits
  • May respond poorly to changes, sensory stimuli, transitions, lack of structure, and restrictions
  • Repetitive movements (e.g., jumping, rocking, pacing) and speech (i.e., talking about favourite topics, interest)
  • Rigid, inflexible and rule-bound behaviour
  • Inappropriate behaviour given the social situation (e.g., speaking too loud in place of worship)
  • Exaggerated emotional response to situations (e.g., tantrums when asked to something that they don’t want to do)
  • Superior ability to focus on favourite activity or area of interest (e.g., spends hours mastering video game to the exclusion of other pastimes)
                                                             - Excerpt from Asperger's Society of Ontario website

The first inkling we got that there may be anything going on with our little guy was when he frst started attending nursery school in Ottawa.  There were tantrums, crying and some hitting.  But I say this now only in hindsight.  Lots of kids have trouble adjusting when they first start attending group education, especially when, like our son, they have not been in day care previously.  And, indeed, after the initial rough period, my boy was a rock star at nursery school. 

Then came the move back to Winnipeg.  The Winnipeg version of junior kindergarten.  Again, some troubles, but we attributed it to the stress of the move. Janelle went back to work and Gabriel went into an unstructured daycare run by the "lunch ladies" after JK.  This unstructured time did not go well.  There were tempers and running to the bathroom to hide.  But we placed him in a daycare nearby and things improved.  

Senior kindergarten went well.  Then we were off to Hogtown!

     As individuals with Asperger’s enter adolescence, they become acutely aware of their differences. This may lead to depression and anxiety. The depression, if not treated, may persist into adulthood. 

Gabriel's first school in Toronto was a disaster.  (My cousin is the principal. She suggested he attend.  That's another post.)  His grade one class had a rigid curriculum.  Gabriel could not handle it and acted out. His  anxiety level rose and rose and he acted out more and more and began to, for lack of a better term, "deconstruct".  He began melting down even at his swimming lessons, which had never happened before.  After a month and a week, we decided to take Gabriel out, before he completely imploded.  We transferred him to another school, his home school. 

Once at Humewood, Gabriel was enrolled in a class with an incredible teacher.  Gabriel's self esteem and aproach to school improved immediately.  He once again became the happy boy we knew and finished the year on a happy note.  In May, however, the result of a psychological assessment brought the diagnois that we had already suspected: Asperger's Syndrome.

Famous people with Asperger's:

Albert Einstein
Alan Turing
Al Gore
Andy Kaufman
Andy Warhol
Bill Gates
Bob Dylan
Carl Jung
Hans Asperger
Henry Ford
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Newton
Jane Austen
Mark Twain
Michael Jackson
Michael Palin
Mozart (could be ADHD instead)
Nikola Tesla
Thomas Jefferson
Vincent Van Gogh
Woody Allen


Gabriel's school experience this year has once again devolved to a, for lack of a better term, "shitshow".  More on that later!

I never spend any time wishing Gabriel was not an Aspie.  Well, okay, when I am scouring the house looking for a lego sword while my seven year old wails in the background, I may sigh from time to time, but no extended time.  And I never sit around asking "why me!?".  I have seen more than enough bad shit happen to people to know that, as Clint and Snoop said "deserve ain't got nothin' to do with it."  And this isn't even bad shit!  Janelle and I talked with a woman who was the former head of the Asperger's Society of Ontario, Margot Nelles, and she put it perfectly: unlike so many afflictions, the beauty of Asperger's is that it offers not just challenges, but also gifts.  Aspies feel things in a way that "neurotypicals" can only imagine.

Where I feel the weight....ensuring that I do right by him.  Many aspies can and have done incredible things and led happy lives. Many have not. It's my job to ensure that Gabriel gets into the first group.  But, as any parent knows, there's no manual, no instructions, nothing to tell you whether you have made the right choice at any stage.

I just hope so fucking hard that we get it right.


  1. This was a great entry! And as an FYI, there are many unhappy unsuccessful neurotypicals, I have every confidence that you guys will do right by him.... Just keep him away from tax!!!

  2. Thanks "R"! As for tax, no chance! He has already decided that he is going to work for "Lego" when he grows up. And not in the accounting department!

  3. Wow JJ. Your blog on Gabriel is amazingly written (I am not just saying that). As a mom I can relate to exactly how you feel as I would feel the same way as you. I am sure that you and Janelle will do a great job in assisting him to achieve his goals and dreams. The fact that you already suspected something before his diagnosis proves it. Being in Toronto will enable you to resources you likely wouldn't have gotten here in Winnipeg.... And for all you nay sayers, there is nothing wrong with going in to tax!! Monique