Fourth of July in Autismland

Sometimes people ask what sets Roman off. And the best answer I can give is that *mostly*, we don’t know. He’s like a cat- some days he just gets up and bolts out of the room, and you have no idea why. At other times, he sprawls out next to you, letting you play with his impossibly curly hair and kiss his chubby cheeks until you’re the one that actually gets tired of it first. The one thing we know for sure is that transitions are his kryptonite- anxiety runs him over. And then the shoes come off. If it’s not the shirt, or a clustercuss of inappropriate words.

Romi has heightened sensory issues. He is sensitive to staring (and will decidedly NOT look strangers in the eye), his sense of smell is acute (he randomly insists that he can smell werewolves and snail farts), and his taste buds crave heat (arrabiata sauce on the pasta, sandwiches with yellow mustard and spicy salami. Only).

But his hearing is positively bionic. I think loud noises like ice makers and vacuum cleaners actually pain him. But they terrify him when they come out of the clear blue. Like cars honking. Like thunderstorms. Or fireworks.

When we first moved to Maine from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we had zero family experiences with fireworks displays. We usually lit up some sparklers and hung out with friends. Period. I had grown up in Chapel Hill, and the only time I had been to Kenan Stadium, apart from watching the Tarheels attempt football (go Heels!), was for a U2 concert in 1982. The Boy tour. It rained, and Bono inexplicably scaled the scaffolding to plant a huge flag on the very top, and it was awesome. But I digress.

Newly transplanted in Maine, in 2006, we were invited to watch the fireworks display from a house overlooking the ocean on fashionably grungy-chic Munjoy Hill. Roman was 4, and recently diagnosed on the spectrum- but we accepted anyhow, hoping to pass for normal for a few hours. And we did enjoy a perfectly delightful potluck, a few beers, and some interesting conversations.

Apparently in Portland though, the fireworks are launched from a boat, just barely moored in the ocean, and they explode directly over your head. And tiny Roman? Was NOT a fan.

I was holding Romi in my arms when the first fireworks were launched. Beautiful sprinkling lights. Crowd exhaling in unison. Then the sound. BOOM!

     Roman: Need to go potty!

     Me: (interior monologue) Crap. Just when everything is starting. Oh well. Better out than in. *takes Roman to the loo*

--Intermission—

I scoop him up, race outside to catch the end of the fireworks.

Launch. Sparkle. BOOOOM!

     Roman: Need to go potty!

     Me: Sweetie, you just went potty.

[pause]

     Roman: *displays jazz hands* Hafta wash HANDS!

     Me: (interior monologue) This child has plenty of sense. Also, we should go inside until the fireworks are over.

Since then, we’ve avoided close-up fireworks displays with the Romanator. We tried New Year’s Eve displays from a tightly sealed hotel room in Baltimore a few years ago (on our annual holiday homeward bound road trip up from down south). No dice. Even with muffled noise, Romi still hid in the bathroom until the festivities were over.

After a long hiatus, we made a tenuous attempt again last year. We walked the few blocks down to Town Landing, and watched the Portland fireworks from afar. My bestie Nancy- on whom Roman has had a long and storied crush- had come up from Chapel Hill, and we all trundled down to the pier. Nervous about Roman, I kept him close- to ruffle his hair and give him hugs on demand. And Roman? Couldn’t care less about me- or the fireworks. He was too busy hitting on the teenage girls. Uh oh.

Kelley


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