19 December 2005

The perfect gift

Despite knowing better, I am a big believe in the silver-bullet theory -- the one thing in all the world that will: explain, help, fix. In my head, I know this is wrong; very few situations come about simply, overnight. How could I possibly think that there will be one solution?

My heart, however, persists. My nephew and godson Matthew is autistic. He's six going on seven; he was diagnosed before his second birthday, which is early as these things go. As heartbroken as we all were that there was clearly something wrong, getting an early diagnosis -- and early intervention -- meant he had a shot at overcoming it. We all traded stories we'd heard about kids with early intervention who'd "lost their diagnosis" by their sixth birthday.

Matthew has had no such luck. While he remains a mostly very sweet little boy, and there are signs that he's "smart" in some traditional (reading, matching games, etc.), as well as non-traditional ways (he has no problem remembering how to get to my apartment building no matter where his parents have parked), he has some classic autistic symptoms that seem only to be getting worse. He does not make eye contact. He will only speak in appropriate ways when prompted. He will not sit still for more than a couple of minutes, unless someone is forcing him to. Sometimes he hits his parents. He's started to hit himself.

And while there are some unlooked-for advantages to having an autistic child, particularly in this season -- Matthew is completely unaware of what the hot new toy is, and if he got one present or ten, he would only care about one, and it's as likely to be something he pulled out of the back of the closet as a new toy -- my brother and sister in law were thrilled when he responded to the question, "what do you want for Christmas" with something definite.

A wolf costume.

This is good for several reasons. Matthew loves the Maurice Sendak book "Where the Wild Things Are," and we think that his request for a wolf costume is so that he can look like its main character, Max. He's identifying with someone. He's role playing. He wants something that is not crass or commercial. And, of course, he asked for it.

But where to find a wolf costume? David and Betsy were only able to find a $1300 adult wolf costume, suitable perhaps for a production of "Into the Woods". Auntie Ellen to the rescue. I tracked this down in the UK. Isn't it perfect? It's not only a wolf costume, it really does look like the costume Max wears in WTWTA. I am a genius. Matthew will love me forever; he will play dress up and come out of his shell.

Perfect, right? No, because the company emailed me and said they wouldn't have the costume in until January. The two other companies that sold the same costume, both in the UK (why do British children apparently like to dress up like wolves, but not American ones?), were also sold out of Matthew's size.

I have some other things to give Matt for Christmas, but they are not perfect. They will not cure him. Fortunately, his birthday is in January. I hope the costume will arrive by then.


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