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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Guest Post: Chip

Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Check out Reed's previous guest posts, including 2011's post of the year on his vasectomy.

print by Brian Kershisnik
He is sitting precariously on the edge of my bed, switching between his iPad and mine. His focus today, as is most days, is numbers. He plays number games and watches numbers dance to music on YouTube. Occasionally he'll slip in some letters, but he seems preoccupied with numbers.

One of my earliest memories is standing behind the front passenger seat in our VW bus, looking out the window and counting things. Telephone poles, street signs, mailboxes, trees, whatever stuck out from the concrete sidewalk and cinderblock walls. Early on it was just a tallying of how many there were on a particular block. Then I compared the number from one block to another to check for patterns. Since often those patterns didn't exist, I would invent my own patterns, counting the items in groups of threes, hoping to end with a full set of three upon arrival at our destination. Later, I would count the letters in the street signs and assign them to groups of three or five, and occasionally seven. This all took place completely in my head and I don't think my mom (the driver) or my siblings had a hint at my peculiar hobby.

He will look at the flash cards on the ground. Sometimes he will initiate the arranging activity and place the numbers in order from 1-20. Most of the time he prefers someone else to get it started. I purposely place a few numbers out of order. He makes a hooting sound and moves the numbers to their appropriate spot. While at seven years old he does not speak with words, his actions communicate loudly that making order out of chaos is a priority to him.

I can hear my mother expressing frustration that there are no clean pieces of scratch paper in the junk drawer. The pieces of scratch paper remain but they are filled with math problems, generally multiplication and division. I have no idea why I, as a seven year old, would do this. I would get a math problem in my head (what is 265 times 52) and would need to work it out so I could know the answer.(1) I didn't commit answers to memory; maybe it was more of an exercise to remind myself that I could make order out of chaos should the need arise.

Several months ago, his school sent a questionnaire to the fathers of the students on the autism spectrum. The intent of the form was to determine if there was some correlation between autistic children and their fathers. I have no idea how I stacked up compared to other fathers, but it did seem that I answered questions in a way that suggested shared personality traits between he and I. Some of the questions asked about preoccupations with numbers, letters or other things in my youth. Other questions asked about my interests and occupation as an adult. I paused and thought of some other organizational activities that I enjoyed. As a late teen and young adult, I would regularly organize my records (and later cds) alphabetically according to artist, or according to album title. Sometimes, I'd organize them chronologically according to when they were released or even sub-divide them into genre when musical genres were more apparent.(2) And this was for fun.

My initial reaction to my self-assessment was to try to explain it away and say that I'm not really like that and never was. I resisted the notion that my hobby could contribute to a diagnosis(3) of anything other than boredom. As I continue to think about the assessment, I can accept and even embrace the similarities that he and I have. This shared trait helps us both to understand each other better and to understand him and be his father has been something I've longed for since his birth. He is mine and I am his and we belong to each other. And come to think of it, I might just arrange my cds today, this time alphabetically according to record label.

(1) This was during the pre-calculator era.
(2) This sort of behavior can be seen by Daniel Stern's character is the film "Diner" and by John Cusack's character in "High Fidelity."
(3) Special note: the questionnaire is not intended to diagnosis potential ASD in fathers but to get an idea of an array of personality traits.

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