Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Virtual Arnold Ziffle.

Last fall my sister talked me in to playing Farmville on Facebook. “That’s stupid,” I said. “I’m not wasting my time on that nonsense.”

Oh, just go create a little farm so you can send me gifts, she says.

Eight months later and I’m level 36; I’ve got a plantation-sized farm with four cow sheds, one super-size chicken coop, a horse barn, a nursery barn (for all my calves and foals,) one manor house, two cottages, a castle, a giant windmill, a greenhouse, a school, a library, a general store, an open-air market, a replica of Stonehenge, countless fruit-bearing trees, and a boatload of livestock (cows, chickens, sheep, goats, reindeer, llamas, pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese, swans, cats, and even penguins.)

It is a monumental waste of time. To be fair, though, I think that I can prove that I rule Farmville and Farmville does not rule me because I plant my crops in accordance with my schedule. I choose what to plant based upon when I know I’ll be available to harvest. I wasted more than a few Farmville coins on withered crops before I began to time my harvests with my schedule. This, you see, is what you call ‘effective time management.’

I was supposed to write a non-fiction piece on Shirley Jackson for my husband’s magazine project. I did the research, wrote notes, and worked up the general structure of the thing in my head. I even have an opening paragraph. It’s not done, though, because time that would have been better spent on this was frittered away on my stupid virtual farm. When I was not tending to my virtual fish, that is.

About a month ago my sister announced that Farmville was eating up too much of her time. “I’m going to sell everything and quit,” she said. Isn’t that just typical? Someone gets you hooked on something, then turns around and stops doing it themselves. This must be what an addict feels like when all their friends start to sign up for rehab.

Ass Burger.

     My son Udo is an odd little bird. He is, by far, one of the most good-natured,loving, and joyous individuals I have ever known. The world, to Udo, is a fascinating and magnificent place. He's like a puppy, or someone who's just found the Lord.

     Joyful Udo is also rather weird. He's always had a tendency to develop intense fascination with oddball things, like ceiling fans, or heating vents, or satellite dishes. Currently he's obsessed with foreign money. He's interested in what countries call their currency, what the bills look like, how one writes the symbols for that currency, etc. This makes him apt to say things like, "How do you draw the symbol for a yen? Is it like this (draws in air) or like this (draws in air?)"

     My biggest fear for Udo as he entered school was that the school experience would break his little spirit. A fair assumption on my part, as it has a tendency to do that to most children. More so for Udo, however, as soft little hearts are easier to break. My fears were realized on the first day of kindergarten, when Udo was suspended from school for purportedly informing a little class mate, "Today is a good day for you to die."

     Trumped up charges, I still maintain, as Udo doesn't have a mean bone in his body, and when asked couldn't even come up with a definition of the word "die." I suspect he was either coached to say it by another student, or he took the fall for whichever kid actually uttered the phrase. In the post-Columbine world of education, however, an adult does not need to witness a behavior in order for a child to be punished for it, and Udo is so very eager to please that he will confess to anything and he was suspended for a day.

     His school career, while not always quite so traumatic, has not been easy. He has a very difficult time staying on task, whether the task be a worksheet or a group lesson or gym class. Truthfully, he's a bit of a spazz. There's nothing wrong with being a bit of a spazz, unless one's spazzmo tendencies cause one to fall behind in school.

     Fall behind he has, our Udo, so that parent/teacher conferences became increasingly dreaded affairs. "Oh, good! It's conference day! Now I get to go sit in a Montessori chair and listen to the teacher tell me how much my kid sucks!" He's in the first grade, and he's behind in nearly everything, especially in math. He cannot, it seems, grasp the basic concepts.

     Because of this, at the school's urging Udo was evaluated by the professionals from the county's intermediate unit. He has, evidently, ADHD with a smattering of Asperger's Disorder. This last was confirmed by the psychiatrist he will now see regularly. The county people were hesitant with the Asperger's, definite only on the ADHD, but the doctor says he's most certainly got it.

     The psychiatrist said that I was to read as much as possible on ADHD and Asperger's. "The more informed you are," she said, "the more vigilant you can be, so that you can identify behaviors as manifestations of the disabilities." I like this lady, perhaps solely because she said this while explaining that Udo's main problem lies in his thought processes: "His's a mess in there."

     So now this is my project; I read about Asperger's. The more I read, the more I realize that Udo is, in fact, quite the little Ass Burger. (I have noticed, in reading about this disorder online, that some families of afflicted children refer to them as "aspies." You will never hear me use this term, and if anyone ever refers to my son as an 'aspy' I'll correct them. In our house, it's "Ass Burger." )

     Asperger's Syndrome was identified in the 40's by Dr. Hanz Asperger. He called it something else, but his name was assigned to it in the 80's when another researcher re-published some of his case studies. The syndrome belongs to a larger classification of disorders called PDD, or Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Autism is also classified as such.

     Asperger's was recently included as a part of the "autism spectrum," apparently much to the chagrin of those who identify themselves as Ass Burgers. Previously it was identified as its own specific disorder, but the Grand High Council of Psychiatric Pooh-Bahs who publish the Big Book of Spotting Nutters (I've taken some liberties with the names of the entity which publishes the psychiatric standards for diagnosis and the name of that publication as I can't remember what it's really called; I like mine better) have decided otherwise. The Ass Burgers, it seems, don't want to be lumped in with those at the helmet-wearing, pants-wetting, droolcup-carrying end of the spectrum, and I can't say I blame them.

     Asperger's is characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior, poor gross motor skills (clumsiness,) and preoccupation with a circumscribed area of interest. Like ceiling fans, for example, or foreign currency. It tends to coincide with other psychological disorders like ADHD, obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD,) anxiety, and depression. Detectable onset of Asperger's is much later than that of autism, as Ass Burgers tend to have average or above average verbal skills.

     The diagnostic criteria for Asperger's are: there must be qualitative impairment in social interaction. In Udo's case, this is illustrated by his tendency to 'parallel play.' When he's on the playground with his classmates, he plays NEAR them, but not AMONG them. There must also be restricted, repetitive stereotypical patterns of behavior, like persistent preoccupation with certain objects (like ceiling fans.) This may also include repetitive motor mannerisms (flapping, twiddling, twitching, etc.) or inflexible adherence to routines or rituals (think OCD.)

     When diagnosing a child like Udo, it must be shown that these behaviors cause a significant impairment in social/occupational areas of functioning. Udo's dreamy preoccupations with whatever his current obsession may be has been a great hindrance to his school performance. It must also be shown that there has been no "clinically significant" delay in language or in cognitive development.

     Udo meets these very nicely, I'm afraid. As I follow the psychiatrist's advice and read as much as I can on the subject, the more I find myself thinking, "My God...that's Udo!" It's all rather heart-breaking.

     The good news, according to what I have read so far, is that many Ass Burgers have positive outcomes when they receive help for their parallel disorders (like the ADHD) and social skills training to help them learn how to function in the world. Little Ass Burgers grow up to be Big Ass Burgers, who remain eccentric, but learn to take the mess in their heads and make it work for them.