Michael Collins: Peering through the windows of autism

Feb. 04, 2014 @ 07:30 AM

In order to get some understanding of my son, one must sneak up to the wall that is autism and peek through the windows.  I have had that privilege thousands and thousands of times.  Some of the windows are perfectly clear, revealing to an outsider the beauty that resides within, while others are opaque, offering only a blurry glimpse of what it must be like on the other side.  Still others are completely darkened out, revealing nothing and preserving the mystery that permeates autism.

It is Jacob’s darkened windows that intrigue me the most.  The moments when Jacob amazes those around him simply by being ... Jacob.  For example, the time my oldest daughter and I agreed that reciting the alphabet backwards was an impossible feat that could not be accomplished by any of God’s creatures.  To prove the point I began with “z” and made it as far “w” before making a mistake.  Jacob piped in, correcting me, and proceeded to recite the entire alphabet backwards without pause.  My wife, kids and I all stared at him in amazement.  

Another of Jacob’s darkened windows is his uncanny ability to memorize every possible statistic you can imagine related to monster trucks.  Not only can Jacob tell you the name of every truck in existence, he can name the primary driver, the back-up drivers, the championships they have won, what year they won them and who they eliminated or were eliminated by in each round of the competition.

It amazes me even now that Jacob can inquire of me, “Dad, did you know Monster Mutt won the freestyle championship at the 2010 World Finals?” and I can actually respond in the affirmative.  I have heard Jacob recite these stats enough that I am becoming a fairly knowledgeable spectator myself.     

This Jacob is a far cry from the 4-year-old I took to Monster Jam in Knoxville in 2005.  The only picture I could get that year was him standing beside a tire four times his height while he cried miserably.  We didn’t stay very long, since he was absolutely terrified, and I promised myself that I would never make the mistake of dragging him there again.  

A few years later though, Jacob expressed some interest and I asked if he would like to go see them live and in person.  He remarked that it would be wonderful because he had never seen them live before.  How shocked he was when I presented him that old picture.  It still hangs in his room today, and once in a while, he will point it out to me and chuckle and remark that he was a little kid and was afraid of the monster truck.

This past Saturday, Jacob and I attended our fifth consecutive Monster Jam.  Though I cannot claim to be a huge fan of the events, I have grown more fond of them as they have become such a fun way for my son and I to connect. 

Sometimes we arrive early enough for Jacob to go to the pits and get autographs and actually meet some of the drivers.  

The first time we ever got into the pits, we stood in the long line at the Grave Digger truck to get an autograph and a picture of Jacob with the driver and the truck.  Grave Digger is generally the most popular of all monster trucks and even the most casual fan knows that Dennis Anderson is the owner and primary driver of the Grave Digger trucks.  Jacob was completely convinced that he would be meeting Dennis Anderson this day.  

What I did not realize at the time was that Knoxville is a small market when it comes to Monster Jam.  Being a small market equates to seldom, if ever, having the primary driver in attendance.  As we rounded a corner, I could see over the crowd that this particular driver was not Dennis Anderson.  I had no idea who he was and immediately began trying to preemptively soothe Jacob’s impending disappointment as my own heart sank.  

I gently pointed out that there were lots of drivers on the Grave Digger team and Dennis might be sick or may have something personal going on that made it impossible for him to be there.

But when we neared the end of the line where Jacob could see, he grabbed my arm and expressed utter glee that the driver was Pablo Huffaker.  

He bounced and repeated the observation to me over and over until finally, it was his turn.  When the attendant motioned for Jacob to go forward, he took off like Usain Bolt in the hundred meter dash and skipped to a stop in front of a very surprised Huffaker.   Jacob put his arm around him and said confidently, “You are Pablo Huffaker and you won the freestyle competition at the 2007 World Finals while driving Captain’s Curse! And you sometimes drive Monster Mutt and Blacksmith and Grave Digger!” 

Pablo grinned and exchanged a few words with Jacob.  After signing his photo, Pablo stood up in front of Grave Digger’s darkened windows next to my son and his own darkened windows and the two smiled for the photo like friends that had not seen each other in 20 years.  I thanked him and Pablo shook my hand and said, “Your kid sure knows his drivers.”

That he does, Pablo. That he does.