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The Joke That Saved Summer

I will remember a few things clearly about the summer of 2015: a buoyant family reunion, my son beaming after his new camp, and the struggles of summer that beset him, struggles not uncommon among autistic people like him.
10/02/2015 05:50pm ET | Updated October 2, 2016
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I will remember a few things clearly about the summer of 2015: a buoyant family reunion, my son beaming after his new camp, and the struggles of summer that beset him, struggles not uncommon among autistic people like him.

But one memory will brighten and sustain me in whatever coldness is to come, for the summer of 2015 is the first time my son and I made our own joke.

The Joke is not "Tonight Show" funny, but it is hilarious to us.

We were talking about The Schedule, which included a event that would displease him, namely that my husband would take a shower after dinner, go to work and NOT put him to bed. (My son is 13 and still likes the comfort of the bedtime routine, especially when orchestrated by my husband).

I can't remember exactly who said what is what order, but basically the joke went like this:

Q: "Where is Dad going to take a shower?"

A: "At Ruby's restaurant."

Like I said, it's not Jimmy Fallon funny, but the incongruity that is the heart of most humor cracked us up.

We've told The Joke over and over, expanding the places Dad is taking a shower to coffee shops, airports, schools, and on "The Wheel of Fortune." We've expanded the format, joking about our dog, a cat and a cow putting him to bed. And a few of his favorite people are in on the joke, too, like family members and his babysitter Beth.

Here's why I think The Joke, while not the funniest ever, is my favorite:

1. It's a Mythbuster. Among the myths The Joke disproves are: that autistic people don't have a sense of humor, that scripted and repeated speech is a behavior (not communication), and that autistics don't want to connect to other people. Ha!

2. It's How He Copes. The Joke is now his favorite means of self-regulation. When other aspects of the schedule go awry, he starts The Joke and (usually) gets back on track.

3. It Connects the Two of Us. When he leaves school at dismissal, he bobs toward me and starts The Joke with a gleam and a grin. It's how we reconnect in joy.

4. It Connects Him to Our Family. Barry Prizant writes about "family culture" in his book "Uniquely Human." Humor is our family culture. Our daughter, in my opinion, is "Tonight Show" funny, and my husband and I use humor all the time to make it through our days. When my mom found out she had stage 4 lung cancer, she quipped, "Well, you have to die of something."

So, if you're looking for us when times are tough, we'll be in the shower on "The Tonight Show" ... with the dog. And a cow.