Most days of the week, I watch an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with my 20-year-old stepson. It’s his favorite show, and he’s loved it since he was a child. I think he knows the title of every episode and what season it first aired.
He usually will come knock on my bedroom/office door and ask: “Hey Aaron, are you ready to watch another episode of SpongeBob?” And that could be 8 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon or 7 in the evening. I don’t think it makes any difference for him. In some ways he’s very in-tune to time, in other ways he has no need for time.
“Sure,” I say, and he gets very excited about it and claps and laughs and runs downstairs to his room to set the show up on his television or DVD player or X-Box. I’m not always sure what method of technology he uses, but he has it down to a science regardless. Once everything is set, he’ll come back up and let me know, “It’s ready.”
Once downstairs I take my seat in the wooden desk chair. It’s the one he always slides into place for me in the very front row. It’s the best seat in the house. But even on my way down the stairs, he prefaces every episode with some sort of introductory statement. Today it was: “I bet you won’t believe how crazy THIS episode is going to be.”
And it was pretty crazy. SpongeBob and Patrick decided they wanted to go to the Bikini Bottom prankster store to purchase some new pranking merchandise. The store owner convinces them to buy a can of Invisible Spray and all hell breaks loose after that. Since the Invisible Spray can stain clothes, Patrick and SpongeBob get naked and start spraying different parts of each other into invisibility. They also come up with the idea of spraying a park bench and then sit on it to give off the impression that they are just floating in the air.
With their invisibility powers in full force, the duo goes around pretending to be ghosts and scare nearly everyone in Bikini Bottom – except Mr. Krabs – and there is even a newspaper article about it all. Well, Mr. Krabs isn’t scared of any ghosts, yet goes to great lengths to ward off any potential ghosts coming to scare him. It was all pretty entertaining.
But it’s Mr. Krabs who gets the last laugh in the end when SpongeBob and Patrick’s Invisible Spray washes off in an incident at the Krusty Krab and they find themselves suddenly in the spotlight. Naked. And in front of a laughing crowd. It was a good one.
During the show, I always try to make comments that let him know I am enjoying the show – which I truly do. But if I show him that I am completely invested in the 23 minutes we spend together nearly every day, it brings him great joy. The more I comment or laugh about what is going on in the episode, the more he laughs, the more he jumps and claps, the happier he becomes.
If you haven’t figured it out already, my stepson is autistic. And one of his favorite ways of socializing with people is to watch some sort of video with them. It could be SpongeBob; it could be an animated movie like Cars or Cars 2 or Cars 3… Or it could very likely be a video about construction equipment, or John Deere tractors, or snow moving machines in downtown Toronto. Now, some of these videos are old, and often the writing, acting, and overall production values are a tad cheesy and amateurish, but that doesn’t really matter because those things do not matter to him. The reality of it, at least in my mind, is that it’s a very important way for him to share what he loves with those he loves.
Before I met my wife eight and a half years ago, I had had no interaction with anyone who was autistic. I knew nothing about it. The only experience with autism I had was the 1988 movie Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise (Insert my wife making puking noises because she detests Tom Cruise, but that’s another story).
Anyway, I always enjoyed the movie and would even get a little verklempt at the end when Cruise says goodbye to Hoffman at the train station. Now, is the film’s portrayal of autism accurate? From what I have experienced with my stepson, I’d have to say yes and no. There are some characteristics of Hoffman’s Ray that are familiar to me, but some of his other behaviors are not. But then that should be expected, because people who are autistic are just that – people. Everyone is unique, everyone is different. No two autistic people could ever be exactly the same just like no two “normal” people could ever be exactly the same. It just isn’t like that and why on Earth would it be? But then again, I’m just speaking from my own perspective based on my own experiences.
But back to what I was saying about never having experienced autism before meeting my wife and what that was like for me when I first did.
I have to admit, I was a bit uncomfortable at first, but I suppose that would be true for anyone who had never experienced autism before. It took me time to learn about and experience his behaviors. It took me time to understand his anxieties and triggers. It took me time to fully immerse myself in a life that includes, and will forever include, an autistic person.
One of his greatest triggers and fears is storms. I don’t think it’s so much the storm itself, but its potential to knock out our power. That’s a biggie and causes him great discomfort. Another one of his greatest fears is a kitchen fire. God forbid if we ever have a storm that knocks out our power that somehow in turn causes a kitchen fire that then leads to the smoke alarm blaring.
I’ve learned that one must have a sense of humor and a great deal of patience, empathy, and understanding. My wife is very good at all that because she’s been his mother for 20 years. I’m continually learning and adapting and even though I still struggle at times, I feel I am gaining ground.
But anyway, I don’t mind watching SpongeBob with him. I think it gives us both a break from our individual struggles in this life. Sometimes I am concerned about any isolation he may feel, and so if I can alleviate that in even a small way, then that can only be a good thing.
And truthfully, SpongeBob SquarePants is a pretty good show, and at least it’s not Danny Phantom.