A Rocking Lullaby (the Autismland Theme Song) (#237)
My parents gave Charlie an iPod music player last year. After several years of trying to rub and scrape fingerprints and gunk off the bottoms of CD’s and of rewinding yards of tape back into cassettes after Charlie had pulled it out (laughing all the way), the little device has proved a good solution.
As Charlie does not yet have the coordination to select a song with his fingertip on the click wheel (or to read the display screen), he has gotten in a lot of good manding practise asking us or his therapists for songs: “In the Evening,” “John Jingle,” “Da Farmer inna Dell,” “Ee Eye Ee Eye Oh,” “Teletubbies Tree,” “Teletubbies El’phant.” There are a couple hundred songs on the player and, more and more, non-kiddy-music, from rock to blues to opera, as determined by Charlie’s sitting quietly with big eyes (he likes it) or humming idly (he doesn’t) when we play music in the black car.
I have the iPod set onto Shuffle so Charlie hears a varied and somewhat unpredictable sequence of songs. He tends to ask for the same ones over and over and this may well be because he wants to hear Big Bird singing “Farmer in the Dell” for the 29th millionth time. But, from watching how he starts the humming, and staring at the floor, and freezing in his body posture upon hearing the same song too much, I am suspecting that those repeated playings of the same song freeze his mind and make him anxious. Just as Charlie learns best when the teaching is varied and fun, so does it help to keep the playlist turning from ’50s rock to Hebrew lullabies.
Charlie spent his Sunday with my parents, Gong Gong and Po Po. They went to the mall (for more pants) and then to see Curious George. They had to sit near the wall towards the front in a super-crowded theater and Charlie smiled a lot and watched the movie attentively.
Halfway through, he told my parents he had to get up and they went to find the restrooms. As he was washing his hands, a young woman walked up to my them and said “Hi, Charlie!”
She was one of the many young women who have worked as Charlie’s therapists, teachers, teaching assistants, and speech therapists over these past seven years. My mom did not recognize her but Charlie did. This young woman had worked both in his old classroom and in therapy sessions in our house, over a year ago, and she had always been a big favorite of Charlie’s.
My parents told me, though, that Charlie started to cry and say “No!”.
They took him back home where he had a meltdown sitting on the heater vent. As my parents have been in “autism grandparent training” for several years, they got him to calm down and Charlie requested “shoes on, socks on!” Their drive took them past Charlie’s school and he insisted on getting out and taking them on a tour around the building. Back home, my dad reported to me over the phone that Charlie’s new favorite was the onions my mom was cooking with some bok choi and stir-fried pork.
Jim and I spent the day writing and reading in his office and, as we opened the front door, we heard a familiar clomping run down the stairs and sighted a smiling boy grinning down on us. After his shower, Charlie asked for “Itsy bitsy spider” and my mom called for me: “How do you turn the music on?”
It is easiest for Charlie on days when he goes to school, does an ABA session, goes for a walk or a swim, showers, hears music, goes to bed. But the variation of his grandparents visiting and taking him to different places and puzzling over the phrases Charlie says to us (“Pih ih upp!” “What did he say?” asks my dad. “Would you like us to pick it up, Charlie?” I say.) And a big part of me wants to make it possible for Charlie just to keep moving on and never to have to be reminded of his very tough times at his old school, as when he saw that former therapist in the movie theater restroom. How strong are Charlie’s associations of her with his old school and the behaviors he could not break himself away from, to the extent that his fondness for this therapist was entirely blocked out.
Jim and I took turns sitting beside Charlie in his bedroom as he held onto two photos (of two St. Paul therapists, Stella and Beth) and heard Fountains of Wayne one moment and “All Through the Night” the next and, finally, Love Is a Song That Never Ends.
In a sentimental mood, that song is always on the list of my Autismland Theme Song Playlist, along with the purest lullabies (and a guitar riff with drumbeats layered in fading out in the background). For love is the kind of intense feeling scented in ambivalence that rushes into me whenever I look at Charlie and that he too feels and felt and tried to explain, more than once today, to those he loves best .