The Work That We Do (#162)

Into the car with the backpack (Charlie’s) and the coffee (mine), and off under the snow-touched trees to The New School. The hand-off to his teacher was easy (as things generally are with a smiling boy) and followed by a quick and focused discussion about “behavior.”
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From reading Charlie’s communication book, I could tell that The New School had not wasted any time to address the head stuff. After a fabulous morning in which he showed his prowess in sorting, they anticipated Charlie getting upset in the afternoon and he went out on a walk and was in good spirits the entire day. The bus got him home at 2.58pm (an hour and twenty minutes earlier than yesterday–I’m still working out the physics of it). He wanted an early dinner and then the pool, where he would have bobbed about on a swim noodle if I had not swam circles around him and prodded him to move. Charlie fell asleep on the couch with his hands tucked under his head, just as he used to do as a baby.

I boiled a pot of water and cooked some rice noodles, shrimp, and vegetables; put two different types of chips into ziplocs; put grapes into another; washed an apple; mixed soy sauce and peanut butter into a sauce for the noodles: This is Charlie’s lunch tomorrow, the eating of which is certainly a high point of the day to him; the making of which is therefore a huge responsibility for me.
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For deciding what to put in Charlie’s “wunssbox” always poses an autism dilemma. Do I put in his favorite (hummus for the past two days) and risk his getting bored with it? Do I try something he kind of likes and risk him not eating, and being hungry and ill-tempered? Do I play into his need for routine and his obsessions (it is lunch, after all), or do I adhere to the general project of challenging Charlie on all fronts, at all times?

“Peanut butter and grape jelly,” Jim states automatically when I ask him what he brought for school lunch. “And a Devil Dog.” “Every day?” I ask; the response comes slowly. “Oh, maybe baloney. Or liverwurst. A lot of peanut butter.” My mom, to her credit, tried to keep things interesting with the occasional packets of paper-wrapped chicken or won ton, or cold meatloaf that went straight back into the lunch bag, amid the sandwiches, the celery, and the Hydroxes. She rarely gave us peanut butter sandwiches (and I don’t like grape jelly).

We all like a little ritual. But Charlie has an extra-hard time letting go of his “favorites” and every day I try to think of some tiny change I can introduce into his life: A different lunch. Wearing the black fleece not the blue. Me driving him one day, and maybe the bus in a few days.

What is Charlie and what is some aspect of autism that might impair him from achieving his full potential?

Answering that question has been my daily assignment in Autismland 101 . It’s hard and I struggle to keep up my GPA; effort does count for credit but the main criterion is the results.
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And the results for today are: “Wook at me!” smiles Charlie, glancing at me over his shoulder and climbing on the couch arm. “Fun in ocean!”, as he watches the photos on the screensaver of Jim’s computer scroll by. “Wike you say” I think I hear as Charlie does run-run-run-jump across the living room. “You makeit so easy!” as he runs up the stairs to make sure my mom’s suitcase is stowed behind the guestroom door.

A day like this, the work–the living–is easy.

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