“I’m playing catch with Charlie!” (#195)

High up on a hotel’s 27th floor under a strange down comforter, Charlie did not fall asleep on Saturday until past 11pm. He woke up early as Jim and I moved around the room and, while Jim was at a historians’ conference, Charlie and I went for a walk down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
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First he ran and crunched in the dead leaves and wove his way among some winter-thin trees. Then, as we neared the Philadelphia Museum of Art and sighted a Christmas tree at the top of the stone stairs, Charlie picked up a stick and became engrossed in how it sounded on wood versus metal. We walked back much more slowly in the cold, so I got a good look at the statue of “The Thinker” in front of the Rodin Museum as Charlie tried out his stick on a bark-speckled tree.

Once back in our hotel room, he got the dog, green rabbit, and two books he had brought from home, pulled the comforter around him, and fell asleep–only to be roused in a half-hour as we had to check out of the hotel. Charlie flopped after me in his striped sweat pants, fleece items hanging half off his shoulders, and settled down into his usual seat on the right side of the black car.
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We stopped to see Charlie’s godmother, who cut up a green apple for him, and his godfather, who produced a football. At halftime of the Giants’ game, Charlie went out with him and Jim and suddenly Jim was calling,

“He’s catching the ball!”

Charlie was smiling and jumping rapidly and tracking the ball’s flight well enough to put out his hands: Catch. Laugh. Wobbly throw when Jim said “throw!”.


As Jim has had ample opportunities to observe on their bike rides, Charlie has trouble tracking moving objects: Balls, squirrels, cars. We have long noted that, when a ball is thrown to him, Charlie is watching it closely and raising his arms just a bit too late–until today, when something clicked.

“I’m playing catch with Charlie!” Jim called out in simple triumph when he got a back-and-forth going with Charlie in our living room this evening. “Casstch ball,” said Charlie.

Little breakthroughs mean loads in Autismland, especially when you’ve been working on them for 5, 6, 7 years. How did this one click in place today? I hypothesize, it happened because, by going to Philadelphia, Charlie was able to break out of his routine, and break into something new.

“Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals.”

In our experiences in Autismland, this item from the DSM-IV often seems to be interpreted to mean “autistic children like routine” and “autistic children like things to stay the same.” But the DSM-IV actually says that this “adherence” or insistence on routine or ritual is “apparently inflexible.” When I told Charlie on Saturday morning that we were going to Philadelphia, he said “Portia doggy! Gramma Granpa white rice chicken!” and burst into tears when I said “not this weekend.” Some might read this as incontestable evidence that we had no business taking an overnight trip to another place.
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I read Charlie’s response as “we, he, definitely needs a change from the usual weekend routine. At school and in his home ABA program, we have been teaching Charlie to use a picture activity schedule to help him understand what will happen throughout his day. But we keep varying a few things on the schedule–here he works with a different teaching assistant, here he does the reading program after the Lite Brite–to prevent the schedule from just becoming a “restricted repetitive and stereotyped pattern of behavior, interests and activities” (to refer to the DSM-IV again). Something about Charlie’s neurological wiring sets him up to seek out routine and sameness, just as the numbers always mean the same thing.

But give him a litle change–a night in a different city, in hotel bed–and the disruption to his system can lead to him learning something new. To real change, and a real game of catch with his dad.

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Comments
7 Responses to ““I’m playing catch with Charlie!” (#195)”
  1. Joel says:

    Well done indeed! that’s a huge milestone. It’s really quite fantastic what a shift in routine can accomplish sometimes. Three cheers for productive stress and the simple pleasures of playing catch.

  2. Eileen says:

    Jim must have been in his glory yesterday playing catch with his boy! That is so awesome!!!

  3. Oh how I LOVE that feeling – when our kids do something new and we’re so excited and all we can do is jump for joy and call around for witnesses!

    Go Charlie!!!

  4. gretchen says:

    Yeah Charlie!!!! Thanks for the great news- it made me smile today! We always have to be ready for another breakthrough- it can come anytime, anyplace!

  5. Heidi says:

    Hooray for Charlie! Hooray for you all! Here’s to more breakthroughs in 2006! 🙂

  6. Kristin says:

    Yeah Charlie!!!!!
    I also wanted to write about your thoughts in the change in Charlie’s routine. Perhaps it enables ASD children to step outside of themselves, what would typically happen, then learning/trying something new. Gabe seems to have amazing bursts of language after we see the grandparents. They live a state away, which entails many changes to his schedule. If only we could harness this “window” to learning for them to occur more often without consequence.

    Kristin

  7. Wade Rankin says:

    That is soooo cool for Jim! We notice a pattern of shifting patterns more than a rigid routine (does that make sense?). Sometimes it takes just a little nudge to make that little jump that makes for great days. May those moments come even more often for Charlie.

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