Essential Information (#256)

Thisclose is how deeply Jim and I feel connected to Charlie. I thought of the extent of this symbiosis this morning, which I spent nauseous on the couch. I kept thinking of Charlie’s reactions to severe stomach pain over the weekend and on Monday and here I was with no one placing any of the demands on me such as Charlie encounters all day: “Let’s get your coat on! Time to catch the bus! Come to the table! Wash your hands!”.
It might not have been very pretty had I had to teach or present a paper this morning. It goes without saying that autism parenthood–that parenthood–often means 3-hours of sleep, lunch from the vending machine, and sailing on smiling while in the throes of laryngitis. As I was home and Charlie at school (and having, as his teacher wrote, an “amazing day”), I settled on the couch to take care of myself, so I can keep on taking care of my boy.

Charlie’s very delayed language is one reason that Jim and I feel closer than close to him. Precisely because he can tell us only the basics with his speech–“I want green apple! Bathroom. Go home”–we have had to get to know him best by spending so much time with him–by simply being with Charlie, and by carefully observing what he does, and by trying very hard not to impose our perspectives–our prejudices–as we seek to interpret Charlie.

This strategy helps us greatly in making a bit of sense of the
fragments of Charlie’s language, as his request to his ABA therapist for “hello ee-yess!”

“What song is that, Charlie?” asked the therapist.

“He means ‘Grand Old Duke of York,'” I called up the stairs. “‘Hello, yes’ is the first few words of that song.”

When Charlie talks, he talks about what is important in his view (that opening “hello……yes!”) rather than what we know (according to the liner notes) is the name of the song (“Grand Old Duke of York”).

Understanding Charlie often means figuring out what he thinks is essential vs. what we think is necessary and that he has left out, such as the phrase “I want” when Charlie says “Daddy bue bankett!” or “that is” when he tells us “plate!”.

Copula is a grammatical term for a verb like “is” or “are” or “has” that serves simply to couple a noun to the rest of the sentence, be it another noun (“Barney is a dinosaur,” “Gong Gong has a blue car“), an adjective (“Barney is purple“), or any kind of predicate (“The lunchbox is in the backpack“). “Is” and “has” in those sentences merely link one part of the sentence–one noun–to another part of the sentence–to some other thing (“dinosaur,” “blue car”) or quality (“purple,” being “in the backpack”).
The copula is a word Charlie often leaves out in his spontaneous speech, perhaps because it is non-essential to him. “Dinner” and “pwayground” and “piggyback Mike” are all requests or mands, the “I want” implied. “Mommy pink s’irt” means that I have such a shirt and he likes to see me wear it.

And I like to think that it is a sign of our wordless connection to Charlie that we can understand him, though he only uses the essentials of language, the concrete nouns (“yallow hat,” “fwies”) and action verbs (“eat,” “throw!”). Why waste words?

I’ll always hope that, someday, Charlie will be able to express himself as the bloggers Zilari and Ballastexistenz, and many more autistic writers. My own use of words has enabled me to meet so many of you autism parents and so many parents like Mary Tsao, who has most kindly featured Autismland on the BlogHer website.

Speech in paragraphs is a hope I have for Charlie—and yet I already feel that Charlie communicates as much in so many other ways, in actions and in ways of being, that he has taught me to look for. The upright, erect posture of his shoulders at the playground as a little girl went down the slide said Glad to be here with other kids. The way he lingered in pulling the rind off a pickle slice said I’m stuffed but I feel I have to eat everything on the plate.

Funny but Jim, riding home on the train, was thinking exactly the same thing as I was, that Charlie is already able to tell us all he needs to. We just need to know how to listen.

3 Responses to “Essential Information (#256)”
  1. Eileen says:

    Hope you are feeling better! We have some stomach thing going on around here too. First Andrew and now Brian.

    I love how Charlie likes to see his Mommy in his favorite pink shirt. Andrew likes me to wear an Old Navy sweatshirt. He’ll drag it out of the dirty laundry pile and put it up to me.

    When Andrew is around other kids, he’ll gallop around with a smile on his face showing his excitement.

    Though I am still learning to read them, Andrew has many ways that he communicates the essentials to us as well.

  2. Ben says:

    Great post. I love the way you describe communicating with Charlie. I find it similar with my son. It’s like we connect more through an understanding than through traditional tone, content and body language. I find the more I think in his way and understand the world as he sees it, then his actions start to make sense and I start to understand why he says the things he does. It’s just like speaking different languages. All I have to do is learn the native tongue of autismland.

    Thanks again.


  3. SquareGirl says:

    I agree. I feel that just as important and teaching more understandable communication, is to develop our own “listening” to the communication that is already happening. This has been on my mind a lot recently as I have watched some of the children I am working with communicating, yet haven’t seen quite as many people try to listen to the communication.

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