Be. Have. Yours. (#275)

At our biweekly team meeting with Charlie’s home ABA therapists and our behavior consultant, Charlie came to the table with a big smile and swiftly matched the words "shoe" and "dog" to the correct pictures. The he hopped back to lie down on the couch in our consultant’s office and to snuggle against one of his therapists. The consultant had observed Charlie at school and liked what she saw, a spirited, bright-eyed boy working hard at his desk. We talked about how his outbursts often occur in the early afternoon–from 12 noon to 4pm–and how a combination of factors can all contribute: recess (when Charlie’s time is less structured); general tiredness; medication wearing off; Charlie not having the words to explain any of this.
Charlie was grinning shyly beside his babysitter from our front porch when I drove up. A red blotch in the center of his forehead—where he had once had an IV needle in his head as a newborn babe in the ICU, to give him antibiotics for an infection–was very evident.

The ABA therapist drove up in the next minute and Charlie giggled "Mike here!", grabbed his blanket, and ran upstairs. The babysitter and I sat on the porch and did a post-mortem: Charlie had gotten off the bus happily and eaten a bowl of rice. The babysitter cut up an apple for him and they were on the porch when Charlie threw the apple, the babysitter went to pick it and the broken bowl up, Charlie fell back on his head and then forward.

"Maybe something was bothering him earlier in the day?" she said. I asked her to go over the story two more times, lacing suggestions through my comments: If anything happens, just stay by him. If he’s even the smallest bit upset, stay inside. Don’t talk! Words seem to grate on Charlie when he’s upset. Keep a pillow nearby and avoid even the least amount of physical restraint. In my head, I was already thinking about what to put on a picture schedule and planning to call our long-term speech therapist/chief babysitter to come by tomorrow.

And I was giving myself a good kick: We’d been lucky with Charlie’s doing very well with the babysitter (who has a lot of experience with kids and no training in autism) though there’d been that fast tantrum last Thursday. I had instructed her in the basics for "Charlie in behavior squall mode" but, in Autismland, you can only prepare so much—you’re always liable to past-posting, when the behavior has already run fast out of the starting gate and left a dust of problems in its wake.

"Behaviors" is the shorthand–the euphemism, perhaps–I use to talk about the very literal term for what happened to Charlie on the porch this afternoon, "head-banging." At his old school the term used was "incidents." To me, "incidents" conveyed the sense that head-banging was an event whose occurrence interrupted the usual flow of things and often heralded a crisis. The word seemed to avoid addressing what was really going on: Charlie was hitting his head because something happened.

"Behaviors" is not everyone’s preferred word choice for referring to those less-than-fun things our kids might do. Charlie is certainly more than the sum of what he does. But his behaviors are what I can see him doing, not what I interpret or intuit or presume he might be doing. And so, ever since Charlie was a baby, I have been recording what he did, and trying hard not to write what I think he did, or what I wish he would be doing, or my emotional or philosophical response (frustration, anger, joy, sorrow, etc.) to what he is doing. "Behavior" is just shorthand (like "meat in a box") for what Charlie does.

And, while I and we (teachers, therapists, consultant, everyone) are doing their everything to help Charlie with this particular behavior, I have been learning not to judge a day as bad or good or whatever based on the number of "behaviors." Every day we live through on this green earth is good with Charlie. Sure, everything Charlie does is not what I would want, but our love for Charlie can withstand the worst of his or anyone’s behaviors.
Looking closely at that word "behaviors," it occurs to me that it contains two of the most basic words in many Indo-European languages, "have, denoting "possession," and "be" for "being." These are words–verbs, action words–that are often irregular in many languages: I am, you are. I have, she has. Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt. (Latin for "I am, you are, etc.") exo, skexo, eskhon (the principle parts of the classical Greek word for "I have").

So, perhaps one could speak of "behaviors" as "ways of being and having."

As "ways of being autistic and having autism."

As "being Charlie and having yet another day in Autismland."

And me, whose son has autism, trying to be the best I can be for him: If I do past-post, I also try to make it up, to make a difference, and discern how much farther I have to go to be the best mom for Charlie that I can be.

To be all that I can be, courtesy of Sir Charlie, behaviors and all—

Be. Have. Yours.

4 Responses to “Be. Have. Yours. (#275)”
  1. Bronwyn G says:


    Really appreciated your wisdom this week and today.

    I especially Love the title of your post. And of course everybody’s behaviour is going to be squirrelly with an etymology like that. Behaviour is always going to be irregular.

  2. gretchen says:

    “I have been learning not to judge a day as bad or good or whatever based on the number of ‘behaviors’.”

    It seems to me that Charlie usually “gets over” the thing that was bothering him pretty quickly? I know I used to feel bad all day when Henry would get into his driver’s car kicking and screaming. I worried that he would have an entire bad day. But he usually seems to bounce back and move on from the immediate thing that was upsetting him.

    Like this morning: he really wanted to have another waffle, but there wasn’t time. In the past I would have worried all day that his whole day was ruined. But his day was usually fine (mom’s was the one that was marked with worry 🙂

  3. Wade Rankin says:

    Our children’s “behaviors” are not nearly as important as our behaviors (i.e., how we react to what is going on with our kids).

  4. KC'sMommy says:

    Love the photo of Charlie Kristina:) He is a very handsome little guy! It sounds like Charlie has a good babysitter:) How is Charlie doing with his Dolch words?

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