Snap (#295)

I was going to use the word “meltdown” in the title for this post—“The Meltdown Cometh,” “Spring Break Breakdown”—but Charlie saw Ice Age: The Meltdown with my parents this afternoon and the equation of “meltdown” with tantrum, behavior squall, etc. in Autismland is quite opposite the happy time he had rocking in his seat and munching popcorn amid the other kids.
I’ll say that, with six more yellow houses to cross out before getting to the red school bus, Charlie snapped this afternoon. “No bus,” he had said this morning with a little frown. I had been directing him to cross out the Monday yellow house on the calendar posted on the refrigerator. I pointed to the first red school bus. “The bus’ll come next Monday. But this week, you can stay at home with Gong Gong and Po Po.”

“White rice.” Charlie, wrapped in Merlin fashion in Daddy’s blue blanket, put in his breakfast request and got his plate from the cupboard.

In truth, I had been anticipating Charlie’s anxiety heightening and peaking starting today and up till Thursday. For the past year, Charlie has had what I term “anticipation complex.” A few days before a big transition–as from the beach house return from the beach house–Charlie anticipates the coming change by obsessive talking (like yelling “aw done Gong Gong Po Po aw done” for the better part of two days last August until he became hoarse), increased fixation on certain favorite possessions (like his bucket of photos ), and a higher likelihood of Big Behavior Squall any moment.

We had just placed a seemingly small request on Charlie–to pronounce a word (“may”) more clearly when all that pent-up worry about the end of vacation, Gong Gong and Po Po returning to California, the return to school, coalesced into a red-hot magma and


went Charlie.

That lasted for maybe five minutes and he was back to smiling a bit and playing with his big purple ball. Part and parcel with “anticipatory complex” in Charlie is “delayed reaction”: As if, he just cannot help snapping and knocking and banging and then afterwards, and–perhaps because he feels bad about what happened?–he does something else. Such as, throwing a pot of rice (cooked).

I directed Charlie to get the vacuum cleaner out of the basement and to vacuum everything up and put the thrown dishes into the sink. He took his usual shower, put on his pajamas, and then the real melting began:

Charlie, his blanket drawn tightly around his shoulders, huddled on the couch and wept. It was keening, it was ululation, like Ngin-ngin, my grandmother, had done at the funeral of a cousin. It was an ancient, sad, sad sound and, in Charlie’s case, a sound of remorse. He looked longingly at the photo screensaver–mostly images of last summer at the beach–on Jim’s computer. My mom noted how Charlie’s expression was chagrined, even embarrassed, regretful.

But it was the open expression that, in Charlie, signifies that he is ready and willing to listen and learn, if very hesitant, and more than worried that he might snap again.

I am taking the word “snap” from Jessy Park, the autistic woman whose story and paintings are featured on the neurologist Oliver Sacks’s The Mind Traveler. At one point a “wh” question precedes the snap, which Jessy recalls with shivering excitement, even as my dad was put on the alert when Charlie ran and stomped and screamed in a simulated tantrum (Charlie smiled through it all and ran off for breakfast when he was done).

I don’t know why Charlie snapped.

I have a lot of suspicions about the snap: Spring Break, my parents are going home this weekend and Charlie knows it, Charlie knows school starts next week, other kids in our town were back to school and he was not, Jim and I met with our school district this morning to discuss what to do for Charlie after his school closes in June.

That combination of factors could lead anyone to snap, and to crackle and pop.

Charlie spent the rest of the evening quietly; my dad put on the Goodnight Moon DVD for him and Charlie was all right when the disc got stuck. “Sara here!” he smiled, anticipating his ABA therapist coming tomorrow morning. “Beddtime, stairs,” he informed me at 9.10pm and then “Daddy b’ue s’irt.” Jim got home in time to sing and recite the Lord’s Prayer with Charlie.

I had to put away laundry. “Good night sweetie, I love you,” I called into Charlie’s room.

Charlie’s voice: “Yess.”

And the heart flutters, beats fast, and the glacier passes on.

2 Responses to “Snap (#295)”
  1. Bronwyn G says:

    Yes, it would make anybody want to snap. crackle and pop.

  2. Lisa says:

    Kristina–I remember that keening sound very well. It was the sound of my son’s distress when the world presented him with conflicts he couldn’t resolve. Fortunately, we haven’t heard that sound in many years. I used to say that P was the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for intense emotions–even ones that weren’t necessarily his.

    I feel for Charlie–his sensitivity to the universe so much more acute than his ability to express.

    love to you and yours,

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