I Wish. I Want. (#297)

“I wish….” were the last words spoken by Cinderella in the performance of Into the Woods I saw performed at Saint Peter’s College tonight.
Ssssssshhhhhhhh!” scolded the rest of the cast as the curtain fell down.

I had hurried back to Jersey City to see the opening night performance of the play, after driving Charlie to and back from his verbal behavior session. After last Saturday’s ride, when Charlie burst out into head-banging on the window for the last twelve minutes, I have been feeling more than a little trepidation about the 45-minute trip. Following our ABA consultant’s suggestions, I made a simple schedule, with pictures, and explained each step to Charlie: “We’re passing the amusement park. That was the mall. Ten minutes and we’re there.”

The ride went smoothly, the session was full of talking (some water balloons added to the fun), and Charlie sat clear-eyed and open-faced, looking at the chain stores and malls, all the way home. Earlier in the day, my parents and Charlie had visited a college town, gone shopping, had lunch.

Another autism grandparent, Natalie, wrote,

……I was wondering how we would know if Robbie was in the right program and I could identify when you talked about the peacefulness and smile on Charlie’s face.

I would love to know more about Robbie but don’t know him, and so can’t really judge what would be the best program for him—-but I can say that Charlie has done best when he is academically, intellectually challenged; when there is a huge emphasis on keeping the teaching motivating, varied, and fun; when things are presented in a tight structure calibrated to Charlie’s individual learning style. Getting all of those elements (and some others that escape me at the moment) working simultaneously is like being a juggler juggling plates, bowling pins, balls, and oranges, and maybe a small chair, too. And calibrating all these elements requires plenty of strategy on both Jim’s and my part.

The results are the peaceful, inquisitive look I saw (via my rear-view mirror) in Charlie’s face as we drove to and from the verbal behavior center. It is not a matter of smiling; Charlie looked a bit nervous at times as he checked out the passing commercial landscape. But he was looking through wide-open eyes and, from time to time, catching my eye and ear with a longer look or “Buheetoes! Dinnerr, home. I want.”

Charlie just wanted to get home, have dinner (a tortilla-less burrito provided by my parents), watch his favorite Goodnight Moon DVD (“you didn’t set it up before you left,” my dad mock-grumbled, “but I figured it out”), jump on our bed, go to sleep with the burrito menu by his pillow (I put it in the kitchen).

I had wanted to see Into the Woods because four of my students are in the production (the evil stepsister, Jack (of beanstalk fame), a cow (“Milky White”), the behind-the-scenes stagehand). And Act I showed the characters–the baker and his wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack—going through great lengths to achieve their wants, while Act II showed how getting what you want isn’t always the happy business the fairy tales suggest it will be. So (in the play) Prince Charming wins Cinderella only to seduce the baker’s wife and then to fall for Sleeping Beauty. And so my evil-stepsister-playing-student had mentioned to me that she wanted to be Red Riding Hood but she was too tall.

And sure, I could want to write here every night “Charlie had a great day!” or “I want Charlie to do XYZ and he will do it” or “I wish that Charlie could do this as then everything would be better……”. But that is not what happens day in and day out for Charlie and our family; were I to write this sort of thing, I would be making up tales.

I would be wandering in the Autismland woods.


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