Just Like the Joy of Junk Food (#331)

Those Dreamworks people know what they’re doing: I have been unable to stop replaying scenes from Over the Hedge in my head all day. Specifically, I keep recalling two scenes in which the ingestion, or the mere contact, with junk food provokes an extreme response: the opening of a bag of nacho tortilla chips results in a cloud of cheesey powder poufing up from earth to outer space (and coats the critters in unnatural orange); having the hyperactive squirrel Hammy drink a can of something like Red Bull makes him move so fast everything around him–humans lunging in active with the weed whacker–stops.
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Frenetic activity that totally takes over one’s system only to end suddenly, with a crash: The proverbial junk food high.

That same kind of seemingly out of control, super-mega-over-energetic excitement occasionally takes over Charlie. He runs up and down the length of the room saying the same words over and over, stomping, jumping up on the furniture and then off, growling, bending over and grabbing his arms, yelling, endless motion. (A friend told me about her son jumping so long on a trampoline that he was drenched with sweat, and still not tired, or able to go to sleep.) Charlie is often all smiles–very joyful–during all this, and then, in a mercurial flash, tense, angry, exploding in a different way.

Charlie was quiet when he got off the bus after a good school day. We drove up to the Lovaas agency’s office for his biweekly meeting. Charlie is very fond of one therapist who is his first “guy therapist”; said therapist had been ill and Charlie had not seen him for over a week. Charlie ran to say hi and then it was stompstompstomp, mock-climbs onto the table, runrunrun, growlyowlgrowl. He came to the table when called and tried to sight-read some words.

That was when I thought of the junk-food high analogy–and of how quickly Charlie goes from gleeful joy to freezing fear on his face and (this happened Saturday morning after he woke at 6am and ran all over our bedroom, kicked the blankets all over the place, paused, and cried out, writhing, angry). If I may speak in more light-hearted tones, it’s that “I want more, the bag is empty” feeling one sometimes has on realizing the last M & M was the one that just got eaten.

And that’s why those animals go over that hedge, to get More, because betcha can’t eat just one.


And Charlie does not always seem able to stop himself—from saying “sushi” a thousand times over, from eating the bag of frozen vegetables to the icey bottom, from watching the same snippet of a video over, over, over—or maybe it is that he is not sure what to do after he stops. At his therapy team meeting, Charlie’s consultant gave him a couple of big squeeze hugs which made him grin, after which we prompted him to say “play with me,” for a piggy back ride or tickles or more hugs. I think Charlie was in need of some kind of deep physical feeling through his body.

Jim got home early today and he and Charlie rode off for a bike ride by sunset. “You wouldn’t believe what he’s like on the bike,” Jim said to me after Charlie was asleep. “He pedals with a kind of swagger like any boy his size….” Charlie had been having trouble getting back inside after his rides, but careful use of picture schedules, narrative explanations, and a lot of attentive seems to be allaying this. Jim and I talked about how it might feel for Charlie on the bike, when he knows exactly what to do, when he is in motion, when he is the master of his universe, captaining his bike-chariot and Dad has to pedal mighty fast to bring up the rear.

Bike-riding–not so much trampoline-jumping–tire Charlie out in a good way. It is exercise; it is healthy; it is something Charlie enjoys.

It is far from junk science.

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