Letting go (#397)

With so many big changes happening in his life in the past two months—moving into Grandpa and Grandma’s house and starting in a new school, first with one new teacher and instructors and classmates, and then with another new teacher and instructors and classmates—I thought it would be good and, indeed, right, to keep some things the same for Charlie. Of course, he has Daddy’s blue blanket; the black car sits in the driveway and Grandpa’s white car in the garage (our green car—an increasingly battered Subaru stationwagon—gets taken out mostly to haul yard clippings); he has the same schedule of ABA sessions and speech therapy; he takes the same blue backpack and blue lunchbox to school. Sleeping in a new bedroom (aka Grandpa’s office), riding a yellow schoolbus rather than a red minivan, noting different landmarks on different streets: These have not fazed Charlie at all.
The main thing that has stayed the same has been Charlie’s meals and so I have made him, as he requests on returning home from school, “whiterice” or “burger.”

And, as related on here and here and here and here, Charlie has been asking for what I have thought to be his favorite foods—white rice, a hamburger, French fries—gotten out the plate and the silverware, looked at the food on the plate, thrown it off the table. Yesterday’s throwing of fries in the car—-after a lovely, lovely ocean swim—-made for a somber ride home from the beach for all three of us.

Today, Charlie, if not exactly peaceful-easy, was unusually attentive and, if I may say so, eager to please. He raced off for a long morning bike ride with Jim. He pushed the cart at the grocery store and took his packet of sushi to eat on the couch. “Wahsss!” Charlie smiled and, when I looked at him quizzically, he scooped up his blanket and put it in the washing machine. “Wahsss, b’ankett!” We practised piano and he sampled blueberries and “g’een sa-lad” before his piano teacher came. Charlie really seems to understand that the notes on the page tell him what keys to press (the piano teacher has Charlie place bits of velcro’d paper with C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C on the keys before playing). “T’ank you! Puh-wease. You welcome!” said Charlie.

After the lesson, thinking that Charlie had had enough “g’een salad,” I made him one of those old favorites, white rice. Charlie looked at the big circle of the bowl, looked right at me with a hint of maybe alarm, and threw it. And cried. And became, in a flash, a very different boy from the one who had waited so agreeably for his blanket to spin in the dryer.

Charlie became the boy who, over a year ago and last summer and before he started at a private autism school in December 2005, did things like throwing food and more and worse every, every day. And, as I wiped up the rice—I do think Charlie should clean it up, but he could not be calmed down enough to do so for a while—it occurred to me that maybe it has not been Charlie who needed to hold on to an old habit, the rice and the burgers and the fries. Maybe it is I who have been hanging on and clinging to certain old habits for the memories and the familiarity. Yes, Charlie has been asking for these things, only to throw them away—-as if he has really had enough of them for quite a while, thank you.

And I remembered how, when he was six years old, Charlie used to request certain Barney videos, his “favorites.” I would turn one on and he would watch, then hit his head on the floor. We threw away the videos and the toy Barney and Charlie, while initially beyond distraught, came to think of “Barney inna garbage” as a hilarious joke: “Garbage! Garbage! No more Barney, Barney all done,” he used to say, and stage a mock tantrum screams and all, then start laughing. I, beyond weary of those videos, had to laugh at myself, especially in light of how we had once thought that Charlie could not sleep without his Barney doll on his bed. Perhaps Charlie kept asking for Barney, as he does for “white rice” (only to throw it) because he knows those are things he knows to ask for, and he has yet to figure out the words for what he would like instead.

And it is I who have had a harder time—have feared—to let go of certain comforting things that Charlie himself (a big boy getting bigger every day) is glad to say good-bye to.

Time I followed Charlie’s lead.

7 Responses to “Letting go (#397)”
  1. Lisa says:

    “Perhaps Charlie kept asking for Barney, as he does for “white rice” (only to throw it) because he knows those are things he knows to ask for, and he has yet to figure out the words for what he would like instead.”

    That is an interesting observation, Kristina. I wonder what other things Charlie is processing internally that he doesn’t have the words for yet. I recall 9 as a year for tantrums and flashes of defiance in my not-quite-on-the-spectrum son. So perhaps there are developmental changes on the way as well.

    I sometimes think those internal changes are far more unsettling than the external, more noticable changes in school, home, etc.

    Hugs to you all, and wishing you many peaceful days by the big, blue ocean.


  2. Rose says:

    If you are like me, you will be amazed at how much “letting go” lightens your load.

    Sometimes I wonder if I haven’t lightened it to a point that I will be lax to take responsibility when I need to. But I’ve never had a problem with that before, and I bet you never have either.

    I think you are being perceptive on this one.

  3. mom-nos says:

    It sounds like you’ve hit upon a great insight. It makes me wonder if, for Charlie, “white rice” means “I’m hungry” and not “I want white rice.” Would it help to use photographs to let him select his menu?

    Wishing a peaceful-easy day to all of you, but especially to your lovely boy.

  4. Kari says:

    Very interesting observation about “white rice” = “I’m hungry” You’ve written earlier about the “whole” being identified instead of “pieces” (identifying letters only in the midst of a word, for example)

    Language is symbols of course, and in this case, it appears his symbol is a whole packet – a phrase, rather than the meaning of the individual words. (And that is where we stop: we don’t break it down by letter)

    I remember a college class where we were considering categorization levels. This is quite similar.

    Interesting stuff to think about!

  5. _Thanks_—-I’ve been thinking about what you’ve all written. I do think “white rice” and “fries” and the like are phrases that mean more “I’m hungry” or possibly even just “I want something”—something that maybe Charlie himself is not quite about.

    The photos are a great idea—-am also thinking this might be a good time to try to expand Charlie’s meal choices (he has selected himself down to about 8 or 10 things). And I do see a difference “independence” or “self-expression” in him—something I think I too lack words to express.

  6. KC'sMommy says:

    Oh my gosh K.C. does the same thing when it comes to the videos! I thought I was alone when it came to the video thing. He’ll hold his favorite video in his hand and stand next to the dvd player waiting with great anticipation and then when I pop it in he’ll have the worst meltdown ever! This includes headbanging and hair pulling (his own) I still to this day don’t quite understand what it all means but think I am close to figuring it out. I have also seen the same thing with food. He’ll stare at what he wants so I will follow his eyes and get what he wants to eat and the same thing happens. I have thought about it a hundred times and think it may mean this. I think that when he stares at his favorite food or video it can also mean he is trying to communciate that yes he wants food but maybe not that particular food but he is using it as a general means to say, “I want food but just not that particular food but don’t know how else to commuicate another food choice.” I hope that makes sense, lol. It is very hard to figure out. I have been offering him different things and using photos but it is still tough to figure out but I think we are getting very close to solving it. KC is a food thrower too. Big Brother has become a defensive eater. I just love reading about your special guy Kristina. He is an amazing guy!

  7. mom-nos says:

    Kristina and KC’s Mommy, this reminds me of a comment that Zilari (who is on the spectrum) made to me a while ago:

    “I also remember having very strong feelings not only of liking something a whole lot, but wanting to continue liking that thing, and getting edgy when the thing started to not have quite the same appeal.”

    I wonder if the dynamic your boys have experienced with their videos is similar to this: I want this video to make me feel as delighted as it used to make me feel, but it doesn’t make me feel that way anymore, and now instead of feeling delighted I just feel frustrated and angry.

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