Backwards, Whateverwards (#437)

“S’irt bakkwards!”

We have yet to figure out how to teach Charlie to put on his shirt with the tag at the back on the inside of the shirt—we’ve pointed out the tag, shown him how to to lay out his shirt with the front down so he can just pull it over his head: Whether the shirt goes on the “right” way seems a matter of pure chance.
Two or so years ago, we tried to teach Charlie how to put his shirt on the right way. That was the time, too, that we attempted shoe-trying (his preferred shoes are black Merrell slip-ons like Jim’s, so this skill may be re-attempted at a later date) and snaps which Charlie, with his long flowing fingers (the same size as his palms), cannot do (but yes to buttons and zippers). “Your shirt’s on backwards, Cholly!” Jim and I used to say. “Let’s fix it!”

Somehow, these words, not to mention the seemingly minor activity of having Charlie pull up his arms while we helped him rearrange his shirt, became aversive.

“Noooooo!” Charlie would say at the least; sometimes there was a snarl, a grab, a bad spark. If it was a school morning, I would take a deep breath and, after a few minutes, try to turn around the shirt as quietly and gently as possible (no mean feat, as this required Charlie to lift up two arms that had suddenly become super-glued to his torso). But if Charlie was wearing his pajamas with the tag up against his chin, we shrugged: No need to fight a minor battle.

I have realized now that Charlie’s refusal to have a shirt “fixed” that he had already put on with his arms and neck in the appropriate places was part of his turnaround complex. The shirt-putting-on was done, thank you, in his eyes and I was screwing up Charlie’s “internal vector” by insisting (silly mom!) that there’s only one way to wear a shirt.

Charlie had a full day today—a morning ABA session followed by an afternoon trip to the mall (and Johnny Rocket’s). My mom directed him to some dot-to-dot drawings and read several books to him (I am rather sure that she likes this activity so much because (1) For the past two years, Charlie ran around the room or snarled whenever a book was read to him and (2) she used to read books to my sister and me all the time.) Charlie had just pulled the pajamas I had laid out for him on the bed this evening when Jim said, “Cholly, your shirt’s on backwards!” I did the shrug.

Three minutes later, we heard Charlie very clearly accouncing “s’irt bakkwards!” and holding up his arms. “Mommy, s’irt.” With a smile.
I had spent the afternoon doing something I have not done in ten years: Sit at my desk, open up a new word processing document on the computer, and write not Charlie stories, letters to the school district, application letters to autism schools, reports, email, thank you notes to my aunts: I wrote some paragraphs for an academic, scholarly article on Greek tragedy and disability (some of the results are here). It was in the year that Charlie was born—1997—that I published my one and only <a title=”What does e pluribus unum mean?: Reading the classics and multicultural literature together (originally published in The Classical Journal 93.1 (1997) 55-81) ” href=””>article of this sort.

It is not that motherhood—Autismland—“get in the way” of these professional pursuits.

It is just that, thanks to Charlie, I have been filling in certain gaps in my education. It is not just anyone who can teach the trick of how to wear a shirt whateverwards.

7 Responses to “Backwards, Whateverwards (#437)”
  1. Rose says:

    Have you been tagged about the book meme yet? I thought of you first, but was just too tired last night to get you.

    I would be interested in what books affected your life. Go to for ideas. You will probably have to fix the link…It went clear cross the page.

    If you have already been tagged, I give up!

  2. Hey Rose! I was tagged a while back by Sharon of The Family Voyage—I posted about autism books at Autism Vox—-

    And I’m saving up to do a “non-autism books” post in the near future!

  3. I have to admit there are times when I don’t get it right still, I pull the shirt on, realise it is wrong, take it off, put it on again and it is still wrong. I am also prone on occasion to wear things inside out without noticing.

  4. kyra says:

    fluffy’s shirt goes on backwards about half the time. pants on inside out about a tenth of the time. attempts to put underwear on over pants, about two thirds of the time. he doesn’t seem to notice any of it!

  5. For a long time Charlie did not notice when the left shoe was on the right foot and the right on the left—-got that one down (so far)!

  6. Ennis says:

    Why not a buttoned shirt – that has a much clearer front and back to it, and is virtually impossible to close if you do put it on backwards …

  7. Charlie has a big wardrobe of t-shirts mostly for the convenience of me the mom who does not have time to iron……… but a happy medium would be a golf or polo shirt—–worth stocking him up with these!

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