Hummana (#506)

For the past week plus, Charlie has been warbling—–making a lot of noise of a humming and rather melodic nature with his voice, without distinguishable words, often while running back and forth (across the length of the house or in the driveway) or standing with his body rigidly posed, and especially in the evening after dinner and his shower.
We used once to use phrases like “he’s stimming” or “he’s really stimmy right now,” “stimming” being a shorthand way of referring to self-stimulatory behavior. I first heard the word “stimmy” from Charlie’s first speech therapist, who worked for the St. Paul Public School District, and have never felt 100% comfortable using the expression. It seems very vague, and, too, it writes off the warbling/humming/vocalizing as “just,” as “nothing more,” than Charlie locking down into autistic self-absorption mode.

Along with my change in what I used always to call “stimming” (because I do lapse into using the word) has come a change in what to do about it. When Charlie was much younger—a just diagnosed 2-year-old—-we tried always to eliminate, and to control it, directly, with expressions like “quiet mouth” or by trying to have Charlie use his voice to say actual words (this last was not easy, as Charlie did not say any words clearly until he was older). More often than not, our efforts to intervene with the humming or repetitive running up and down led to Charlie redoubling his efforts. And then, from the time Charlie was seven, other behaviors arose—“behaviors” being real shorthand here for the various aggressive and violent actions, including head-banging, that Charlie began to do more, and more, and more. We became so focused on these—-Charlie’s learning in his old public school came to a complete halt because of the “behaviors”—that we shrugged off the humming as a distinctly lesser concern.

The humming did not stop. (The head-banging has.) Rather, how we saw the non-verbal sounds Charlie makes, changed.

The hums seem to serve as Charlie in downtime mode, when he seems to be de-stressing and de-compressing, and any number of synonyms for “refocusing” or “regulating.” “Charlie puts up with a lot,” Jim said to me today. He was referring not specifically to the travails of being a sensitive, smart kid who, being almost five feet tall and sometimes less articulate than a toddler, is routinely viewed (and treated) as any number of synonyms for “dumb.” Autism is often called an “invisible disability,” another term that I find not entirely correct in Charlie’s case: Again, a boy who is practically the size of his mother and who warbles wordlessly and sniffs the sushi, seems (based on the occasional eyebrow-raised strangers glance) “mentally disabled.”

What is invisible about Charlie’s disability is his not-so-typical neurological wiring. Whatever unusual way the synapses in his brain fire off, it is impossible to know. What we can see—what evidence is presented to ours—is what Charlie does.

After waiting cheerfully with Jim at a Mailboxes store to FedEx a package, Charlie threw himself on his back and yelled out for thirty seconds because (it was 4.30pm) they were not going into the neighboring grocery store—-it was following this that Jim commented about how hard it seems to be for Charlie to be Charlie, more often than not. Because, it is what we cannot see about Charlie, that is at the root of why the tough “behaviors,” the “stimming,” appear.

Jim had visited Charlie’s classroom and found a peaceful, clear-talking boy who kept turning to look at “DADdy.” Not a hum heard, as is also the case when Charlie does his ABA sessions. I like to sit and hear the language: “Ahck-tivitee schduell! Play with me. I didit! Mah-mee.” A boy—as he clearly is when standing next to Jim, who has about a foot on me heightwise—with his open, curious look on his face as he stood in the doorway when I finally drove up to our house (after a 2 1/2 hour drive on an accident-laden, gridlocked, rainy day highway). It is 6 hours in school, 2 hours of ABA a few times a week, and that humming is to, if I may so, “let it all out” (as, in my unmoving car amid all the other unmoving cars, I was listening to song after song while writing and rewriting certain projects in my head while noting a man walking aid with his umbrella and bag on the highway shoulder: Was he walking to the airport…….)

Hummana hummana.

2 Responses to “Hummana (#506)”
  1. Lisa/Jedi says:

    B also uses vocalisations- often musical- in his everyday life. I’ve discovered that I can tell from afar that he’s doing just fine on his own if I hear him humming or singing. Over the past 3 years he’s beome very intensely verbal with his lego play. The variation of sounds (explosions, wordless yells, glissandos) is amazing & you can practically understand the story he’s acting out with his legos if you listen. It’s amazing & wonderful 🙂

    I have to add that I’m delighted & a bit envious of Charlie’s interest in the piano. B used to take piano lessons, but when his teacher left town the lessons were lost in dealing with OCD upsets & school & busy life. He’s just not interested in lessons right now & there’s no sense in adding something to his already busy schdule that he doesn’t want to do. Sigh…

  2. I’m envious of B’s lego-ing—-went to a Lego store today and Charlie walked right out. Charlie does glissandos too, often when he is pacing and walking, or running. And I can also sense “where he’s at” from the sounds and their tones and the melody.

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