Imitation is the Best Flattery (#548)

“What’s involved with that?” asked Grandma from her usual chair in the living room.
Grownup
“Whah’s ihvawed wih da?” said Charlie. Imitated Charlie, as he was coloring a picture in his room during his ABA session.

Flashback eight years. Charlie is just about a year and a half old and I have again taken him to the pediatric clinic of the Children’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul. He has an ear infection. He is not talking. The doctor, who is South Asian, kindly, and assured, says to me that there is a simple solution: The next time I am going to give Charlie juice, I wait a bit, hold it in front of him, and say “joo.” I am to wait until Charlie says “joo” or something like it, and then give him the juice, and the next time I am to wait until he says “joo” exactly and the next time “jooz” and voilà, language!

I try. Charlie tries. He does not drink any juice as it is; I conclude I can say “joo” or “jjjj” or “ah” to him, but he will not say it back.

Charlie had to be taught to imitate: With all regards to Aristotle in his Poetics, imitation is not a skill “natural” [physikon] to every single human being (and that process of teaching Charlie to imitate, involving cheerful college students saying “do this” and dropping a block in a bucket innumerable times is detailed here). There are so many times when Charlie has gotten stuck learning some task—like writing the alphabet—and placing one’s hand over his to show him what to do has not helped; has indeed resulted in him becoming “prompt dependent” on someone placing their hand over his.

And then, time and again, some therapist would mention in passing, “how about modeling it for him” and get out two sets of blocks, seat herself opposite Charlie, and get him to copy her building, block by block. Another therapist would take out two pieces of paper and two pencils, and thereby have Charlie imitate the marks she made, all without having to physically, and I suspect intrusively, touch him.

Just in the past few weeks, Charlie has been doing a lot of imitating—of words, even phrases; of actions—all on his own. He often tries to squeeze my mouth when I cough (as I have been quite a bit, from catching the illness he had). I usually say “stop coughing” as I see his hand going up and his frown, and he says “stah cah ing”; today, I coughed, Charlie coughed (or rather cackled) and grinned.

Ha ha very funny.

Maybe yesterday’s 5-hour sleep at school had something to do with it, but Charlie was smilingly alert all day. At the A & P, I asked him to pick up boxes of Capri Suns, unload the groceries onto the conveyor belt, carry two bags (one loaded down with apples, oranges, and diet Coke for Grandma) out to the car and then into the house. Charlie first walked to the shelf at the sore, looked the Capri Suns, and walked towards me, only picking up a box after a few requests, but he did as asked with no grumbles. At home, when Grandpa wanted a bag of cleaning supplies moved out of the kitchen, I asked Charlie to do it: Charlie picked up the bag, walked three steps towards the dining room, and put the bag on the kitchen floor.

“Can you pick up the bag and bring it into the dining room?”

Two tries later, Charlie did so (first placing the bag equidistant between a table and the two sides of the doorframe). I pulled the ties tight on a bag of garbage: “Can you take out the garbage?” Charlie hauled it out, hoisted it up, and sent the lid crashing down.

“Hot shower!” he said and ran downstairs. Clad in a new pair of pajamas, he ran back up—“Oranges!”—and poked in the refrigerator. The prized clementines were wrapped up in a bag in a bin and Charlie kept just missing them.

“Does he know to open the drawer?” asked Grandma from her spot at the kitchen table.

“Oh yes,” I said as Charlie opened, closed, opened, poked, closed, opened, poked more, closed, opened, dug his hand into the bag, closed. And went off to peel an orange.

I felt a glow (motherly pride, you know) almost as sweet.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Imitation is the Best Flattery (#548)”
  1. Kathy says:

    Kristina, I notice your handsome boys’ hair has grown somewhat.

    It suits him.

    And he is certainly doing so well!

    Every milestone, no matter how small is cherished.

    Things that everyone else takes for granted, can be a major accomplishment for an autistic child.

    I remember a few years back when we had so much trouble teaching Mark to point….

    Yet just this evening I remarked to my husband , what a problem it had been for our son, but now he is always pointing things out to us.

    Little things lead to big things….. In autismland..

    Things ARE getting better and better for Charlie.

  2. You very well should be glowing with mother pride. You are the best mother Charlie could ever have.

    PS- not to interpret your writing wrong, but don’t you find it a little condensending when therapists and others make suggestions of things you are already doing naturally? I always do, especially in the language territory, especially when I have a neurotypical son 5 years older than Sam (neaning, I have taught my older son how to speak. I feel like some people make suggestions, and I feel like they think I haven’t been doing the natural/typical language teaching skills. Rrggg, okay, just a little vent. 🙂

  3. Thank you so much—Kathy, it took a long time to teach Charlie to point, too. He would use his whole hand, his fingers raggedly arrayed. I do think things are truly (amazingly) getting better for Charlie.

    Thanks, Laura! At this point, I always feel like a student when faced with teaching Charlie. I never know what might work, or what might now, and I need suggestions—hearing the obvious helps me to realize I’m on the right track—I feel awkward more in regard to moments when Charlie is running all over the place or humming and people give me the look “why can’t you control that child”? (We know the reason….)

  4. I do hear you on the awkward moments too. Sam likes to just “pace and plop” as I call it. After pacing, he will just drop straight to the floor or ground on his back spread eagle staring up as people walk by and won’t move or anything. I know if I try to pick him up, a meltdown is next, so I usually let him lay until he gets up and people think I am crazy!

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