Small Talk, Big Walk (#560)

“Back-pakk!” (Said while wrapped up in the covers of our bed sometime around 1pm—-the three of us, all groggy from the effects of time zone travel, woke up at 12noon when my sister-in-law accidentally walked into our room.)
“Socks soosz.” (Said with a very worried and intense look at me—Charlie often seems to want to go somewhere else when we are home, and then to go home when we are out.)

“Wendy bue car Wendy, Kristy bue car. Kristy bue car. Wendy bue car, blue oval!” (Said on the train to Newark, said on the PATH train into lower Manhattan, said as walked through the Winter Garden near the World Trade Center site—and while looking straight at me.)

“Blue oval, black regg-tan-go!” (Said with that look at me.)

(Here’s where I step into what I would call a conversation with Charlie.)

“White oval,” I say.

“White regg-tan-go!”

“Purple heart,” I say.

“Purple heart. White oval, white regg-tan-go, blackheart.”

“Black diamond,” I say.

“Black diamond, black star, white heart!”

“We’re talking about shapes.”

“Blue regg-tan-to, white star, white circle, shapes!”

I am not entirely sure how Charlie got started on these exchanges. He has always been drawn to colors and shapes, perhaps because they are things that he can readily identify and apply his words too; colors and shapes were the first reception language programs that Charlie learned when he started doing ABA back in the fall of 1999. (For a long time when he was about 3-5 years old, two ziploc bags, one containing a set of laminated paper squares of different colors, and the other a set of laminated paper shapes of different colors, were his favorite items.) And calling a rather scripted back and forth exchange about different-colored shapes is not exactly a conversation in the sense of talking socially with others.

And yet. Think about the basics of the formulaic “small talk” we strike up with people on an elevator, or when offering more than a “hi” to an acquaintance, or when starting to speak to someone on the phone. “How are you?/I’m fine.” “Bad weather we’ve been having./Oh yes.” “A lot of people here already./There are.” Are not these “ice-breaker” phrases scripts that we have learned, and learned to spin variations of?

My longest conversation with Charlie today about the shapes and cars and their colors happened while we were pausing to look at a photo display of the rebuilding of the WTC site at the Winter Garden: Movement often seems to help spur Charlie’s speech, and (hoping also to get Charlie some good exercise so he might sleep better) we took a big walk today on the west side of Manhattan, to the sometimes melodic sound of Charlie saying “sushi sushi sushi sushi sushi” on and on. We paused at the Irish Hunger Memorial and at Pier 32 (or the pilings that are in the pier’s place) across from Canal Street; Charlie admired the water, shining and softly lapping in the dark. It was warm and a thick, thick mist caused Charlie to rub the back of his head and, as I suggested, to “puh you hoodonn!”

At Chelsea Piers, we paused to admire the wall-size photos of when these were working piers: Longshoremen in suits at a Communion breakfast. African-American athletes on a steamer to attend the Olympics. Solders waving as their came back from wars. Horses and carriages in the cobblestone street and a sign saying “Titanic” in the background.

“Cake!” Charlie broke from his sushi litany when he saw the gymnasium area where he went to M’s December 9th birthday party. We ran across the West Side Highway and caught the subway (Charlie’s eyes searched for an empty seat), and soon we were up in Columbus Circle for the desired Japanese food item—-and back on two subways, and running amid the puddles and in the mist to get back to the PATH station. Charlie laughed and grinned while holding Jim’s hand, and ran without (as far as I can tell) panting. He reached for my hand too, was careful to push my coat sleeve up, and then bent over double chortling loudly, then straightened his body as the three of us ran.

Charlie is a boy of few words but lots of communication: Living with Charlie, living with autism, have taught me that language is only one way that we humans can express ourselves.

We made the train and the way Charlie sat up stiff and attentive and beamed when the car CD player broadcast Jimi Hendrix said all I need to know.

8 Responses to “Small Talk, Big Walk (#560)”
  1. Kathy says:

    “Charlie often seems to want to go somewhere else when we are home,and then to go home when we are out.”

    Yes Kristina, Mark is very similar in that respect. e.g When we are home he will often say.”We go see Omie( my mother).” When we get to Omies he then says shortly after, ” We go home now.”
    He does get quite anxious at times..

    Mark has recently started swimming lessons and is really enjoying it. We live only a few minutes from the beach, and he loves to paddle there in the water.

    Makes me think of Charlie.

    Charlie would love our beaches.

    We have some of the best beaches in Australia, here in Perth.

    (Some people say some of the best beaches in the world)

    Beautiful fine white sand, gorgeous blue water.

    He’d be in heaven Kristina.

    I hope one day that Mark too will swim like a fish,and be so in tune with the ocean…..

    Just like Charlie….

  2. mom-nos says:

    I don’t underestimate the value of those conversations at all. They’re exactly like the earliest conversations I had with Bud, and they were a comfortable jumping-off point for more complex, more spontaneous conversation. I think they’re important because they are a safe way to approximate conversation – the flow, the rhythm, the back-and- forth of you speak/I speak/you speak – without the pressure of having to come up with things to say.

    Red hearts!

  3. Rosej says:

    Kathy has got it. Ben’s conversation began with memorized “scripts” from video’s he had watched. They seldom had anything to do with the conversation I wanted, but in his mind he was doing the back and forth he heard.

    Slowly, he would fill in answers with scripts that were more appropriate. The “t.v. talk” quite around 4th grade, I guess when he had memorized enough to have a good vocabulary.

    I am a little ashamed to admit it, but the first “conversations” we had that went on for a while were name calling sessions, which made him laugh, an added bonus! “Poopy!”, “Stinker!”,”Caca!”, “Foo-Foo!”, and on. (I’m not sure I could print the real conversations in good taste…) I’ve always done anything I could to make Ben laugh. Think of how comfortable you have to be with your conversation partners to laugh! It’s a gift we give to those we love.

    Sorry, I’ve really gone on!

  4. Julia says:

    C. likes to name colors. She is especially fond of saying “yellow”.

    Sam doesn’t say much at all in the way of recognizeable words; it was a big deal around Memorial Day last year when he said “yellow”, fairly clearly.

    Colors are good. Yellow seems to be especially good around here.

  5. Charlie favors “bue” and “bakk.”

    Sometimes our conversations don’t have words at all—one hum to another, call and response—-I throw in some words. I like to think it is teaching Charlie that speech involves exchange and response.

    Charlie would _adore_ your beaches Kathy—-wish we were on one now!

  6. Clay says:

    Edith’s speech is limited. Although latley she has been saying more complete sentences. An embarrasing one is: Don’t touch me again!”. Of course no one is touching her when she says this, but it sure could get us in trouble out in public. She also blames spankings on various family members even though no spanking has occured. (spankings were abandoned long ago, they never worked, and knowing that she is autistic makes them out of the question)

    Alot of times she speaks nonsense in waves as if she is having a conversation with you, (and she is, just don’t know what she is saying).

    She scripts like Charlie, her latest one is repeating: “Freeze Bobo Bobos” (which is from the program Diego.

    She also frequently will add the following line to her conversation: “Tomorrow is Tuesday.” (Maybe this is echolalia?)

  7. Charlie sometimes reenacts scenes of him having a tantrum, and of being physically restrained as he was in a previous placement—somehow the attention he got during all that is stuck in his mind, and is something he thinks is “fun”? “funny”? to act out again.

    Regarding “Tomorrow is Tuesday”—might well be echolalia—do you remember the first time someone said it and then you noted her saying it? Charlie has a delayed reaction to many things—sometimes he’ll repeat something I said, a day or so later.

  8. Clay says:

    Edith has been repeating this phrase for weeks now. It actually started out as, “It’s a Monday, Tuesday”, and then morphed into the current version, “Tomorrow is Tuesday”. She repeats this phrase several times a day.

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