A Farewell to His iPod
Charlie had Monday off from school for Yom Kippur and got up really early. (He was the alarm clock to get Jim on the 6.52am train.) He conked out, woke up again and got himself dressed, said "yes" to getting bagels, asked to go swimming. Our YMCA pool was almost empty, though we did see our neighbor, Marie (she is over 80 years old) doing water aerobics. (She used to go for daily walks 'round the parking lot and I'd see her as I waited for Charlie's bus.) Charlie settled himself on the big airplane-toy-float and tried to get it to move by rocking his body (Jim said he does the same in the kayak). A couple of preschool age children trickled in with their mothers. I asked the lifeguard if it was ok if we stayed in the pool while there were swimming lessons and she said, no problem: "We know you guys."
When we got home, Charlie told me "bye," as in time for me to get lost; ok by me. I went to check my work email. I stepped back into the kitchen and found Charlie with a white plastic garbage bag at his feet. He directed a somber look at me: "Bye bye mom." "Um, just a moment," I said and took a quick glance into the garbage bag where I beheld Charlie's iPod in its bright green case and his headphones.
Charlie told me "bye" again and took the bag out the door and put it in the garbage. I waited until he was in his room and then snuck out to the garbage and retrieved both items. And hid them.
What do I think might be going on?
If you really want to know: Charlie is a super-sensitive kid, especially to the emotions of people around him. He is very attuned to what anyone says, however much he might appear to be listening. (And the helmet does not cover his ears.) My (maternal) interpretation, but it's possible he is punishing himself for the current very difficult situation in his classroom.
Further, Jim and I also think, as in we think we know, that Charlie is quite aware that it's thought that he should be removed from his classroom and school, and that he's perceived as a problem.
Again, that's all our parental intuition and we know we could be wrong. But as I've realized time and time again, Jim in particular has a deep-running intuitive grasp of Charlie's internal states. And I remember two things:
When Charlie was not quite 7, we again and again noted a puzzling pattern. He'd ask for a Barney video after doing some activity we'd requested he do. We'd turn on the video, Charlie would sit and watch for a few minutes, and then he would bang his head on the floor and, well, much else. One day after this had happened, I put all the Barney videos and (mean mom here, oh boy) Charlie's stuffed Barney himself in the garbage and dumped the bag. The response from Charlie was expected—grief. For awhile, he didn't head-bang but ever after, "Barney" is one of the words he says out of the blue (the school terms this a "non-contextual utterance"). Over time, Jim and I have realized, Charlie says the name of the big purple dinosaur to comfort himself.
Also, it was when Charlie was 8 that we were in the same situation we are currently in regarding his school placement. The special education director of another New Jersey town had informed us that Charlie could not stay in his public school autism classroom. With what seemed like only undesirable and inappropriate options, Jim and I took Charlie out of school and homeschooled him for over a month, until we found a place at a small private autism school. My mom (aka "PoPo") came out from California and stayed with us and, much as Charlie loves her, he was pretty unhappy for much of the time and kept asking to go back to school. For the next two years, he often seemed nervous and worried when told that there was a holiday or a vacation or that he wouldn't be in school. I suspect Charlie still thinks—just as he did four years ago—that it's not right for him not to be in school. Plus, he's more attuned than ever to what the adults around him—teachers, school staff who walk into his classroom, ABA consultants; his parents—are saying in hushed tones.
And all of that is perhaps behind why, to Charlie, the iPod had to go.
And it's all why I love my boy so much, so much, till it could break your heart.