(Another) White Car

Charlie checking out the condiments section at the supermarket The car—as is the case for many a family, at least in the US—is pretty much an extension of our living space. Our old green stationwagon was the "green car," bought in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, when Charlie was just around 2 years old (and just around the time he was diagnosed with autism). That car brought us back from the midwest to New Jersey, until it was sold for not too much to the owner of a local gas station. We'd already said good-bye to the little white Toyota Camry ("white car") that had belonged to Jim's mother. She wasn't much of a driver and, while the car was an early 90s model, it had very few miles on it when we started driving it.  That little white car was traded in when we bought the "black car," a stationwagon with a lot more oomph than the green on. And when the green car died, the black car became our only car.

This is to say, Charlie has spent a lot of time in every car and has strong memories of all of them (except for the forest green Saturn that he was driven home in from the hospital, after he was born). If he sees an old Toyota Camry, he runs up to it and, regardless of its color, gives it a good long inspection. He clocked in record hours in the black car and I did too, as the commute to my job in Jersey City from the central New Jersey town that we've been living in can take 45 minutes, give or take, in the morning (less on the return trip, but I usually come home around 1.30-2pm, when there is little traffic). Jim takes the train into Manhattan, so we've only needed one car.

Then the black car started needing Major Repairs and, for this and some other reasons (it always seemed to eat up gas), Jim and I came to the conclusion, time for another car. And so now there's another white car in our parking space, more compact than the big black stationwagon, though its back seat actually offers Charlie more legroom.  I'd love a small car to scoot around in, but such isn't practical with our growing boy with his ever-longer legs.  

On the one hand Charlie adapted right away to the new car. He can stretch out a bit more (for the time being) and the design of the windows offers him (and us) better views. The back seat of the black one was long ago inundated with crumbs and crumb-like substances (sand). Unfortunately the "no eating in the new car"rule  lasted for about, oh, a day and a half and the car has lost its new car smell in possibly record time. Like I said, the car may as well just be part of our home!

On the other hand, the inevitable lag set in for Charlie. He's been asking for "green car, green car" and looking quizzically at the black car, now quietly parked and accumulating leaf piles round its wheels. (It's driveable, but not for long distances and not for me to bring to work on a snowy, icy day—and it's not for me to drive with a very tense and anxious Charlie, as he has been at times lately) We certainly spend a lot of time driving to various destinations and, too, sometimes just driving around. Doing so in a new car is quite the same as living in a new house; as being in a new school. 

Intermixed with calling for the green car, Charlie's also been saying litanies of "bye bye Sean, bye bye Mr. Matt, bye bye Pete, bye bye JP, bye bye Jessica, bye bye Miriam, bye bye Danielle, bye bye Pete, bye bye Mr. Matt." Sean was a student in Charlie's classroom in our old town. Mr. Matt, Miriam, and Danielle were all his teachers in a class prior to that. Pete was Charlie's main aide in the class he was in before being in middle school, while Jessica was his teacher and JP was a favorite (but he was moved to work at the high school after a few months). But it's mostly Sean and Mr. Matt that Charlie has brought up, just as his thoughts are focused on the car we gave up prior to getting the black car. That's how long it takes Charlie, it seems, to process and to be able to talk about his memories.

In other words, we're anticipating one l-o-n-g transition to his new school.

And we know that—just as Charlie likes, needs, to take his time scanning the shelves at the grocery store to figure out what he wants, to take it all in—we won't be rushing him.

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Comments
11 Responses to “(Another) White Car”
  1. Justthisguy says:

    I liked my old truck better than my new one. So did my cat. My old truck was a 1983 Mazda B2000, with no digital circuitry whatsoever in it, and a carburetor, not injectors. Like my kitty and your kid, I prefer the old, familiar stuff, and miss it when it’s gone.

  2. Rose says:

    We bought new chairs for our living room, and completely (almost) changed everything around. When I went to move the clock, Ben said “Please, I need one thing to stay the same.”
    Maybe it is overwhelming for Charlie to process the “now”…so he goes back to something he has already been through, and survived, first. Kinda like, “How did I make it through then?”.

  3. autismvox says:

    This is so helpful, especially what you say about going “back to something he has already been through, and survived, first.” Also explains to me why Charlie has been talking non-stop about Portia, my sister-in-law’s dog that he was very scared of when they came to visit his grandparents’ house (when we were living there). And about some of his old toys—Alphabert, Barney videos.
    @justthisguy, great to hear from you! Charlie always likes old things, especially if they are ‘pre-owned’ (my mom’s jeans jacket is a big favorite right now).

  4. Jill says:

    You mentioned in an earlier post that Charlie says “bye, mom” when he wants you to leave him alone. What does he mean when he says “Bye-bye” about the people who are no longer in his life? Is he acknowledging that he no longer sees them or is there more to it? Is he missing them?
    When he says “Bye” about his Barney video is he asking for a replacement or is he just remarking that he no longer has it?
    It must be difficult to figure out what a (mostly) nonverbal person is trying to communicate.

  5. Rose says:

    Didn’t Temple Grandin say that when the word “dog” came up, it always started with the same picture in her mind? Charlie seems so frightened of dogs on the bike riding trips, and somehow…maybe he is trying to figure out where the fear came from. Perhaps he associates feelings he can’t express with times of his life when he first remembers those same feelings. You came up with that. You are trying so hard to understand Charlie. I used to hear, “you know your child better than anyone” and thought, sure, yeah, right…but it’s true. Especially in your case, and we benefit from it when you write about it.

  6. Rose says:

    Didn’t Temple Grandin say that when the word “dog” came up, it always started with the same picture in her mind? Charlie seems so frightened of dogs on the bike riding trips, and somehow…maybe he is trying to figure out where the fear came from. Perhaps he associates feelings he can’t express with times of his life when he first remembers those same feelings. You came up with that. You are trying so hard to understand Charlie. I used to hear, “you know your child better than anyone” and thought, sure, yeah, right…but it’s true. Especially in your case, and we benefit from it when you write about it.

  7. Monica says:

    My brother, Stephen, loves to ride in the car … any car. He didn’t seem too upset when, over the years, we got new cars. Perhaps the change in cars is actually helping Charlie process the other huge changes in his life — after all, it seems that the car change was for the better, and he’s enjoying the extra leg room, views, etc. Maybe change brings the promise of improvement.

  8. at the behavior workshop last week it was mentioned how one with autism can get stuck on one car, and especially when learning to drive in one car and later having to readjust to another car to drive. He asked us all to reflect back when we got our licenses and what car we drove.

  9. at the behavior workshop last week it was mentioned how one with autism can get stuck on one car, and especially when learning to drive in one car and later having to readjust to another car to drive. He asked us all to reflect back when we got our licenses and what car we drove.

  10. autismvox says:

    @Jill, I think it’s everything that you note that Charlie means with “bye,” except he’s not asking for replacements—only when we actually go to a store and see the shelves of DVDs and CDs does he ask for one. I’ve also thought that he is replaying, practicing, the feelings about saying good-bye to people he was used to and liked, perhaps to ready himself for saying good-bye to his current teacher, therapists, students.
    It’s not easy that Charlie has such minimal communication ability—but after 12 years plus of life with him, we’ve a bit of an idea. Always trying to learn more, that is for sure.
    @Bonnie, I do think Charlie gets very used to being in one car, down to how he sits and arranges his body. So it is good to have a new one, though, as ever, an adjustment.
    @Monica, I do think it’s all a way for Charlie to help process changes—perhaps he is readying himself, steeling himself, for the big one ahead! (One more week at his old school.)
    @Rose, am reading and rereading your comments today, thank you. plus.

  11. Emily says:

    Poor little guy…he’s really worried about this change. Sounds like he’s vocalizing what many of us keep in our heads when we catalogue life experiences that are similar to the ones that are impending or happening to us right now. Sounds like he needs some comfort connectors.

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