Pretty Okay: Few Words, Lots to Translate

Charlie woke up at 5.20am, showered, and came down the stairs exuberantly. It was ‘no’ to a walk and then he went to get his socks. Jim brought up the possibility of a bike ride; I pointed out that it was a bit early. Charlie (now besocked) returned back down the stairs and we asked him about maybe going back to bed for, oh, a half-hour?

And Charlie went back to his room and slept in until almost 10am.

Teenage behavior/sleep patterns, I would say. Jim also told me that, while I was in Ottawa for the Critical Autism Studies workshop, Charlie had not really slept much. Forgive me for flattering myself but, it seems that he sleeps better knowing that things are restored to their usual order, me/Mom home.

It’s also the case that Charlie was possibly a bit worn-out after biking over 40 miles in 4 bike rides on Saturday; from putting in 25 miles on Sunday; from, again, the disruptions to his routine from me being gone; from a change in the weather (summery at the end of last week and gray and cool in the high 60s by Sunday afternoon). After getting home around 7pm, he went straight to his room and slept for a good two hours plus before waking up briefly, and staying in bed and going back to sleep.

He was in a very easy mood the whole day, even after being stirred out of the nap he’d fallen into en route to the country/small town bike path we drove to in the afternoon. We long ago noted that Charlie is in a bit of an inbetween and troubled state after he wakes up, and have learned to go slow and easy when trying to rouse him from a deep sleep. Sunday afternoon he was really asleep in the backseat of the car beside my dad but, after a few no’s about getting his bike helmet on, Charlie got up, out, and (as the photo above suggests) right on his bike.

Things can always change. Lately, Charlie seems to be doing ‘pretty okay’ with things. There was that tough moment in traffic Thursday before last and some, ah, hijinks the day after, largely due, it seems, to stomach distress (and the fact that Charlie had just had his first full week of school and had started taking the schoolbus home).

Most of this we’ve figured out from what Charlie does, as he has—as is generally the case with him—said little. Which calls to mind the response of a friend to my essay on ‘Autism and the Task of the Translator‘ in Ottawa.

Representing autism, and representing Charlie in various contexts (in my writing here, to his IEP team, to doctors and nurses, and many more) is a daunting and necessary task, I had said. I compared it to translating a poem or other text from one language to another and, in particular, to the task of translating a poem from a ‘dead language’ (like the languages I teach, Latin and ancient Greek). A translator is ever in danger of taking words out of context and imposing meanings on those words (and the poem, etc.) that are more in the translator’s mind than in the original piece of writing. In translating, one is always in danger of producing a bad translation—a bad, poor, inaccurate representation that misrepresents the original.

And my friend pointed out that, while I was speaking about translating between languages, many of the communications that I described Charlie as using are not verbal, don’t use language. What kind of translation is going on, exactly?

I have been thinking about this point quite a bit.

It could be said that ‘what Charlie does’ is a kind of language, though of a non-verbal kind: Can a language be a language without words. ‘What Charlie does’ certainly is communication. Very often, what I divine to be the meaning behind what he does (standing suddenly stiff with his arms held out to the sides and making an er sort of sound, rather loudly and with a vibrato), is not what most other people might think. (A point touched upon by Shannon in a recent post about a day out and about with her son.) I suppose others must think Charlie, when he does those three things, is (first of all) acting weird or crazy or some such. My reading of the situation is that he is working through some thought, something that happened, or some such, and the standing and the holding of his arms and the er-ing all help get the ‘working through’ process into action.

I’m not sure what else besides words (music?) one could use to try to explain/make sense/interpret ‘what Charlie does.’ But that’s me and I am a person who seems to need to put things into language to make sense of them and think them through myself. Whereas, it seems more and more to me that language (or at least words) do not play that role for Charlie. Colors, shapes, sounds, music, motion—he’s interested and (usually) more at ease with these, while, as Jim and I now know, too many words delivered in his presence irks him, sometimes to distraction.

And things being pretty okay right now, I’m quite okay with working on communicating with Charlie in ways other than words, even as I’ll continue to re-render ‘what Charlie does’ in language, for my own understanding.

I’ve a lot more translating to do.

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