Charlie’s speech therapist has been working on him saying “can I have” and “can I see” rather than the one catch-all phrase he has been using ever since he learned to communicate through some simple language seven years ago, that phrase being
(Or, as Charlie used to say when he was four and could not pronounce a lot of sounds, “I yeh.”)
Charlie usually speaks in a soft tone, so the harshness of “I want!”—try saying it out loud right now—is muted plus, of course, we’re always glad to hear him ask for anything independently. So glad, I have been thinking, that Jim and I tend to provide the wanted item whenever Charlie asks for it on his own, even if only with a word or two (“bread!” “socks!”), and not to think of more complex sentences for Charlie to try.
After afterschool ABA, a walk with Dad and piano with Mom, Charlie ran into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “I want!” “Caaa—” I prompted. “Caneye havfff…” said Charlie, and looked at me. “Canneye havvvvv….”
Earlier on their walk to the train Jim had prompted Charlie to ask “can I go”: “Sometimes when he talks, he’s so clear it sounds like you talking!” Jim said to me after Charlie was asleep (dose #4 of melatonin; woke up before 8am this morning and, after groggily pulling on his clothes, raced out the door without his coat to meet the bus, me hurrying after, clutching the coat).
When you hear about an autistic child who has become an autistic college student, or about an autistic child who is “fully mainstreamed,” you often hear people say “she’s come so far.” I’m cheering from my corner of Autismland here but don’t count “college” or “full mainstreaming” as the sole signs of Autismland Achievement. If you had see little two-year four-month old Charlie a-screaming and a-wailing when asked to sit at a table—-Charlie with no words, with one sound (“dah”); Charlie who would slap his head when frustrated—“he’s come such a long way” is all that needs be said.
If you had seen me—a short, shy, glasses-wearing, pastel-clothed Chinese American girl whose heart went into cortortions if asked to speak in class—through my schoolyears and when I first came back here to go to college two decades ago, you might wonder how I could have become autism mother get[ting] on her soapbox.
I spent the day in the library of the college I went to: I start teaching next Tuesday and needed several books for a new class. There’s an atrium-like area on the bottom floor with skylights and wooden tables that seat four, and I sat here amid college students studying for exams and writing papers. A young woman had been seated diagonally across from me when I sat down; she left in mid-morning, to be replaced by a young man with a pile of books, earbuds, and a backwards baseball cap at an angle and then, across from me, another young woman. She opened her laptop, turned on a bright red iPod, peered expressively into her screen, smoothed her hair into a knot.
Around noon I looked up from my computer to see a young Asian American woman, long straight hair, wire-rimmed glasses, powder blue ski jacket, walking in the atrium. She sat down beside me (though other tables had only two students seated at them) and pulled out a stack of printed-out PowerPoint slides with all kinds of colored graphs and figures on them. She studied assiduously, a wire-ringed notebook open and a mechanical pencil in her hand, and seemed never to look up.
She was still hunched over that stack of notes when I packed up my computer, the library books, and my coffee. As I walked away, I noted that she had never taken off her powder-blue ski jacket.
I wonder who she’ll be in twenty years, in ten years—-just as who knows what Charlie is growing up to be?