Single words can take on big meanings for Charlie.
My mention of Jim’s older sister means one word to Charlie, her dog. Charlie was fascinated with “Portia doggy” three years ago but is now so terrified at the thought of her that Charlie said “NO” today when I said his aunt was visiting.
Then there are the words that Charlie gets stuck on and says over, and over, and over. One such word is “sushi,” as when we went on a walk in New York City’s Chinatown a few weeks ago, and also green squishy ball, or Daddy b’ue bankett: That is, Charlie tends to perseverate verbally on objects that he is worrying about getting.
Today Charlie seemed to be expanding his meanings, a bit.
His uncle and aunt showed up, dogless, and Charlie ran for the driveway. Jim and I tried to have him look in their car so he could see no dog in there, but Charlie planted his feet on the cement and would not budge. So, in coat and gloves, he stayed in the driveway, went on a walk with Jim, and then—on seeing his uncle return with a bag of take-out Chinese food—made his way cautiously inside. I sat beside Charlie as he lunched; afterwards, Charlie giggled and grinned as his uncle teased and joked with him on the couch.
Then he started to say the name of one of his autism instructors at school. Each time, Charlie fixed me with a good long look, and I added the names of his teacher, the other instructors, the speech therapist and the OT in various combinations. Charlie repeated these and looked content, and this continued through his piano lesson, on the train into Manhattan, and as we walked around Broadway, in the theater district.
“Well, now it’s a person you’re talking about,” Jim said.
I often think that Charlie says “green squishy ball” or “Daddy b’ue bankett” again and again as if to seek our assurance that these favorite things will indeed be in their rightful places—on his bed or in a certain container on his desk—when we get back home. How hard it is to get the worry out of his mind that the ball and the blanket will be there for him—-that his teachers and therapists will all be at school on Monday for him.
I got a taste of the stomach-gnawing nervous intensity of Charlie’s feeling when, as we boarded the train from Newark to NYC, I discovered that I did not have my datebook. “Must be in the car,” said Jim and it took some wrenching in the pattern of my own thoughts not to keep picturing the car, or the seat on the train where I had last held the slender black book in my hand.
We walked up Broadway, we made it to Columbus Circle, we told Charlie we would get him sushi.
Charlie said his teacher’s name, with great determination.
Back home, he asked to put on his socks and shoes and “go for walk” as soon as we had taken off our coats, then refused to come inside for a half-hour. We surmised that he wanted to go wait for the bus—-right now. Charlie then took himself to bed early and, after he and I had gone through the litany of his teachers’ names, lay awake for a long time (despite melatonin).
When you’ve got something on your mind that means a lot to you (a ball, a blanket; a favorite instructor; a datebook) it is hard to think of anything else.
But it is something to know that what means so much to Charlie that he can’t stop talking about it is not toys, not food. It’s school, and the people in it.