After what I will refer to as the Wrecking of the Tapes, I have been waiting for Charlie to have a Delayed Reaction. People talk a lot about how autistic children have sensory processing issues, how the sounds, or things they see, or things they touch, are registered and “inputed” at a more intense, or at a slower, than-for-most-of-us rate.
More and more, I have noted that Charlie has something of a “processing disorder” with emotions. Far from him not having any emotions—far from him being without affect, and isolated, and withdrawn according to older, incorrect definitions of autism—Charlie feels and experiences anger, happiness, sorrow, love, physically, if not in every cell and sinew of his body. I think of his heightened focus at the beach, accompanied by a sense of richly joyous delight so that I think, how can we ever wrench him away from here………. I think of how quickly he can fall into the chaos of panic over worrying about his green squishy ball, and nothing I say or do can comfort him.
Over the past few years, we have begun to note that, after events like my parents leaving after a visit or saying good-bye to the ocean (“we’ll be back!“), Charlie gets the most upset one or more days after the fact. On Wednesday morning, Charlie did not show signs of remorse about wrecking the cassette tapes that Jim had made twenty-five years ago; Charlie laughed, he ran in circles, with a seemingly wreckless energy. But no tantrums occurred today, and Jim reported that Charlie had been very happy running onto the bus.
There was one word, accompanied by a signature nervous glance, that I heard Charlie say a lot today:
He said it when he got off the bus; he opened the door of the washing machine where it was in the rinse cycle; he looked around, teeth clenched. I assured him that the blanket needed washing and a snack and his speech therapist distracted him—-sort of; at one point, I heard the speech therapist opening the dryer and telling Charlie what buttons to push to turn it on. During dinner, he kept the blanket on the floor of the kitchen till I requested that he put it in the dining room.
As I was stir-frying some chicken for him, Charlie said “garbage” and, since it was full, I said “okay, you can take it out.” Charlie carefully pulled the red handles up and dragged the bag over his back to the garbage can. Just as he was finishing dinner, he looked at me from under his eyebrows and said,
“You just took it out.”
“Mommy, I want gar-badge! Takeout gar-badge!”
I noted that he had just taken it out and that we (as in Jim, Charlie’s home ABA coordinator and I) had concluded that it was best to have Charlie only take out the garbage when it is full—because Charlie has been making sure he takes out the garbage so that nothing he likes too much is in it. And he has been asking to take it out a lot.
Charlie became more and more distressed that he could not take out the almost-empty garbage bag. He burst into tears: “Garbage bank-kett, all done bank-kett, garbage!”
“Charlie blanket,” I said. “It’s yours. It’s your blanket. Not in the garbage.”
“Bank-kett, not inna garbage, bank-kett.”
Charlie was careful to arange the blanket (and the squishy ball, and his calendar) right in front of the bathroom door while he showered, and to wrap it around his person, or sit on it, or drape it over his lap, for the rest of the evening—as if his Reaction is taking the form of, what if they take away my favorite thing because I did the wrong thing?
“Hugg!” said Charlie a few times and I hurried right over, and tried my very best to say without so many words to him,
There’s no what if, just what is: One good boy, one Charlie.