For the first several minutes of story-telling at our town library tonight, Charlie hummed while sitting on his gray carpet rectangle. Not his loudest motor-revving-up almost-roars, deep down in his throat, but a kind of general buzz, like the sound of a fluorescent light.
One girl—-I think she was a sibling—kept turning around to stare a little (not out of annoyance, but out of puzzlement and even a bit of wonder). The parents and the librarian conscientiously ignored, or seemed to be ignoring, Charlie’s buzzing: One child was in the back with his mother who first tried to hold him in her lap; he stood and tapped the back wall, lay down on the carpet. Another child hopped up after sitting still and quiet and went to look closely at the large format book the librarian was reading, or at the box of musical instruments she produced. Charlie, after a bit of pacing over the rows of carpet squares, sat down as I requested in a whisper and stayed seated until asked to rise and “join in the marching band.”
I sat beside him, head cocked at his usual angle for listening and eyes slid off to the side. Charlie fingered the sticker name tag he had carefully read and picked up off the table, and ripped off his shirt as soon as he had applied it. He heard a snowman story; followed the librarian’s hand motions for different instruments (Charlie was a few beats behind and his movements minimal, but he was clearly watching and imitating all on his own; I had to watch the librarian attentively to get the movements right myself); heard another story about winter; stood and hummed a bit more as the other children chose musical instruments. (Charlie was the last to take one—a maraca.) When the librarian started marching in a circle and shaking her tambourine, the other children followed suit (some with parental direction); after first walking in the opposite direction in a smaller circle, Charlie got in a line. And he was no longer humming.
Just a few years ago, that humming would have been my only focus, my mind racing from redirecting strategy to redirecting strategy, all while thinking, “Charlie must act appropriately or……..” Or be stigmatized for strange and different and weird behavior? Or be asked not to return? Or be singled out as ruining the event?
All those worries—shades of catastrophic thinking—-were gone in me tonight. We were there at special needs kids’ story-telling and we were there with the presumption that Charlie being Charlie would be fine. And so I did not try to have Charlie sit for the first few minutes, but watched him running back and forth and stomping his feet out of time to “If you’re happy…..”, and humming. I sensed that Charlie was saying, he needed to acclimate himself to the room and the noises and the people in it and to the demands that accompany a visit to the library. Having been in conversation over the past several months with autistic adults, I have been trying to learn how to let Charlie be who he is—the way he is—in order for him to do what I would like him to do (sit and listen to a story).
“Aw done, done!” Charlie called out when the librarian led everyone in a closing rendition of “Twinkle Twinkles Little Star”—I concluded that he has had enough of that song by now (Charlie will be ten years old in exactly three months as of February 15th).
After the half-hour of story-telling, I would have liked to have gone with Charlie to the children’s section and have him choose a book. Charlie would have liked nothing more than to head for the black car and go home to eat dinner.
Guess which we did?
(Hint: It was the right way to be with Charlie.)