A young man with Asperger's we recently met noted to us that he likes being in the city---New York City, in particular---because when he is in the city he can be with people (lots of people, indeed) without having to have direct social interactions with them. Wallking down a crowded city street---Fifth Avenue on one of the dwindling before-Christmas shopping days---is like parallel play, to the nth degree. Is the figure of the flâneur---the dapperly-dressed stroller in the metropolis, detached from the multitude he walks among, first noted by the 19th-century French poet, Charles Baudelaire---not a potential metaphor for the autistic person?
For now I leave discussion of Baudelaire, modernism, and the dandyisme of the flâneur to those more versed in modernist aesthetics than myself. I can say that Charlie is---like Eloise at the Plaza---a city child.
We do not live in New York like Charlie's friend M, but across the river in New Jersey and, indeed, deep in the suburbs of the Garden State. During the week, Charlie's little yellow schoolbus takes him past lawns, the occasional deer, and, yes, soccer moms in shiney SUVs. Jim works in NYC and, in Jersey City, I am just across the Hudson from Wall Street. But the 'burb we are in does seem to have the right kind of autism program that Charlie needs in the public schools: Charlie's educational needs have determined our last three moves, and will continue to do so. And he certainly loves bike-riding on the wide streets and running around all the grass and amid the trees and he has never done so well in school as he has here.
But it does help that we live five minutes from the train.
After a breakfast of a rather large number of clementines and white rice, Charlie got himself dressed and got on his glasses and bike helmet and off he and Jim went for an hour's ride. I had him write his name twice on the present for his piano teacher, as it came out in a broad scrawl the first time; the lighest of taps under Charlie's wrist resulted in a semi-legible signature. His teacher got Charlie started on a major new development toay: Playing with his left hand as well as his right. Charlie seems to be vaguely ambidextrous---he will use his left hand to hold his fork or spoon sometimes---but we have concentrated on him learning to write and do other tasks with his right hand. Playing the piano has definitely strengthened the fingers on his right hand and I am curious as to what will happen now with his left.
After the lesson it was "Train tuh New Yawk!"
And subway rides: The D train, the A train. A man was playing Chrismas carols on a steel drum as we came down the stairs; Charlie chortled and ran back and forth (and rather close to the edge of the platform); Jim gave him a dollar to pass on to the man. (It took Charlie a few tries to give it to the right person.) We went straight into the crowd which got thicker as we neared the massive Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza; green and red silken flags waved in the wing before it. "Sushi!" Charlie called out, a little more than distracted by his thoughts than by the glowing tree.
Neither dogs nor the elaborate displays of Christmas commodities caught Charlie's eye as we made our way down Fifth Avenue and across Central Park South where a huge menorah was being lit. We caught sight of the Plaza Hotel, now being converted into condos, and there saw a huge sign trumpeting the words of Eloise: "I am a city child. I live at the Plaza."
Then something of the holiday hustle and bustle got into Charlie, who started smiling and skipping as he held Jim's hand. "Who' foods!", said Charlie, then (imitating Jim) "write books! who' foods!" He chose a precious pack of salmon sushi and stood beside me at the cold foods counter. "Eat peas": Charlie was eyeing a dish of marinated edamame and I scooped some out. We sat at picnic-like table and Charlie carefully took a fork as requested and dug into the container.
Bright lights, big city, one happy boy amid the multitude.