Driving home from school on Thursday afternoon, Charlie asked to go to a fastfood TexMex restaurant. We hadn't really celebrated Wednesday's performance so I did a 360 turn and to the restaurant we went. Charlie was very serious (even a little grim-looking) as we waited, then broke into a pleased smile as he carried his burrito out to the car.
He ate everything (chips too) quickly and returned to looking very serious. We were nearing home when Charlie said,
My first thought was, oh we gotta go. My second, wait a moment.
"Put away your bag and lunch boxes." ("Boxes" because one's for lunch, one for snack.)
Charlie's face relaxed and he started grinning, and stayed that way till we were home. He grabbed my keys and his green worry beads and ran inside, happily.
In the past, I would have definitely taken Charlie straight to McDonalds as he requested, or seemed to be requesting, and against my better judgment, he having just eating a big burrito. But after the disastrous incident of him asking to go to another Tex Mex takeout place and completely 'freaking out' in the car, Jim and I have learned, sometimes (rather a lot of times?) Charlie, when asking obsessively for things, doesn't really want them; that he's testing us (gullible) parents. Too, it's on record that Charlie's gotten the food he'd ardently asked for and then thrown it and banged his head on the table (longer-time readers of these chronicles of Charlie may remember the time of the flying hamburgers).
Teaching Charlie to ask and request for things---to say what he wants---has been a constant focus of his speech therapy and (when he did these) verbal behavior sessions; of many and most efforts to teach Charlie to talk and communicate. Certainly using words to get something desired is a basic function of language. It's perhaps one of the more straightforward skills that can be taught to a child who, like Charlie, has a language disability: A child is taught to use words, hand over a PECS card, make a sign, and she or he gets something. Teaching commenting and expressing internal states---stomach aches, headaches, a splinter in a finger, a pain from a tooth; sorry, anger, distress, unhappiness and emotions---is far more complicated.
Charlie has some ways of expressing these. They're behavioral---neurological storms, whirlwinds, occasional tsunamis; self-injurious behavior, other 'challenging' behaviors (haven't seen much of these of late, since we've been doing all these walks and long bike rides); they require one to look at Charlie and look around. When he does use words, the words don't always mean what they mean on a surface level. 'Burgers 'n' fries' isn't (necessarily) a request for said items, but indicate distress, perhaps because (once upon a time) Charlie said those words when he was distressed and trying to comfort himself by thinking of something pleasant.
So far efforts to teach Charlie to say things like 'stomach ache' when he asks for food even though he's just eaten a filling meal haven't been successful if by 'success' one means that he's learned to say 'stomach ache' instead of something else: Always something to work on. On the other hand, Charlie has been successful about not flying off the proverbial handle when he doesn't get what he asks for. Indeed, I would say that he often seems rather relieved that he doesn't get what he asked for ('McDonalds').
Because maybe he wasn't really asking for anything at all, but just wanted to talk about the Golden Arches?
I mean, how often does any of us just say something because we want to say it, because it crosses our mind?
If everything I said was a request, I'd feel quite exhausted and unsettled all the time, being always in a state of asking, of having to ask, others for things. Charlie, again like anybody, sometimes just wants to talk for talking's sake, to let us know what he's thinking about, what he's feeling. Maybe even just because he likes saying certain words.
Why else would anyone say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?
It is the case that, in our household, some far less 'precocious' words---'walk,' 'helmet' (bike kind)---always mean business; mean what they mean---or at least, they do right now. Walks and bike rides are clearly preferred activities that Charlie asks for to assuage his energy, nerves, anxieties. I would think those words have gotten some strong associations linked with them, of (one hopes) a highly positive sort.
For a child who does not talk too much, Charlie knows a thing or too about, I would say, language and words, and their power.