Tripping the Light Fantastic, Is Us
Friday Date


Afternoon walk with Charlie leading the wayDriving 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.

I reflected:

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.



Maybe it's assumed too much that people on the autistic spectrum don't want to just comment or "chat"? We have similar problems differentiating between a request and a comment too.

McDonalds could just be a comment that this is somewhere else that you go to eat? The subject of food was there as you had just had TexMex, he could be linking the two together rather than requesting? (I know you know more about this than I do, I'm just kind of talking out loud)

Dimitri banged his head on a door frame yesterday, good opportunity to get out the iPod with the feelings pictures I thought...pain is a tricky subject though, dwelling on it can make things worse with Dimitri (he started slapping the bruise). But at the same time he needs a way to communicate pain or discomfort...


I've wondered this for a while about Charlie's use of nouns. It must be extremely frustrating for him to be surrounded by talkers (which you and Jim are) and yet not able to participate much in t he conversations. Not to mention that every time he says something, people immediately act like they must DO something about it! No peaceful-easy feeling there.

Can Charlie learn to utilize verbs more, perhaps in combinations? If he said "eat at McDonald's", rather than just the name of the burgermill, at least you'd have a greater insight into what he is thinking.

"Walk," for instance, is a verb and a noun, and can even be a command. How d you think Charlie is using it? Does he seem to think in solid, discrete objects, that is, nouns, or in adjectives or in relationships and actions, verbs?


I'm very glad Charlie benefits from lots of physical exercise. When I read this, I think about some of the original Kanner kids that seemed to do well in a traditional farming setting. I'm considering how people with ASD lived in the past. I'm sure that many of them enjoyed the physical work on a farm, and the predictable routine, and the feeling of a solid, measurable accomplishment at the end of the day.

Oh, and I'm so pleased the Hub is back, since it allows me to read such an positive and uplifting post. The best to all your family!


Boys and food will keep you on your toes.

My NT son asks for more than he can eat quite often. It takes a while for him to realize he's full, I think.

One of my twins with autism says "chicken!" a lot when he doesn't actually want chicken. Maybe he's trying to talk about the bird? It gets confusing!

Kristina Chew

I seem to be grocery shopping almost every day! If it's in the house, Charlie eats it or at least starts too---works better just to get those few things. And we live within 2 minutes of 2 grocery stores....

If not a farm, a job and living situation with and in wide open spaces, with physical activity in regular doses....... thanks so much, there have been some transformations going on with the Hub it seems!

We and Charlie's speech therapists have worked a long time on him increasing the length of his sentences with verbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases---on his own, he seems to prefer to stick to as few words as possible. I guess he's thinking, why else go to McDonald's but to eat. We don't talk nearly as much when Charlie's awake and around; I often repeat back the phrases he says, or say the same words with a twist. He seems to think this amusing....

I think McDonalds was such a comment, just a name of another fastfood place we sometimes visit after school. Today, we passed the TexMex place and Charlie didn't ask for it, but did want McDonalds, so there we did go...... Did Dimitri bang intentionally, as far as you could tell?

We have to be careful not to dwell on any injuries Charlie gets, like a stubbed toe----sometimes, after accidentally stumbling or some such, he's banged his head, as if to give him, um, some other pain to concentrate on?

Laura B

My first reaction to his mentioning a different restaurant after just having eaten, was that he was making an association with other times you took him to other restaruants. Maybe he's making conversation in his own way.

@Alice, when one of my sons was younger, he used to love exclaiming "Chicken!" simply because he loved the sound of the word. He'd try it out with different intonations, but always with vigorous enthusiasm, just waiting for a reaction to the sound of that word. Thinking about forming that word in the mouth, it does feel a little unusual - kind of hard at the beginning, a little gutteral in the middle, and gently closing at the end.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)