The first behaviorist who oversaw Charlie's home ABA program once told us about teaching kids "colorful language" and jokes with bathroom humor. "Some of our kids, all they learn is 'please' and 'may I'---they need to learn to talk like kids talk." Charlie was 2 1/2 years old and just starting to imitate sounds ("oo," "ee") and the thought of him telling risqué jokes about taboo subjects seemed as far away as Pluto.
But it's time we, in the words of Charlie, "wise up!"
It's seven years later and Charlie is starting to develop a 'tude. It is true, even these past few days when he slumped around the house sick with croup, you could still see that swagger in his step. Contrary to my thought that maybe he had stopped growing for a while, his legs have become stilts---Charlie has turned into one long tall drink of water.
So hearing Charlie say "Wise up!" as he settled into my bed after a hot shower, I took note. Charlie was overloading our bed with his prized stuff: brown dog, green bunny, purple bear, pumpkin, Barney and Teletubbie books, favorite CDs, Daddy's blue blanket: Settling in to listen to his favorite songs before an early bedtime.
Charlie's first day back at school after almost a week off was good. He walked onto the bus to say a muffled "goo' morninn" to the smiling bus driver and aide. By 11.30am he was tired (just yesterday he ate breakfast and then was out on the couch until 3pm). His teacher and speech therapist eased him through the afternoon and the boy who ran off the bus had that peaceful, open look on his face. He was very hungry and dug into the frozen vegetables in the fridge while sitting on the heater vent.
"Photos stairs!" Suddenly, Charlie got up, ran upstairs, ran back down with a bucket of photos that he had been looking through and talking about last night, and that he had put in his room. He plopped himself back on the heater vent and shuffled the photos out around him.
Knock, knock, knock. Knock. I looked over and he was aiming the back of his head at the bookshelf, and looking right at me.
Those photos carry huge associations for Charlie. Some are irreplaceable Polaroids of his St. Paul and St. Louis therapists. Some are of him riding the swings or the merry-go-round, or smiling with grandparents. All had been hidden in the deep dark depths of our basement when, a few years ago, Charlie started tearing every piece of paper (the garbage bills, Jim's manuscript) in half. For a time I laminated everything, then we started to hide all paper items in increasingly creative (and fewer) places. Charlie also thought it was very funny to drop the photos into a certain crack at the top of the staircase, only to start crying and then wailing when we told him "can't get the photo, it's gone in the crack."
So Charlie was very excited to find the photos a few months ago and wanted to array them all over the floor, and very grudgingly did "clean up." He has ignored them for awhile but found them last night and took the whole bucket up to bed.
Did he--still weak and coughing and mopping his runny nose--panic that the photos would disappear into the garbage? The head-knocking was totally sudden, and followed a few minutes of weeping when I sat down across from Charlie and asked, what is it, sweetie? I got Charlie off the heater vent and into the open. Crying, he put all the photos into a bucket and was eager to run out the door and around the block and through the aisles of Shop-Rite, shopping cart before him. It was an hour before his bedtime that he moved his stuff onto our bed while hearing Hooter the Owl singing "In the Evening" and said,
About himself, sadder and wiser about those photos and his reactions?
About Jim and me, still striving to translate the language of Charlie?
As Charlie has also been saying, "Take no wipp!"
"Take no lip" is wisdom so hard-won all of our heads hurt: Quite a card we've been dealt in this boy, in autism. I've probably acquired a bit of swagger in my step: As they say, bring it on!