Teaching Greek In the Age of ADHD (& in Autismland) (#247)
Misreading the Book of Charlie (#249)

To Have and To Hold (#248)

"Gong Gong bue car!" came the voice from the backseat.

"HAS," I said, braking carefully in the sleet and slush. "Gong Gong has a blue car."

"Gong Gong bue car, ha' bue car."

"Gong Gong has a blue car." I stopped for a red light.

"Gong Gong ha' bue car."

"Yeah, you got it. You have to add a verb. Gong Gong has a blue car."
Just for Charlie to say "Gong Gong car" was a big deal not quite two years ago and it was a nice step when Charlie added the adjective "blue," vs. "Mommy b'ack car," "Daddy green car," "Gramma white car," "Stella red car." When he was 4 1/2 - 5 years old and Charlie's speech was just becoming clear, saying the names of his "favorite people" was a deal so great we tossed him in the air, danced, clapped and cheered.

Under our speech language pathologist friend Tara's direction, Charlie added attributes to his noun-noun combinations: Apples could be green or red, plates could have a barn or Bob the Builder. And once Charlie had linked a noun to another noun--some person to some thing, as my dad to his "red coat" or Charlie riding his bike and then eating sushi, chance pairings of certain things with certain other things became necessary for Charlie. They became essential to the point that, when my parents visited, Charlie first looked for and would not let go of my father's coat with its red lining.

I understand Charlie's apparent equating of my dad with my dad's red coat as a clue to how his mind works, to how Charlie perceives and orders the world, in terms of metonymy. In metonymy, one thing is used to stand for another associated thing. A relationship of metonymy is based on replacement, and this is part of what of I talked about in my paper on autism and the language of poetry.

But it's not poetry I have been thinking about today, but grammar, in asking Charlie to speak (as he can) in complete sentence with a subject and a verb like "has."

Of course, when Charlie says "Gong Gong bue car," I know (due to a thousand past experiences with my little best friend) that he means that my dad has a blue car. And I know that when Charlie says "g'een appo" or "swim--ming" he wants to eat that apple, or to go swimming. The words that Charlie tends to produce on his own--spontaneously--are the most concrete, the nouns that name what he wants or the verbs that describe what action he'd like to do.

The trouble with some of these verbs is that, if I really think about it (and I am a foreign language teacher, albeit of "dead languages"), their meaning is implied; they are non-essential. Saying "fwies" (vs. "I want fries") means Charlie wants to eat those (and unfortunately--due to the bad news about the McDonalds' non-gluten and non-casein-free French fries--we did not get them and he was requesting them so ardently after finding some McDonalds gift certificates from my California relatives). Saying "Daddy home" at 4pm means, Dad should come home now and not after he is done working. "I want" is implied in all of these statements.

In both ancient Greek and Latin, the word for "I have"--Greek exô, Latin habeo--really means something more like "I hold; I possess." (I usually demonstrate this difference to my students by grabbing my textbook--sometimes one of their textbooks--and proclaiming "I really have it!") So if one said Avus habet caeruluem currum ("Gong Gong has a blue car"), one would really be saying that Gong Gong is hanging onto the very doors, hood, and keys of that car. To say that it just so happens that Gong Gong has a car that happens to be blue, you say that "the blue car is" and that "Gong Gong is related or connected to it in some kind of way: Currus caeruleus avo est. (For you former Latin students, this is the dative of possession, with avo.)

But relatedness and connecting are how Charlie himself perceives my dad, as linked to his car and his coat, to his face and his voice. Charlie is not interested in my dad's car because it's a super-new nice car with all the trappings (it's an older car and the driver's window leaks when it rains). Charlie just likes the car because it belongs to my dad (and my dad's coat is even older than the car)--and, it goes without saying, Charlie is really connected his grandfather and so to the coat.

And I love that I had and that I have Charlie, ultimate lovely boy who I spent the better part of the day with after I picked him up at school after early dismissal due to the weather. We had a leisurely lunch; we swam laps; we dawdled around Target; we found an old Wiggles DVD. As I wrapped a towel around Charlie after a shower, he held onto my arms and smiled his biggest smile.

There is something more than "special" about this boy, something that I--when I think I'm about to understand it, to have it, to comprehend and get it--slips beyond my grasp and remains unknown.

Not Otherwise Specified.



"There is something more than "special" about this boy, something that I--when I think I'm about to understand it, to have it, to comprehend and get it--slips beyond my grasp and remains unknown."

Yes--those are the moments of pure poetry--when we touch the numinous in our lives. Kristina, I have said it before, but I'll say it again, your writing is so strong and your fierce loving comes through loud and clear.

Love to you, Jim, and Charlie from our family.



I know what you mean about something more than special. I feel the same way about Andrew. It's hard to put your finger on it or to put the feeling into words, but you always do a wonderful job of this. I don't think there is anyone who reads your blog that hasn't gotten just how more than special your boy is!


Our friends specialness almost eludes language, but you do well putting their beauty into words.

The mother of one of my dear little friends joked that I could never sell my old beat up black jetta since her son looooved it so much (he never rode in it, but would always stare at it out the window when I was parked in front of his house)...and he was not at all pleased when I showed up recently in my new Civic.

Bronwyn G

I agree that many people with autism perceive their world in terms of metyony - connecting important people to important objects.

What other verbs are dead wood? I think you being a classicist adds a different perspective. I am listening to Aristotle's poetics now and it is so relevant.


I find it really interesting that the verbs you say Charlie leaves out are "be" "have" and modals. These are the ones that are most commonly "allowed" to be left out in languages (maybe due to something in universal grammar, if you believe in that). So there are lots of languages that don't have/use a copular, plenty that don't have a verb for "have", and lots where the modal verbs can be left off if it's clear from context which interpretation is intended.

So what I was curious about is, does Charlie leave out other verbs too? Because if he does, just off the top of my head, it strikes me that it might be more fruitful to work on getting him to construct sentences that need a different verb rather than "has", "is", or a modal. He might be more likely to spontaneously produce these, or at least to understand that verbs are necessary in a sentence like "The boy drinks the water", than he would be in a copular/have/modal sentence. Then if he got to the point where he regularly put verbs in these other sentences, he might extend the pattern to copulars, have and modals too.

Disclaimer: I have never studied speech therapy, know little about autism besides what I've read on this blog, and have never looked into this particular topic seriously. So don't put too much faith in my suggestion!

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