The Matrix (#411)
4.30 - 8.50am (#413)

Aha! (#412)

Today I had an Aha! moment---the kind of moment that rarely but shiningly occurs in my daily efforts to figure out what Charlie is saying to me, with and---more often than not---without language.
We were at our biweekly meeting with Charlie's ABA therapists and were reviewing his sight-reading, dental visit preparations, activity schedule, play games, language skills, while Charlie rapidly did some jigsaw puzzles. We keep track of Charlie's behavior not just because that's what you do in an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) program; not because the therapists see Charlie as "just a bunch of behaviors and not a person." Our ABA therapists (and we, too) keep track of Charlie's "behaviors" because they provide clues to what he is trying to communicate, often without language (as is the case with food-throwing) or with language that does not make sense to anyone but Charlie (saying "sushi eat sushi!" when he's tense and even after a big meal).

I brought up the throwing food as a therapist noted that Charlie, having worked on his sight words and been happily praised, had knocked over the table. The therapist mentioned in passing that he had just turned to the side----and, in a split second, I recalled how Charlie has been throwing bowls and containers of his favorite noodles, spring rolls, and French fries if I got up for a napkin and even if I simply glanced in the direction opposite from him.

Could it be that Charlie is wanting some extra attention----all of my attention---at those moments?---and why should he want so much attention when he has just been given the one thing he has been asking and asking for, the food he has been salivating over, in intense anticipation?

Perhaps what happens is that Charlie's anticipation and his anxiety over getting something he wants so much simply overwhelms him, and at the very moment that said desired item is finally presented. (An analogy: How did you feel at the moment when "someone" you had been intensely interested in not only returned your gaze but smiled back and made every sign of getting into a long conversation with you? Did those butterflies start flying in your stomach......) Charlie's response is a kind of fight-or-flight panic and, being Charlie, his tendency is to run away, exit stage left really fast, help save me get me out of her, fling it all away!.

And perhaps what has also happened in the past is that I, thinking like a neurotypical, have thought, how happy Charlie will be now that he has those spring rolls he's been asking for 100 times in the last hour! I should let him be. Only to realize the error in my thinking when I hear a too-familiar cry and see the food on the floor: Today's Aha! moment came as I realized that it is some combination of Charlie's anxiety and his seeking my attention that is behind this food-throwing.

It was getting late by the time we finished the meeting with Charlie's ABA therapists. We hurried into the grocery store, where Charlie lingered in front of the sushi case and selected a pack with four glistening shrimp. He ran inside our house, sat down, pulled open the container, and said "Mommy. Sit."

I sat down, asked Charlie to give me the sushi (he did), and handed him each piece singly, after he had asked for each (and let me have a few bites). Charlie was so pleased that he ran off, jumped on the couch, and asked for "g'een salads! yes, two more!"

At such moments, you want to just holler "eureka!" like a 49-er who's found that elusive nugget of gold after how many days, weeks, months, eons, of sifting sediment from rushing water.


Laura Cottington

So glad you had the "aha" moment. It is so hard figuring out their needs when communication is hard. Sam didn't speak till 3. Just screamed. But now that his language sounds so much more developed each day, it is still even harder. His echolia, his scripting of peoples conversations and his tv shows makes him sound like he talks well sometimes, but he doesn't always understand what he just said and then is even more thrown by the response we give him, that the tantrums take over. We are vacationing right now, he is doing well, but we are finding lots more screams and then extreme silence. You can see his wheels turning in his head to try to explain to us what he needs. The "aha's" give us those steps of understanding. I can't imagine how frustrating it can be to share your feelings and thoughts and not have others understand. Bless their beautiful minds and souls. So happy for you.


you are such a great mom! eureka is right!! what a great feeling! i know our version of that and it is so thrilling and deeply satisfying!


Trying to figure out Charlie or Littleman or any child with autism can be daunting. I am so glad the answer and the solution came to you. You have reminded me to use one of the cornerstone's of ABA- break things down into manageable pieces- information, instructions, and yes even bits of sushi or french fries.


Attention from his Mom, it all makes sense to me. I am happy for you to have figured it out! And very happy for Charlie!!!

Kristina Chew

Now the tricky part is to carry out the fruits of the "aha!"---Laura, I know what you mean: Charlie's learning to talk indeed created new challenges for him. He, too, does not always understand his own words----and often wishes he could take it back.
Thanks, friends!


Hi Kristina,
Wow I am so very happy for you both! Maybe K.C. wants me to sit with him as well? Gosh I am going to try tonight, come to think of it, I usually referee dinner time and hardly ever sit with the boys. I can't wait to try!
Charlie is such a cool kid and what a super Mom he has:)



Aha! I am so happy that this seems to be part of the answer to the throwing! My younger boy is FTT and has feeding issues: it makes a huge difference to him if we sit with him and eat, but sometimes it is so hard when there are so many things to do... The napkins can wait! Another tip we got from a feeding therapist that has helped us is to provide a clear plastic container on the table that is designated as the receptacle for unwanted food. This makes it clear that rejecting food is OK, just throwing it or spitting it is not. This made a big difference for us, but it sounds as though you may already have found a big puzzle piece of the solution. I'm so glad!

Kristina Chew

Fiona, thanks for the tip! A designated "don't want" container sounds highly useful.

KC's Mommy: I have been in the habit of being busy around the kitchen while Charlie eats, to get some few small things done. Charlie seems to be wanting more eyes focused on him.


Henry, who is blessed with more language, often says "mommy, please sit with me." And, more recently, "mommy, please sit ACROSS from me."

I feel that pang of guilt when he says it, because I realize how often I am just bustling around instead of giving him my attention.


Very perceptive, Kristina!

Kristina Chew

Gretchen, same with me! Thanks, Kari!

I have to confess. I had the aha! moment largely because of something Charlie's ABA coordinator said----she emphasized thinking about what happens before the food-throwing. I realized I tend to think a lot more about what happens afterwards.

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