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.