Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hearing aid

Bud's iPod is not just a device for entertainment, nor is it simply a trendy fashion accessory. It actually helps him hear better.

In recent months, as the weather got warmer and people in the neighborhood began letting their dogs stay outside for longer periods of time, Bud started to have extreme reactions to the sound of dogs barking. He'd be fully engaged in playing with his toys, then suddenly leap to his feet and bellow like a war protester:


I'd listen and would hear faintly, through the closed windows of our house, the sound of a dog barking a block away. Bud would run to the window and pull the shade, then cover his ears with his hands. At first, I thought he was overreacting and being overly sensitive, and I would try reasoning with him: "The doggie is in his yard. He can't come in here. You're okay. The doggie is just saying hello."

Then I read this post from Ballastexistenz and I began to understand the situation differently. Bud was not overreacting. The barking sound, though faint and distant to me, was drowning out everything else for Bud. It wasn't volume of the barking that was difficult for Bud; it was the effect that the barking had on him: shifting his attention, compelling him to focus fully on the barking, making it impossible for him to shift his attention back to any other more pleasant sound.

Now that Bud has adopted my iPod, he suddenly has a valuable new tool to use against dysregulating noises. He doesn't listen to it very loudly; it doesn't hinder his ability to converse with me. But it helps him regulate his focus and shift his attention away from noises that trouble him and toward ones that make him feel secure and balanced (currently Paul McCartney's live cd Back in the U.S.). He has gotten adept at knowing when to bring it with him on outings, and at differentiating between the situations in which he need only keep it handy vs. those which require him to venture forth with headset in place.

Bud and I haven't discussed this phenomenon, but I know he's been thinking about it too. Yesterday as I was getting ready for work I heard barking, probably from our neighbor's dog Jenna, through our open windows. I braced myself for the battle cry, but instead I heard Bud talking softly to himself as he walked past me.

"Jenna, you stop barking me. Where is my iPod?"

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Worth the headache

There are moments when it clicks for me. I've been working on using an "RDI lifestyle" since I attended a workshop last summer, and on an intuitive level I know that it has been helping Bud in significant ways. I know that he's developing important interpersonal skills - reading the context, paying attention to nonverbals, referencing for information, developing flexible thinking - but it's often difficult for me to describe how I know that it's happening. And then there are those little you'll-miss-them-if-you-blink moments when it clicks:

Bud was in the living room watching tv and I was in the kitchen rummaging in the refrigerator. I stood up too quickly, banged my head hard on the corner of the freezer door, and yowled a loud "OW!"

Bud followed the sound into the kitchen and approached me, asking "What did you did, Mama?"

"I bumped my head," I said, still standing in front of the fridge rubbing my noggin.

"On the -?" he asked, looking at me quizzically, running his hand over the smooth refrigerator door.

"On the corner of the freezer," I said, pointing to it. "I stood up too fast and I hit my head on it."

"Let me see it," he said, reaching for my head.

I bent down and pointed to the spot that hurt. "Right there."

Bud rubbed my head, then puckered up and gave the sore spot a big loud kiss: "Mmmm- WAH! There. That's better." He looked at me, his face asking did it work?

"Thanks, Bud," I said with a smile and a hug. "I do feel better!"

And I really did.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Puppy love

Yesterday was Pet Day in Kindergarten, so goldfish Dorothy and Stevie joined Bud at school for the afternoon. Most of the other kids in class chose to bring their dogs to the school playground for the last 20 minutes of the day. I also decided to show up for the canine finale, anticipating that it might not be Bud's favorite activity and that he might need some extra support.

I wasn't sure what to expect, honestly. Bud's negative reaction to dogs barking in the neighborhood has been as strong as ever. But he did have a breakthrough recently with Sophie's dog. Sophie is Bud's favorite child at school; when given a choice to pick a partner for an activity, he always chooses Sophie. Sophie seems to be a fan of Bud as well. At pick up time, she always has a flurry of questions for me: When is Bud's birthday? Does Bud have anything purple (their mutual favorite color) in his room at home? What is Bud's favorite tv show? Does he like to watch High School Musical? Does Bud have any pets? Does he have brothers or sisters? What is Bud doing this weekend? I refer Sophie directly to Bud when 1) she's asking a question he can answer and 2) he seems to be in a frame of mind in which he is receptive to questions. Otherwise, I answer her and point out the things that she and Bud have in common.

Sophie has a new puppy, Teddy, a sweet and quiet Lhasa Apso she can carry in her arms. Teddy has come into the classroom with Sophie at pick-up time twice before. The first time she sought me out and asked, "Do you think Bud would like to pat Teddy?" I told her I wasn't sure, but that we could ask him. Sophie approached Bud, holding the dog tightly, and asked if he'd like to meet Teddy. Bud approached slowly and stood calmly right beside Sophie and me, as Sophie held the dog and I patted him. Bud reached out his hand and touched Teddy gently with one finger. I was astounded, until the following week when Sophie brought Teddy in again. This time, Bud stood by Sophie and patted Teddy, saying "He's very soft!"

As we left the classroom, Bud crowed, "Mama, what did I did?"

"You patted Teddy, Bud. Teddy likes you."

"I talk it to Gracie and Coco and my dog guys," he said, letting me know that he'd be informing my sister's dogs of this remarkable achievement - interesting, since he won't let them into our house, but apparently sees them as members of his posse. I told him I was sure they'd be happy to hear it.

So, as Pet Day approached Bud and I talked about the dogs that might be on the playground, and the fact that he didn't have to go near them unless he wanted to. And we talked about Teddy, who would surely be there.

When the moment arrived, Bud and I sat across the road from the playground and watched the kids and moms and teachers and dogs mix and mingle. Bud was not interested in joining them, but wanted very much to get past them to the playground area that was beyond the fence. We circled the edge of the group, staying away from the animals, so that Bud could play on the slide. After a few minutes I looked up and saw Sophie approaching us. She spoke to me first.

"Is Bud afraid of dogs?"

"Yes, he is a little afraid of dogs. But, you know, Teddy is his very favorite dog."

"Do you think he'd like to come see Teddy? He's back in our car now."

"Well, I'm not sure. You could ask him, but he might not want to."

Sophie walked over to Bud and said "Bud, do you want to go see Teddy? He's in the car." Bud blinked at her, clearly conflicted about what to do next.

Sophie took his hand and said, "Come on, it will be okay." And hand in hand they walked to Sophie's car to greet Teddy while I followed along behind them, very obviously an extraneous third wheel.

I don't know whether or not Bud will ever become a dog-lover. But one things is certain: I know already that he has excellent taste in friends.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Do you speak Babaganoush?

Does this ever happen to you?

Do you ever get a word stuck in your head so much that you are compelled to say it out loud? I'm not talking about a song that you find yourself humming or singing, though it's certainly similar to that. I mean finding yourself with a word - one single word - running through your head over and over.

It happens to me a lot, usually because I just like the way the word sounds. During the 1994 Olympics, it was the word "Lillehammer" for an entire week.

Try it: Lillehammer. LIL-lehammer.

Now do it like you're Arnold Schwarzenegger: Lillehammer!

See what I mean?

I wonder if this is the kind of thing people are talking about when they refer to shadow traits. I mean, really, this little quirk of mine must be at least a distant relative of Bud's echolalia.

Bud and I had a "Lillehammer" experience together recently.

We were playing an alphabet game we invented that's called "Tell Me About." In this game, Bud uses one of the many alphabet scripts he has committed to memory (A is for apple, B is for banana; A is for alligator, B is for baboon; etc.) He announces the first category: "A is for apple. Tell me about apple."

I respond with something like, "Apples are crunchy and they grow on trees. Now you tell me about apples."

Then Bud says something like, "Apple is red and to eat." Then he moves on to B.

Anyway, in the particular script we were using that day, E was for eggplant. When instructed to tell about eggplant, I waxed poetic about the joy of parmigiana. I turned the conversation over to Bud, and he said "Eggplant is in Babaganoush." (I credit Grover with Bud's knowledge of this, incidentally.)

"That's right," I said. "Eggplant is in Babaganoush!"

"Babaganoush!" Bud sang.

"Babaganoush!" I sang back.

And we were off.







In a comment on a recent post, Kyra wrote: "frankly, we ALL stim, some more, some less."

I think she may be on to something.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

No words

I've found that ever since Bud was diagnosed I feel an instant connection whenever I encounter another child with autism. I recognize them. I feel related to them. It happens whether I meet them personally, see them from a distance on the playground or in the grocery store, watch them in a video, or read about them in the newspaper.

Last week I read about Katherine McCarron in the newspaper, and it happened again.

I've been struggling to find a way to write about Katherine, this little girl I will never know whose death has touched me so deeply. But, the fact is, I have no words.

No words to express the horror.

No words to express the sorrow.

No words to express the sympathy.

No words to express the outrage.

No words to express the confusion.

No words.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lights, camera, distraction

Sometimes it's the things we want most that end up being the worst for us.

Junk food can be like that for a lot of people. For Bud, it's the video camera. He loves working the camera, and he loves watching home movies of himself. But there are few things I can think of that are more dysregulating for him.

When Bud watches movies of himself, two things happen. First, he is reminded of obsessions that have passed, toys that have long been broken that he must have right now, and scripts that were hard to lose but are easily found. Second, the movies themselves become sources of echolalic scripts - he begins quoting a younger, less verbal self.

So, this weekend when Bud pleaded with me to let him watch home videos, I hesitated. He was persistent, and ultimately my resolve wore down and I compromised. I told him I would get a blank video so that he could make a new movie, then watch it. He was thrilled, and he focused his attention exclusively on the upcoming activity until I was able to get a new video so that he could get to work.

It was all downhill from there. In a very short time, Bud became distracted, short-tempered, dissatisfied, and anxious. I've been trying to figure out what happens for Bud when he uses the video camera, and what I've come up with is this: he reacts to the video camera the way an addict reacts to a drug.

Initially, it's just about having a good time. So he uses, and it feels good.

Then it doesn't feel right. It feels bad.

It feels really bad. And he wants to feel good again.

So he uses.

And he feels better, but not good. He wants to feel good.

So he uses more. Or he uses differently.

And he feels good.

Then he feels bad.

Then he feels worse.

And so he uses.

By the end of the day, Bud seemed strung out. He seemed miserable. He wanted more, different, again, back, other, bigger, slower, faster, closer, away, near, stop, go, moviemoviemovie.

I cut him off cold turkey, and he actually seemed relieved. He hasn't asked for it since.

I need to continue to keep the video camera out of sight. Unfortunately, this means that I have very little footage of my adorable, talented boy. It's okay, though; I still have a front-row seat to a terrific live performance.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fly your colors... and your whites

Last week an episode of Teletubbies featured Po carrying a flag all around Teletubbyland. The segment really captivated Bud, who spent the last several days marching around the house, proudly holding a flag aloft. Of course, we don't actually have a flag in the house, so he had to design one - a real original, ingenious in its simplicity. Should you care to make one at home, you will need:
1 Boomwhacker (orange, in the key of D)
1 pair Hanes boys briefs (white, size 10)

Your finished product should look something like this:

As with many of Bud's creations, there have been variations on the theme. Yesterday, Bud swapped out the undies for a pillowcase (which, I have to admit, was a relief to me since only moments before he'd announced that he was taking his flag to Sunday School.) This morning's innovation involved sliding one leg of a pair of pants onto the Boomwhacker, leaving the other pant leg flying unfurled at the top.

Who says kids with autism are resistant to change?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Good taste in art

Lately, Bud's living art has had a tasty theme.

It's also had a Warholesque quality to it, as Bud's been creating art from the things he loves, in multiples and variations.

For weeks Bud created a recurring montage that appeared several times a day in various locations around the house, which I titled Still Life With String Cheese. This work was comprised of four unique elements - a pear, an orange juicebox, half a blueberry bagel, and a stick of string cheese. Each particular art display had a twist that gave it it's own unique flair: the elements appeared in different orders, sometimes touching and sometimes not. The visual focus shifted as well: sometimes the bagel seemed to be at the center of the work; at other times, it was the pear. Sometimes Bud added a surreal quality to the work by taking a bite of the bagel, drinking the juice, or eating the string cheese and leaving only the wrapper.

This week, Bud's artistic license drove him to abandon Still Life With String Cheese and devote his energy to a new work. I call this one Still Life With Fruit:

As with Still Life With String Cheese, there have been countless variations on the theme. The elements remain consistent: a banana, an apple, a pear, and a single green grape; but, once again, the arrangements vary and each new tableau appears to send a new message. (This one speaks to me of the fall of the apple season and the supreme reign of the summer fruit.) Of course, the meaning in the art is also contextual, and among other locations we have found these tableaux on the kitchen counter, on the steps, on the living room floor, and, of course, in the castle.

As I prepared this photographic documentation of Bud's living art, he stood behind me, the artist becoming the director as he cued the talent:

"Say cheese, fruit!"

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The art of the redirect

Bud's getting very good at diversionary tactics, which he uses in a Wizard of Oz "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" sort of way.

You know those sounds you hear when your child is in a different room - the ones that tell you that something is going on that probably shouldn't be? Sometimes they come in the form of bangs and crashes. Other times your radar is triggered by a long period of silence. These are not the sounds that scream "danger" and make you run to your child before your brain has even registered the reason for your movement. They are the sounds that say "mischief," the sounds that say "you better give your boy a shout-out so he knows that you know that something is going on."

Bud always responds to the shout-out, and his responses are becoming increasingly sophisticated. He doesn't respond truthfully, of course; I never get responses like "I'm just dumping all my toys into the middle of the room," or "I'm trying to play the drum with my feet," or "I've stripped down naked and am sitting in the empty bathtub with shampoo in my hair." No, Bud's responses are far more thoughtful than that: he tells us what he thinks we want to hear.

He has actually developed a strong repertoire of responses designed to throw us off when he thinks we're getting close to fouling up a good time, and he mixes them up to keep us on our toes. Some examples from recent weeks include:

Me: "Bud, what are you doing?"
Bud: "I love you!"

Rattle, rattle, boom. Bang!
Me: "Bud, what are you doing?"
Bud: "Just helping!"

Bang. Silence. Bang. Silence.
Me: "Bud, what are you doing?"
Bud: "I'm making friends!"

and my favorite, which happened just the other day,

Rattle, rattle. Pause. Bang. BAM!
Me: "Bud, what are you doing?"
Me: "Bud! What are you doing?"
Bud (running into the room with outstretched arms, a big smile, and a "who-loves-ya-baby" look in his eyes): "I'm giving you a big hug!"

I told you he was good.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Nothing but love for you, Paul and Heather

I've been reading the speculation all week, but the official announcement came today: Paul McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills McCartney, are splitting up.

I imagine that McCartney will be barraged with I-told-you-so's in the coming weeks; the press and the public have rarely been kind with their comments about this marriage. But I have no I-told-you-so's to offer. Only sympathy.

It can't be easy to be the "new wife", especially when the former wife had a fairy-tale romance and a rock-solid marriage with your husband.

It can't be easy to really open yourself up again after 30 years in a rock-solid, fairy-tale relationship that ended in a devastating loss.

It can't be easy to have your every move documented in words and photographs by total strangers who believe that your personal life makes good material for their blog posts. (Uh... sorry.)

A year ago the press was full of speculation that the McCartneys had suffered a miscarriage several months into a pregnancy. They denied the rumor. On the other hand, just a couple of days ago they denied that their marriage was in trouble. I guess it's not fair of me to speculate. On the other hand, I know what it's like to lose a child. I know the toll it can take on an individual and on a marriage. I know how hard it is to look into your partner's eyes and see your own pain and grief and sorrow reflected back and magnified. It's an extraordinary partnership that can withstand that kind of loss and make it through intact - and that's without being pursued by the paparazzi and the adoring public.

So, no, there are no I-told-you-so's here - only warm thoughts and sincere wishes for healing, for comfort, and ultimately, for finding joy again.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sesame Street, she drive you crazy

Sometimes I just don't understand Sesame Street.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a first-generation Sesame Street fan. I have loved the show since I was three-years-old. I'm delighted that it's one of Bud's favorites. But why does Sesame Street, the pioneering leader in educational television for young children, feature characters who role model poor speech patterns?

There are two factors that have made the role modeling a problem for Bud: 1) Bud is an echolalic speaker, so almost all of his early speech and a great deal of his current speech is comprised of phrases he has memorized from television and videos, and 2) Since he began using spontaneous language, one of the areas that has been most problematic for him is the use of pronouns ("Look, Mama, it's a picture of me!"; "No, honey, that's not you. That's a picture of me."; "Yes, it's a picture of me!"). For both of these reasons, I've been frustrated by the confusion that Sesame Street's much-loved characters have created for Bud with their improper use of grammar.

There are really only two main culprits: Elmo, who uses the third person exclusively ("Elmo is so happy to see you!") and Cookie Monster, who uses objective pronouns in place of subjective pronouns ("Me love cookies!") But for a boy who has continually struggled with pronomial reversals (initially first-person and second person, or I/you, and currently with gender-specific pronouns, like she/he and him/her), it adds an unnecessary layer of confusion to an already complicated learning process.

My current frustration is actually not with grammar per se. Bud's favorite Sesame Street segments these days are claymation shorts that feature two caveman-type characters (Bud tells me their names are Marty and Susie, but I have a hunch he made that up), who clash when they try to do things at the same time (sit in a chair, play basketball) but ultimately achieve success when they learn to cooperate. The shorts are well made and have a lovely little message about sharing. Unfortunately, the two characters communicate with each other by grunting, shrieking, babbling and using gibberish, all while engaged in fast-paced frenetic movement. Bud is captivated by these two characters, and he often reenacts their routines. Unfortunately, when he is around other people who lack context for this type of play, his behavior seems inappropriate and problematic. Of course, it doesn't occur to Bud to give people context for it and I can't always be there to provide it.

I'm not really being critical of Sesame Street. I understand that Elmo and Cookie Monster and Marty and Susie are simply entertaining and are not at all confusing for most children. But, still, there are times when I just want to sit down and write them a letter: "Sesame Street, Mom is frustrated. Me SO frustrated!"

Sunday, May 14, 2006


We are officially a three-iPod family.

Since my former iPod is now a permanent fixture on Bud's ears, my husband pulled through with a new one for Mother's Day. He even got it engraved with a Mother's Day wish from him and Bud.

As soon as I opened the wrapping and showed Bud what was inside he ran toward me, iPod aloft, and shouted, "Look, Mama! It's just like MY iPod!"

Once again, in Autismland give means take.

Happy Mother's Day to some of my favorite moms on the planet!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Where we live, the weather at this time of year is unpredictable. Sometimes it's balmy. Sometimes it's frigid. Often it's both in the same day. So, for our locals, there is an obvious spring wardrobe choice: wear layers. Take 'em off when it's warm, put 'em back on when it's cold.

Apparently, Bud has caught on.

He got himself ready for bed the other night. It's a new thing he does, and he loves the autonomy and freedom of it. So, when he disappeared into his bedroom I didn't think much about it until he emerged.

Wearing pajama shorts.

Over pajama bottoms.

Over long-john thermals.

Over undies.


A matching thermal crew-neck.

Under a mismatched pajama top.

Under a Sesame Street t-shirt.


Two pairs of socks.

Crew and ankle length.

Of course, once I stopped laughing I had to intervene and fix the outfit.

He forgot the pull-up.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Equal opportunity?

I'm just wondering.

I know that the President traveled to Rochester, New York for a photo op with Jason McElwain, the 17-year-old with autism who scored 20 points in four minutes of play during a high school basketball game.

Will he also make the trip to Portland, Oregon to stand before the cameras with Jared Guinther, the 18-year-old with autism who has been recruited by the Army to fill their most dangerous job, cavalry scout?

I mean, it's only fair.

After all, Jason McElwain achieved success in inclusion classrooms and public education despite the policies and priorities of the Bush administration.

But Jared Guinther is preparing to report for basic training in August because of them.

Artistic spectrum

Blogging can be lonely business, so I was delighted to find this happy crew waiting for me at the computer last night:

Bud loves to set up displays like this. His most ambitious endeavor was in the dollhouse at school (or, as he calls it, "Jack's Big Music Show,"), where he created a universe bursting with artifacts and activity.

There seem to be some other 3D artists out there in the blogosphere, and I've seen similar kinds of dioramas created by India (a prolific artist), Gabe, and Oliver (really more a performance artist.)

Art is life. Life is art.

Monday, May 08, 2006


I used to have an iPod shuffle.

I really liked it, and I used it all the time. Recently, though, I've been using it to help Bud cope with out-of-the-ordinary circumstances that have a high potential to be dysregulating. I load it up with Bud's music, swap out the earbud headphones for some that are a bit more user-friendly, and he's good to go.

Saturday morning he came to the hairdresser with me, and despite the noise of blowdryers, the chemical smell of hair color, and the endless parade of strangers in and out of the shop, Bud did great - he sat in the waiting area listening to music and munching on grapes, until the music moved him so much he had to get up and dance. Since then, he has hardly taken the headphones off. Last night I had to draw the line at sleeping with them on; but first thing in the morning he bounded out of bed in search of his music.

"Where is my iPod?" he asked.

"Whose iPod is it, Bud?" I asked.

"Bud's," he answered.

He's right, of course.

Ah, well; it was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

All in good time

Bud is a master of delayed gratification. He is patient and is rarely in a rush, even in the face of a big pay-off. He is happy to put off having today what he could just as easily have another day.

When I was Bud's age, I would have considered myself the model of restraint if I'd had three black jellybeans and a stale marshmallow Peep left over by Tuesday. Bud, on the other hand, discovered, unpacked, and admired his Easter basket almost three weeks ago. Then he re-packed it, put it back where he found it, and returned his attention to his plastic eggs and maps (which we re-hid several times so he could have further hunting adventures.)

He didn't forget about his Easter basket - it was in a high traffic area, so he saw it every day. And he had plenty of reminders from me: Do you want the M&M's from your Easter basket? Do you want to brush your teeth with your new bear toothpaste? Can I open that toy for you? But Bud remained nonchalant and kept the basket intact. He even asked me to purchase a different tube of bear toothpaste, and he used that and kept the Easter toothpaste sealed. (Bud's got a thing about toothpaste... but I'll save that for another post.)

But for some reason, known only to Bud, today was Easter Basket Day. He tore through the candy, and followed it up with some vigorous tooth brushing. The toys were opened and the musical whistle was sounded throughout the house, signaling that THIS was a day for celebration.

I figure he'll be breaking out his Halloween candy any time now.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Excerpts from my favorite writer

When Bud started Kindergarten in August, he could write his name in block letters. With direction and effort he could make assorted other letters, but he avoided the process whenever he could.

Throughout the school year, Bud has developed an increasing interest in letters, reading, and making words. In March, he started clicking letters into the TiVo to record his favorite shows. That quickly progressed into typing favorite words into the computer. But this week I was astounded to see it evolve even further into handwriting.

We've been playing a game recently in which I write out three-letter words and Bud sounds them out. He and I have both been thrilled with his success. This weekend we put a new spin on it when, after he sounded out the words, he copied them in chalk on the driveway. Later, he wanted to add another step. When I wrote a three-letter word, he took the pen from me and added a fourth letter:

Then he read his new words loud and strong:



That gave me an idea. I tried writing the first two letters of a word to see what Bud would do. That experiment yielded:

"Bib" (which was a surprise. I'd expected to see "Big," as in "Jack's Big Music Show.")




The next night, I thought we'd try to play the game again and I thought it would be wise to start with a word he'd already done, so I wrote "ca" expecting him to write a "t" or possibly an "n."

To my surprise, he wrote an "i" and then two lines that looked like the makings of a capital H. He's not interested in playing tonight, I thought. But he kept writing. When he stopped, I looked at what he'd written:

Caillou. The children's cartoon on PBS. Of course.

He asked if he could do another. I wrote a "t", and he added:


Then to my "b" he added:

Boohbah. (Also on PBS, and by the creators of Teletubbies.)

He got so excited by this new-found ability that he ran to get his prized Teletubbies CD so he could copy down some of the track listings:

Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh.

And he continued transcribing, song after song, diligently consulting the track listing and copying each letter on to his page:
Dipsy's Fancy Hat.

All penned by Bud's own hand.

The finished products are remarkable, of course, but they weren't the highlights of this project. The highlights were Bud's enthusiasm, his confidence, his sense of competence, his pride; these were the things that showed me that this year in Kindergarten has been an unqualified success. He's come so far so quickly. And he knows it.

Way to go, Bud.

And thanks, Mrs. H.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Don't even think about it

Sometimes I think that Bud and I are so connected that he can actually hear my thoughts. It actually happens quite often, but it still startles me every time.

This morning as I was making Bud's breakfast I glanced at the calendar in the kitchen and noticed that Memorial Day is coming at the end of the month. The realization sparked several thoughts in quick succession: Bud won't have school that day. I'll be off from work, too. We should do something fun. They'll have a parade that day. Bud doesn't like parades - he's afraid of the fire engines. But that was a year ago, so maybe things have changed. I've got plenty of time to think about it later - breakfast is ready.

They were fleeting thoughts that took a fraction of the time for me to think than for you to read.

An hour later I was in the bathroom getting ready for work when Bud opened the door and walked in.

"I don't want to go on the parade," he said definitively. "I'm going to school." He looked at me expectantly.

"Okay," I said. He turned and left the room, closing the door behind him. Mission accomplished.

I don't believe this is what Simon Baron-Cohen meant when he talked about teaching children with autism to mind-read. But you know Bud; he's always been an overachiever.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pieces, parts and peards

This weekend as we were getting ready to go outside to play, Bud approached me with his arms full of toys.

"Mama, can I take my peards outside with us?"


I looked at the things he was carrying - a ball, a hat, a car, a horse, and assorted other toys.

"You want to take those toys outside?"


"Okay," I said, still a bit mystified.

We went outside and Bud dumped the toys in a pile on the picnic table, then grabbed the hat and said, "Come on!"

He ran to the grassy hill beside our house and plunked the hat down with determined purpose. Then he backed up and announced, "One day in Budsland, something appeared from far away! It was a hat!"

It clicked. The grassy hill next to our house has always been Teletubbyland, and one of Bud's favorite Teletubbies scripts is "One day in Teletubbyland, something appeared from far away."

But now that Bud is using less direct echolalia and is mitigating his scripts more and more, he is working to break down the scripts into their component parts. As a result, I am getting even more insight in the ways in which his language development is nontraditional.

I'm not an expert on language development, but it seems to me that most children learn the rules of language as they learn to speak. So even though they don't consciously know they're doing it, as they learn to talk they follow the rule of sentence structure. Sentences have subjects (nouns) and verbs. Even in their very first sentences, Somebody does Something: I go. You go. He/she/it goes.

Not so with Bud, whose earliest sentences were less likely to sound like "I go" than "Oh no! Let's get out of here!"

It seems that most typically developing children also use the rules of grammar in their receptive language, to decode the messages they hear. So they hear "something appeared from far away," and their brains decode automatically: "right - must have subject and verb: something = subject, appeared = verb." Of course, children make mistakes as they learn this process, resulting in some of the hilarious "Kids Say the Darnedest Things"-type quotes. (My favorite example of this is a colleague's daughter who, when reprimanded and told to behave, replied "I'm BEING have!")

But Bud, as a gestalt learner of language, does not decode language the same way. As I posted previously, he has begun to deconstruct his gestalt language into its composite parts, but because he did not acquire language through the use of rules, he doesn't use those rules in the deconstruction.

So while other children hear a traditional sentence with a subject and a verb - "One day in Teletubbyland, something appeared from far away," - it seems Bud hears a headline, a title, an announcement, a declaration:

"One day in Teletubbyland: Something! A peard, from far away!"

So, naturally, when he wants to play this game he needs to gather up his peards.

It makes me wonder - how often does Bud hear things differently, and decode them in this different way? How often does he have to disregard the words themselves and make meaning by reading the context, by determining that this-string-of-words said by this-group-of-people in this-sort-of-circumstance must have this-kind-of-meaning.

My goodness, I think, that must be so difficult! It must be exhausting!

And then, He must be a genius!

But, no. It would be difficult for me. That does not make it universally difficult. And he is very smart - so smart, in fact, that he would not choose to do things in the most difficult way.

My way - the traditional way - is not necessarily the right way.

His way is not even wrong.

It strikes me that there's a parallel between words and people. Words string together to make sentences and paragraphs that express complicated thoughts and ideas. But when you deconstruct them, the thoughts and ideas mean far more than their component parts.

Bud has my eyes and disposition. He has his dad's mouth and love of music.

But he has a mind of his own.