Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Like almost everyone else I know, I've spent the day crying.

Tears of joy.

Tears of inspiration.

Tears of awe and achievement.

Tears because, at last, "we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

Tears because, at last, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

Tears because, at last, "a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

It's been a beautiful day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The grape escape

Last night, Bud asked for grapes for his bedtime snack. I gave him about six of them and watched as he sat at the table and munched them. Then we went upstairs so he could brush his teeth and go through the final stages of his bedtime routine. As we were headed to his room, he realized that he'd left his beloved Between the Lions stuffed toys (a Christmas present from Nana and Papa, with a lot of help from ebay) in the kitchen, and he dashed downstairs to get them.

As we snuggled together in his bed and I opened up to the first page of Curious George Makes Pancakes, I realized he was chewing something.

"Bud, do you have gum?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

"What's in your mouth?" I asked.

"Nuffing," he slurred, his mouth too full to give a clear response.

"Bud," I said more sternly. "What is in your mouth?"

"Grapes," he said.

Thinking he must have had one left from his bedtime snack, I shrugged and turned back to the book, as in my peripheral vision I saw him pop another grape into his mouth.

"Bud, did you help yourself to more grapes?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Nothing."

"Where did you get the grapes?"

"You gived me some for a bedtime snack."

"Do you have more grapes?" I asked.

He held up his hand, bursting with grapes, and looked at me as he shook the fruits he held. "You gived me some of these."

"Bud, you ate the ones I gave you and then you helped yourself to more."

"What," he said, more a statement ("I don't see your point") than a question ("Could you repeat that?").

"You ate the grapes I gave you. And then you what?"

"I helped myself to more?"

"Yes, you did."

"Silly boy!"

"No, Bud...."

"You're serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious. It's not okay to help yourself to food. You have to ask first."

"Please, Mom?"

"Well, Bud, it's too late now."

"I already did that?"

"Yes, you already did that."

"And now you're mad at me? I'm time out?"

"No, I'm not mad. But you have to ask before you take food."

"Please can I have grapes, Mom?"

And since we were already this far into the bedtime routine, and since he was already getting groggy from his nighttime medication, and since I couldn't think of any less convoluted way to explain the in-the-future-first-ask-then-take lesson I was trying to teach, and since it was a handful of grapes for heaven's sake, I simply sighed and said "Yes, Bud, you can have the grapes," and he munched happily as we read the story together (me reading the narrative, him reading - no, him performing - all the dialogue).

When we were done, I kissed him and turned out the light, and started thinking about the amazing exchange that had just taken place.

This is not Bud's first foray into lying - that not-typically-autistic behavior that requires you to adopt another person's perspective, anticipate their reaction, and modify your own response to try to elicit a different reaction, all in a fraction of a second. But there was a level of sophistication to this falsehood that was particularly impressive. Bud knew that he wasn't supposed to help himself to another snack, and he knew that I wouldn't be happy about it. He wanted to worm his way out of trouble, so he looked for the most plausible explanation he could imagine: I am still eating the grapes you gave me earlier. But he knew that a statement like that would be a blatant lie that, if discovered, might lead to even greater trouble.

So, instead of lying, Bud thoughtfully, artfully, cunningly - and simply - tried to mislead me.

"You gived me some for a bedtime snack," he said. And he's right: I did give him some. I didn't give him those exact ones, but I'd given him some very much like them. He wasn't really lying, but he was trying to set me on a path on which I would - all on my own, and through no fault of his - arrive at an incorrect conclusion that just so happened to exonerate him.

When he saw that his plan was faltering - that I might not be taking the bait - he tried to kick it up a notch with a subtle but effective nonverbal cue. He reiterated his original (truthful) statement, "You gived me some of these" - while simultaneously holding up and shaking the grapes in his hands. He said the words "some of these," but his action - his nonverbal communication - the shaking of the grapes - was designed to make me hear the words "these grapes right here." And he even shot me a flash of meaningful eye contact just to drive the point home.

So it didn't work - so I saw right through the deception. It was still masterful.

And let's face it: in the end, he still got to eat the grapes.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Why did the echolalia cross the road?

Bud's on a roll. He's been walking around the house for weeks saying, "Hey, Mom! I got a joke for ya!" As they've been in the past, most of his jokes are stolen from Zoboomafoo, so they tend to have an animal theme. For example,

Bud: Hey, Mom. How are a tree and an elephant alike?

Me: I don't know, Bud. How are a tree and an elephant alike?

Bud: They both have a TRUNK!

Insert peals of laughter here.


Bud: Hey, Mom. What did the lemur get when he cut himself on the mulberry branches?

Me: I don't know, Bud. What did the lemur get when he cut himself on the mulberry branches?

Bud: A Madaga-SCAR!

Insert more raucous laughter here.

Or, my favorite:

Bud: Hey, Mom, what did the frog say when she laid an egg?

Me: I don't know, Bud. What did the frog say when she laid an egg?


Laugh here till you snort.

You get the point.

Lately, though, Bud has not been satisfied with simply scripting his jokes; he's trying to make them his own. And, as Bud has learned, in most situations in which your echolalic script is not quite doing it for you, you can MITIGATE your echolalia by swapping out words to fit your new situation.

Sounds simple, right? Not so when you add in the element of comedy. Instead of inspiring a giggle, Bud's newly created jokes have a more surreal quality. I get the sense they may be the kinds of jokes that David Lynch told as a child.

Like this one (that I still can't trace back to the original):

Bud: Hey, Mom. What do you get a hippo... (purposeful pause)... and an ant?

Me: I don't know, Bud. What do you get a hippo and an ant?

Bud: Ants. And maybe uncles.

Or this version of "What do you get with a bird, a car, and a dog? A flying carpet!":

Bud: Hey, Mom. What do you get with a lamp... a chair... and a Mom?

Me: I don't know, Bud. What do you get with a lamp, a chair, and a Mom?

Bud: A... light seat mother!

Or this mitigated form of the old "fish travel in schools" joke:

Bud: Why are skunks so smart?

Me: I don't know, Bud. Why are skunks so smart?

Bud: Because they travel around in... STINK BREATH!

See what I mean? Creative, certainly... but not so heavy on the humor. Bud's working on his routines, though, and he's trying to hit upon just what it is that makes a joke funny. Tonight he was delighted to discover all on his own that there was a hint of comic genius to build upon if he started out by renaming his favorite purple friend "Stinky Winky." It will be interesting to see where that one leads.

In the meantime, he's keeping me laughing and, truly, he is his own best audience. As he says multiple times a day, clearly scripting from I source I've not yet identified: "I crack myself up."

And also, a note to self: I really must find some time to explain to Bud that the stink does not come from the breath end of the skunk.