Here’s the deal. . . I probably hear that phrase about 100 times a day. It’s Elliott’s new favorite thing to say, and he has embraced it as such. I don’t know about you, but as a parent I find great humor and a pinch of discomfort when I recognize one of my odd habits or phrases emerging in my offspring.
Case in point – about a month ago, while outside watering Bob & Sally (Ada’s favorite flowers), she grabbed the hose and said “let me get this bad boy” – yeah, that was awkward. Perfectly appropriate use of the phrase, and while not necessarily typical Kindergartner speak, I recognized it as my own. Great, my 6-year-old is an observational learner – something we’ve worked so hard on for so long – and she’s dealt the hand of a Mother who is a bit unfiltered.
I remember several years ago driving with my friend Elliott who had just recently learned to talk. Yeah, autism had given me a few liberties in terms of not thinking about or worrying about my language on the same timeframe as other parents. It’s not like I walked around spewing the f-bomb in front of my children, but I certainly didn’t think about saying “crap” or something as Elliott only had 6-7 words until he was nearly 4 (one of which was clock without the “L” but that’s another story) and he was not in a place where he was paying attention to what I said. A car cut in front of us, and I reacted without even thinking about it – soon enough, a sweet little voice, a voice I had only recently heard for the first time after years of wondering whether he would ever speak said “Mom, why you say Jesus Christ like that”?
Yep – filter. I need to work on my filter.
Conversation skills are difficult for many people with autism. Elliott struggles with back and forth chat a great deal. Ada has made great strides of late with conversations, and if you want to know the latest gossip about what’s going down at morning Kindergarten she’s got the lowdown. Heck, I can tell you whose clip is moving up for good deeds, who has been sent to the Principal, and whose clip got moved down for shaking their butt in an unsafe way (this person’s name begins and ends with an A but that’s all I’ll say). Henry, our only child without an autism diagnosis is not always a terrific conversationalist either, though I’m guessing it’s not necessarily odd for 4th grade boys to begin each phrase with the word “dude” or respond to my questions with a standard answer of “blah, blah, blah”.
For Elliott, his difficulties with back and forth chat are far reaching. Some days, from the moment he brings me my coffee in the morning (not a bad gig, right?) to the moment he turns on his heart night-light, he is constantly talking. His leisure skills are lacking, and while we work hard on these skills each day, it’s never been easy for him.
Because I’m kind of his person, meaning, I’m around him a great deal, and he feels a connection and sense of security with me, I sometimes (ok, let’s get real – almost every day) feel completely overwhelmed by his constant talk, repetitive questions, topic-jumping, and need for constant attention. Sometimes, when I’m just feeling at the end of my rope, and will occasionally share my frustration, people will say “oh, but he’s so sweet and funny” – and yes, he can be. But, there is a difference in dealing with the intensity of Elliott for 10-15 minutes, versus 14 hours a day, 7-days-a-week.
Enter Prozac, Mom’s Cocktail Night Out, and my red couch . . .
That said, even when I am overwhelmed, I have a sense of gratefulness. Not everyone with autism learns how to speak, and Elliott did. I don’t take that for granted, (and for the record, he now pronounces clock with the “L”), thankfully. But I also never stop wanting more for him, and believing that with a lot of hard work, a great deal of patience, and more than a few mistakes along the way, he can continue gaining these skills little by little. One foot in front of the other. It’s a marathon – not a sprint – blah, blah, blah (wow, now I’m stealing Henry’s lines – awesome!)
Just for the heck of it – let me give you an example of one ten-minute period last week and the types of topics the E man can cover. I had a notebook with me and decided to record his questions with a timer just to see for myself. Here goes:
“Why is it expensive for dogs to fly on airplanes”?
“How come other people put their house number on garage sale signs”?
Why were you going to name me Lily if I was a girl – here’s the deal, didn’t you know I liked Ali better”?
“Mom – do you know I like shopping with you because here’s the deal, I’m an extreme couponer”?
“Do people die for other reasons than getting old”?
“Here’s the deal, I want you to buy French Onion Sun Chips and not Harvest Cheddar”.
This was 10 minutes. I’m still back on the cost of flying dogs, and he’s moved on to something light like death. Yikes! Now, multiply this times 24/7, and maybe you can relate to my enjoyment of the occasional margarita.
But then, something happened yesterday that I’m still celebrating. As we were chatting after school about what he was learning in math, and he abruptly segued to his feelings of love for our neighbor, Alicia, I said “whoa, I can’t keep up with you buddy, you’re topic jumping”. I’ve likely said this phrase a hundred times a day for the past 8 years (since he started speaking), and it’s never really connected for him. But yesterday, he looked at me, turned his head quizzically to the side, and said “now I’m going to change the subject” and again launched into his feelings of love for Alicia, and her lack of reciprocal affection for him.
A short time later, as he was discussing the differences between sockeye salmon and Atlantic salmon, he stopped, looked at me, and said “time for a topic change” and launched into chat about how unfair it is that other families don’t have exercise on their daily schedules after school. I was about as proud as any parent could be. You know what I mean, the pride you feel when your little person says “Mommy” or “Daddy” for the first time, or you watch them take off down the sidewalk without their training wheels. That kind of pride.
Because this has taken 8 years, and some days it feels really, really hard, and often it seems like our progress has just come to an ugly halt. Sure, it’s kind of weird to say “time for a topic change” every time you want to change the subject, but this has been 8 years in coming, and it’s a giant step in the right direction. Here’s the deal, I’m proud of this kid. Heck, I may even shake my butt in an unsafe way in celebration because my filter is a little off, and I own that.
Never give up – one foot in front of the other, marathon not a sprint, blah, blah, blah . . .