Tommy and The Professor are out on a long bike ride somewhere and Charlie and I are left snuggled under a blanket on the couch, chatting. It is Sunday evening and after ten days away from school I am hoping to judge his impending anxiety levels about returning tomorrow.
We are facing each other, feet touching feet and I’m pretending my hands are mechanical grappling hooks trying to grab his nose. He is giggling and at ease so I start asking him questions about his school day, in an attempt to remind him of how much he really likes the certainty of the routine and the people.
He is enjoying it. He is telling me in great detail about every part of the day. I am learning things I really did not know. At one point he mentions his afternoon group of kids receiving extra services for social skills issues is joined for group activities by two boys from the self contained class.
They are the two that can talk. The other kids from that class can’t talk so they don’t come.
This is the first time he has mentioned non verbal kids without anger. One of his biggest issues since he has been in special education is he gets upset by some of the behaviors of the other children in his programs. He is frightened by the flapping and jumping stim behaviors of some. He has believed kids who don’t speak are choosing to disobey the rules and being rude. He believes kids who have echolalic conversations with him are just teasing him.
But, his tone is more open this time. He is more open lately. So, I push a little further. I ask him if he remembers a boy named Jackson from his integrated preschool last year, who is in the self contained classroom this year at his school.
Yes, I know him, but he doesn’t come to group time because he doesn’t talk. He can’t come until he can talk.
Charlie, do you remember that aspergers can sometimes be called autism?
Well, having autism wiring in your brain can mean lots of different things. You and Jackson are both autistic, but with him part of his wiring means he doesn’t talk right now. He might never talk but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things to share with us. He will probably learn to use a computer he can have do his talking for him.
He does, he shouts eagerly and then names several other kids he has seen use these devices.
Yes, Charlie. So, just like with your autism wiring we call aspergers means you have to try harder to understand how people are feeling and we all have to do what we can to help you, Jackson’s autism wiring means he has a harder time expressing what he is thinking and we all have to do what we can to make sure he is heard. Does that make sense?
What do you call his kind of autism?
We have different autisms because our brains have different autism wiring?
Yes. Autism mostly means your brain is wired to communicate differently than most people. That is different in every autistic person. Do you remember Jalen?
His eyebrows squish together with the mention of his arch nemesis from preschool. Jalen was an echolalic speaker and apparently people had not always said kind things to him. He would melt your heart with the biggest dimpled smile and then shout You’re a very very BAD boy before running off.
As an adult it was a heart wrenching to see but for Charlie it was maddening and no amount of explaining could convince him that Jalen wasn’t just mean.
Yes, Charlie, Jalen is autistic too, but for him it means he talks by repeating things he has heard other people say.
Jalen just likes to be mean and make fun of people and that’s not nice. Making fun of people is not a way to be a good friend.
Have I ever said any words that you don’t understand,Charlie?
What if you repeated those words to someone and they got mad at you for them and said they were mean things to say? Would that mean you were trying to be mean?
I see a smile slowing spreading across his face. It’s a look I know well. It’s a look I’ve seen so many times when we’ve shared our story. Friends, relatives, strangers in the grocery store. It’s understanding. It’s the look of awareness.
And it’s never looked as beautiful as it does now on my own son.