Jim had to attend a work-related function Saturday night, so I took Charlie swimming at the YMCA, where there’s a special Saturday program that reserves one of the pools for autistic children only. I asked Charlie if he’d like to see a movie and he said “yes”—-and when I brought up the subject back at home, he said “yes” and then “no” and then “yes.” “How about Alvin and the Chipmunks?” I asked. “Yes,” said Charlie. And then, “No.”
By this time, it was getting too late to see the computer animated version of Dave Seville and three squeaky-voiced creatures, so I asked Charlie about dinner. “Dinner, yes,” said Charlie. As he has been saying, with a pleased smile, “Chinese food!” for the past few days, I suggest that. “Yes,” said Charlie. “How about noodles? With shrimp? Or with chicken?” “Noodles with shrimp. Eat chicken.”
We drove to a Chinese restaurant that we used to go to a lot last year but have not been going to—because every time I would drive into the parking lot, Charlie would say “No. No. No.” This evening, we drove into the parking lot and I saw that the place right in front of the restaurant was free and I started to pull in.
“No. No. No,” said Charlie. I asked him if he were sure; he said “yes.” I backed out and around (it’s a very narrow parking lot and, this being suburban New Jersey, everyone seems to have at least a mid-size SUV, with a Hummer or two thrown in). “Noodles!” said Charlie. “Do you want noodles?” I asked. “Yes,” said Charlie. At this point we were at the exit facing a red light and so I asked Charlie once again, if he wanted to get the noodles. “No,” said Charlie. “You’re sure?” “No. No.” I said okay and then Charlie said, “Yes, brown noodles!”
I craned my neck around and backed the car up, pulled into the still-free parking place, and told Charlie I would get the noodles, and if he didn’t want to eat them, I would. “Shrimp or chicken?” I asked. “Shrimp,” said Charlie.
As I waited for our order, I thought about the past week and in particular about Wednesday evening. It was Charlie’s second time at Special Olympics basketball and we got there when the practice was well underway: Charlie stood on the sidelines and, at being urged too strongly to go and play, hollered/yelled/cried/would not be moved/etc. in a big way. Jim waited it out and Charlie ended up staying until the end, and kind of got into throwing and catching. On Friday, in talking to Charlie’s home coordinator, I realized that what Charlie had needed to say at the practice was “I don’t want to [play basketball].” But while we have spent a lot of time teaching Charlie to ask for things and tell us what things are, we have not yet taught him to say that he does not want something—-that he can say “I don’t want it.”
And, I think, Charlie’s tangled-up no’s and yes’s in the parking lot of the Chinese restaurant are his attempt to communicate something ambivalent and complex—that he really wants the noodles, really likes them, but there’s some odd memory about this particular restaurant that irks him, that he doesn’t know if he’ll still like the noodles—-something like that. But being a boy of few words, it’s not so easy to talk about something that is not “black and white” and that he “kind of but maybe not” wants, and to say “I don’t want it.” And these are all things we’re thinking about as we try to teach Charlie to communicate as much as he can to us.
I can say, though, that—based on how quickly Charlie cleaned his bowl when we got home with the food—he indeed meant yes about chow fun with shrimp: Sometimes all a mother can do is to say it with brown noodles.
Photo courtesy of mochzr via Flickr