she gets it


{Image is a photo of Winnie the Pooh swilling Vodka from the bottle}

The following is part of a much bigger thought, but the context is currently too overwhelming for me to wrangle into words so I’m just going to start here, in the middle, and we’ll come up with a beginning later. Cool? Cool.

At dinner tonight, Luau was drinking a funky stout of some sort. It had caught our attention, as he had poured it right to the limit of the cup’s capacity and, as the head expanded, it was threatening to overflow.

Katie asked him if it was good. He said it was and offered to let her smell it, which she did, then made a face and said, “Gross!” which, of course, made her mama smile. Gross is good. I then turned to Brooke, who had not shown any overt interest in either the beer or the conversation about it, but who I’ve learned is always, always paying attention whether she appears to be or not, so I asked if she’d like to smell it too. And she said, “No. I don’t like ackahell yet.”

The “yet” caught us all by surprise. Katie asked, “Hmm, so when WILL you like alcohol, Brooke?”

Brooke tapped her temple and said the following:

“Let me think. He’s a bear, right?”

She was asking for my help.

This is how I know.

One of our most oft-repeated scripts is a conversation that Brooke had many, many years ago with my Grandmother. Brooke had a habit of asking the nearest warm body if Winnie the Pooh was a boy or a girl before going to the bathroom. She needed the answer before she could go about her business. Well, when she asked my then 90 or so year-old Grandma, it didn’t quite go according to plan. Grandma had to think. So she tapped her temple and said, “Hmm. Let me think.”

Brooke, increasingly antsy, repeated the question. “Is Winnie the Pooh a boy or a girl?” to which my Grandma responded, “He’s a bear, right?”

It was at that point that I jumped in to help. I told my Grandma that Winnie the Pooh was a boy and then, looking at my poor cross-legged kid, said, “Grandma, just tell her he’s a boy.”

Katie, knowing what her sister needed, suggested to Brooke that 21 would be a good age to try alcohol. She agreed and answered, “When I’m 21 if maybe.”

At face value, Brooke’s initial response to Katie’s question would have implied that she had no understanding of it, was incapable of answering it, or both. When we put the script in context, however, it’s clear that she did understand the question but wasn’t sure how to answer it, and was looking for guidance. Once she had some more information, she answered the question perfectly well.

The words of the script are almost never the point, though “Let me think” was clearly pretty useful. The CONTEXT of the scripts is what matters. When she repeats dialogue from the Kai-Lan episode in which Hoho is learning that he can’t always get his way, she’s telling us she’s frustrated. When she recites her favorite scene from Charlie Brown Halloween, she’s angry. When she pulls out Talulah from Elmo’s World, she’s scared. None of the actual words in any of these scripts necessarily convey their meaning, but the context from which they are extracted does. Hoho is frustrated when he can’t get what he wants. Charlie Brown has had enough of Lucy’s taunting. She was deathly afraid of the opera singer on Elmo.

Sometimes, (and when she was younger this was, frustratingly and heart-breakingly almost always the case) no matter how hard I may try, the reference is simply too obscure for me to recognize. It might be an indelible connection that she created but I missed – something that happened in her environment when a show was on or a song was playing, for instance. Those are tough, if not impossible to suss out. Over time though, the patterns emerge. Finally the pieces fall together – she’s asking about the radishes because they were cooking on the stove when the smoke alarm went off. Asking about radishes has nothing to do with root vegetables, it = fear of smoke alarm = anxiety = I need you to reassure me that the smoke alarm isn’t going to go off right now.

So that’s what I needed to say for now.

That when you ask my kid how old she’ll be when she’ll drink alcohol and she says, “He’s a bear, right?” as improbable as it may seem, she really does understand, even if we don’t.


18 thoughts on “she gets it

  1. Quentin does the same thing. He has scripts for every situation he finds himself in, from Dora, Charlie Brown, Veggie Tales, Thomas….well, you get it. And most people of course don’t understand what’s going on, what he means or if he is even listening when being talked to. And just like Brooke, he really is listening, because 2 hours later he will make a comment about that conversation. They are amazing kids, aren’t they? By the way, Qs surgery went well and we are going back to Ronald McDonald House this weekend. We get to stay over the 4th so we can go up to the 8th floor and watch the fireworks by the Space Needle. We have a perfect view up there. Also, the 4th is our 1 year anniversary of being here in Seattle for Qs health issues. Another couple of months and maybe finally home!

  2. This. Rocks. All of it. Especially the graphic of Winnie swilling vodka. Needed that tonight.

  3. I feel like I should come with footnotes. Most of my conversational dialogue is sprinkled with references to things that happened to television or film characters (as if they’re actual people I know). My responses to my own emotional life are bookend by film quotes and scenes that I’ll imagine to calm or reassure myself (like this one: “The awful normals” –

  4. You are genius! I never, ever put together scripting with emotions or reference! I will listen more closely fr now on. I’ve learned so much from you!

  5. I’m lucky really that I have no appreciable difficulties with language, though I do struggle with communication. I don’t even know if I scripted as a kid – it is something that we never knew about in the 60’s/70’s (autism & aspergers were practically unknown back then). I think my son scripts a lot, and he certainly struggles to find the right co bination of words to express himself.

    I have a theory on autism and communication that I’d like to share. Many of us are visual thinkers, that is we think in pictures not words . It has been proven that visual aids are essential to teaching autistic children, and to helping them express themselves. Even as adults we never lose that need for visual input, but because we are expected to cope in an NT world we struggle on without them.

    Our communication problems come from trying to express visual thoughts as mundane words. Our first language is based on imagery not spoken words, so we struggle to translate into your language.

    When Brooke struggles to find her words, it is like a foreigner trying to translate from their native tongue into a language that has no words comparable to their own language. Trying to communicate to someone who does not speak the same language is very frustrating, and can cause major upsets when people misunderstand what you meant.

    Long before I was even remotely aware of any autism in my family (I’m autistic, and so are all three of my kids to one degree or another), I was aware of a major problem with how I communicate. I think in pictures, but I’m expected to speak in words. People ask how I feel, and All I see is an amorphous cloud of something I can’t even begin to translate into words. Painting sculpture and drawing were the only way I could adequately express myself, because pictures could say more than words ever could for me.

    I think the most graphic illustration of this is when I’m writing a short story.

    For most people a story comes in words, they think words and write them down. For me (and I suspect many other autistic people) the story comes as a picture, a huge 3D picture that I can see from every angle. I see every charachter in the story in detail, how they look how they dress. I can visualise the entire world they live in, the landscapes, the cities, the wildlife. It all comes to me as a complete vision of a self contained world.

    My problem comes when I have to translate that world into actual words, to describe what I see in my mind so that others can see what I see. It is so hard to do because words are too mundane to express what I visualise, too alien to the way my mind works.

    This struggle to translate visual thinking into spoken language is something that I struggle with every day of my life, and it is tiring, even for someone as articulate as myself.

    I’m no expert in autism, so there may be many who disagree with my theory by the way.

    • That is fascinating.

      I once asked my son (8 at the time), while we were doing homework, why it was so difficult for him to focus. I said: “What’s on your mind?”

      He looked at me like the weight of the world was on his shoulders and said: “So many things.”

      I always wondered what it could have been. Now maybe I get a little glimpse. Thank you!

  6. Brooke understands…

    “That when you ask my kid how old she’ll be when she’ll drink alcohol and she says, “He’s a bear, right?” as improbable as it may seem, she really does understand, even if we don’t.”

    Love you,

      • Or taking the Bear “Boy or Girl” script and using it to answer the alcohol question. “I don’t know if he’s a boy or a girl.” MEANING: I don’t know yet when or if I will want to drink alcohol.”

  7. And that glorious day… when you finally do understand… it all becomes so exquisite… and the rest of us typical minds seem so ordinary. It is its own incredible language.

    I am a writer, I relish words and their meanings and metaphors and poetry… I have always loved this part of my boy.

    Once we asked him what his friend at school looked like, trying to figure out the mystery of who this new “friend” could be (was he truly a friend, or a foe in “friend’s” clothing).

    My son answered matter of factly: “He looks like a lightbulb.”

    Best. Metaphor. Of. My. Life.


  8. I am cherishing this post. This is what presumption of competence looks like. All of it. From the communication process to the understanding of echolalia to the deep respect for Brooke to the assumption that she could be drinking, when she’s an adult, just like her peers….this is everything.

  9. When my girl was 2-4 years old, if she was very upset and crying, she would cry out “Birthday Cake” over and over again. I always thought it meant she wanted something from me that she associated with happy times, like birthday parties and cake. I knew it wasn’t really birthday cake she wanted, but some kind of comfort. I never quite figured out the full connection, but I did the best I could with that knowledge. Amazing for you to connect so clearly and effectively with your child. They really are so incredible.

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