Nigel: Mom, isn’t it strange? I love pumpkin pie but I don’t like pumpkin.
So often I take for granted my understanding of all the nuances of our culture, including aspects of our spoken communication. I know when someone is making a joke or being sarcastic, I know that sometimes when I make a brief comment or ask a rhetorical question that I usually won’t get a response, and I know that most people with typical hearing only use subtitles when watching foreign films.
My son’s autistic mind usually takes nothing for granted and makes no assumptions. If he makes a statement such as “This mixes my face” while looking into a disco ball, he will repeat the statement until someone acknowledges him. He does not take for granted that I’ve heard him, that I don’t know that he is expecting a response, or that I don’t have one for him. He doesn’t understand why no one is responding to him, so he repeats himself. He doesn’t mind repeating himself five times while I am formulating a response, especially when his statement is something as, um, unusual as “My brain is the size of twenty yellow lemons,” which he said at age eight. I had no idea where that came from.
That was also the year that he discovered that DVDs were better than VHS tapes because he could choose to watch them with subtitles so that he could keep the volume low and memorize the lines while reading them onscreen. One night, when I started watching a movie (without using subtitles), he asked, “Why you didn’t want it without words?” because he couldn’t imagine how I could deprive myself of this convenience. Growing out of clothing was also a difficult concept that year. When his briefs were getting too tighty-whitey and I had to purchase new ones, I forgot that I should have prepared him. He went to get dressed the next morning and stood there in front of his chest of drawers saying, “What about the 6 underwear?” since I had bought him size 8, and his old ones had been size 6. No assumptions.
Fast forward six years, and he is starting to make little assumptions. He realizes that just because he likes pumpkin pie, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to like pumpkin. (I assure him that many people fall into that category.) And he is learning to recognize sarcasm. A few weeks ago, a friend of the family was visiting on a day that Nigel was supposed to have cleaned his room. Since he hadn’t cleaned it, it looked like a bomb had gone off in there. Nigel was sitting on his bed reading when my friend poked his head in the doorway, surveyed the damage, and said, “It looks good in here.”
Nigel paused for a moment as if considering, and then he said, “I know you’re being sarcastic.”
In spite of the messy room, I was rather proud. And definitely amused.