Tag Archives: restaurants

The More Things Change

Aidan, seated next to me in the booth of a Mexican restaurant, says, “I have a joke for you, Nigel.”

Nigel, seated across from us on the other side of the booth, asks, “What is it?”

“A plane crashes on the border of California and Mexico. Where do you bury the survivors?”

I have heard this one before. And when a visually-oriented person hears it, as opposed to reading it, that person, especially if he happens to be interested in disasters of all kinds, will not hear the word “survivors.” He will hear “plane” and “crashes” and “border of California and Mexico,” and he will hear “bury.” And he will matter-of-factly answer, “They should be buried in the country they are from.”

And Aidan smugly delivers the punch line: “You don’t bury survivors.”

If Nigel had read it somewhere, had seen it in print, he would have immediately caught the trick. But verbally, of course, it’s lost on him. He has to be reminded that the word “survivors” is part of the equation, and then he understands. He calmly takes it in stride, filing it away for future reference.

Meanwhile, what is not lost on me is the fact that all of this is taking place in a busy restaurant. Not too long ago, going to restaurants was highly problematic. Up until about seven years of age, Nigel’s sensory issues were so crippling that he would writhe on the floor, wailing in agony whenever I tried to take him into a restaurant. He couldn’t handle all the people and their respective sounds, the background music over the speaker system, the clanking of dishes, glasses, and silverware, crying babies, whirring fans, lights, and whatever else affected him. God forbid he should need to go to the bathroom with its echo-inducing walls, air hand driers, and loud toilets. God forbid the staff should decide to vacuum around the table right next to ours.

Yet, tonight at the Mexican restaurant, every single one of those things happened. Every one of those things – except Nigel writhing and wailing on the floor. That’s right – he was completely fine tonight. When he was around eight or nine years old, things seemed to get a little easier for him (except for the bathrooms and vacuum cleaners), and we could usually experience a successful fifteen minutes in a restaurant. After fifteen minutes or so, his sensory issues would reach a build-up point, and then he just couldn’t take any more. He’d have to crawl under our table (this, at age twelve, did not look okay to staff and other patrons, but hey! That’s what the boy needed to do). At least the writhing and wailing had stopped by that age.

Now, however, blessed Now, he can eat a full meal in a restaurant without any discomfort or distress. Unfortunately, my ASD-parent PTSD is always affecting me, and I cringe at every single sound. The music, the babies, the clanking. When they bring out that damned vacuum cleaner right next to our table (Gah! Why must they do that? Why?! We’re eating, for God’s sake!), I about have a heart attack. But Nigel is completely unfazed. No ear plugs. No covering his ears. No diving under the table. He calmly munches on chips and salsa while he talks with his brother about G-force and physics. The old adage about things changing? In our case, they don’t stay the same. And I, for one, am relieved.

Aidan continues with his next joke. “Imagine you’re in a box with a pig and a stick. How do you get out of the box?”

Nigel briefly contemplates, then answers, “I would hit the pig with the stick until he gets mad enough to break down a side of the box, then I could get out.”

Aidan says, “Stop imagining. If you’re imagining that you’re in a box, just stop imagining and then you won’t be in it anymore.”

Nigel smiles and files that one away too.

Echolalia Strikes Again

The scene:  It is a beautiful sunny day. A group of four is having an early dinner at a bistro-style restaurant with outside seating. They are seated at a table near a walkway that borders a pretty creek framed by lush trees and foliage.  People are strolling by, looking at craft booths set up farther along the walkway. A young couple walks past the table of the four people, glancing at the teenage boy who is maniacally waving his arms around, yelling about bees. He gets up and runs off about twenty feet. The woman in the group of four, presumably his mother, coaxes him back to the table with a glass of soda, assuring him that the bee is gone. The boy reluctantly returns.

The young couple surveys the pretty, burbling creek. Their arms are around each other; they are enjoying the romantic setting.  They begin to kiss.

Teen boy at table says in loud voice:  Looks like we’re about to encounter a saliva exchange.

The other occupants of the table try to stifle their laughter, and the boy smirks and says, “That’s from My Favorite Martian.”

The mother doesn’t dare look at the young couple behind her. Signaling her son to keep his voice down, she holds her finger to her still-smiling lips and hopes that the food will arrive soon.

Assessing Development

Development sometimes seems so elusive and immeasurable. When you’re with your child every day, it is often difficult to see any development. For me, it becomes more apparent when Nigel returns after visiting his father for seven weeks every summer. It is then that I notice changes in development. Some are subtle, such as a slight increase in speech, and some are more obvious, such as being two inches taller. Every year Nigel progresses, whether it is obvious or not.

I keep a file (several, actually) of his school records, IEP reports, and my own writing describing his development over the years. I have been looking through the files this week and am enjoying reading about his development, marveling at how far he has come. This is an excerpt from ‘Nigel at Six:’

I had intended to start writing this sooner. Pictures are not enough to remember these early years. Videos help immensely, but they do not capture thoughts and dreams, concerns and hopes.

All people change and grow, but I think I will spend my entire life learning about Nigel. Who is this little boy? Part genius, part tough, all loving. He has been with Child Development Center for two years now, and I can communicate with him levels above how I did when he started. He is a wondrous person, a gentle soul. Trusting, yet fearful of new situations. I can’t explain to him why he needs to sit at the table in restaurants and stay near me in the grocery store. Of course, I must remind myself that it has gotten better. He understands more of what I tell him, but too often I don’t  think of what to tell him until it is too late. Last time we tried to eat in a restaurant, he went up to some other patrons at their table, got right in their faces and proclaimed, “Balto!” because he had watched that video earlier in the day.

He is starting to use pronouns now, usually at home where he is comfortable, although he confuses which one to use when, “I” for “you” and vice versa. We are still hearing nonsensical words, words he uses when he’s trying to imitate a line from a video and he doesn’t know what was actually said. For example, in The Lion King when Simba tells Zazu “Hurry!” in an urgent voice, because he needed help. Nigel thought it was said in an angry voice, so whenever he’s angry, he yells, “Urr-reee!” and has for about two years now. Or he would say, also in anger, “It’s my gun, you’ve got no right to take it!” from the Swiss Family Robinson. Fortunately that was short-lived. Another good one was from the Scooby-Doo video. When Aidan split his chin open, we had to go to the doctor for stitches, and the regular doctor had just moved to a new location. So we got to the new office and were just about to walk in the front door when Nigel stopped and said, “I don’t like it,” as Shaggy had said when they were about to go into a haunted house. Nigel had used the phrase in perfect context as a way to indicate his fear about a new situation.

He’s even come up with some phrases on his own, emerging spontaneous, non-echolalic speech, which is wonderful. When I got back from a three-day trip to Paris, he emptied my backpack and filled it with his own shoes and clothes, put it on and walked around the room saying, “Nigel go to Paris. Nigel is tripping [meaning, going on a trip].” He has learned in school to comment whenever someone participates by saying, “Good catching,” “Good throwing,” “Good drawing,” “Good sitting down,” and when he can’t describe something specifically, he says, “Good job in doing,” which I love.

And the boy who taught himself to read at three and a half is sounding out words he doesn’t even know. Yes, it’s hyperlexia, but at least he shows cognitive strength in that. Unfortunately, he seems to have difficulty with holding pens – even fat ones – and trying to write. He is very resistant. He loves to watch other people write, but he freaks out if I try to put my hand over his to get him to do it. It’s a shame, because I think that once he learns to write, that will liberate him to no end.