The Articulate Python
I can tell my son has been up for awhile on this school morning because instead of coming downstairs in his pj’s with a blanket wrapped around him, he is dressed, bright eyed and ready for the day. On the other hand, I woke up just before the alarm went off, fell back asleep and am now struggling to come back to the surface.
Ryan has been up reading a book on one of his favorite topics, snakes. He has a vast knowledge of all things reptilian and is excited to once again share that knowledge. As I am trying to shake out the cobwebs and find the coffee pot, he is dishing out snake facts in rapid fire order.
“The Anaconda is the world’s biggest snake. The Ball python curls into a tight ball when threatened. What is the king of the non-poisonous snakes? The King snake, get it? I think snakes are predators. The reticulated python is the world’s longest snake.”
“The articulated python?” I ask.
In my head I’m visualizing a well spoken snake at a podium, with a monocle giving a lecture and closing with a “Thhhhhhhhhhhhanks for coming.” Get it? The idea of an articulate snake was lost on Ryan who is all about the facts, ma’am.
Ryan continues on with the snake lecture alternating between facts and questions. I mumble appropriate and seemingly interested responses all the while making breakfasts, packing lunches and infusing my body with as much caffeine as possible. As the biology lesson continues I take a deep breath, count to 10 and remember to be grateful that he is talking at all. Grateful that he is engaged, even if he is trying my morning patience just a bit. This was the same boy who did not speak sentences until five years old, who never demanded our attention or asked for help. Ever.
When he started pre-school we would ask him every day, “What did you do today Ryan?” Silence was the response. The ability to express what he had done in the last three hours was an insurmountable task for our boy. Autism limited communication skills to smiling, pointing, crying or yelling. He could do simple sign language to indicate basic wants and needs but as parents we ached to have our questions answered with more than just silence or simple signs.
As the snake monologue continues, I remember the day he came home and was once again asked, “What did you do today at school?”
Stunned, I hugged him tightly while tearing up and said “Wow, that sounds like fun.”
From there his standard answer was, “I played.” We learned how to help him unpack the day, one question at a time.
“Who did you play with?”
“Where did you play?”
It was like a game of Autism Archaeology, digging through the layers question by question to piece together his day. Eventually his answers got longer, sometimes a full sentence, sometimes two sentences. He would never offer information unsolicited, we had to start the exercise in dissecting his day but at least now he participated.
When he was excited about a topic, he offered up information on his own without prompting. I remember the first time I had to actually turn to him and say, “Ryan, you need to wait until I’m done speaking to your brother.” The fact that I had to ask him to pause was a testament to how far he had come.
So, this weekday morning, when I am tired and not all that interested in snake trivia, most of which I have heard many times before, I stop and remember the little boy who could not tell me about his day. I count to 10 and am grateful that he is now providing me with a lecture about snakes.
We have learned that the best path is to meet him in his world because he often doesn’t relate to ours. If the topic is snakes, then let’s talk snakes. If it’s airplanes then tell me all about the number of propellers on a B17 versus a B25. By the way, four on the former, two on the latter. If I’m ever on Jeopardy and the categories include Snakes, WWII Airplanes and lines from SpongeBob I am going to run the board.
I am grateful for the interruption, grateful to hear his voice and enthusiasm. I have more patience when his neurotypical brothers interrupt me with long, drawn out stories about what happened at school or soccer practice or the details of Java programming.
So, celebrate interruptions, celebrate seemingly unimportant information about snakes, airplanes, penalty kicks and computer code. Consider yourself blessed if your children can interrupt you with questions and demands.
Although we had to wait, we were lucky to finally be able to hear what our boy had to say. Some parents are still waiting.
Regina Stoops is a comedian, writer and Autism Mom living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Scroll down to subscribe to her blog for more stories about the adventures of her "normal" life.