Nat’s bright light is a little quiet today. My theory is that he is beginning to grapple with large, scary concepts–in particular, graduating school. He is watchful of me, more than usual, he is not smiling much, and he’s sucking his thumb a lot. The only place he became animated was the doctor’s office; but that’s probably because it is such a familiar place and it is pretty much always the same routine. Plus he knows he is loved there; his pediatrician is so proud of him–it’s freakin’ adorable. (Yes, I know, I have to switch him to an adult GI but we love our doctor R so much!!!) Every time he answers a question of hers, she looks at me with almost tears in her eyes. She did not get the memo that he has been answering for quite some time, or maybe for her it’s just a thrill that doesn’t go away. Well, good. I want as many people as possible to care about Nat and to learn from him, that his autism is not a death sentence nor a disease nor a waste of a life. He’s a darling, and you know what I mean because if you’re reading this, you’ve probably got one, too. (Get up right now from your computer and give him/her a kiss, and then come back and finish this post.)
So anyway, I think that Nat is wondering a lot about what it will be like for him to come to the end of school. And whenever he gets anxious, he watches me — and Ned — a lot. I noticed that he came in and sat down right next to me when it was 6:15pm. The heaviness of his presence told me that he was waiting. Oh, right, dinner.
I got out some of the stuff, muttering to myself, because I had wanted to order pizza, but Ned pleaded for the leftover macaroni.
“Ma-roni,” Nat said, sticking close by me, peering into the fridge with me.
“Yes, Nat, I’m getting it.” I reached in and winced as the heavy blue Creuset nearly snapped my arm off at its tendonitis-ed elbow. Now I was getting annoyed, because of the pain and because he was breathing down my neck.
“Salad,” he then said, not content that I had just put my hand on it. “Salad. Ma-roni.”
“Nat, I’m getting it,” I said, “Stop repeating it.”
He backed off momentarily while I laid everything out on the counter: box of salad, pot of macaroni, plates– “Dressing,” he said tentatively. He knew he was being a pest but he just couldn’t stop himself!
“Get the napkins, okay?” I said, trying to get rid of him for a minute. He went off to get stuff and then I saw out of the corner of my eye a pile of yellow, blue, and white cloth: all the napkins from the entire week, and two dishtowels, on the table. Okay, at least they’re out and he’s not bugging me, I thought, or something like that. He started folding the napkins in his odd way: long vertical strips folded the way you do towels on a rack. Even atypical folding!
So he started again with the prompting. Prompting! I thought. “Hey Ned,” I said to my husband who had just emerged from his cave — er, office — on the third floor. “You know, I think that Nat’s repeating is actually prompting!” Ned looked at me, listening to this, my latest Theory of Nat. “All that training at school, everything is a prompt: ‘Nat: Napkin. Fork.’ Then fade back, then just give him an expectant look. Well that’s just what he’s doing: ‘Ma-roni. Salad.’ He’s prompting me to make dinner, step-by-step. And then when I do it and I also tell him to quit telling me what to do — then he fades back and watches me: expectant look!”
Ned just laughed. But he was thinking about it. And it did make a kind of sense. Someone who is so concerned with routines — especially these days, with this huge mysterious change looming over his head — would want to make sure that everyone around him is part of the program. He has mastered the art of being a nudge; he has surpassed even his teachers and his parents at that!
Seriously though. He knows how to do things — and now he knows how to get others to do things. I’d say he’s ready to be an adult.