July 3, 2008

The Boy Who Learned To Talk Too Late And Too Fast


This is the story of a boy, he just turned four, but he couldn't talk yet- nothing more than one or two words at a time, "mik" and "mo Nemo!" and that was it.  The worry was that there was something wrong with him, and everyone who discussed it never said the word Asperger's.

There are a million reasons he could have this speech delay, including but not limited to genetics, increased paternal age, thiomersal, elevated serotonin, or parts of any of those, but for certain it could not possibly be related to being bookended by an cooing pork sausage of a baby brother and a preposterously hyperverbal, parentified 5 year old sister.  and a father who was angry all the time because the junior partner is an idiot.

But at least mommy was for him, she got him, she was tender and strong and consistent and available, a brick wall between him and schizophrenia.


I ask him to come here, but instead he goes over to a box of animals and looks for a rhino and a leopard.  He doesn't have a transitional object, he has a transitional object of the day, supremely important on Wednesday and then Thursday dropped like a candy wrapper.  Today it's a leopard.  Yesterday it was a metal spatula.  I don't know.

"Come here for a second."

He blinks.  "Lepar."  That's 4 months of speech therapy.

"I know, but come here for one second first."

"Lemmmddd."  He's not paying attention to me.

"Stop, for one second, just come here--"

"Lepp lleppp lle.  Hmmwp!"

"Listen to me! just come here, you can get that later--"

And then God touches him and he says:

"No, Daddy, you have to wait a minute, I'm doing something right now."

BLAM!    I am blown away by the complexity and maturity of it-- that's not even his voice-- and simultaneously furious that he would talk like that to me, that the first coherent sentence he puts together is used to blow me off.

I almost explode. 



It sounds indignant, disrespectful, but that's not his intention.

He sees people can talk, and when they do they control things.  So the only thing standing between him and domination of his environment are words.   Words aren't for communicating, they're for effecting.   Words are power.   You don't even have to know what they mean.     They're magic spells.

The words don't matter, he doesn't even understand them, for him it's all prosody, the way people wrongly say "I could care less" or "for all intensive purposes" or a quote in Latin, they know what it means but not what it literally means, the literally part is irrelevant, because they're communicating something else that everyone gets.  He figures that surely I'll get it because he's heard me use those exact words before, and when I used them it worked.

He's not telling me, he's conjuring, he thinks that sentence will change reality, cause it to be true that he is allowed to find the leopard.  In the same way he hears my words "come here for a second" not as a request but as a omniscient description of the future: "in moments you will be compelled to do something that you will not like."


But I'm too angry to figure this out, I'm too angry to see things his way, I see them only my way,  this is why when they emptily say, "I'll bet you're a great father" I say "as long as my wife is alive."

He sees the rage and frustration in my face.  He starts to cry, my boy, my little boy that I love.  The boy that is now confused- he used words, and they failed--  they backfired--

He tried; I failed.

At this moment I still don't get it but by instinct I know I'm wrong somewhere, so I hug him, I tell him I'm very sorry I yelled at him and that I will help him get the leopard, but buddy I wasn't saying you can't have it, you can, "come here for a second" just means you come, I do one thing very fast, then you go.  Not many things, just ONE thing.  And buddy?  That was very, very excellent talking, I LOVE it when you talk like that, and we're going to talk about benkenobi's lightsaber is blue and parasaurolophus and pirates.

He grins, my mystical boy,  he has a leopard in one hand and a rhino in the other and he puts them both in my face and roars excitedly, and I think as long as I can stay out of his way, he'll be great.


related: AM Radio Kids