Conversation, Y’all

In my law practice, we work with an attorney from Texas who likes to throw “y’all” into sentences, even in email. She writes, “Think y’all need to flesh out that argument,” or, “I’m going to that hearing, and y’all should too.” As a literary device, her “y’all” is most effective as a lead-in or closer, like, “Y’all, we cannot take that case,” or, “Think that one through, y’all.” The concluding “y’all” is grandiose. When this attorney ends a sentence with a comma and “y’all,” I think, Did you get that? Did you pay attention? Because she was talking to you.

Being New York born and raised, I’d sound silly if I tossed y’all around the way my co-counsel does. So when I do choose to conclude a statement, especially a mono-word declaration, with a y’all, let’s agree that it’s extra-grandiose.

Conversation. Conversation, y’all.

Finally, we’ve got conversation. The kind of conversation that involves listening and responding to the partner.

Our family employs a housekeeper who comes weekday mornings, usually arriving just before Martin and I leave to catch his school bus. One day she was surprised to find Martin playing in the family room, and me away from home. (I had an errand to run, and by previous arrangement would be returning to retrieve Martin and drop him at school; Adrian was in his home office, working.) Given that Martin has always shied away from speaking with her—until recently, he buried his head in the sofa pillows whenever the housekeeper addressed him—she was even more surprised to have this conversation with him, subsequently relayed to me:

HK: “Martin! Why are you at home? Don’t you have to go to school today?”

Martin: “I am going. My mom is coming home to take me.”

HK: “If you want, I can drive you over now.”

Martin: “No, it isn’t allowed for anyone different to drop me off.”

Martin and I are spending the coming summer in Nicaragua. (Remember this post? More details later.) One morning, over breakfast, Martin asked, “How many days will we be in Nicaragua?”, and I replied, “Sixty days. All of July and August.”

Eight hours later, in the car, without additional prompting, the following conversation ensued:

Martin: “July and August each have 31 days.”

Me: “That’s true.”

Martin: “But you said we will be in Nicaragua only 60 days?”

Me: “Good point. What is 31 plus 31?”

Martin: “Sixty-two.”

Me: “So we will be gone 62 days.”

Martin: “Mommy, is Nicaragua going to be the longest trip you’ve ever taken?”

Me: “No, once I was in India for several months. I was studying there.”

Martin: “Will Nicaragua be the longest trip I’ve ever taken?”

Me: “Yes.”

These are conversations, y’all. They involve give-and-take. They require response to what the conversation partner has said.

I’m excited, of course. And there’s a caveat, of course. Most of Martin’s conversations still revolve around what fascinates him: right now, bridges, geography, and names. So while he’s made progress thinking dynamically enough to add to a conversation, he still needs to reduce his rigidity and apply that dynamism to a variety of topics.


A Whole Different Animal

Adrian was supervising bath time this weekend when Martin, from the tub, started describing the stuffed animals in his bed: Curious George the monkey, Maisie the tiger, Mitt Romney the elephant, Boo the dog, Godiva the bear and—an aye-be’el.

“An aye-be’el?” Adrian asked. “You have an aye-be’el?”

“Yes,” Martin answered. “An aye-be’el.”

I happened to be passing through the bathroom. Adrian looked at me, as if I should know what Martin was talking about.

So I asked, “What’s an aye-be’el, Martin? Is that an animal?”

“Yes. An aye-be’el is a whole different animal.”

Martin’s kindergarten teachers have said that he often surprises them by being completely on top of a lesson even when he doesn’t seem to be paying attention. Where Martin appears to be directing his focus, in other words, can be deceptive.

The answer came to Adrian suddenly. “Martin, is that something you heard Daddy say? Did you hear Daddy say that an aye-be’el is a whole different animal?”


“He means an ABL,” Adrian explained to me. “An ABL is a whole different animal. He was playing on the floor when I was making calls earlier.”

Aha! The puzzle came together. ABL stands for asset-based lending. It describes a specific type of credit agreement—a whole different animal when it comes to credit agreements. Adrian, who is a corporate lawyer, had been on the phone all afternoon, negotiating. Martin had entered periodically to stack his blocks on the big rug in Adrian’s home office. He’d probably heard his father say something like, “They want to talk about an ABL? Oh, no. An ABL is a whole different animal.”

Months ago, on a recovery site, I read a father’s post asking how much ASD children, before they recover, are “with it,” i.e., how much the children absorb and will later recall from the time before they are fully communicative. Martin may not be the best example on this, at least not anymore, because these days he’s reasonably far along in his communication skills. Nonetheless, think about the ABL, and then about this: Martin possesses astounding recall of events that transpired years ago. We sometimes have conversations along these lines:

Martin: “We were on this bridge before.”

Me: “I don’t think so, Martin. Maybe this bridge looks like another one we drive over?”

Martin: “We were on this bridge when we went to the lighthouse.”

Me: “Holy cow, you’re right. We went to the lighthouse where you were two years old. Do you remember that?”

Martin: “The lighthouse is red and white.”

We might have been to that lighthouse shortly after Martin’s diagnosis, before biomed, when he still drifted the perimeter of rooms and ignored his own name. But he remembers. It’s all in that head of his.

A close friend of mine was in an elevator with her five-year-old ASD son, who is making wonderful progress but still mostly pre-verbal. (I’ll call him Jason.) They’d had a horrible morning; because of a snowstorm, Jason’s school bus was delayed, they’d had to return to their apartment to call the bus company, Jason had become too warm in his jacket, and finally they were on their way back down to wait again for the bus. Frustrated, Jason acted out in the elevator.

Jason’s mom, my friend, immediately restrained him and prevented the situation from escalating.

The reaction of any decent person who saw this would have been, “Good catch, Jason’s mom! Way to anticipate and be on top of his behavior!”

The reaction of the one man who was in the elevator with them was to look my friend in the eyes, point to Jason, and say, “You need to get that thing under control.”

There are, of course, a thousand tidbits that gall me about what happened to my friend and her son in that elevator.

The most galling is this: Did the ignoramus who made that comment assume that, because Jason has limited speech, he can’t hear and comprehend? Did he think that an intelligent and creative boy doesn’t know what’s being said about him?

(“Ignoramus” was not the first word that came to my mind. You know that.)

Jason probably didn’t look like he was listening, or understanding. Martin probably didn’t look like he was eavesdropping on Adrian’s phone calls, either.

But they were. They always are.


Not a very happy post yesterday, “Bad Day. My Bad.” Sorry about that. Indulge me to add that it’s Sunday again, and today has not been much better than what I described in that post, although I’m pleased to report that at least I managed the behaviors more skillfully. I’m noticing a weekend pattern—bad night Friday, drowsy yet agreeable Saturday, killer Sunday—that may be linked to a new therapy we’re doing.

More on that later. This evening, let’s celebrate.

Wednesday this week I strolled a sidewalk with Martin and his friend, en route to a neighborhood playground. Martin’s friend, despite some behavioral issues, is verbally much more advanced than Martin. He and I were engaged in conversation, which momentarily diverted my attention from Martin.

How did Martin use the freedom? He approached a girl stopped on a bicycle and called out “Hi!”

Let’s break that down. Martin observed his surroundings, was aware enough to spot a child, decided to engage that child, and spoke in a clear and appropriate manner. He even paused a bit and waited for a response.

Another first, this whole activity package. Only this one time have I seen Martin, unprompted, initiate such interaction with a stranger.

Perhaps he won’t do so again for months to come.

But he will do so again sometime. And then again. And again and again. And then another novelty will become commonplace, and we’ll be one step closer to typicality.

And the girl stopped on the bicycle? Alas, she did not provide the response Martin had sought. She was older, perhaps seven. She turned up her nose and pedaled away, ignoring Martin’s overture.

I suppose we can’t expect the whole world to join us on our recovery journey.

Sorry for the poor picture quality; I couldn’t resist this mobile-phone photo of Martin “helping” his grandmother with the gardening.