I read James Joyce for the first time when I was 17. It was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and it knocked my socks clean off. With the benefit of maturity, I’m pretty sure that most teenagers who read A Portrait of the Artist end up sockless, but 27 years ago, in high school, I felt singled out and special: James Joyce got me. He wrote the novel for himself and also for me. Stephen Dedalus was an alter ego for Joyce and me both. His stream of consciousness was also the wandering path of my own mind.
Martin speaks constantly nowadays. Constantly. It’s as if, those years when he lacked language to express himself, he built a bank of unsaid thoughts, and now the words gush, unfiltered. He alights the school bus yammering. Dinner is a series of, “Hang on, Martin. How about if the grown-ups get to talk for a minute?” He falls asleep holding court with his stuffed animals. Wednesday morning he materialized in our bedroom at 4:00 am and said something like, “I just woke up. My body woke me up. Maybe I’m not sleepy anymore? It’s still dark outside. Your clock says 3:54. Can I watch television? It’s Wednesday. I have school today. Why do you think I’m awake? Are you getting up now? My covers were tangled.” (I managed to convince him that his body woke him up because he needed to go to the bathroom. He went to the bathroom, I untangled his covers and tucked him back in, and blessed silence fell again.) I have become one with Stephen Dedalus. I’m living a stream-of-consciousness existence, and the consciousness is seven years old.
In South America, with few planned activities and much free time, I experienced just how very much Martin talks these days, and usually to me. He was a running soundtrack of our trip. “This morning I woke up at 7:37. Mommy, were you awake? Did you hear me get up? I looked at the clock, and it said 7:37. I wanted to get up at 7:00. I got up 37 minutes late. It was already light out. Tío was getting ready for work. I looked out the window and saw a balloon in the sky. Mommy, where were you? I found you in the kitchen. What time did you get up? What time did you eat breakfast? I played with my iPad while I was waiting for breakfast. Today my cousins are coming over. They are still in school. What should we do before they come over?” His cousins rang mute by comparison.
I am not complaining, not by any means. If you’ve had a child without functional language, if you once thought “I want you to do that again” was the linguistic apex of beauty and complexity, you understand: I, we, have fought for every sentence that Martin emits, and his chatter is our prize.
That’s what I remind myself when I’m hearing, for the 478th time, that there are three mommies and Martin needs to decide which is the real mommy. (Some episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse evidently had two Goofy characters, only one of which was real, or something like that, and Martin’s been running with the game for weeks.) He’s perseverating. The game is annoying. But the sentences are perfect, the syntax is solid, and every day he picks up new idioms.
So here is a question: Doesn’t this sound a lot like Martin has Asperger’s? Classic hallmarks of Asperger’s are a preference for the company of adults over children; long-winded discourse, regardless of whether anyone is listening; repeated return to one topic; speaking in a fast or “jerky” voice. Martin’s official diagnosis, now, is ADHD. The (mainstream) neurodevelopmental psychologist opined that Martin no longer meets the diagnostic criteria for autism. Asperger’s is a form of autism. What gives?
Good thing I’m not that into behaviorally based diagnoses. I followed Stephen Dedalus. I can follow this kid, wherever he’s taking us.