Cody in a crowded mall, a noisy restaurant or a social scene where chaos runs amuck used to spell disaster. There is nothing that would send him spinning into a full-blown rage faster than the lack of structure and routine. Communicating his needs and desires at home is difficult for him. But in a situation like this he simply wasn’t equipped for it.
There is a certain part of the brain that processes communication. There are days when Cody’s brain processes speech just fine. But on a normal day it is sketchy at best. He knows what he wants to say, but the signals from the brain to the tongue short out along the way.
Imagine taking a movie on DVD, putting it into the player and then looking for a particular scene somewhere in the middle of the movie. You hit the skip button and you hear a few words from a scene. Then you decide that isn’t the scene you are looking for. So you skip to the next scene. You hear a few words from that scene but it isn’t the right one either. So you continue this process until you come to the right location of the movie. Now take all the words from the segment of the movie you just heard and put them together in a paragraph. You probably will end up with something that makes no sense to you. That’s sort of how Cody’s speech patterns work. You can kind of get a picture of how frustrating that would be for him.
What if many people are present in a room and conversing in several groups all at the same time, and there are people attempting to converse with you? Perhaps there are many different activities going on as well. Maybe two or three people are at a buffet table getting food and talking. Three or four are ordering drinks at the bar. There’s a group of people playing pinball, a group who are playing darts and another group who are playing video games. Now take the volume of all the noise and amplify it about 10 times. Take all the activity and speed it up about five times faster. How would you feel? Would the noise level bother you? Would the multitude of people and activities be overwhelming to you? This scenario might have the same effect on a neurotypical individual as a normal pub and grill scene has on Cody.
Cody does enjoy going to social activities but they must involve an itinerary for all the people to follow. Going to a movie theater is one example of a social activity that Cody enjoys. If everyone is doing the same thing then it makes it very clear to Cody what the agenda is. This makes him feel like he finally fits in with a crowd.
Sometimes being social is participating in something with only one other person. Cody and his tech, Stephen, often go to the recreation center to play basketball. They both like antique stores so they often go there to browse around. They go to the nature center and to the local discovery center—a sort of science museum here in the area. Stephen is very astute about how to converse with Cody, and sets an example of how to converse and be social with others. Because of this, Cody is now progressing toward being able to participate in activities with small groups of people.
Small groups are best for Cody right now. Larger groups tend to have too many who wish to do their own thing. For instance, if a large group of people visit an amusement park, there may be some who want to go to the fun house, some who want to ride the roller coaster, some who wish to see the animal exhibits and some who want to ride the Ferris wheel. So which group will Cody join? There are many options on the table, in a crowded place where many people are doing different things all at the same time. For some of us, it’s not an issue. For Cody it’s quite the conundrum.
Finally being able to see him begin to learn how to enjoy the things his neurotypical peers have been enjoying for a long time is a welcome sight. It makes my eyes well with tears to see his life becoming full of new adventures … things many others may take for granted. While he may have a long way to go I know Cody can do it. After all he’s come a long way in a short time, already!