Cody appears to sometimes wander aimlessly, pacing back and forth and rambling on with what seems to be an endless stream of echolalia. But his behavior is not always random and meaningless. There are distinct patterns of words and actions that are meant to achieve a clear objective. And after years of observation Bill and I have been able to discern what some of those objectives are—particularly when the goal is to interact with others in social situations.
It has been my experience that many people believe Cody has no actual desire to participate in social experiences because he often appears to be off doing his own thing, not paying any attention to anything around him. But for the last year we have noticed a monumental shift in the way Cody demonstrates the level of his awareness.
Cody used to not speak of an event until much later. Until he did we were not entirely sure how that circumstance affected him. Some believe it is because it takes him longer to mentally process an event when the real issue is a language processing deficit. And because there have been many times he could not express himself with language many people are led to believe he lacks the capacity to be social.
Over the last few years Cody’s language processing issues have begun to wane and with that his true desires for social interaction with others has become apparent. His wish to participate in conversation has dramatically increased. He listens to the conversations of others and begins to verbalize about it right away.
For the last year we have had a dead limb hanging high in a tree that we have been unable to get down. Today it came down and I told Bill I was “so thankful” it did. Immediately Cody looked Bill in the eye and told him he was “so thankful” the limb came down. He was “so thankful” his chair was fixed. And he was “so thankful” to lie on the sofa and watch TV at night with Mom.
Cody has been engaging in this kind of dialogue on a consistent basis over the last couple of months. This is his attempt to converse. It is decisive, not arbitrary. Word association processes are involved. He makes eye contact. He directs his comment to the person it’s meant for. It isn’t the repetitious chatter we’ve been used to for so long. And we’ve noticed desires for other kinds of group participation as well.
We have enjoyed a great deal of time outdoors this summer. Bill and I often spend our evenings sitting in our picnic area enjoying the mild weather, watching wildlife, talking about our day and having a cold beer. Meanwhile Cody revels in roaming around at will, having a Popsicle and giving new names to all the bugs.
Recently we noticed we had to watch where we put our beer and where Cody was in proximity to it. He became very adept at sneaking around and snatching it up to gulp it down before we knew it. While he is 27 years old and I would have no objections to his drinking responsibly, I’m unsure of what effect the combination of alcohol and his medications may have on him. And yet I hated to deny him what is considered by many to be a pleasurable and social activity. So Bill bought some non-alcoholic beer. The bottle is similar in appearance to that of the beer we drink and the taste is close enough for Cody’s liking. Cody was elated that he could now participate in this activity with us.
Many people believe that people with ASD lack the capacity to have social desires. Having spent 27 years raising my own son who is on the spectrum and four years working in behavioral health, I’m finding that statement to be untrue. Just because a person may not show they have desires to be social doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have those desires. Sometimes it’s up to others to help them find ways to channel in to what is a hidden capacity.