Last night I was sitting in the front room working on my blog post, waiting for the babysitter to arrive so that Noel and I could go out on our date night, while the kids were in the dining room eating dinner.
"Cady Gray," I heard Archer say, "are you excited about kindergarten camp?"
This week Cady Gray is going to her new school for three days of learning the rules. We've been talking to her about it for a few weeks.
"Well," she replied, "I am excited ... but that's not really the right word. I'm just a little bit nervous, too."
"Oh, you will really like kindergarten camp," Archer responded.
This simple exchange was electrifying for me, listening in from the next room. I'm not sure I've ever heard Archer open a conversation that way, with an open-ended question about feelings. Maybe it was just a version of one of his normal gambits -- "Mom, do you like winning races?", for example -- but both the tone and the syntax were remarkably ... normal. Mature, even.
Like other kids on the autistic spectrum, Archer has a limited range of topics he's interested in talking about. A typical conversation at home starts with "Mom, didjaknowthat ... I came in first place in N64 Bowser's Castle and I won by 2.68 seconds?" If I make an encouraging response, I'll hear several more details about the race. If my opinion is solicited, it's on the order of, "Mom, have you ever won a gold medal in the 150cc Star Cup?"
That may sound eminently normal in isolation, but it's representative of about 80% of the conversations that Archer starts. He gets training in conversational skills in his speech therapy at school, and I've been amused to see him try to engage other kids on his own initiative. His standard opening is "How old are you?" or some other question that will elicit a number ("How much do you weigh?", accompanied by enthusiastic flappy pointing, is an especially intrusive one). At swim lessons this summer I saw him talking on the side of the pool to one of the other students. Afterwards I asked him what they were talking about. "I was asking him how old he was," he responded.
So his question to Cady Gray was so out of the norm -- and so much of a leap forward -- that it startled me. We worry about his obsessions and lack of social consciousness holding him back in relationships with other kids. But maybe there's a way he can find to bridge the gap between the rote conversational movements he's taught in therapy, and the flowing context of everyday life. Our boy is good at building bridges.