Ed note: The following is from the (imagined) perspective of Declan, an autistic 7th grader who I have seen for speech language therapy for several hours each week for two years. Some of this he was able to express in my words to me. Some of it I could figure out. And some is imagined based on what I know. I hope some day he will be able to tell me what I got right, and what I missed. Be kind, this is a weird kind of writing for me! I’ve never done anything remotely fictional before. All names have been changed.
I walk down the hall, feeling the squirmy feeling in my stomach. It is excitement. Jen is outside her office, like she always is. She says, “Hey Declan! It’s good to see you.” A few times earlier in the year she forgot that second part, so right before we began class I’d whisper to her, “It’s good to see me.” I whispered because that way it would not bother the other friends. And then she would remember and say it to me.
I look at my friends in the room with us. When I was a little boy, Mommy and Daddy and teachers at the other school called everyone friends. But these two are my real friends. They like me and I like them! I grin and whisper to one of them, “C for Carly!” and Carly smiles and says back like she always does, “That’s right Declan!” She understands why I’m saying that, I think. It is because on the show that is Sesame Street that was on when I was a little boy, there was a girl named Carly and that’s what they said. And when I say that to Carly now it is to show her I like her like I liked Sesame Street. And she likes me too. Then I look at Maya, my other friend. I do our Friday routine. I say to her, “What day is it, Maya?” and she exclaims, “Friday!” We like our routines.
I am feeling so happy. Everything is right. Except then Carly and Maya start talking about who will be the teacher when they play school. This makes my belly squirmy but not the good kind.
“Ugh,” I tell Jen. “I really want to start our work. ”
Jen say, ” I know. But we can give them one minute to talk.”
“Because why?” I ask. If there is a reason, it makes my belly calm down. Jen knows that. She always tells me the reason.
“Because it is okay to let people have a minute to talk. It is good practice for them to talk to each other. And it is good practice for you too. Like, is this a 5 problem?” Jen asks.
I grin because not only did Jen give me a good reason, she is launching into one of my most favorite scripts that always makes me make happy noises.
“No it is not a 5 problem. We don’t have to say….” I wait for Jen to do her part.
“We don’t have to say, ‘AH! STOP TALKING WE HAVE TO WORK RIGHT NOW!!” I love when Jen fake screams. I make some happy noises.
“We could just say…. ” and together we say, “Oh well, I can be flexible.”
Now I’m feeling much better. I watch the videos in my brain from when I could not be okay with that, from when it would make my belly feel so awful that I might scream. It is different now! I’m a bigger boy and I can use my scripts to help me feel soft and squealy instead of hard and breakable!
We get started with our activity. We are talking about problems and solutions. We talk about what’s a wacky solution and what’s a smart solution. We are practicing calling 911 because Carly wants to act out one of the situations. She is in theater club. My brain knows that in the file of Carly that is in that folder in the brain.
Carly pretends to dial 911 and Jen pretends to be the operator. This is pretend. I know that now because there is not a real phone. I play pretend too sometimes, like when I feel heavy because a friend is absent so I pretend call and talk to them so I feel better. Jen is telling Carly that the pretend officers will be there right away. It is sillyscarystrangefunnybumpyhardwhirly so my mouth laughs. Jen says, “I know! It’s a little funny pretending.” I am glad she doesn’t tell me to stop laughing. I am not laughing. I think other friends and teachers hear laughing but that is not what my body is trying to do. I don’t know how to explain that. But my friends and Jen get it.
I start thinking about going over a bridge because I love bridges. And then I imagine putting the bridge on my head. Jen used to teach me that we could script about that, but in real life, it isn’t possible to do things like that. I know. But in my brain real life isn’t going on. Anything can happen which is why I am making a bridge go on my head. I start laughing and then remember, OOPS! Out loud I remind myself, “Pause that thought! You can save it for later.” Jen gives me a thumbs up. I pick up my pencil and on the paper next to me, I write, “Putting a bridge on my head.” This is a paper where I can write anything I want so that the words are still there, just not in my mouth, and my brain will remember because my eyes will look there later so I can tell Jen and Carly and Maya about it.
I give one last squeal, because I am excited to tell them about the bridge, and then I make my ears listen to the group.