Not Jerusalem*


We drive home after school.
“I love bananas. I love bananas. I love bananas,” he chants in the seat directly behind mine.  This is his latest quote.  He has quoted it continuously for the last 16 minutes, the minutes, short ones, that it has taken us to get from his class room door , to the car.  At least it is truthful, as bananas are one of his seventeen foods.  [translation = neophobic.]
“Are we going to my playdate?” she shouts over the din.
“Are we going to my playdate?” echoes her other brother.  She sits between the two of them, sandwiched.
“I love bananas. I love bananas. I love bananas,” he continues.
“Mom, can you make him shut up, I can’t think straight!”
“Think straight!” echoes the other.
“MOM!” she bellows, “DO SOMETHING!”
“DO SOMETHING!” he echoes.
I focus on driving safely from point A to point B.  [translation = and people moan about cell phone users!]
He changes his tune without warning or preamble, “ oooo wooo, déjà vu! oooo wooo, déjà vu!  oooo wooo, déjà vu!”
“Déjà vu!” echoes the other one.
“What is wrong with you two!  Are you bein ghosts or summat!”  I silently decide that my psyche is happier with the ‘banana’ ditty, but I say nothing as I  pull up to the lights.  We idle at the traffic stop.   [translation = traffic lights on red]  A car is next to us, all stars and stripes.  [translation = patriotic]  I debate whether turning the radio on will make things better or worse?  [translation = louder or quieter]
“Oooo wooo, déjà vu! oooo wooo, déjà vu!  oooo wooo, déjà vu!”
“Déjà vu!” repeats his brother.
“Stop it already!” she screams at one.
“Already,” he repeats, so she gives him the same treatment, with no discernible impact.
“Nearly home dear, not for much longer now.”
“Longer now.” I hear my own voice and tone waft back at me.
“Tell me about your day, dear, just try and shut it out, ignore it, let it drift over you.”
“Over you.”
“Oooo wooo, déjà vu! oooo wooo, déjà vu!  oooo wooo, déjà vu!”
“Er, we had, we had assembly,” she struggles to remain focused, tuned in but shut out.
“Great!  What happened?  Any awards?”
“Oooo wooo, déjà vu! oooo wooo, déjà vu!  oooo wooo, déjà vu!”
“Déjà vu!” repeats his brother.
“We er, sang songs, Star Spangled Banner and er…..a couple of other ones.”
“I actually know that one.  We had to learn it for our Citizen’s Exam.  Shall we sing it now, together, loudly?”
We sing together as the lights turn to green.  I sincerely hope that my mother never overhears such treason on my part.  [translation = she’ll put me up for adoption]
“There we go dear, thanks for singing with me.  Certainly did the trick don’t you think?” I ask rhetorically.  “You know I always muddle those two, the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful,” I add for no particular reason.
We pull into the driveway to park.  As I open the doors, Junior springs from the car singing  “America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!”
His brother falls out of the car after him, several stanza’s and steps behind him, “shining sea!”
How on earth am I going to fade this before we fly back to the UK?  Will two weeks be enough?  I debate whether a long distance phone call to remind my mother of the meaning of perseveration and echolalia, might assist?  The thought of talking to my mother on the phone on this topic, whilst my son sings in the background, is enough to help me decide against it.  I do not wish to have a discussion about his “American accent,” frightful or otherwise.    I couldn’t care what kind of an accent he has, now that he has words at all.

*”Jerusalem” is a patriotic song sung in England.  It is approximately the ‘same’ in tenor, and isn’t the ‘God Save the Queen.’

Written by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green
And was the holy lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills
And was Jerusalem builded there
Among those dark Satanic mills

Bring me my bow (my bow) of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spears o’clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my (my) sword sleep in hand
‘Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land
‘Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land

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Crazy Talk

I'm not sure if it's because they're autistic or whether it's the speech delays or some random combination of the two, but now that they talk so much more than I ever imagined possible, far from improving our understanding of one another, it seems to make comprehension some kind of cerebral gymnastic exercise, one that I am not qualified to deal with.

For example, because examples usually clarify, I say to junior 'go and put your shoes on now dear.' Note the use of a statement not rather than a request, which would invoke an automatic negative response or meltdown. What kind of a response might a rational parent expect? I suspect that 'I don't have any shoes,' would not be your first guess. If you had personal knowledge of our family, his aversion to texture and shoes, this might be on your radar, but that answer still wouldn't be the words you'd expect. You might guess 'I don't want to wear shoes because I hate them,' that would be o.k. and logical. The denial of the very existence of shoes, isn't quite so high up on the expectations league, or at least not on mine.
I used to consider myself quite a linguist, agile in the word department but this doesn't marry well with my everyday performance, or lack thereof. Time after time I am floored, defeated and dumbfounded, and that's only within the average hour.
Whilst we skimmed over the issue of using statements rather than questions in the hope of eliciting a response, there is also the matter of giving choices, the A or B type of choice, mainly because for senior, choices are a hardship. So you say to him, 'do you want a tangerine or grapes?' Whilst neither are preferred, neither are they loathed, so it's a choice between two indifferent items. Clever timing on my genius part, ensures that he is hungry before I ask the question, but food is still generally a refueling exercise rather than a social or pleasurable experience. So how will he answer? I can cope with the;

a] I don't know
b] nuffink
c] no
those are all just fine, we've been having those for at least 18 months, it's the ones that spring out of nowhere to hijack and confuse me. These can take a variety of forms such as the unexpected return question that is off topic;
“You like Pikachu or Absol bestest?” Whilst my knowledge of Pokemon and my sons's preference for them, I did not anticipate that my question would provoke his question. Alternatively, his response might be a different question, one that refers to an incident 6 months or 6 years ago, that is not related to the current topic either;
“when I was 4 did I have an accident?'
There again we could have the relevant 'on topic' question, that still comes out of the clouds to zap the feeble minded brain of the adult;
“Citrus fruits are poisonous? I am gonna die!”

Am I complaining because my speech delayed non-verbal children are less so? Well yes of course I am, that's what I'm best at afterall, but at the same time it's such at monumental development that my brain is still lagging behind. The fact that I cannot anticipate their responses reflects my own very narrow field of expectations. It also reflects the fact that they do not have those same limitations, they literally do 'think outside the box.' Who wants to live in that kind of a cage anyway?

My synapses and neural pathways are strong, swift and travel over familiar well rehearsed territory. Their's are relatively unformed, fluid and free flowing. I know where my typical conversations will end up. Conversations with my own boys are uncharted, without a script or map. But maybe it's better for all of us to travel hopefully than to arrive?

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No Way Jose!

This phrase is beginning to annoy me. It's o.k., on it's own, it's familiar, I don't need it translated but I've been forced to hear it more often than the average person does in their whole life time. I don't know when exactly this phrase was popular or hip, but the fact that I know it all, means that it probably hailed from the 70's.

That of course is probably an exaggeration, as I have no idea how often the average person hears that phrase, indeed I don't even know who the average person is anymore? I digress, as usual.

I still have the feeling that I am being victimized, singled out for this particular form of aural torture. It's not the first time it's happened, although different phrases have been used over the years, as they have gradually emerged from the non-verbal world.

I used to exist in the non-verbal world where they wouldn't talk, but of course now that they are talking, I wish they'd all just shut up again. [translation = refrain from using repetative speech patterns] It wouldn't be so bad if there was a little variety, but if the response to every question you ask is 'no way Jose!' regardless of the subject matter of the question, it does begin to wear away on the nerves after a while. [translation = grate]

I should be grateful really. At least when they yell it out across the playground it has at least the semblance of 'normal.' [translation = blending in] Not so with the phrase of the month before, which was 'to infinity and beyond!' Come to think of it, that was probably o.k. on the playground. [translation = school yard]

Not so good in the supermarket;
“Did y'have a great day in school huh?”
“To infinity and beyond!”

Or in the restaurant:
“D'you want fries with that?”
“To infinity and beyond!”

Or in Karate class:
“Stand up straight, d'you hear me?”
“To infinity and beyond.”

So do I correct them? I should probably correct them shouldn't I? Put them right, model a better example? You're right of course, but at this stage, I'm just celebrating that they're talking at all. For right now, it's more important that they voluntarily choose to communicate. I don't want to be too hasty in the correction department, because then they might give up; 'too difficult, I won't bother then, I'll just not speak at all. If what I say isn't good enough for you mum, then rats to you, I'm back to silence.' [translation = mime, gestures and mimicking.]

That wouldn't be considered progress. So for the time being I just encourage them to use their words. They may be the wrong words, socially inappropriate and irrelevant words, but words are so much better than silence, so much better than a meltdown or a physical explosion of rage and frustration. It's all relative.

Of course I'm aware that whilst I choose to categorize these phrases as attempts at communication, someone more knowledgable, would point out that more often than not, they aren't actually talking to a person, just the ether. They're using words but unless they're directed towards someone, anyone, can we really call it communication? I feel you're being a bit picky, but of course you're absolutely right again.

Sometimes it's merely fortuitous timing, someone asks them a question and they happen to blurt out their phrase of the week in the next few seconds, so it appears to be a response. Other times, although I am a little biased, their words do seem directed towards the questioner. They're still the wrong words, there's still no eye contact, but if you look carefully their bodies are orientated towards the person, because looking at someone's eyes can been painful, especially if you're speaking at the same time.

Not experienced that feeling? No, neither have I, but I know that it's more common that we think. You must have met someone like that, someone who wouldn't meet you in the eye? They seemed a bit shifty but you couldn't really put your finger on why that was, unless they were a Brit of course.

Now the knowledgeable person would say, 'they're not communicating, they're perseverating.” They're what? Perwhaticating? Perseverating. What might that be when it's at home? Well, in this instance, it's when they get stuck on a little phrase, doesn't really matter what it is, and then they repeat it, again and again.

Why would anyone do that? It's comforting, soothing, like stroking a cat. Once you start it's difficult to stop. Sounds a little obsessive compulsive? You're right, it can be, but they can also be mutually exclusive.

Now hang on a second, I hear you cry; I know a child who does that, I used to do that myself when I was little, usually something off the TV that was cool and hip and demonstrated to your peers that you were with the programme. [translation = program] Nothing odd about that, all perfectly normal! Yes, you're right again, and you probably did drive your mum batty saying it so often, but you didn't say it to everyone, you didn't use it all the time, you didn't say it again and again for an hour and a half in the exact same tone, and then repeat the whole exercise with a different phrase a couple of weeks later and so on, year after year.

Now I know that you're beginning to get a little uncomfortable with this, sounds a little too much like insanity and we don't want to be messing about with mental diseases. But that aside, it's not as weird as it first sounds. We all have little coping mechanisms to deal with stress, anxiety and boredom. Little things like picking your nails, twiddling your hair or removing microscopic pieces of fluff from your clothing. There's no harm in those? Of course not, but there are other's too, biting your nails, chewing the inside of your cheek, twiddling your fingers, tapping out rhythms on the edge of the table, little tiny things that are all much of a muchness. [translation = of no great consequence]

There are other addictions that we all know about, condemn and criticize, but it's the smaller ones, that no-one pays much heed to, that intrigue me more. The people who can't go anywhere without particular possessions, things that they claim they need, little props of support for the chaotic world that we exist in, like an i-pod or a cell phone, little talismen of security.

Do you feel frustrated if you can't fit in your morning jog, ticked off if someone switches your special chair at the office, can't start the day unless you have that particular cup of coffee made just the right way?

Don't worry, your secret's safe with me.

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