These days, when I come home, or when Dar comes home, he walks right up to me and takes my hand. He wants me to do something that he can’t express on his iPad/talker. I could put the requisite icons on his talker, but I’m not sure what words would be appropriate, and I’m also not sure that Dar regularly requesting this particular action would be appropriate.
In this situation, Dar leads me to the living room couch. Then he stands and waits for me to sit down. If I refuse, he pushes me to the couch. Sometimes I just laugh and say “Okay, just wait a minute Dar,” and grab my phone or laptop because I know I’ll be stuck on the couch with him for quite some time. When asked to wait in this way, Dar often stamps his foot and goes “UNH!” However, he’ll generally manage himself until my speedy return.
In this situation, I sit down. And Dar’s face beams like that of a kid being handed a chocolate bar. Dar scrambles up on the couch just to my left. And now comes the big payoff for him: he gets to touch my shirt collar. He fondles it. For minutes on end. You know how your teenage boy acts when he plays video games? That’s Dar. He’s almost drooling. For ten minutes or more if I let him. (I usually don’t.)
No, I don’t understand it either.
Dar prefers it if I’m wearing a collared shirt, although he’ll occasionally fondle my T-shirt collar if he’s got nothing else to go on. He’s doesn’t do this to his Mom. He does do it to male guests, and I think only on their dress-collar or turned up jacket collar.
But he’s more into doing it to me. He’ll also move my hands into positions that he thinks they should be in. He will also push my head a little. THAT I don’t like. “Not the head, Dar,” I say firmly, and Dar looks at me quizzically, like “why can’t I move your head?” But mostly, it’s just the stimming on the collar.
Dar has one other stim that he’s been doing lately. He can request this one on his talker, although there are two problems with that: he doesn’t usually need to, and he’s not actually asking for what he’s asking for. Today he needed to; he was “UNH!”-ing in my car. I handed him the talker. He found it: “read book.” But he didn’t really want me to read a book to him. (When I do, he often physically pushes it away.) He wanted me to hand him a book he’d noticed on the passenger seat of the car.
This wasn’t a Dr. Seuss book or any other book written for Dar’s age group. This was Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth.” And what’s more, Dar didn’t want to read it. But I let him have it anyway.
As we walked from the car to the hospital for his weekly speech therapy, Dar was giggling with pleasure as he fiddled and flapped through the pages. No, Dar doesn’t flap his arms in the autistic sense that even Sesame Street is representing now, but Dar does flap book pages, just watching them. It’s not comparable to the way we used to watch primitive, page-by-page homemade cartoons…it’s more just watching pages go flap-flap-flap-flap-flap.
That, I could live with. But he also rips the covers off of books. And sometimes the pages out of them. That’s harder to live with.
And he can do it whenever he wants at home. Our living room contains six massive bookshelves. If Dar continues at his current rate, we’ll be down to five.
When this started, maybe six months ago, I used to swat the books out of his hand and say NOOO. Then Dar would freak out. That worked as a negative reinforcer…on me. At other times, I would just find a ripped up book somewhere. Almost like a dog had chewed it. And as with dog training, if you don’t catch the infraction within the minute it happens, if you wait until many minutes later, well, it doesn’t do a whole lot to yell at the perpetrator.
So now I find myself cataloguing which books Dar has destroyed, and I keep hoping he won’t destroy one I really care about. Stendhal “Scarlet and Black”? Yeah, I can live with Dar destroying that. Flaubert’s “Salammbo”? Yeah, meh. Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels”? Meh. Randall Jarrell’s “Pictures from an Institution”? Meh. William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner”? Well, I don’t love that, but then, white people aren’t supposed to write historical fiction about real black heroes like Turner now anyway. File that under meh.
But I don’t let him have “White Teeth” for too long.
And he trashed Alice Walker’s “The Same River Twice” and I am NONE TOO pleased.
I guess we could train Dar better. Or move the books. Or wall them off from him somehow. Or wait for him to outgrow this, as he outgrew putting dirt in his mouth and 100 other little stem-obsessions. But there’s also the strong possibility that we’ll just let Dar nudge us into buying more on Kindle or Audible.
Maybe Dar knows more about the 21st century than we do.