“Oh we love Mark,” she said. “He has perfect pitch. He knows everyone’s lines. We should all take a note from him.”
Ignoring the teen mantra for me to not embarrass him by my sheer presence, I spotted one of Mark’s cast mates in the big musical and well…we all know how that was going to go.
I introduced myself as Mark’s mom to this lovely young woman and again willed the tears back in to my eyeballs as she responded in this way.
At face value, her words were just lovely.
But her choice of words were important. They were important for me to hear, and to know and to let settle in for a while.
When Mark was little he would repeat the same lines from TV shows over and over. He did not really have any functional language, meaning language he could use to get what he needed, until the age of five. But, he knew every line from every Bob the Builder TV show.
Whenever Bob and Wendy and the gang would have a job to do, Mark could be heard loudly and emphatically saying, “Can we fix it? Yes, we can!” He could transfer this to his kindergarten classroom when someone was in need of a little motivation. These were the only words he had to encourage anyone, in any situation. They were deemed inappropriate, because his functional language was still so far behind the “norm.” A specialist advised us to ask him to discern “his words” from the words of a character.
I came to realize that this was for our benefit, not Mark’s.
Mark found other shows from which he took language. And by others, I mean just about every kid show available at the time. The Wiggles, Mickey Mouse Club House, Blues Clues, Imagination Movers, Yo Gabba Gabba, Bear In the Big Blue House, Barney and the beloved Sesame Street. He memorized movies like Shrek, and Cars, and 101 Dalmatians. (Can I just throw in one giant trademark here to cover myself?)
He repeated scripts during school, and during rides in the car. He began to answer questions with scripted responses from Sponge Bob. He expected people to respond in the way the script went on TV. I came to understand it was predictable socialization. Our child psychologist told us to allow him a certain amount of time to “stim” in front of everyone, and then he had to go to his room to do so privately.
I came to realize, that this was for our benefit, not Mark’s.
Around this time, I thought that Mark’s penchant for recitation might serve him well in theater. Winging it as usual, I signed him up for Saturday classes with a local children’s theater group, and every Saturday, I drove him and a young woman who served as his aide, to a broken down old house in the city which had been transformed in to a theater. He struggled. But he always wanted to go back.
Over the next several years, I watched Mark learn to use his scripting, for general conversation. His scripts became contextually appropriate.
So when this lovely young woman shared with me that Mark knew everyone’s lines, and that the cast might “take a note from him,” it gave me pause.
All along, Mark had been doing what he needed to do in order to exist in our world.
I came to realize, that was this for our benefit, AND Mark’s. But we missed it. We had all missed it.
And now, someone who knew him the least if only by the short span of time they have known each other, valued and understood him. She wasn’t a specialist, or a doctor. She was a peer. And a fellow thespian. And friend. She was able to see to freely articulate that a behavior once deemed “inappropriate,” was actually an enviable skill.
And I am so thankful.
Specialists and doctors are important. They set us on a path with a word, or a set of descriptors to understand what might lie ahead. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the “nevers” or the “can’ts”
When Mark was diagnosed with autism, we were told he might not really every speak, or have relationships, or be able to fully participate in school.
But there he was. Delivering his lines, singing his heart out with his classmates and peers. And doing a damn good job of it.
So, I’ve made a note. To remember this day, and all of the successes it represents. To remember that Mark comes with his own compass, and it’s ok for that to be his guide and mine.
Most of all, I will remember what the lovely young lady said,
“We should all take a note from him.”
Yes. Yes, we should.