Sitting in my office, my son looks around and then says to me, “Nice place you got here,” and puts his feet up on my desk. He is engaged in echolalia. That was a line from “Chocolate With Nuts”, his favorite Spongebob episode. He’s learned to use that line to do a little joke. He uses it in an appropriate manner, and it comes out funny.
“Do we not use our fingers to pick our nose?”
He asked me this from the back seat of the car as I was driving us home. Once I stopped laughing, I said, “If you don’t use your finger, you are not picking your nose,” When I said it, it just seemed wrong.
He then corrected me, “Do we use a tissue to pick our nose?”
“Yes!” I answered. [Oh, so that’s what I was supposed to say! Sorry, Miss Manners!] He laughs. Was he amused by my lack of knowledge? It was me that was socially awkward in that exchange…
These little exchanges occur daily.
My husband was born in Bolivia. He was raised from the age of five in the United States. I would love to say he’s sort of an Antonio Banderas, fluent in both English and Spanish, but truthfully, he has been compared to Mickey Rourke and is fluent in neither language…. but I digress.
My husband and his brother often use the Spanish word “chieste” when they are talking about someone telling a funny story or a joke. Little Tootles has a bit of the “chieste” in his blood. I’ve noticed it coming out more and more as he gets older, mostly with me. Of course, with a twist of autism.
Here is the daily “chieste”. There isn’t much variation, because, well, you know, routine, consistency, etc….
My son is potty-trained, to a degree. I’m still the clean-up crew. He still refuses to “go” unless I’m within five to ten feet of him. Notification comes through the yell, “TOILET!” immediately followed by a running child, still yelling, “Mom? Mom? Hello, Mommy? Mommy to come!”
The boy goes in. Now, he “holds” it. He does not let loose and go to town, so to speak. Sometimes, I have to talk him through it. Other times, I swear, it’s like he’s giving birth. He will yell out, “Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison…(etc.)” because, well, it’s overwhelming to him, you know? And who doesn’t recite the presidents while have a particularly excruciating experience? Wait- that’s not common? So, I try not to laugh. Then, he laughs, and I join in.
Next, comes his chieste. He will wait a few seconds and say, “Done!” quickly and quietly, which is his call for the clean-up crew. But, you see, the thing is that often, he is “unfinished”. So, if the clean-up crew goes in too early, “they” have to work overtime. Let’s just say, the clean-up crew does not like overtime.
So, often, I will ask, “Are you sure?” I get the rapid and soft, “Yes!” and then he will look away (as though he could have a shred of embarrassment left with me, but, okay, yeah, I get it). Once reassured, the clean-up crew goes to work, only to discover, the representation was untrue. There is usually about a 40 percent chance it is, in fact, true.
Given the odds, the clean up crew, has resorted to trying to teach the difference between “truth” and a “lie”. So, now the question is, “Truth or a lie?” said in a sing-song manner. Turns out the little “chieste” boy thinks this is a “hysterically funny” question. He tilts his head, and out of the corner of his eye, YELLS back, through laughter, “TRUTH OR A LIE?!” He proceeds to laugh for a minute or two. When I ask, “Well?” He will answer in his again, quiet voice, “Lie!” And thus, I (sigh) will remain a captive audience until released…
In other situations, he intentionally lies, in an effort to “chieste” me. He talks a big game but there’s no follow through (again – like his dad). He will run up to me and say, “Wanna go to the car wash and get the purple light!” He is deathly afraid of the car wash and a toy light shaped like the Joker, (the “purple light”). He will, however, insist and persist in demanding these two things over and over. If I ignore it, it intensifies. If I agree to it, he backs down. If I emphatically agree to it, he emphatically insists that there is NO WAY he meant what he said.
So, recently, he says the opposite of what he means, and checks my facial expression. Yes, he is reading my face and is not literal. If I look suspiciously at him, hands on hips, he says he is “cheese-caking” me. He must’ve listened to his dad and Uncle talking about “chieste”, picked up on the meaning and turned it into “cheesecake” (with which he is intimately familiar).
It’s like this: “Mommy, I want to eat peas and carrots and go to bed!” As soon as I make eye-contact with him, he breaks into his standard dimple-filled smile, and yells, “CHEESECAKE!” followed by falling down, drunk laughter. I laugh. And so it goes…
Yes, my son makes eye-contact, is not literal, reads my non-verbal social cues for a response, and “cheese-cakes”. Take that stereotypes. Sometimes, autism isn’t what you’d expect.