Frances: Did you ever realize that we don’t see our own faces? We don’t know if mirrors are lying. We never know what we truly look like.
I just found this gem of a conversation. Frances had just turned four.
Frances: The ugly duckling is really a swan? The swan egg got accidentally into the duck nest? How could that have happened? That doesn’t make any sense…!
One day, when Frances was about 18 months old, she took hundreds of children’s books off a set of shelves in the living room and stood on top of the haphazard pile to get more.
She sometimes lined the entire house with a path of books that encompassed the dining room table and led back to the front room.
From the time that she was seven months old, she perused books with an unusual intensity and focus.
As a toddler, she would push a book into my abdomen or my neck or my hands and say, “Read!”
By the time she was 2.5 years old, I was reading stacks and stacks of books to her daily (usually 20 but as many as 30 or 40 at times).
At the library, where most parents might be encouraging their children to choose books, I was popping throat lozenges and encouraging her to go play just so that I could give my voice a rest.
She cried if books got damaged in the tiniest way. She protested loudly if anyone had written their name inside a book. If she became angry with me, she would threaten that we would no longer be able to visit my favourite bookstore.
She always had a book in her hand (for comfort, I assume).
The local bookstore knew us so well that Frances was allowed to take a book and read under a table where she wouldn’t be disturbed.
When Frances is reading is pretty much the only time (besides sleeping) that it is quiet in our house — the ONLY TIME.
She’s a nonstop talker with a more-than-average amount of energy and bounce in her running steps.
The other day, after school, there was a prolonged period of quiet (say, five minutes). It was very noticeable which could only mean that she was reading. Then, I heard her say to herself:
“This book is not very instructive on drawing horses.”
I knew that, within a minute or so, the house would be virtually alive again with the sound of her chatter and laughter and objects banging around again as she searched for something that she absolutely needed.
As I’ve noted before, my 10-year-old daughter appears younger and sounds older.
Recently, while deciding which pair to wear, Frances said, “This is a proper pyjama ensemble.”
On this day in 2011, when Frances was merely four-years-and-one-month old, we had the following conversation:
Frances: Why do I have to go to preschool?
Me: Well, it’s to help you be okay spending time away from me when you go to junior kindergarten in September.
Frances: How long is junior kindergarten every day?
Me: Six hours.
Frances: How long is preschool?
Me: Two hours.
Frances: So how can preschool be helping me? It’s not.
I know that it’s my job to make sure that Frances knows social rules and to help her make sense of them, but sometimes it is very endearing when she doesn’t remember.
For example, in the car recently, Frances handed her sister some food that she intended to share and then said, “You’re welcome.”
“You have to wait until the person says, ‘Thank you,'” I reminded her.
“Oops. I sometimes get the words confused,” she replied.
She hadn’t said “you’re welcome” sarcastically; the words that she needs in social situations just aren’t always available to her or she confuses words because following the rule hasn’t yet become automatic to her.
At those moments, even though I step in to help, I’m really aware of just how much I appreciate who she is.
Frances appears much younger socially than her almost 10 years, but she speaks like a much older child:
Me: How was your day? Was it really, really, really good?
I’ve read that this isn’t uncommon with ASD.
One aspect of autism spectrum disorder that affects Frances is difficulty with figurative language or words that are not intended to be interpreted literally. As she ages, the difficulty becomes more pronounced but it doesn’t always involve idioms or euphemisms.
We were recently at an event for children with autism, and Frances was describing her proposed birthday theme of dinosaurs. It seemed like a good time for me to join in the conversation.
Me: We can have lots of dinosaurs at your party…
Me: Sorry, images of dinosaurs.
Even though Frances would know intellectually that I did not intend to have dinosaurs at her party, the fact that I omitted “images of” in that sentence immediately left her thinking that I had said something nonsensical to her.
At any rate, in order to help her, I frequently use idioms, euphemisms, similes and metaphors intentionally in order to build her repertoire of non-literal language. Fortunately, there are also social dictionaries that include figurative language entries which may be of use to her as time goes on.
Me: How did you know that?
Frances: I read the information, it went to short term memory, and then it was stored as long-term memory.
I love how literal — and very specific/precise — Frances’s answers can be. In this case, she actually explains the process of knowledge acquisition as she understands it… I forget what we were actually talking about!