Thursday, July 31, 2014

Autism and Sarcasm Don't Mix

We had been in a stand-off of sorts, Ethan and I.

He didn't want to go to a second round of VBS at Anna's school. I, in all honesty, really needed him to, as I had a ton of freelance projects to work on throughout the week and knew I wouldn't be able to spend the time with him I would have liked to. Plus, I knew he'd have fun once he got there. He did last year, and the year before. Finally, he relented. He would go.

"I can hardly stand the excitement," he said in a low voice, sitting next to me on the couch, using a line from a Berenstain Bear book we'd been reading. In autism-speak, this is called scripting, and while some people find it very worrisome, I actually think it's one of the coolest things about autism. How many of us can at lightning speed run through all the books/movies/songs we know and find an appropriate line to match any given moment? (Side note: Ethan's coolest script to date had to be when Anna caught him quoting Olaf the snowman from Frozen while playing his favorite hot and cold hose game on the patio, mixing the cold hose water with the hot deck to make it warm --"The hot and cold are so intense! Put them together it just makes sense!").

In this case, I wondered if he was trying to tell me he didn't want to do VBS because it was too overwhelming, hence not being able to "stand the excitement," but before I could ask him to elaborate he asked me, "What does that mean? Why does Brother Bear say that?"

I thought back to the story. The bear cubs have been watching too much TV, so it gets banned for a week, and one night the family plans on going outside to look at the stars instead of being perched in front of the television. The cubs aren't exactly thrilled, and Brother Bear says, "I can hardly stand the excitement." Sarcasm. Great. I took the plunge.

"Hey Ethe," I said, "when Brother Bear said that, he actually didn't really mean it. He was being sarcastic. Do you know what that means?"

Of course he did not.

"It means you say something but you really mean the opposite. It all depends on the tone of voice you use."

Ethan looked at me, befuddled.

"So if I said we're going to the doctor, and you didn't really want to go, you might say, 'Yay, I'm so excited,' but it would be in a grumpy kind of voice instead of a happy one, and that would mean you really weren't excited."

"But why?" Ethan was asking.

"Well..." I was stumped; flailing. I remembered someone when I was a kid used to say, "Sarcasm in the lowest form of humor." Why did we so often take the sarcastic route? Why not just say what we mean and mean what we say?

"I don't know," I replied, feeling foolish and a little small. I was not going to teach my literal guy how to say the opposite of what he really meant. Whoever had come up with that saying was right. Sarcasm was weak; a cheap way out of saying how we really feel. Same for those tiresome eye rolls that usually accompanied it.

In the end, Ethan did have a blast at VBS (basketball, soccer, and monkey bars are all it takes to make him a happy camper). And he was able to stand the excitement. If he hadn't been able to, I'm glad he would tell me straight out, without any language games. Like Olaf says: It just makes sense.

1 comment:

Emily Murphy said...

So right! Thanks for the sweet reminder!