autism,  special education

What Happened Wednesday

Last Monday I wrote about moving slowly into the New Year and how, so far, it had been gentle.

Two days later–six days into the New Year–well, that all changed.

Wednesday afternoon, there were a lot of words flying around. On my screen, on the radio as I was driving the kids home from school. A lot of government words, a lot of politician’s names, a lot of procedures, all coming out as rapid fire descriptions and questions. Words with a lot of emotion behind them.

For those of you who have never sat in the car with J, watched a movie with him, or tried to have any sort of conversation, you may not fully appreciate how hard it is for him to process words. Putting words and messages together is a constant struggle for him. If you read the first line out of a novel or gave him a list of things to do and asked him to repeat that sentence back to you it would come back a word soup. You’d get 90 percent of the words back–10 percent of them would be missing or “misheard” and I can guarantee you that they wouldn’t come back in the same order.

But bless his heart, the kid tries. Oh does he try hard! So when we’re driving to the grocery store with the radio on, or watching a movie with him, or having a conversation and he walks by, he will interrupt every few seconds and ask “what does this word mean?” because he’s interested and he’s trying to keep up with the conversation. It’s kind of endearing how hard he tries. It can also be quite frustrating and frankly annoying.

Steve and I visited DC in 2013 when he had an NCA conference there. I had never been to DC before. The architecture is astounding.

“Desecrate.” That was the first word J picked up on the way home from school Wednesday afternoon.

“Desecrate–to ruin something special,” I answered quickly, trying to keep up with the news. A lot of other words flew by during the ride home, but J was still stuck–still processing the word “desecrate.” Since it’s a struggle for J to pick up all the words and keep them straight in his head and sort them all out, J often cherry picks words, often choosing the ones saturated with emotion (like accented notes in a piece of music that stand out from the rest of the melody. Often, he misses out on the message or big picture of the story because of it).

“Desecrate. That’s really bad.”

“Yup,” I said.

Touring the Capitol building safely back in 2013

There have been a lot more words as the days have gone by. In all of it I’ve tried to keep the whole Wednesday debacle low key around J. He is my kid that worries about everything. We’ve avoided using the trigger words like “lockdown” since he is very familiar with that word–the practice ones at school can induce full-on panic attacks. We’ve avoided the pictures and details of violence. This is the kid who had to leave the room during the action hero fight scenes during Wonder Woman 1984 because the fighting was just “too much” for him.

A few days later I was able to come up with a once sentence story of what happened for him. Enough to hang his hat on and something to help fill in the gaps with all of the words he’s trying to hold, collect, and understand in his mind:

“Some really terrible people desecrated the Capitol building and hurt people in Washington DC.”

He can process the rest of the words at his own pace. I’m sure there will be a lot more words to be said about what happened in the next few weeks and months.

I think the rest of us who were able to understand the words coming at us on that Wednesday will be processing all of it for a long time to come too.

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