Okasaneko
(http://blog.hellokitty.com/okasaneko)
A Tubby Tabby, Three Konekos, and a Life with Hello Kitty and Autism

Cognitive Milestones

This article was originally posted in HerWord.com on September 8, 2008.

A few years ago, a friend of mine rang me in the middle of the day and started screaming at the top of her voice, “He lied today. Oh, my, he has learned to lie!”

He is her nine-year old son with autism.

Apparently, he was playing hide-and-seek with his little brother that afternoon, when little brother asked “Are you in the bathroom?” Normally, he would answer a direct question with a yes or no, oblivious to the fact that his little brother was using his honest replies to tag him and get an edge in the game. That day, for some strange reason, he shouted “No!” though he was, indeed, inside the bathroom. Little brother, expecting victory on his side, ran to kitchen and asked “Are you in the kitchen?” at which time he was surprised to find his brother appear from behind him.

“No fair!” little brother cried out and tried to tell on him. Big brother just smiled delightedly.

And so, when my friend called me up that afternoon, I got caught up in all the shrieking and rejoicing, too. After all, it isn’t everyday that our children with autism get to reach a cognitive milestone.

Just last week, Alphonse reached his own cognitive milestone. For the first time in a long while, I caught a distinctive glimmer of the soul hidden behind his autism. Last week, Alphonse learned the rudiments of jealousy.

It started quite unexpectedly. My sister dropped off her infant son and his nanny here at home, asking if I minded looking after him while she worked. She had some things to finish at the hospital that day, after which she would pick up her son to go to a friend’s house. Since my house was nearer their secondary destination, she asked if he could stay a few hours here with me. “Of course,” I readily agreed, excited at the prospect of having a baby in the house. Since my next-door neighbors (my cousin and her two gorgeous children) left early this year, I had missed having little visitors come to the house to eat and play. Baby J was a little too young for rambunctious play, but he’s been very giggly these last few weeks, and he does give out the wettest, slurpiest kisses of all my nephews and nieces.

Baby J was playing quietly on my bed with the boys’ old toys when Alphonse came up after his morning class. I took Alphonse by the hand and re-introduced his baby cousin.

“Alphonse, this is Baby J. He is here for a visit. Do you want to say hello?” I said enthusiastically.

“Ha!” Alphonse grunted and waved reluctantly.

Then he inched away from the baby, preferring to watch from a few feet away. He looked disinterested, or so I thought, though I did catch him stealing a few glances from the side of his eyes. I asked him if he wanted something. He smiled shyly and turned away. Again, he stole a few glances at the baby and suddenly scowled a little. I was a little concerned at his reactions, so I thought to distract him from his preoccupation with the baby. I asked him to join me for lunch. I was rather surprised when he said no.

“No? Aren’t you hungry, Alphonse? Let’s go eat lunch,” I gently coaxed him.

He would not budge.

I decided to leave him in the room. Alphonse is a predictable fellow, and there are some things that we’ve all learned will work with him. And this is one such formula: when I leave a room, he follows. That particular moment, he stayed behind, lingering and looking at the baby intently.

Then, and this is according to Alphonse’s nanny, he made his way to the bed, sidled up close to the baby, and gently took his baby toys from the bed, away from Baby J. Smiling, he put them as far away as possible, almost near the floor. Only when he was assured that the baby would not be able to reach his toys did his face betray the first signs of a smile.

When his nanny rushed down to tell me about it, I could not believe it at first. Alphonse has never felt territorial with his toys or any of his possessions (okay, except for food); most of the time, he would not care less who touches or plays with them. But that day, he didn’t want to share at all.

In the afternoon, just before his class, he went back to the bedroom again, and upon seeing the baby beside me on the bed, slowly crept up and gingerly inserted himself between the baby and myself. He flashed a smile of triumph, as if to say “I’ve claimed my bed and my mother,” while baby J mewled softly beside him. He also kept asking for kisses and would not leave my side, despite his nanny’s reminders that it was time to study anew. I had to escort him back to his study room.

When my sister fetched Baby J, Alphonse was visibly relieved. In the following days, he seemed a little anxious, although we simply ascribed it to the minor changes in his routine. Unexpected visitors always seem to ruin his rhythm.

A few days later, however, he was back to his jovial, relaxed self. It was a good day, just one of those days when all his answers were smiling yesses, as he seems to want to please everyone.

“Are you a good boy?” Alphonse nods to say yes.

“Do you like ice cream?” Yes.

“Do you want a kiss?” Yes.

“Are you happy?” Yes.

And even “Do you have body odor?” Yes. (For the record, he does not have body odor.)

So it was turning out to be one of those funny days when he says yes to all you ask, but my sister just happened to ask this question: “Do you like Baby J”

Alphonse smiled and shook his head.

“You don’t? Oh, my poor baby!” my sister cried.

Alphonse kept smiling and shaking his head. No. No. No.

My thirteen year-old son, my Alphonse, is jealous of a little baby. Oh, what a glorious day!

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