The Special Needs Time Zone

I’m an Adam Sandler fan. Is there a support group for that? I love the oldies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore and his ukulele-playing delivery boy in Mixed Nuts. I loved his slightly more sentimental renditions in The Wedding Singer and Spanglish. But one of my favorites is 50 First Dates. Have you seen it? The premise goes as follows: Adam loves Drew Barrymore and Drew loves Adam. But every night when she goes to sleep she forgets she ever met him, hence every date is a “first date.”

At one point, because he’s Adam and he hearts Drew, he takes her to a psychiatric hospital to talk about the accident that caused her out-of-time amnesia so she can move on, maybe find a solution. It’s here that they meet “Ten-Second Tom.” Tom also has amnesia, but instead of a day, he resets after ten seconds. Anything you need to tell Tom better not be long-winded. Of course, if you make a mistake, you’ll get a re-do soon enough. It would be a terrifying way to live, discovering the world anew every sixth of a minute.

Charlie and I were at Target last week buying all things Easter related because I CANNOT help myself. As we were checking out, the very nice and very young cashier asked Charlie if he wanted a sticker. Two options: Superman or Spongebob. Superman or Spongebob? Superman or Spongebob? Superman or Spongebob? The question came at him faster and faster over and over while Charlie’s head whipped from one to the other and then to me before his arms shot out for a hug so I would pull him close. It was too much too fast. The very sweet teenage boy in the red vest didn’t understand why it was such a big decision, but he did give me both stickers while Charlie refused to let me go as we sidled to the van.

I don’t read many parenting books. I’m a sink-or-swim kind of girl. Trial and error and all that. But one fact from one book has stuck with me through all the years because it is the one thing that has proven true. In Kids Beyond Limits, Anat Baniel describes tips for awakening your child’s brain in ways you never thought possible. My biggest take away: the ten-second delay. If I ask Jody to put the boxes overflowing with Christmas decorations in the attic in January and find myself in April still standing knee-deep in boxes, I’m pretty sure the delay is not a miscommunication or lack of understanding. That delay is pure choice. (*Note to self, pile all the boxes on his side of the bed so there is no escape.) But if I ask Charlie whether he wants Cheerios or pretzels and he does not immediately respond, it’s not because he’s lazy or doesn’t understand or has forgotten the question or sworn off carbs. He just needs more time. The “ten-second delay” is the count I’m supposed to give between the question and the response. In many kids with special needs it’s the time it takes to absorb, process, and filter the information for an answer. He’s the opposite of “Ten-Second Tom.” You’ve got to wait him out, not hurry him up.

Ten seconds is a long time. That’s singing up to “J” in the alphabet really slowly. That’s ten “mississippis.” That’s a lifetime when all you want to know is whether he wants to watch trains or buses on YouTube. But it is vital. Because every time I remember to wait, he answers. And every time he answers, he’s using his brain to make a choice. And every time he makes a choice, he’s a free man.

But here’s the catch. How do I set the world on a ten-second delay? How do I explain to all the cashiers and bank tellers and teachers and friends that they just need to wait ten seconds and Charlie will get back to them? It’s hard enough for me. How do I ask that of a five-year old at his birthday party? It’s something I’m grappling with. I don’t have an answer yet. I might never. My comfort is this: there’s something about Charlie that makes you pause. The ones closest to him slow their worlds to come in to his orbit because it’s a cool place to visit. You lose your sense of hurry in his weightless world. You learn knew unspoken languages. You see the universe from a Charlie’s–eye view and it’s beautiful.

I can’t expect the world to stop spinning for him. But I can hope that the ones who matter most will be called to travel at his speed, alongside rather than ahead. Ten seconds can hold a lot of prayer. Ten seconds is the gift Charlie gives all of us so we remember that we don’t set the cruise control on life.

Happy Easter from our time zone!

Reviewing life and all things with Meg.

Have you every met anyone that’s made you want to travel at their speed?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

1043