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Small talk is big stuff

Posted Dec 14 2011 9:35pm

Naturally I’ve been worried about how Nat is doing in his Day Program. Now that he has his transportation lined up, I don’t drive him there, so I don’t talk to the staff. I’ve asked them to use a notebook to give me just a thumbnail of his day, but neither they nor I have been very good at keeping it up. Now I email them.

It’s never been very satisfying relying on Nat to tell me things, especially accurately. He just doesn’t like to talk. I’ve actually asked a few higher functioning autistic adults how I can get him to communicate, and the answer pretty much was, “if he doesn’t want to, don’t make him. Often autistic people don’t see the point of/cannot manage small talk.

But my questions are anything but small. What Nat does with his day is big. Big talk. I just want the basics. So I sent the Program Director an email with a lot of questions. She answered them, and then I fired more at her. Those she answered as well. My main concern was about Nat’s work outside of the DayHab building. I told them I wanted him to do volunteer work even when he wasn’t in the Day Program. (You see, DayHab is different from Day Program, even though they operate out of the same building, through the same organization. But DayHab is Medicaid money, and so there are requirements and regulations about how it is spent. A consumer cannot work in a DayHab; he has to do rehabilitation and therapies, anything that helps him function. Day Program, on the other hand, is funded by our state Department of Developmental Services, DDS. Day Programs are most often work programs, jobs with transportation and a job coach.  Nat is doing a DayHab/Day Program split during the week.)

I chose this particular DayHab for two reasons. One is that Nat’s old friend S is there; S’s mother is an autism power mom, so I trust her choices for S. These days S works in a CVS. When I heard that I was so psyched for Nat’s future, remembering his success at Papa Gino’s.  The other reason I wanted this program is that they have a unique view of what is therapeutic, and so they get their clients volunteering sometimes. No pay, no job coach, just a small group with a staff person. Perfect, as far as I’m concerned. But I don’t know if Nat is doing that or other things.

Since my emailing, I have a better idea. And it turns out that Nat has told me everything accurately. Two weeks ago, for instance, I asked him what he did after Meals on Wheels. “You went swimming,” he said after thinking for a while (the wait time for conversing with Nat is very, very long.)

“What? Swimming?” I said. “But I didn’t send you with a suit!!  What did you go in?”

“The pool,” he said. Darling!

“No, Nat, I mean, what did you wear?”

“A towel.”

“I mean, what did you wear in the water?”

“Bathing suit.”

“Really? But I didn’t send you in with your bathing suit! Nat, what color was the suit?”

“Brown,” he answered.

Jeez. So what the heck did this mean?

I asked the staff the next day. Sure enough, they told me they swim once a week, usually Thursdays.

“But he didn’t have his suit!” I said to the Director.

“Oh, we have suits here. And towels,” she replied.

“So — what color are they?”


Ah, accuracy. I am having these kinds of conversations with Nat more and more. Interestingly enough, we have also decreased his Risperadone.  We found we kept forgetting the afternoon dosage, and realized that Nat was no different without it, so now he has less. I believe that the Risperadone acts like a sedative, and makes him less inclined to speak. What would happen if he were off it completely? This is a goal of ours, to find out gradually if he needs it anymore. This kind of progress makes my heart float.

So tonight I asked Nat where he went to work today. Long pause, then “CVS.”

I knew this was right because the Director had told me. “Oh, wow, CVS! Great! And what do you do there?”

Longer pause. “Put milk away.”

I thought about this. Yes, that’s right, didn’t they tell me he was stocking the coolers? What an excellent choice for Nat, the master of cleaning up and putting away!

Then I threw in: “Who did you work with?” I was thinking of the staff names, when Nat said, “S.”

I realized he meant his friend, S, who does indeed work at the CVS!

Can it be that this is actually working out?


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