Sunday, September 25, 2011


From time to time, Alex goes through a phase where he revisits his past. For example, this week, he has been pulling out old books and handheld electronic games and enjoyed spending time reading and playing these former favorite activities, finding them interesting again. While I’m not thrilled that he strews these books and game all over the floor in this rediscovery process, I’m pleased that he’s entertaining himself with what he already has. It’s nice to see him engaged in books and games that he had put away for months, even years. Included in these books he’s been re-reading lately are his old homeschooling textbooks, especially his math books, which isn’t surprising since math has always been his favorite subject. In addition, he’s also been playing several electronic games, including Deal or No Deal and Jeopardy. I’m sure that his reawakened interest in watching the Game Show Network probably has motivated him to pull out his own home versions of these games so that he can play along as he watches them on television.

Unfortunately, these reminders of the past have a negative aspect. Along with the pleasure they bring Alex, he also becomes a pain in obsessing over past incidents. This week, we’ve had to listen to him complain again about previous obsessions: his typewriter, the computer game Monopoly Junior, and people’s voices. Although after his summer of basically self-imposed silence, we like hearing him speak again, we wish he’d talk about something he likes instead of things that bother him. For him, rambling on about when he got his typewriter in 2002, and how he hates Monopoly Junior because it’s a low scoring game, and how he doesn’t want to keep track of people’s voices [in his system where he assigned points for volume and pitch of voices] appears to be his attempt to banish demons through his own form of talk therapy. Listening to his repetitive diatribe is tiresome, especially when he becomes really agitated and needs us to write down his grievances and repeat back what he’s said in some sort of reassurance. Needless to say, we’ll be delighted when he gets past this form of revisiting of his younger years.

With all these reminders of his past, Alex has started a new activity that is actually nostalgic for me. Our cable company offers several channels devoted to various types of music through a program called Music Choice. I often have Music Choice playing on the television as background music when I’m grading papers, doing laundry, or working on the computer. Recently, Alex seemed to find my listening to Music Choice interesting because he would come running to the television when he’d hear songs that he liked and/or were familiar. While I like to listen to a variety of music, flipping between the True Country, Today’s Country, Solid Gold Oldies, ‘70s, '80s, Pop Hits, and Soft Rock channels, Alex tended to drop what he was doing when he heard country or '80s songs. Music Choice offers Alex an added bonus in that they list the title of the song and album/CD, the artist, and most importantly for him, the date the song was released. Since Alex is a country music fan, I wasn’t surprised he wanted to come listen when he heard Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, or Shania Twain, all favorites of his. However, his sudden interest in '80s music, the songs of my young adulthood—when I was his age—intrigued me. This past week, he’s opted to listen to Music Choice for hours at a time, and he’s become a devotee of the '80s channel. For me, these songs are nostalgic; for Alex, most songs are new. As the familiar tunes of Fleetwood Mac, Hall and Oates, and Lionel Richie play, I find myself humming along to those songs I played repeatedly when I was younger on albums, then cassettes, and later CD’s. One evening, I heard Alex’s voice while he was listening to Van Halen, and as I approached the room, where I could tell he was dancing around from the thumping sounds on the floor, I could figure out that he was singing the lyrics, “Might as well jump, JUMP!” When he looked up and saw me grinning at him, he quickly sat down, embarrassed that I’d witnessed his mini-concert. Not wanting to spoil his fun, I left so that he could once again enjoy the music, uninhibited. I hope he continues to find joy in the old songs, and perhaps music will soothe him so that the obsessions of his past will dwindle and fade away, allowing him just to dance.

“God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.” Ecclesiastes 5:20


Matt Rice said...

I relate with your son a lot. I'm 22 and I have mild autism. For as long as I can remember I've been very nostalgic. I often browse the internet for hours seeking out gems from my childhood and formative years; television shows, films, books, video games, etc. A few weeks ago I even found myself searching the web for textbooks I studied as a youth.

As a teenager I had little concern for modern music. I was often more interested in the music from the 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, and 50s. I have 1,000 songs in my Grooveshark collection and I don't think anyone them go past the year 2009. When my brother and his friends would play video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero he'd often be surprised to hear me reciting lines from songs he'd never heard by artists not many other African-Americans listen to.

It brings me great pleasure but like anything it has its drawbacks. Many times I find myself repeating distressing past events in my mind which can be depressing and discouraging. Old schoolmates who I know I'll never see again are common fixtures in my dreams. I'm learning to find the balance between nostalgic and regretful.

Also like your son I like to dance and sing when I'm alone. It may be my favorite thing in the world to do.

I appreciate this article very much. I found great joy in knowing I'm not the only one who finds so much comfort and happiness in the past and dances in the dark when no ones around. Many blessings to you and your son.

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Matt,
Thank you so much for your comments, which I found fascinating. Because Alex's language is limited, he can't always express his thoughts and feelings, so I appreciate gaining insight from you. I think it's great that you appreciate all music from different eras and can remember all the lyrics, which is something you and I have in common. (My brain is so filled with song lyrics I'm surprised there's room for anything else!)

Your comments about feeling sad when thinking about things from the past is interesting. I think nostalgia is bittersweet for everyone. While we enjoy remembering the past, there's a sorrow that we can't go back. I'm glad you are finding a balance so that you can enjoy memories and not feel so sad.

I also that think you and Alex have many similarities and would get along great. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I really enjoyed hearing from you and wish you many blessings, as well.
Take care,