Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chatting with Alex

When Alex was little and had very limited language, we prayed for the day when we could carry on a conversation with him, and we worked hard on his speech skills, hoping to make that goal a reality. The other day, his behavioral therapist commented that she has noticed significant improvement in Alex’s speech and specifically mentioned that his sentences have become much longer as these skills have developed. What is also notable is that he wants to interact with us and tell us what he has thought or observed; often he wants to tell us something he finds interesting. Sometimes, he’ll come running up or down the stairs to find us and eagerly share something that’s on his mind.

Since speech still does not come easily for Alex, he often relies upon familiar favorite topics, especially those related to numbers, such as dates, ages, prices, and statistics. He also likes the predictable, so our conversations often resemble a scripted comedy routine, much like the “Who’s on First” bit by Abbott and Costello. While I suspect that my role is the straight man, Alex, the funny guy, seems to find our banter quite amusing and usually walks away afterward smiling and chuckling. Even though we might have essentially done the same script one hundred times or more, creating a sense of déjà vu, he still finds the conversation funny every time.

Usually the catalyst for our chats lies in the appearance of a number that has significance to Alex. For example, when the thermometer registers sixty-three degrees, Alex lights up and engages me in a routine discussion about the heights of his female relatives.

Alex: “Sixty-three! That’s like Mommy’s, Aunt Tammy’s, Aunt Babs’, and Aunt Pat’s height in inches!”

Me: “That’s true!”

Alex: “Is Nanny 5’1 ½” or exactly five feet and 15/16” tall?”
Me: “What do you think?”

Alex: “Exactly 15/16.”

Another trigger number for Alex is twelve, which sends him on a nostalgic journey to childhood along with some musing about another interest, the sound of people’s voices. He refers to higher pitched voices, such as those of children and some women, as “little voices,” which he finds pleasant.

Alex: “Twelve! [Referring to himself in third person] Alex had a little voice when he was twelve. That’s like the number of hours in a half day.”

Me: “That’s like the number of eggs in a dozen.”

Alex: [Cousin] “Hannah had a little voice until she was eleven. Why does Mommy say she was ten?”

Me: “I like to round numbers.” Alex finds my mathematical carelessness amusing.

Dates hold a special place in Alex’s heart because he loves calendars and has a gift for memorizing special dates, such as birthdays. When he hears the mention of dates from the past on the news or on Jeopardy, he immediately associates the year with something he remembers fondly.

Alex: “2000! That was the first year that began with a two.”

Me: “That’s true.”

Alex: “Gas prices were $1.04 in 2000.”

Me: [Teasing him]“Approximately or exactly?”

Alex: “Exactly!”

While numbers usually move him to begin a chat, sometimes a word that he associates with a number can also motivate him to engage me in conversation. He has a fascination with Phoenix, Arizona, probably because its climate is so different from ours. When he hears it mentioned on television, he and I go into the following routine. (Since today’s NASCAR race takes place in Phoenix, I anticipate that he and I will repeat this discussion at least a dozen times this afternoon.)

Alex: “Phoenix! It gets hot in Phoenix.”

Me: “Yes, it does get hot in Phoenix.”

Alex: “How hot?”

Me: “Around 100 degrees in the summertime.”

Alex: “One hundred degrees or 112 exactly?”

Me: “Exactly 112 degrees.” Satisfied that he has trained me in data precision, he will smile.

Yesterday evening, we went to one of our favorite family restaurants, where the hostess, Kayla, and Alex are on a first-name basis because she always engages him in friendly conversation. Even though he didn’t have a script for their chat, he managed to answer her questions and make his feelings clear.

Kayla: “Alex, would you give your meal five stars tonight?”

He thinks about this seriously.

Alex: “Four point five.”

Kayla: “Four point five?”

Alex: [Trying to make her feel better] “That’s ninety percent.”

Kayla: “What could make it five stars next time?”

Alex: “Serve shrimp.”

Kayla: “If I give you a whole plate of shrimp next time, what will you rate it?”

Alex: “Five stars.”

Although words still do not come easily to Alex, we are thankful for the progress that he has made through the years and for the confidence he is developing in his ability to express himself, even in unscripted situations. As much time as he spends thinking, reading, and mulling over details, we believe that he probably has a lot more to say. In the meantime, we enjoy our conversations with him, even those we have had numerous times with him, knowing how much he enjoys talking with us and other people. As God continues to heal Alex, we wait with patient anticipation, knowing that we will be rewarded when Alex’s voice can freely speak the words he wants to say.

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.” Psalm 116:1

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