Yesterday, as we were leaving Nic and Emma’s gymnastics class, Emma found a stray balloon. No doubt left by one of the children who attended a birthday party there earlier, Emma looked at me with a sly grin, then grabbed the balloon and said, “Look! It’s a birthday party balloon. Take it home?”
Emma loves nothing more than birthday parties, balloons and singing Happy Birthday. ”Sure Em. But remember to hold on to it, because if you let go, it’ll fly away,” I said.
Emma nodded her head gravely and said, “You have to hold it. If you let go, the balloon goes up in the air. Oh no! Don’t go away balloon. You have to hold it. But listen, if you let go, there will be no more balloon!”
Emma’s way of coping with anxiety is to repeat a script of sorts. These are things she’s heard from a variety of sources. She pulls together threads and combines them to make a dialogue that she then repeats. Many Autistics script. Some people feel scripting is to be ignored and even discouraged, but I find Emma’s scripts are informative and useful. It is the way she is attempting to communicate. I don’t believe they are nonsense or meaningless. I believe she uses them in situations when she cannot come up with words of her own.
Emma managed to get through the next four hours without losing the balloon. This was no small accomplishment as those four hours were packed with activities, ranging from shopping for shorts and an awesome camouflage swim cap for Nic, bathing suits for Em, swim goggles for me, ear plugs for all of us, slices of pizza for everyone, before meeting Richard at the local Y to swim. Emma attempted to jam the balloon inside our locker, (we ended up letting it float outside the locker, with the string inside the locker ensuring it wouldn’t float away.) After swimming we went to a room where they’d set up an obstacle course and bouncy castle. Meanwhile Emma’s balloon, which she’d secured inside my swim bag, stayed put.
Once outside as we headed home Emma suddenly gasped. All of us watched with dread as her beloved balloon sailed out of reach. In the past, losing her balloon would have induced a meltdown of epic proportions. ”Oh no, my balloon!” Emma said, her tone and inflection sounded vaguely familiar. Emma stomped her foot and said again, “Oh no, my balloon! Can you tell how Katy feels about losing her balloon? Yes, Katy is mad she lost her balloon. We can tell she’s mad because she’s raising her fist and stomping her foot.”
I looked at Emma in shock. Emma was repeating the dialogue from an app Marc Zimmerman, CEO of the app The Social Express Lite sent me more than six months ago. At the time I showed it to Emma who liked it and watched the five different lessons a couple dozen times and so a few months later, I bought the long version of the Social Express, but other things took precedence, so it was soon forgotten.
“Emma lost her balloon,” Emma said looking at me as I awaited the meltdown I was sure would come. Instead, Emma stood still, gazed up at the balloon floating farther and farther away and said, “Emma’s mad she lost her balloon.” Emma stared at me for a moment and began to laugh.
I was amazed. This was NOT the reaction I expected. ”Katy’s mad. Emma’s mad,” Emma laughed. She gave me her pretend “mad” face – frowning, mouth set in a silent scream – and dissolved into peals of laughter.
I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine (who’s autistic), just two days ago. She told me how going into a theatre program changed her life. She told me how theatre taught her a range of things, including an increased desire to read because there was a reason to, she learned how others thought and what motivated them. She said, “In theater, everyone is honest, they have to be. If they are not, the director says, No, be honest.”
“I am determined to find a theatre program for Emma,” I said to Richard. ”I think it is the thing that could change everything for her.”
“I’m with you,” Richard said.
When we got home Emma and I watched the Social Express together. When the story with Katy losing her balloon came on, Emma pointed to the screen. ”Oh no! Katy lost her balloon too!”
And she began laughing.
Emma demonstrating her angry face