The Programmable Child

We call Caroline our programmable child. It’s one of the more amusing aspects of her Asperger’s Syndrome, for her as well as everyone else.  Given the right mindset or circumstances, she can be made to repeat a message almost verbatim. It’s fun to set this in motion and watch the reactions. Mostly, I program her with information for her teachers and appropriate responses to social situations. But sometimes, I’ll stick a phrase in her head and wait to see when I hear it back again. And, on rare occasions, and always by accident, others will program her with messages for us, not knowing the power they have unleashed.

When she was very small and had almost no language, I could still get her to echo me to others in my own absence. I’d say “Tell Miss Kristi I’m going to pick you up early today.”

She would echo, “Miss Kristi, I’m going to pick you up early today.”

Whenever I made that particular mistake, it was difficult to change her program. On those days, I’d arrive to pick her up early and see the dawn of understanding in Miss Kristi’s eyes when I let myself into her class. “Oh! Caroline kept saying she was picking me up early, and I couldn’t tell …”. Oops.

On better days, my message would have to go like this. “Caroline, I have a message for Miss Kristi. Are you ready?”

Silence, but she usually looked at me, which for a child who had mastered staring over the left shoulder by the age of 9 months, was a true sign of attentiveness.

“Say, ‘Miss Kristi, my Momma will be picking me up early today.’”

That worked out a little better for everyone.

Even after her words came in, I was able to send her with word-for-word instructions. And by that time, she had less trouble with pronouns, so she could switch “me” into “her” in her renditions of my orders.

But my favorite programming effort has to be the one made by her sitter in Lexington back when I was pregnant with Sam. Caroline really wasn’t sure what the whole pregnancy thing meant. She grasped that there was a baby in my tummy. But when people asked her if she wanted a brother or sister, she smiled sweetly and said odd things, like “macaroni”.  Because “brother” and “sister” were abstract concepts to her, much like “boy” and “girl”. She didn’t know what those things meant, and wouldn’t have grasped the difference even if somebody had shown her that boys had different plumbing. She used to try to get up to go potty with both genders until her teacher developed a category called “Carolines”.

But I digress.  Miss Sheri had (still has) a little brother whom she adored (still adores). So right after we found out Sam was a boy, she programmed Caroline to say, “I want a brother. No sisters allowed. Only brothers.” It was precious, and it got her attention not just because she could suddenly answer a direct question and do so consistently, but also because she was adamant about wanting a brother at an age when most kids request siblings of the same gender. Of course, she still had no idea what brothers were, but she adored Sam to pieces when he joined the family anyway.

The things we tell her nearly always come back. A couple of years ago, we had this exchange:

Me: “Tell Mr. Brent he needs to send me a Paypal invoice for June, sweetie.”

Her (at school): “Mr. Brent, sweetie, Mom needs you to send her a Paypal invoice for June.”

OK, so it’s an imperfect system.

But she remains quite easy to program, and we all have fun with it.  I’m especially fond of dropping  clichés and song lyrics into her head and waiting to see where they surface. She has Sam singing “Knock on Wood” right now, courtesy of the radio’s constant (hyperfast) playing of the Amii Stewart version of the song. (I might add that Caroline has perfect pitch. Sam does not.)  Verses, and especially the chorus, erupt at completely unexpected intervals throughout the day.

A few weeks ago, I gave her some money with the instruction, “Don’t spend it all in one place.” By the way she repeated that back to me, I could tell I’d be hearing it again in the future, completely out of context but still oddly appropriate. It hasn’t happened yet, but I know it’s coming. We’ll be paying at the grocery store or grumbling about the price of gas, and suddenly this little voice will pop out “Don’t spend it all in one place.” It’s coming. Guarantee it. No need to knock on wood.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


The Programmable Child — 2 Comments

  1. Haha, oh what a sweet kid!
    I LOVE that she replied with macaroni. That is friggin’ priceless! And how great her teachers must have been! Inventing a bathroom category for Carolines is sweet.
    Thanks for showing me this one. It’s definitely hopeful. 🙂
    Hop over and visit Dawn Beronilla’s recent post 100 Word Song: I Will WaitMy Profile

    • I can almost follow her logic, too. She often responded to intonation when the words made no sense. And “What do you want for dinner?” Was always “Macaroni”? Then everybody asked whether she wanted a boy or a girl in about the “What do you want for dinner?” tone of voice, so she just assumed it was ‘macaroni’ time again.