I want to trip inside your head
Spend the day there…
To hear the things you haven’t said
And see what you might see
I want to hear you when you call
Do you feel anything at all?
I want to see your thoughts take shape
And walk right out.
-U2 (“Miracle Drug”)
“Waffle! Waffle! Waffle!”
The word rushes out of Jack’s mouth. He is panicked. We try to calm him down. We offer him waffles, but he turns his head. We know it’s not about the waffles, but we had to try.
I get down to his level. “What’s the problem, bud? What do you want?”
He reaches up my shirt sleeves and digs his nails into my arm. “No scratching, Jack,” I snap, a little too harshly. He doesn’t hear me.
That’s when the screaming starts. As a baby, long before his autism diagnosis, Jack had the rare ability to cry like a Ring Wraith (Nerd points to you if you catch that reference and can hear it right now.) He grew out of it, but found it again all of a sudden when he was five. It took us two weeks to discover why: he had been on a Monsters, Inc kick. If you’re like Jack, there’s a lot of fine screaming to emulate in that film. We made the DVD disappear, and he soon forgot about his talent.
In the last six months, however, the scream has resurfaced. And this summer, he has perfected it. It’s loud, a bit scary, and immensely sad.
Sometimes his problem is obvious: he is annoyed by the baby’s crying, or the iPad battery died, or he can’t find one of his prized cans of Bush’s Baked Beans. Other times, his cries are a complete mystery. He cannot tell us what’s wrong. The screams are not respecters of setting: they come out in the car, the grocery store, or the backyard. I worry that one of our neighbors might call the police, and not out of suspicion, but out of sheer concern for the boy (“Hurry! It sounds like he’s dying, officer!”).
Yes, it’s been a long, lousy couple of moths of tantrums and regressions. Not that this is new. Summer is always hard. I suppose if you’re as OCD as Jack, the lack of a routine must be frustrating.
Sara has caught the brunt of it. I’m at the office for most of the day while she’s at home trying to decipher all of this. She told me tonight she thinks that “waffle” is just his frantic attempt to communicate that something is wrong. Maybe he is scared. Maybe he is hurting. Or maybe something just seems off. So he reaches for a word–any word–and that’s the one that comes. It makes sense since he eats waffles every day.
I like her theory, if only because it sounds so normal. When stress comes, we all have our go-tos for comfort: Nail biting, griping, eating. Given enough stress and enough habit, those responses can morph into unhealthy addictions. For Jack, maybe just the idea of waffles is enough to fill that comfort gap.
But that’s the most troubling part. We don’t know why he needs comfort, and he cannot tell us.
Forgive me. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic. We’re okay. We’ll get through this. I just hate that this wall still stands, four years after his diagnosis.
I want to see your thoughts take shape, boy. More than anything else.