Andrew hop-skips across the room on the balls of his feet, laughing to himself. He moves in a pattern, pacing from one end of the room to the other. I wonder if the movement of his feet powers his brain. The sixth time passing me in the kitchen I ask what he’s thinking about.
“A story,” he responds without stopping or looking at me. His fifteen year old voice is deepening. He is now taller than me. He fiddles with a small toy between his fingers. Another, louder, laugh explodes from his mouth. He smiles bigger than usual, skips a little faster.
“Tell me,” I say as I continue to prepare dinner.
He tells me about an alternate universe where Transformers and Digimon end up in another dimension with Sonic the Hedgehog. I have heard this one before, many times. But it’s slightly different this time. He has added himself as a character. Others hear gibberish. I hear developmental progress from my autistic son. He has added HIMSELF into the world HE created by mashing up his favorite cartoons. The creativity he is showing makes me smile. He is veering away from something as it was, adding to it, changing it, making it his. This is a breakthrough for a child who used to see life so sequentially that I could not take an alternate route to the grocery store or change up his bedtime routine.
“Are you going to write it down?” I say as I stop him, placing my hand on his shoulder. This is a cue for him to look into my eyes, which is hard for him.
“Yes.” He immediately goes to his computer in the adjoining room. I hear the fast tap-tap of his fingers on the keyboard. Two years ago his teachers at school started teaching him to write his stories into paragraphs. The process caused him to dissolve into an overloaded heap on the floor. They tried coaching him. They tried motivational bribes. Nothing worked. His stories remained locked in his head to only be told, not written. As a writer I understood the deep need to release a story from inside and into written form. He needed that!
Then I had an idea. I started teaching him how to write in script format. I printed out scripts of his favorite movies. I showed him piles of scripts I had written. He didn’t say much, but he read them all. He started bringing home stories written in script format from school. Pages and pages of HIS stories! His autistic mind handles dialogue and brief action lines well. I doubt that flowery expression will ever be his style. And that is fine. He is different. I want him to embrace that and thrive.
For now we focus on mixing up existing stories. Someday he will bring me a story that is completely his, without a smidge of borrowed material from television or movies. Until then I encourage him as he paces the house, laughs, and fiddles with random objects in his hands. I help calm him when life is too confusing. I read him books as he stares off into space. And sometimes he looks right at me and smiles.