Cognitive Milestones

10 Sep

This article was originally posted in HerWord.com on September 8, 2008.

A few years ago, a friend of mine rang me in the middle of the day and started screaming at the top of her voice, “He lied today. Oh, my, he has learned to lie!”

He is her nine-year old son with autism.

Apparently, he was playing hide-and-seek with his little brother that afternoon, when little brother asked “Are you in the bathroom?” Normally, he would answer a direct question with a yes or no, oblivious to the fact that his little brother was using his honest replies to tag him and get an edge in the game. That day, for some strange reason, he shouted “No!” though he was, indeed, inside the bathroom. Little brother, expecting victory on his side, ran to kitchen and asked “Are you in the kitchen?” at which time he was surprised to find his brother appear from behind him.

“No fair!” little brother cried out and tried to tell on him. Big brother just smiled delightedly.

And so, when my friend called me up that afternoon, I got caught up in all the shrieking and rejoicing, too. After all, it isn’t everyday that our children with autism get to reach a cognitive milestone.

Just last week, Alphonse reached his own cognitive milestone. For the first time in a long while, I caught a distinctive glimmer of the soul hidden behind his autism. Last week, Alphonse learned the rudiments of jealousy.

It started quite unexpectedly. My sister dropped off her infant son and his nanny here at home, asking if I minded looking after him while she worked. She had some things to finish at the hospital that day, after which she would pick up her son to go to a friend’s house. Since my house was nearer their secondary destination, she asked if he could stay a few hours here with me. “Of course,” I readily agreed, excited at the prospect of having a baby in the house. Since my next-door neighbors (my cousin and her two gorgeous children) left early this year, I had missed having little visitors come to the house to eat and play. Baby J was a little too young for rambunctious play, but he’s been very giggly these last few weeks, and he does give out the wettest, slurpiest kisses of all my nephews and nieces.

Baby J was playing quietly on my bed with the boys’ old toys when Alphonse came up after his morning class. I took Alphonse by the hand and re-introduced his baby cousin.

“Alphonse, this is Baby J. He is here for a visit. Do you want to say hello?” I said enthusiastically.

“Ha!” Alphonse grunted and waved reluctantly.

Then he inched away from the baby, preferring to watch from a few feet away. He looked disinterested, or so I thought, though I did catch him stealing a few glances from the side of his eyes. I asked him if he wanted something. He smiled shyly and turned away. Again, he stole a few glances at the baby and suddenly scowled a little. I was a little concerned at his reactions, so I thought to distract him from his preoccupation with the baby. I asked him to join me for lunch. I was rather surprised when he said no.

“No? Aren’t you hungry, Alphonse? Let’s go eat lunch,” I gently coaxed him.

He would not budge.

I decided to leave him in the room. Alphonse is a predictable fellow, and there are some things that we’ve all learned will work with him. And this is one such formula: when I leave a room, he follows. That particular moment, he stayed behind, lingering and looking at the baby intently.

Then, and this is according to Alphonse’s nanny, he made his way to the bed, sidled up close to the baby, and gently took his baby toys from the bed, away from Baby J. Smiling, he put them as far away as possible, almost near the floor. Only when he was assured that the baby would not be able to reach his toys did his face betray the first signs of a smile.

When his nanny rushed down to tell me about it, I could not believe it at first. Alphonse has never felt territorial with his toys or any of his possessions (okay, except for food); most of the time, he would not care less who touches or plays with them. But that day, he didn’t want to share at all.

In the afternoon, just before his class, he went back to the bedroom again, and upon seeing the baby beside me on the bed, slowly crept up and gingerly inserted himself between the baby and myself. He flashed a smile of triumph, as if to say “I’ve claimed my bed and my mother,” while baby J mewled softly beside him. He also kept asking for kisses and would not leave my side, despite his nanny’s reminders that it was time to study anew. I had to escort him back to his study room.

When my sister fetched Baby J, Alphonse was visibly relieved. In the following days, he seemed a little anxious, although we simply ascribed it to the minor changes in his routine. Unexpected visitors always seem to ruin his rhythm.

A few days later, however, he was back to his jovial, relaxed self. It was a good day, just one of those days when all his answers were smiling yesses, as he seems to want to please everyone.

“Are you a good boy?” Alphonse nods to say yes.

“Do you like ice cream?” Yes.

“Do you want a kiss?” Yes.

“Are you happy?” Yes.

And even “Do you have body odor?” Yes. (For the record, he does not have body odor.)

So it was turning out to be one of those funny days when he says yes to all you ask, but my sister just happened to ask this question: “Do you like Baby J”

Alphonse smiled and shook his head.

“You don’t? Oh, my poor baby!” my sister cried.

Alphonse kept smiling and shaking his head. No. No. No.

My thirteen year-old son, my Alphonse, is jealous of a little baby. Oh, what a glorious day!

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8 Responses to “Cognitive Milestones”

  1. manggy September 10, 2008 at 5:34 pm #

    Wonderful essay, Kittymama, and congratulations on being published on HerWord! (Of course, when I visited my site, greeting me was Cecile Licad smoking… Yecch)

    I’ve never thought about how these “human” traits (in quotes to mean imperfections) are to be appreciated in kids. I guess it’s these quirks that really give people that extra dimension. The day we realize that they’re not completely ours, and there’s a part of them that breaks free. A glorious day indeed!

    Just beware the day when Alphonse learns about this little thing I love called sarcasm! It’s caused many a heartache for my parents, heh 🙂

    Thank you… but just a teensy weensy detail: I do have a regular column at herword.com where I write about anything but hello kitty, heehee. I just haven’t been as conscientious in keeping it updated, my bad really.

    The little things that we take for granted are often the ones that define us. As much as jealousy or lying are human frailties we would not wish for our children, they do serve their purposes in the cognitive development of a child.

    As for sarcasm- uhm, smart-aleck Alex has perfected the art. (Arneans! Grrr!!!) His punishment when he shoots off his mouth: he carries hello kitty in public for me. 🙂 A mother’s wrath is never to be underestimated. XD ~♥Kittymama

  2. leirs September 10, 2008 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi mare, It’s so funny because I can relate because Joshwa looks at Adrianne differently this past few days. Sya naman ang nang aagaw ng toys ni Adrianne and sya rin ang gusto maglaro si Crib. When Adrianne was playing with Joshwa and she was holding on to her kuya Joshwa really got annoyed and screamed at his sister. Adrianne!!!Just recently we had a visitor about the same as Joshwa’s age.As they were preparing to go home hinatid na sila ng mama ko sa door hinihila ni Joshwa ng mama ko papasok sa bahay ayaw nya pasamahin and he was so upset because he thought that my mom would be leaving.I was like grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. Thank God for our simple joys and cognitive milestones.

    Weird how we enjoy this, ‘no? 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  3. mari September 11, 2008 at 12:23 am #

    very insightful post, kittymama. i’m not aware that behaviors such as jealousy and lying are considered milestones for special kids. learning from you. 🙂

    For children with disabilities, any emotional investment they make- be it negative or positive- means a growing sense of relatedness with the world around them. This is particularly important in children with autism who lack this relationship with the world. That they can feel jealousy means they can care about themselves in relation to others; that they can lie means a sense of imagination in children who see the world literally. The trick now is to teach them the distinction between right and wrong. ~♥Kittymama

  4. Ness September 11, 2008 at 4:57 am #

    This is such a sweet story! I love it. 🙂

    Thanks, Doc Ness! 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  5. megamomph September 12, 2008 at 1:20 am #

    I laugh and cry for you my friend! I am happy for you… at the same time, I feel a tinge of guilt that something that would annoy me to no end if my own kids did it (this whole jealousy thing I deal with every day, 5 times a day, times 3 kids! I get to sit beside Mama!…No me!…It’s my turn! Waaah! ) would make you so happy. You really bring a different perspective – one I am grateful for.

    Hi, MegaMom! I missed your visits! 🙂
    You’ve got everything tripled, even the jealousy, heehee. I don’t think I can do that x3 thing everyday, all day, so hats off to you, dear friend! ~♥Kittymama

  6. julie September 12, 2008 at 7:40 am #

    I agree with MegaMom, those things that may annoy us, you see these as cognitive milestones.

    I see these too as leaps and bounds with my students. When a student was able to commute to a classmate’s house with his classmates, I was happy. When another one was able to go malling with friends without a nanny. Or even when a student decided to stop going to me so that she can train herself to study independently in preparation for college training (she is a junior now).

    Re Alex, I hope I would know what to do when Trixie is at that stage too 🙂

    Teacher Julie, these days, when Alphonse sees Baby J, he makes “irap.” It’s the cutest thing in the world, really. I hope he learns to express his emotions appropriately someday, but this is a great first step. 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  7. odette September 16, 2008 at 3:22 am #

    congratulations on alphonse’s milestone! this really made me smile, especially when he squeezed in himself between you and the bay. 🙂

    Thanks, Odette! He makes me really proud. Sigh. ~♥Kittymama

  8. odette September 16, 2008 at 3:23 am #

    ooops.. *baby*

    *Heehee.* ~♥Kittymama

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