Having a quirky kid means that you get to laugh a lot. Really. I consider Georgia’s quirks to be the best things about her and the things that make her truly a fascinating little person who manages to charm almost everyone who meets her.
Many theories of autism talk about how difficult it is for people with autism to generalize skills or knowledge, that is, to be able to do or know something in general, not only in the original context in which it was learned.
Georgia demonstrates some pretty unique aptitudes in terms of generalizations. For example, every stranger who happens to be a man over 60 is greeted as “Grandpa.” She certainly knows who her grandpa is but hasn’t quite figured out the rest of it. The white hipster guy with the beard and long hair who works at Chippy’s Fish and Chips across from Trinity Bellwoods Park is usually greeted with a “Hey, it’s Jesus!!!” And every black man with dreads is greeted warmly by Georgia as “Hey, Bob Marley!” We have been lucky on this front. Most men, while slightly taken aback, have so far been okay with being called Jesus or Bob Marley.
The TTC is a seriously fun experience with Georgia. She loves streetcars and finds herself unable to keep from singing various train songs when riding the often otherwise quiet subway. Without hesitation, she breaks into a disarmingly loud off-key, enthusiastic version of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” as the doors close and the train plunges into the tunnel.
On the TTC, she really hasn’t sorted out personal boundaries yet. There’s one Dundas streetcar driver who looks like her Uncle Ralph. Again, she knows it isn’t actually Uncle Ralph, but never fails to greet him with a hearty “HI UNCLE RALPH!” She’ll ask the person sitting beside her why he has no teeth. Be forewarned: if you are sitting anywhere near Georgia on the streetcar having a rush-hour snack, she’ll turn to you with an outstretched hand and a cocked head, and ask: “Hey, can I just try one of those chips please?”
And Georgia likes babies. Most of all, she really likes to know babies’ names. This means that, during those few moments in the grocery store when she is doing “Georgia’s job” (guarding the shopping cart while I bag apples), she inevitably instead wanders two steps over to approach a parent with baby and asks, using her version of a serious grown-up voice (somewhere between Darth Vader and Damien from The Omen), “What’s The Baby’s Name?”
It usually comes out more like a demand, rather than a friendly question. But keep in mind, she’s still a cute 13-year-old in a pink hat and tights, so the perceived threat level is pretty low. Reactions? Well, they range from kind and informative (“Oh sweetie, his name’s Hunter!”) to alarmed and frightened. Occasionally it results in parents covering up their babies in haste. For us, it’s quite amusing to see other parents react to this strange little person.The best part is encountering the same parent and baby in each subsequent aisle of the store, where each time they are greeted with the same request.
We’ve worked on this. Encouraged her to use a less scary voice. Told her to ask once and no more. When we told her that she shouldn’t approach people but must keep both hands on the shopping cart, this resulted, hilariously, in Georgia gripping the cart with white knuckles and yelling across the produce section, “WHAT’S THE BABY’S NAME!?”
Despite her complete lack of attention and adherence to social norms, Georgia tends to spread a little sunshine into most people’s lives. Her absolute joy at being on a streetcar or subway is infectious. Her complete lack of subtlety strikes some as perhaps unnerving but refreshing – she did end up having a long conversation about ill-fitting dentures with the person on the streetcar who had no teeth. She once cracked up an entire Starbucks after a woman let out a shockingly loud (and obviously mortifying) belch. While everyone in the place pretended not to notice, Georgia exclaimed in a rather thunderous half-statement, half-question: “She burped!? Yes, she burped?! She burped!?”
She’s always looking for the facts: confirmation of bodily noises, baby’s names. She wants to chat with interesting people: Bob Marley, Jesus. Most of all, she is, I realize, simply looking for ways to engage with the world in her own style. It’s not clear what my role is (and this will change as she gets older). Partly, my role is to let her take the risk, while also trying to make sure she understands some of those social conventions.
It’s tricky, I’ll admit, trying to teach her those norms without squashing that enthusiasm, that lovely openness to the world and, always, the potential of that truly joyful encounter.