My youngest son, B--, has atypical autism, or PDD-NOS. At first glance, he appears to be like any other child. For the most part, he is. Fortunately, he is very high functioning, but there are certain behaviors and mannerisms that immediately give him away--namely, tics.
That is the first element of this story. The second is the lesson he learned a couple of weeks ago at school about differentiating between needs and wants. This lesson was illustrated by giving the children opportunity to color in red the objects on a coloring sheet that were necessity, and to color in blue the objects that were merely desire. B--'s blue objects were a gaming system and a pair of rollerblades. His red objects were a plate of food, a shirt and a house. The front half of the cat was blue; the back half, red.
Back to the ticks. B-- has a new one. Along with patterned snorts and grunts to clear his throat, he's begun randomly emitting a soft, rhythmic "mhm-mhm-mhm." I first noticed this week as he sat in my lap reading to me. Each time he came to the end of a paragraph or page he would conclude it with the tic. I was amused.
I asked him, "Do you hear that sound you're making?"
He did it again. Mhm-mhm-mhm.
"Did you hear that?"
"So you know you've started doing that?"
"When did it start?" I ask.
"Today, I think."
I wonder about compulsion. "Is it something you have to do?"
B-- just looks at me. These discussions embarrass him a little, even though I'm careful to be gentle and not push if he's not interested in talking about his symptoms. But still, I want to know what's motivating this new tic, more or less in terms of needs or wants. So I ask again.
"Is it something you have to do or is it extra?"
"Mom," he addressed me with his seven-year-old authoritative voice. "Don't you know that most things are extra?"
We've left discussion of the tic. But it continues. I can hear him even now in the next room, every few seconds; mhm-mhm-mhm. My only worry is how he's treated at school. Kids that age don't understand difference. Kids that age aren't as wise as B--. But for some reason he gets it, and I'm the lucky mom who gets to learn from him: Most things are extra.
Except cats. Cats are half.