Car Talk

“A circle has corners,” Colby announced yesterday on our routine evening drive.

“I don’t think so,” I replied, having learned not to take a hard stance with him until I have more information.

“A circle WITH corners,” he ventured.

Colby’s vocabulary is heavily weighted towards nouns. He takes a loose approach to verbs, prepositions, and conjunctions, shifting them around until he gets a phrase that people will accept.

Feeling fairly confident, I went ahead and took a position: “A circle does NOT have corners, buddy.”

“CORNERS with circles,” he tried. He also takes a loose approach to the order of words.

As his anxiety level rose over my ignorance, the knuckles on his left hand crept towards his mouth. As a 17-year-old, Colby has the knuckles of a 87-year-old man. Years of biting himself have resulted in big, knobby arthritic-looking knuckles, covered in callused tissue.

I paused, trying to come up with a way to shift subjects. A ridiculously hopeful thought, since persistence is a hallmark of Colby’s autism.

“Corners HAVE circles,” he declared, looking earnestly into my eyes. Although eye contact is still difficult for him, despite years of “look at me” practice, he can give soul-searchingly deep eye contact when he is trying to make a point.

I was stymied. While Colby has huge gaps in knowledge, he has been solid on shapes since he was two. In the years of therapy when he was unable to speak any intelligible words, he was always able to recognize and point to a circle vs. square vs. triangle, receiving tiny pieces of gluten-free cookies as a reward.

Hoping for more clues, I said, “I don’t understand, buddy. Tell me more.”

With an impatient sigh befitting a teenager dealing with a mother who just doesn’t understand, Colby pointed to a road sign.

Oh. Now I get it.

“That’s called rounded edges, Colby. You are right. The corners are pieces of a circle.”

His smile lights up the car. Once again, he has taught me something.

My smile is pretty big, too. After years with no words, I am always grateful for a conversation with Colby.