Perseveration & Self-Mutilation

Communication in our home is often sung. “I love you” is sung to the Beatles “Michelle”. Inquiries into how a person is feeling are, “if you’re happy and you know it give a hug…....”. Sarah, on bended knee, searches my eyes, belting out “Do You Love Me” from Fiddler on The Roof. Daniel, poor Daniel, at the age of 11 months responded to what must have been horrendous wrenching noise in his poor little skull, commando-crawling to the nearest wall, and attempting to smash his face through it.

Car time has traditionally been sharing our favorite music time. My husband sings ancient church hymns, honoring the memory of his grandfather, a long-time Covenant preacher. I share bits of favorite operas. For the most part, the majority of our car’s music collection is children’s genre. I can recite the entire Story of Ping, including the Chinese portions.

For the first two years of Daniel’s life with us, “Old McDonald” and the “ABC” song were our pick-of-the-day car songs, in the hope he would react. Repetition, I thought, and familiarity might eventually trigger a desire resulting in him moving his lips, emitting a note, a bit of lyric, something, anything which might break him free of his stoic, resistant, frozen-eyed dead-center straight-ahead blank stare.

My prayer was for Daniel to react, and react he did. Sixty-five miles an hour is not a good time for Sarah to deliver a top-of-her-lungs scream from the back seat, “Mommy, he’s got blood all over his face”. Not until I was safely pulled over did I dare look. Still stoic, not blinking an eye, he’d ripped bits of flesh out of his face, from the soft tender flesh in front of his ears. Blood seeped down his face, continuing down his neck resembling war paint.

We drove in silence, not only that day, but for months after.

A few months short of his 3rd birthday, Daniel’s babble-speak one-syllable repetitive sounds, “Ba ba da da ba ba de de” – more typical of a 6-9-month old developmental phase – transmogrified to a hybrid version of “Old McDonald” and the “ABC” songs woven together.

“So he had been listening”, was my surprised response to his singing. He cleverly replaced the first vowel or consonant in each syllable, substituing the alphabet, in perfect order, recited at a rate of speed I’ve yet to accomplish.

In hindsight, I can now see he was gaining skills, albeit still perseverating, but slowly working his way toward what I hoped would one day be expressive, meaningful, direct speech.


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