Colin’s ABA* tutors, at least a dozen in the last five years, play a singular role in his life, even the ones that come and go after a few months. Several tutors have watched him grow up, rarely going more than a week without seeing him, becoming more like family than tutors or babysitters. Colin and his tutors play and argue, even bringing each other to tears—intimate enough to hurt or delight with a mere glance. Quinn works with the tutors along with Colin much of the time. The relationships play out not just in our living room during ABA therapy but at horseback riding lessons, tag in the backyard, swimming lessons, or greeting a new puppy just adopted from the shelter, at birthday parties, wedding receptions, family vacations, and emergencies.
It’s not lost on me how these tutors perform a kind of magic with our son that my wife and I could never do on our own. How will Colin—ten years hence—remember this stream of older friends, most of them College students or teenagers from the neighborhood, who came in and out of his life? Few children have such an entourage of adults tied so close to them.
At the back of the thick three-ring binder where the tutors keep the meticulous ABA paperwork, logs, and progress notes, I find a different kind of log, more like a diary of interactions they don’t want to forget. Here is a sampling:
- While we were painting, I asked Colin what a color was and he said, “Oh, that’s a strange color.”
- Colin was reading and I was trying to ask him questions. He said, “Can you please use quiet talk?”
- Colin said, “Someone loves you.” I said, “Who?” He replied, “I do.”
- Colin was drawing the planets and so I read from the back of his card about Uranus. I asked Colin if he knew the fact I read. He said, “Yes,” then added “Um, Could you please put that down please.”
- I tried the “What doesn’t belong” exercise with Colin, giving him this list of words: fire truck, bike, ambulance, police car. Colin said: “The bike—because it’s not an emergency rescue vehicle.”
- Colin and Quinn were in the sun room looking at the flag book and having such a great conversation together about going places and what flag was what.
- At horseback riding, his teacher Katy was telling Colin he needed to keep his seat in the saddle. So she put a piece of paper under his bottom. She told him to stand up so she could put the paper under him and then said, “Sit.” Colin said, “You’re treating me like a dog.”
- We were doing the “How do ____ and ____ go together” exercise. So I asked Colin how his cousins Sydney and Kelly go together and he said, “Because they love each other.”
- Colin was playing with the cat and said to the cat, “Hi, Mr. Tumnus,” and the cat meowed. Colin said, “Hey, the cat speaks English!”
- We were listening to Alan Jackson and Colin said, “Do you know what? I’m right on the money!”
- Colin asked me, “Why are you cold?” It was great to hear him ask a question without any prompts.
- At horseback riding lessons, as Colin was getting situated on the horse, he turned his head and winked at me.
- Colin and I were playing catch. When I missed a few times, he said, “Well, it is a hard game.”
- Colin saw my dry feet. He asked me what was on my feet and I told him that they were just dry. He said, “You should put some water on them.”
- When we were practicing “Cause and Effect” I asked Colin why there are cafeterias in school?” He said, “Everyone knows that! So kids can eat lunch.”
- When Colin is horseback riding, he has a hard time remembering to sit up straight. The instructor, Kate, shows him how he looks slouched, then shows him how he should sit up straight with shoulders back. Colin looks at her and says, “What are those next to your shoulders” you know they start with a ‘B’.” I knew what he was starting to talk about so I said, “Colin, let’s focus on riding our horse.” He says okay, and then adds, talking to Kate, “Well, I wish I had nice breasts like yours.”
- Colin said, “Let’s rule the world as tutor and son.”
- I said, “Let’s play tag to get your energy out.” Colin got a little upset and said, “No. You are just teasing me. I want to keep my energy in.”
- I wore a flower in my hair today. Colin asked why and I told him I thought the flower was pretty. He replied with, “Oh, well, I think you’re beautiful and I want to marry you.”
- Colin was brushing his horse, Merlin, when he saw a scrape on him. Colin said, “What’s this?” Katy told him that when horse play they sometimes bite each other. Colin was sad and looked at the scrape some more. He said, “Well someone sure emptied Merlin’s bucket.” Later that same day, Katy had to chase Merlin around the pasture to get him for the lesson. So when Colin was brushing him, Merlin was sweaty and breathing hard. Colin put his head up to the horse’s belly to feel and hear the heartbeat. Colin said, “Whoa . . . It’s like my washing machine!”
These tutors have watched Colin tune in to the world in his unique way, from week to week, month by month, year after year. It’s not something you can witness close up and easily forget.
*Applied Behavior Analysis