|Mark Rothko, White Center |
National Gallery of Art
It's like that with Leo. You have to be there, watching, intensely, in person, to understand what he's about. If you focus only on the obvious things -- not speaking much, getting easily frustrated, obsession with food -- you'll miss the little things, the sly things, the actions that reveal not just his capability but his potential.
I love the way he performs many actions, like slipping on his shoes, bilaterally -- both shoes at once. Not one at a time. That's some serious motor planning and coordination. And he does it with ease. Today he read favorite books on his iPad with one hand and twiddled a straw in another, which was impressive enough -- but then he reached out with his foot and picked up another straw with his toes -- and twiddled that, too. I certainly can't do three separate things with three separate limbs simultaneously (though I could make sure that toe-straw went straight into the trash after he was done with it).
He's got a gift for scatting, whether making up his own tunes, or his own variations on favorite songs. You might not recognize Leo's version if you aren't paying attention, as with Cassandra Wilson or Nouvelle Vague. If you sing a run back to him, and if you succeed in doing so to his pitch-perfect standards -- which isn't easy as he doesn't restrict himself to typical scales or progressions -- you'll be rewarded with a huge smile or a tight eye-lock.
He remembers what you say to him. It may take you a while to realize that the phrase he's saying to you is something you've said to him, a saying resurrected because it makes sense in this new moment -- even though you may have originally said it months ago. Why should Leo spend energy creating new phrases when he can store and retrieve yours? "I wear my sweater when it's cold" works as acknowledgment, reminder, reassurance, question, and statement. It's functional language.
He's not above a bait-and-switch. If he asks you for a big kiss, it may be because he wants you to leave -- rather like visitors in Japan being asked if they'd like another cup of tea. Though Leo is not always gracious: Big ask, big kiss, then "Bye bye, Name," and possibly a big shove. But at least you got something out of it, too.
Today Leo started learning how to play Wii. And at the outset, he wasn't all that successful -- not by typical standards of trajectories mastered and points gained. But it was a social experience for him, and he stayed engaged and seemed to enjoy it. I suspect he'll learn to play Wii in his own way, too -- and successfully, to those who have the patience or intuition to understand that atypical does not mean less than. Who know that intelligence takes many, many forms if you take the time to see it, if you can recognize its sometimes subtle signs.