I wish I could show you a real photo of 'my' little autistic boy here. He has golden hair, blue eyes and the smile of an angel. He is 6 years old. I shall call him Henry.
"Henry? That's my name! You're Henry."
I hear a cheerful little voice call from the other side of a group of children. Henry is sitting with his lunchbox in his lap. A large 'H' adorns the top of his hat to ensure he stands out from all the other little blonde haired, blue eyed boys with school uniforms and hats on the playground. As I watch he finishes his fruit, slaps the lid back on his box and scrambles awkwardly to his feet.
"You have to put your lunch box in your bag. Put your lunch box in your bag!", he chirrups to no one in particular as the mile wide smile never leaves his face.
I try, unsuccessfully, to catch his eye.
"Hi Henry, it's time to come with me now to do some work in my room."
"You have to play on the playground at lunchtime," his smile wavers fractionally and he pushes past me towards the playground. I am a blip in the smooth sailing of his routine.
"You can play on the playground later Henry. It's time to come with me now. Good boy."
He hesitates slightly then back tracks and takes my hand. He never lifts his eyes to my face.
"We have to do some work in the Rainbow Room," he sings as he follows me meekly to my room.
On the way we pass some large, orange traffic cone shapes, cut out and laminated and stuck to a range of places such as the front gate and the top of the stairs.
"What do these cones mean Henry?" I ask him as we walk up the stairs.
"You're not allowed to go past the cone. Can't go past the cone," he chants.
"That's right," I chant back, "you can't go past the cone without a safe adult."
"Got to has a grown up." he sings quietly to himself, reinforcing and reminding himself of the rules.
In the Rainbow Room we read a social story together.
As he catches sight of his own picture on the cover his face lights up again.
"That's Henry. Let's read about Henry. That's Henry"
He clambers over me enthusiastically to get to the book and all but sits in my lap. Surprisingly he reads accurately,
"This is Henry. This is Henry's school. School is a safe place to learn. School is a safe place to play."
He examines each photo (taken that day with the digital camera) and comments to no one in particular, maybe me, who knows?
"That's the school. That's Henry. That's the playground."
We come to the crux of the matter.
"Henry is safe at school. Henry never leaves the school grounds. Here is the front gate. Henry never goes through the front gate without a safe adult. Here is the gate near the oval. Henry never goes though the gate near the oval without a safe adult. Here is the gate near the bus. Henry never goes through the gate near the bus without a safe adult."
Henry quietly joins in the chant "...never goes through the gate..."
We reach the end of the story:
"Henry stays on the school grounds at all times. Henry is a good boy."
he closes the book and looks around the room.
"Do you want to read it again?" I ask optimistically.
His answer is unequivocal.
He looks to find the blue IKEA egg chair and dashes towards it.
"Henry goes in the crocodile's mouth." he says matter of factly, and pulls down the shutter.
I guess he got the message.
Later in the week Henry was playing with the doll's house in the Rainbow Room. He picked up the dolls and placed them in their bunk beds.
"Got to go to bed. Got to go to sleep," his cheerful commentary burbled like the chatter of a creek over stones. He picked up the beautifully crafted wooden grandfather clock and began to shake it vigorously.
"Time to get up. Time to get up!" he lifted the unwilling dolls from their beds and pronounced enthusiastically, "Turn that thing OFF!!"
My two colleagues and I had to smother our laughter. We wonder where he hears these 'soundbytes'.
Later that day I see him standing silently on one leg with his arms outstretched.
"Wow!" I say," that's clever Henry," and mirror his action. He shouts something unintelligible at me; although I know it has purpose, I am unskilled in the interpretation.
"What's that Henry?" I query, looking desperately for visual cues. He calls out again.
I notice that he seems to have shoelaces wrapped up around his grounded ankle. My colleague spots the problem first.
"Henry, are you caught up in my jacket?"
She is right. Playing on the floor near her desk, he has managed to tangle his foot in the pre-tied drawstring of her jacket, hanging over the chairback. I move quickly to disentangle him and he calls out his command again. This time I hear.
"GET THE JAWS OF LIFE!" he sings majestically.
It is all we can do not to cry laughing.
I love my new job.
PS:* In the library last week I heard him muttering to himself as he wandered up and down the shelves of books. I had been shadowing him and had encouraged him to go up to the library rather than play on the stairs (next to the car park!). After a few moments I realized he was talking about me:
"Mrs A has to teach you," he murmured over and over. I wondered in what context he had heard that phrase.
Henry: I don't like that Mrs A.
Henry's Mum: But Henry, Mrs A has to teach you!