Aspergers, Socrates and Silly Bands
At family dinners, my mother would insist on a “conversational gambit.” A conversational gambit is a piece of information which is interesting and opens conversation on a subject, or “gambit.” Recently, I have begun this ritual again in my own home at our dinner table. Our most common group consists of: My oldest son, age 20, quiet and well mannered, his younger brother, a high school senior who has Aspergers syndrome, my 15 year old daughter with no affliction except that she is 15, and my youngest daughter, who is almost 13 and mildly retarded. Often, the diners are fidgety and argumentative. Medication that has a positive impact has worn away and the diner who does not need medication, the fifteen year old girl has a low tolerance for special behaviors. Still, I want more at the dinner table than the company of those who need behavior modified, or a person who goads, baits and groans at every little hiccup. My conversational gambit is relevant, educational and engaging.
When everyone is served and eating, I say: “I am pretty sure Socrates had Aspergers Syndrome.” The 15 year old says; “Who is Suckrateez?” My son with Aspergers is attentive. “Socrates was a Greek philosopher. He was very smart, and a teacher. The important people, like the mayor and the governor got mad at him because he taught the young people to ask questions about how they did their jobs and treated the people. Because he made the people in charge worry, they exiled him for ten years. Socrates did not want to leave, so he drank hemlock, which is that white flowered plant we used to see on our camping trips, and he died.” “Died! I would have picked exile.” Says the diva. “I think he had Aspergers syndrome because he didn’t notice he was making people mad until there was a trial and they punished him with exile.”I say. My son with Aspergers is listening intently. The youngest daughter moves the conversation forward.
“Everyone wants my silly bands,” she says brandishing her wrists, thick with dozens of colorful, wrinkly, rubber wrist bands. "I say, no, you can’t have my silly bands. Fritz, do you want a silly band?” She offers her wrists to my oldest son. “No, I only wear serious bands.” Fritz' joke makes everyone laugh.
The gambit is complete. Some might wonder why I used my son’s disability as part of the subject. I used his disability because it was part of my thoughts arising from a class I am taking and it would be relevant to us as a family and it is important to remind him of how his difference impacts people around him. Hopefully, one day, he will accommodate himself. My children, who are able, became aware of a Greek philosopher and they will remember because it is relevant to some things they already understand. Since most were engaged in a conversation that made them curious, they were more receptive to the child who was not engaged and moved their attention to her, unconsciously, with attentiveness and humor.