He always has things around him, this small boy of mine. The doctor told me it was a common aspect of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Things he carries in his bag, things he picks up from the ground, things he plucks from trees, things he gives to his sister, things he asks me to carry, things he’s forgotten, and things he’s planning on acquiring. He carries things around like lifeboats in a storm, like kisses after a tumble, and like a translation dictionary in a foreign country. He speaks through these things, the flowers he always hands me when he’s happy, the threats he makes when it’s time to leave: “If I see a flower, I’m not picking it up! I’m not giving it to you!” The crushed apologetic daisy he finally brings out from his pocket: “Fine. You can have this one.”
My car boot is filled with detritus, pieces of bark that I can’t see any difference between, but if I remove one without his consent he will wail “Where’s the one with the spot?” Every so often we clean it out, but first he says goodbye. We wish the bark and the sticks well on their journey, but it’s time for them to leave our car. He always looks forward to the new batch of nature he’ll collect. He collects seed pods, but won’t bring them into the house because he doesn’t believe they’ll be happy there. But he wants them close, so he leaves them in the front yard. He checks on their well-being, and seems satisfied that they are content outside, not confined in a house and not lying lonely under the tree near school where he found them.
He carries his love around with him, constantly surrounded by the objects of his adoration. He names his toys, but sometimes he is slow to warm up to them. A look of shock when given a present he was not expecting, one that is different to the one written in his mind “That’s the wrong one Grandma!” He still keeps them close, he twists them in his hands and slowly, they become friends. He finds them a spot in his bed, on his shelf, and eventually says, “Thank-you Grandma, I do like it a bit.”
When his sister cries he rushes to find her a thing; a stick, a toy, a book he knows will make her laugh. She pushes him away, sometimes she throws the things after him. He always stares at this – he would never treat his things with such abandon. When reminded, he walks over to offer her a hug. His arms wrap around her smaller body and this, finally, this hug of a thing is what makes her laugh.
Sometimes he has too many things. He piles them in his bed – his current favorites are grouped around his pillow, and there’s a teddy that has been part of his sleep since his first birthday. Gifted with love and treated as such ever since. I sneak in to his room at night, shift a few things around so he’s not squished into a corner. Sometimes, I find him clutching them over his heart in the morning. I am reminded they are his things. He does not always appreciate interference.
He bounces around at his Daddy’s birthday, constantly handing him the same gifts over and over again. He is thrilled to see other people with their things, he finds parts of their personalities written in what they possess. “You like horses,” he says to his sister, “so I got you this.” A present bought with two dollars he found on the ground. He examines my outfits each morning, looking for themes, watching to see if I wear my favorite colors. He is content when I am in blue, he knows I love the colors I find in the sky. He gets worried if I wear red too many days in a row “because your favorite color is blue!”
These things are part of his heart, they are part of how he interacts with the world, they form his connections and his voice. I do not take his things away from him, because he would lose part of his voice. I know the love he pours into searching for flowers to make me happy, I know the precision with which he examines his families likes and dislikes through our possessions. I know the depth of the relationships he can garner with his toys, whispered conversations between himself and a plastic gecko, tucked into his bag in the morning to help him feel brave. He is surrounded with love. He is surrounded with connection through these things.
His things are a bridge. He always has things around him.