In the classic Broadway musical, Oklahoma!, the character Ado Annie Carnes sings “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no.” Her inability to say the word leads to many a romance and causes her poor father, Judge Carnes, constant stress. While I’m not dealing with wild romances, I am a stressed-out father. Partly because my eleven-year-old autistic son [now 16], Mikey, is a boy who can’t say, “no.”
Mikey is only partially verbal and his go-to response to questions has always been “yes.” Well, it’s actually more like “yesh.” And while I (and many of his family members and teachers) have often found that cute, it is worrisome. Don’t get me wrong as I exaggerate a bit, Mikey knows the word “no.” But it is rarely used and is mainly his response when told to go to bed or to the potty. Yesh is his answer to most questions:
“Mikey, do you like steak?”
“Yesh.” – A major lie since he eats approximately four things and none of them include any “real” food or meat.
“Mikey, do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Yesh.” – Another lie, he’s an only child.
“Mikey, did you clean up your crayons and pencils?”
“Yesh.” – A big whopper of a lie, as I look at about fifty of them strewn across the kitchen table.
And on and on the “yesh” answers come.
I’ve tried to figure out how many of Mikey’s yeshes are lies, how many are canned responses, and how many are because he truly doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say. I mean, is Mikey his generation’s Tommy Flanagan (those of you of a certain age should recognize the name of that great pathological liar created by Jon Lovitz)? I kind of think not (especially since he hasn’t mentioned Morgan Fairchild at all).
In a way, I kind of wish Mikey was lying. At least that would be somewhat easy to correct. But Mikey’s yeshes, whether intentionally misleading or not, worry me because of the potential trouble they could get him into.
It’s bad enough to get the occasional note home from a teacher saying that Mikey said he had a brother and that he was going to eat a cheeseburger at a weekend BBQ. But I really worry about if he ever has to interact with a police officer, fire fighter, or medical personnel. And I really lose sleep over potential interactions with strangers.
I’m always appreciative when I read about local first responders being trained to interact with autistic individuals. And Mikey has been fortunate to have the local fire department visit his school a few times. But, sadly, not every community offers autism training to those types of professionals. And as much as I strive to be with Mikey as much as possible in public and try my best to inspire a different response out of his mouth, I have to accept the fact that there will be times when I’m not there and he needs to be able to respond for himself.
As an autism community we need to keep pushing for proper training in all aspects of our children’s environments. It’s a great step in the right direction to hear that many schools, police, and fire departments are, or will be, requiring autism education training. That progress, combined with our efforts as parents to teach our children to communicate, will ensure not just yeshes, but a myriad of appropriate responses.
I deal with the many yeshes, for now, and dream of a day sometime in the future where my Mikey will borrow a bit from Ado Annie and not be able to say “no,” because he’s met the love of his life. Yesh, that would be truly amazing.
This blog was written about four years ago. Mikey still has issues with yesh and no, but as a teenager, he now knows the word no and uses it most defiantly (especially at bed time or when told to clean up his mess). 🙂