Reconstructing Robert’s World

Robert, like Mary Poppins, never explains anything. We – relatives, teachers, and friends -have only his actions and reactions to allow us to construct a model of his world. Sometimes, what we discover is quite unexpected.

Whenever our family went hiking Robert followed the lead of his sister, Amanda. When she climbed on the rock, he had to climb on the rock.  When she walked on a trunk of a fallen tree, he had to walk on the trunk.  When Amanda jumped over the curb in a special way, he jumped  the same way. When he noticed Amanda swimming in a  butterfly style, he followed her with an almost perfect butterfly. Something he had never done before…or after.
When Amanda dropped her schoolbag, jacket, hat, and shoes on the floor, Robert got a message.   He run to the hanger, took off his jacket and his school bag of the hook and  together with his shoes threw them forcefully on the floor….

His sister was his role model.

And yet another day…

Robert with his arms  stretched upwards along the refrigerator’s door and a loud  approximations of the word “chip” let me know what he wanted.   Chips together with juice boxes were placed purposefully on the top of a refrigerator  to force Robert to initiate requests. In the ideal world, Robert supposed to approach me, pat me on the arm, and say, “Give me chips.”  But the world was not ideal yet so Robert screamed and banged on the refrigerator instead. Because  I was cooking or washing dishes and my hands were dirty or wet I asked Amanda,  at that time, much taller than her brother, to fetch chips for Robert. She did. She took chips and handed them to Robert.

But Robert refused to take them. He grabbed his sister’s arm and directed  it toward the top of a refrigerator as if he were saying, “Put it back!” .  She put it back and took a box of apple juice instead. The same reaction.  Robert again directed Amanda’s arm toward the top of the refrigerator. Robert was frustrated and he showed it.    Amanda was confused and upset.  Afraid that Robert’s exhibit of frustration would last much longer, I  asked Amanda  to go downstairs and turn on TV.   I didn’t want her to witness prolonged protest of the form and intensity  I couldn’t predict.  As soon as Amanda left, Robert calmed down noticeably. His arms, however,  were still in the same position, stretched on the refrigerator, aiming at the top. “Do you want chips?”, I asked.  He confirmed with his approximations of “Chips, chips, chips.”  I gave him a bag.  He took a fistful of chips and placed them in a bowl.  He calmly  gave me the bag back and started eating.  As if nothing happened.

I understood.

For Robert it  was not Amanda’s role to  give him chips!   She was not his babysitter!   She was not his parent!  She was not his teacher!  She was his pal, role model, sister! In Robert’s world sisters didn’t  do parents’ jobs.

Oh well, now they do.