Fireside Chats with a non-chatter

Learning the art of silenceEach week, I call Jon on the same day, around the same time – our Thursday evening fireside chat, if you will. My phone alarm goes off, my calendars beep reminders, and I get an email that I refuse to mark as ‘read’ until the call has been made. In my mind at least, this consistency means something to Jon. One day, I forgot to call him on a Thursday (you can imagine my dismay), so I called him on that Friday instead. His exasperated, indignant response: ‘Why are you calling me today? Good BYE!’.

Even with this pre-scheduled and routine call, most days our conversations only last between 2 and 3 minutes. We have a pretty standard script for the beginning of our call: “Hi bro, how’s it going?’ ‘Good, how are you?’ ‘Good’ Then we pause…

Our choose-your-own-adventure part of the call now begins. I can either A. Launch into an overly-animated story of something ridiculous that has happened recently in my life (stories that involve personal embarrassment are typically his favorites) or I can B. Bring up a memory of something ridiculous that occurred in our childhood (see Walking the Turtle) or I can C. Wait – pause, pause, pause – hoping that Jon will initiate a conversation.

C is clearly the hardest for Jon – like many people with autism Jon can be great at answering questions, but starting a conversation or asking a new question is really where his core deficit lies. So when it does happen, when Jon asks me something out of the blue, it’s pretty amazing.

Before leaving for Nigeria this past March, I did have one of those amazing C conversations. I told Jon that I wouldn’t be able to call him the following Thursday because I was going to Nigeria. And then I waited…bit my tongue…and waited some more…

‘What are you doing in Nigeria?’ he asked.

Growing up, I’m sure I never gave Jon the opportunity, the time and silence he needed, to be able to process and ask his own questions. Now, however, I think Jon has learned just how to shut me up – a simple question like that leaves me without the words to answer it.