Five reasons for laughs with autism

Jeff Katz


There are a lot of laughs to be had when you have an autistic son. Sounds cruel, right? But let me explain. Nate is a funny kid. He does and says things that are intentionally humorous. Then there are the things he thinks are funny but aren’t. So, far, very normal.

But what do you do when he does nutty things, has ridiculous outbursts when, for example, he turns into a robot when he’s frustrated. On one hand, his response is beyond his control, almost a behavioral Tourette’s. On the other hand, when he says, “If you ask me one more question, I’ll turn into a robot,” and then starts to talk in a staccato mechanical way, well, it’s hysterical.

When Elise started as Nate’s aide, and he did something wacky, she was somewhat apologetic that she laughed. “We always laugh when he does stuff like that,” we assured her.

So here are some of our favorite comedic turns, presented by Nate Katz.

1 – If you ask Nate a question, and he doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to answer, he’ll pause for a second and then, in a deep, thick voice, say “Duh.” Not so great on its own, but accompanied by a blank stare and his right index finger placed under his nose in mock picking, it’s quite a vision.

2 – Nate could never snap his fingers. He’d press his thumb and pointer together and come up with nothing. That’s only important because, when he lapses into one of his frequent space-outs, and I call him on it (“snap out of it”), he erupts with a yell.

I tried to teach him how to snap, but he wouldn’t have it, reacting as if I asked him to clean the toilet. But in the last month or two, I’d catch him practicing snapping and, I’m pleased to announce, he’s finally got it down. Now, he says “snap out of it” to me, clicking away at his new-found talent. I love it.

3 – Ten years ago, Nate was at breakfast when Robbie, then 8, came down to the kitchen.

“What do you want for breakfast Robbie?” asked Karen.

“Fart!” exclaimed Rob with glee.

“GO TO YOUR ROOM!” answered Karen with anger.

Nate tells that story 4-5 times each week. He nails the voices, but my favorite part is the low soft grumble he does, Robbie’s reaction when he was cast out. A few days ago, 18-year-old Rob made that same sound. I had Nate do his impression for us all.

4 – Nate has a way of talking; I call it ”Nate-speak.” His phrase creation is marvelous and cracks us up. When he was little, he’d say “Nate likes to go ___” when he meant, “But I want to ___.” He still says it, though thankfully less often. Another gesture of frustration was when he would jump up and down and yell “I want to do about that thing.” It was too dopey to watch without giggling.

Once, to try to break him of the habit of saying constant nonsense, I began to write down a list of “Silly Things Nate Says.” I hoped that when he saw them written down, he’d see how dumb they were and stop. It kind of worked. He ceased using his current catchphrases, but he found the compiling so funny that he made up new sounds and words, like “Yiat fanta boo,” and “Say say say wo wo wo do do do,” that he insisted I ADD to the list. We ended up with 5 pages of funny gobbledygook that I remember as one of the most enjoyable times we had together.

Now, Nate recounts those behaviors with humor. He laughs at the things he used to say. One favorite, long thought lost, but solidly in Nate’s memory bank, was something he said when we made him stop playing his CD-ROM of The Magic School Bus game when the kids explore the human body.

Nate didn’t want to stop, and he expressed it this way: “I want to do stomach, esophagus, mouth, nose, lungs, lungs, mouth!” The car was shaking from all the laughter when he revisited that moment with us.

5 – Nate has the most awkward body movements. He’s a gifted physical comedian and would’ve made Buster Keaton proud. Yesterday, he walked out of the kitchen and Robbie started laughing. Why? Robbie saw Nate was walking with his feet splayed out like a monkey. Not for any of us, simply to amuse himself.

A signature move of Nate’s is his elaborate stretching. He bends his spine backward, arms out, legs straight. It look like he’ll break, or cramp, or fly. The best part of it is Nate will fan out at his desk at school, or in the cafeteria. Anywhere.

And that’s one of the things that makes Nate great. He is the ultimate free spirit, doing whatever, or saying whatever, without the slimmest concern. He makes us laugh, but, even better, he makes us smile.

Courtesy of Mission of Complex


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