I believe in humor.
When my eldest daughter was 2 ½ the local Montessori preschool urged us to remove her because, although her verbal skills and intelligence were well above average, she was having trouble.
At 5, her kindergarten teacher called her dad and I in for a conference because she was extremely concerned about the fact that my little girl didn’t smile or show happiness.
At 6, she was diagnosed with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder – a touch of Autism, if you will, or Asperger’s Syndrome. The psychologist we met with told us that she would have trouble with social nuance, and specifically, with humor.
“Be careful with jokes, word puns or sarcasm,” they said. “Kids like this are very literal. They need concrete concepts.”
Sonya’s life between 1st grade and 8th grade was a whirlwind of psychiatrists, and various therapies. One psychiatrist we visited insisted on asking the same litany of questions each time we visited. Every week Sonya would answer “No” to:
“Are you feeling like you want to hurt yourself?”
“Are you often sad?”
“Do you hear disembodied voices?”
One week my girl was feeling particularly feisty. When the doctor asked “Are you hearing disembodied voices,” Sonya pretended to be scared, looked around the room, and asked “WHO SAID THAT??” Then she smiled wryly at me.
I laughed so hard I nearly wet my pants.
The doctor was furious. She was, evidently, humorless.
We left and never returned.
When I told the story of Sonya and the irate psychiatrist to a therapist I met at a party, she laughed hard and said “What a short sighted doctor not to see that her humor is her health.”
What this doctor didn’t understand was that Sonya’s love of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which began when she was 7, and the joke books she brought home from the school library, were indeed her health and her passion.
With her somewhat inexpressive face, flat monotone and sometimes awkward speech, this lonely little, self described “alien” had found something to keep her connected to a world that often confused her and was often confused by her.
My daughter is now a happy, high school sophomore. She sings in the choir and takes fencing at the community college. She loves theater, anime, and the mall. She has many friends who I hear giggling with her late into the night during sleepover parties at our home. And she has her first boy friend.
The other night I mentioned that I was going to cook a dish that required white bread. Sonya, knowing I only ever use whole wheat, said “Buy the white bread and hide it among half a dozen loaves of whole wheat, like people do who want to buy a dirty magazine and hide it among Good Housekeeping and Family Circle!”
We exploded with laughter. She was beaming. Proud that she could bring laughter to our lives. Happy to share the antidote.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.