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Free ebooks ==> Zachary 45 gain store. Her dream was to become an actress, but these aspirations had to contend with her son’s disability. With this added stress, there was little likelihood of finding the time to pursue another career. Why does a nine-year-old boy become obsessed with death? How can this be understood in a child with ASD? What is a parent to do? Angela asked to see one of our therapists to discuss these questions and to find a possible solution to the problems it was causing for both her and Zachary. While they were having a conversation in the living room, a small, rather plaintive voice called out from the kitchen, “What about ol’ Blue Eyes, then?” Angela and the therapist looked at each other in despair. Frank Sinatra had just died the week before. Zachary was now extending his range of concerns beyond the immediate family. This was not a good sign and was another indication that Angela’s attempts to deal with the problem on her own were having little effect. Why Ol’ Blue Eyes? Apparently Frank Sinatra was his grandmother’s favorite singer. She had recently developed an ulcer. Perhaps Zachary was worried about the effect his death might have on her health—or so Angela surmised. Zachary could not articulate to his mother or to the therapist why he was worried about Frank Sinatra in particular. I had seen Zachary some three years earlier for an initial assessment. In the interim, our therapists had worked with him and with his mother to address concerns about behavior in school and social skills with peers. But this time I wanted to see him as well. This sounded more like a profound problem with anxiety than a difficulty in getting along with friends and doing well at school. It was nice to see Zachary after such a long time. He arrived one warm spring day after school. He had very short-cropped blonde hair, with little tufts sticking out haphazardly. He had grown quite a bit since I had last seen him. The most striking thing about his appearance was the way his legs and arms stuck out from his body. His tight T-shirt and shorts accentuated this gangly appearance, and he moved his limbs in a rapid, staccato manner. He carried several small toys with him— Volkswagens in green, red, yellow, and blue. When he came into the office, Zachary immediately went to the toy box and picked out a white police car. He did not actually play with it but rather held the car in his hands along with all the other small toys. As if on cue, Zachary began to ask his mother the familiar questions: “What happens when Grandma dies? Who will replace her? What

46 A MIND APART about Uncle Jim?” Angela answered him dutifully. I was amazed at her patience, but I could also see the fatigue in her eyes as she replied to the same set of questions she had answered hundreds of times before. Angela was powerless to withstand the relentless insistence of his questioning. She had tried several maneuvers to get him to stop—ignoring him, giving him a time limit (“You can ask me questions for five minutes and that’s it”), imposing time-outs (“If you ask me one more time, you have to go to your room for a while”)—all to no effect. There might be a momentary respite in his questioning, but it would be short-lived, and often he would return with even more insistence and anxiety than before, almost as if he were becoming agitated by the stress of restraining himself. Zachary then blurted out, to no one in particular, “Denver on The Dukes of Hazzard died. He died of lung cancer. I’m going to watch the memorial on TV.” The Dukes of Hazzard TV show was also one of his preoccupations, as there were several car chases in each episode. It turned out that the main vehicle is a white police car, just like the one Zachary held in his hands. I asked Zachary what happens when you die. “You go in a casket, your body is buried and dug in the earth,” he replied. Most children his age believe that a loved one who dies goes to heaven and may return to visit—or some variation on this theme. I asked him if he believed in heaven. “I don’t believe in hell, and I don’t talk about heaven,” he replied. Very sensible, I thought. “I don’t think you come back,” he went on. “Frank Sinatra was eighty-three years old when he died. He sang ‘My Way.’ ” The conversation veered off in all directions, much like a car out of control. I was astonished that Zachary had such a sophisticated understanding of death, one that contrasted so sharply with his interest in small toys. Most children with ASD have much more difficulty with abstract concepts like heaven and hell. But then again, I wondered if I was missing something important. Perhaps his understanding was not so sophisticated after all. Perhaps Zachary was simply repeating something he had heard others say at funerals or in conversation. In fact, his mother told me that in the previous year Zachary lost one great-aunt to cancer after a twelve-year illness and another great-aunt died at the age of ninety-two. Since then, there had been much discussion among extended family members about death, and it was soon after these events that his grandmother developed an ulcer. She was not seriously ill, but