My eleven-year-old son has autism, which means his brain has some hard-wired issues that make basic communicating and socializing a challenge for him.
He’s not “high-functioning” or “severe.” He’s your middle-of-the-road autistic kid whocan’tdo impromptu conversations, but if you ask him a question for which he’s got a practiced answer, he’ll respond. For example…
Question: How was your day?
The Kid: “I’m good” (with a thumbs-up sign, even if his day wasn’t so good).
Question: “Do you want French fries?”
The Kid: “Yes.” (note: He loves French fries. He could eat a whole order of fries, and if you ask him again if he wants some, he’ll say yes.)
He wasn’t always verbal.
For the first four years of his life, I was worried he’d never talk. My fears turned to hope one day while an early-intervention therapist was over and we realized he could read words. Lots of them, as it turned out, which is what helped us break into his world. We wrote out conversations, schedules, and anything he could read that helped us through the day. Nowadays, he can do math, read, and sing his favorite songs in multiple languages (thanks to YouTube), but he still can’t hold a normal back-and-forth conversation. Also? He doesn’t care about holding conversations. That’s the social deficit part—as long as he’s able to ask for the things he wants, and there’s an adequate internet connection for his YouTube habit, he’s happy.
When he asks for the things he wants, I move mountains to get whatever-it-is for him. We all do—my family (including my husband and my two older kids). There’s something about worrying whether a child will ever talk, that when he finally does and asks for something of significance—I don’t know how to explain it—but I try to make it happen for him. After guessing what he wanted for so many years while never knowing if I was right, when he finally spoke and asked for things? Well, it was miraculous.
The Kid: I want my zoo, please.
Me: Sure. It’s an hour away, but let’s go. (I love his “please” politeness, and he knows it.)
The Kid at an underground aquatic exhibit at the zoo
The Kid: I want my water slide, please.
Me: That’s an overnight trip. But, okay. We all need a break.
The Kid on our tiny balcony in Wisconsin Dells, overlooking the water park.
The Kid: We are going to a Disney vacation at Magic Kingdom.
Me: Takes a lot of planning, and budgeting. Give me a few months.
The back of The Kid’s head as he watches his favorite Frozen characters at WDW.
But the very best thing that my son has ever said to me was in response to something I’d said to him.
Me: I love you, kid.
The Kid: I love you, too.