He snuggles into my lap as he does every night, smelling sweetly of baby shampoo with a hint of cinnamon which makes me wonder if he got into the spices again. Tonight he curls into me with a huge smile on his face and looks into my eyes with joy, because this evening I’ve chosen “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to read to him, which means he’ll get his Eric Carle fix. Unbeknownst to him I’m switching things up tonight, because recently he’s begun stringing two words together, and I want to capitalize on the moment.
God forbid this former educator should let a teachable moment pass.
So tonight I open to the first page and simply wait. He stares at the book, gives me an “eeeeeee” of excitement, then looks at me as if to tell me to get on with it. I don’t, and just wait to see what he’ll do.
And damned if my severely autistic teenaged son doesn’t start reading the entire story to me.
Truth be told, only every third word or so sounds like the printed one on the page, and even then he speaks so quietly I need complete silence to hear his syllables, each painstakingly uttered with effort and pride. But he is reading one of his favorite books to me, looking at me periodically to see if his mom is following along.
Believe me, I am.
I listen to every sound exhaled with effort, overwhelmed to hear one of his faves read to me for the very first time in the thirteen years I’ve been reading aloud to him (not counting the eight months or so in the womb, yes I was one of those pregnant ladies).
I recall how it felt to realize he could read at three, as his therapists and I threw out index cards with increasingly complex words on them and asked him to hand them to us, which he did with remarkable accuracy.
I remember reading about hyperlexia and taking it all in, recall thinking that even if he never leads an independent life he’d have this.
I recall thinking then that our biggest hurdle with him would be eliciting words, and it wasn’t . He’s learned to communicate in various venues, and now predominantly makes himself understood with his iPad, words being his default plan. I remember thinking how devastated I’d be if words weren’t his primary means of getting his needs met, and I remember the day I realized I should instead be grateful he’d figured out other ways, as some autistic kids never do.
I remember feeling so proud, just as I do now.
There will be many things that will never come with time. Justin won’t marry or go to college. He’ll never drive a car or drive me crazy with requests for said car. He will leave us physically at some point but we will always be intertwined, his fate the primary driving force in my life, his safety and happiness at the forefront of my goals.
But the people who told me he’d eventually talk (and there weren’t many) were right, so maybe my friends who’ve crossed the bit “transition divide” are right too. Maybe I will be able to craft a sixty year span of a good life for him from burgeoning adulthood to old age. Maybe the words will come more fluently.
Maybe those words that warm my soul will touch others too, make them see my beautiful boy as he is- smart, affectionate, and harboring a heart of kindness utterly clear and undivided in its intent to be pure love .
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