The sky was the perfect shade of blue yesterday. The kind of blue that comes with the crisp, clean winter days. Puffy, white clouds traveled lazily by. You could see for miles. When we travel down the hill from home to town, in this kind of weather, I can make out the city 50 miles away. Usually, it’s a skyline covered in fog, clouds, or smog.
But by the time this story is posted, clouds, snow and rain will cover that sky. It’s the kind of weather in which you can only see a few feet in front of you. These are the kind of storms that make you want to stay inside, warm by the fire.
In the past few weeks of winter’s changing weather, I’ve noticed some changes of my own, in my son. His sentences are getting longer, his intellect is growing stronger, and he’s becoming more aware of his environment. These are not sudden or dramatic changes but I’m now seeing glimpses of his development, his future.
In my son’s day to day life, there is a lot of self-talk. He will use phrases and echo portions of things he’s either read or heard on TV, from his talking toys or from someone he knows. The self-talk is repetitive. It is called “stimming” and it is a method he uses to soothe himself.
We travel a lot. Not far, just a lot. Basically, this means that we spend quite a bit of time in the car together. Usually, during these travels, he is fairly quiet, engaging in this self-talk, or stimming behavior while playing on the iPad, with a DVD of children’s TV shows on for background noise. This is his routine. If the TV volume is off, or heaven forbid, the DVD player is jammed, all hell breaks loose and there are tears. There is yelling and general “freaking out” until the situation is rectified.
Strangely, in the last few weeks, there have been times, I never turned the DVD on and he sat, playing with the iPad for 15-20 minutes of the ride without saying a word. Usually, the silence is broken when he comes to the realization that the DVD is off. The realization is followed by a request/demand that it be turned on. “On, Mommy! M-O-M-M-Y!! Turn it on!” is the mantra. I ask, “How do you ask?” He says, “Will you please turn it on, please?” And so it goes.
Closer to Christmas, one of the guys in the office brought a toy helicopter in. When he turned it on, it made a loud, whirring sound. My son, in his work room with his behavioral tutor turned to her, made eye contact and asked, “What is that noise?” She was surprised. She responded that she didn’t know. She asked him if he wanted her to find out. He answered “Yes,” She asked if he wanted to come along. He said, “No,” and stayed in his work room. She came back and explained. He then went with her to watch the toy helicopter. She marveled at his ability to recognize his surroundings and communicate his thoughts in a clear, coherent and timely fashion. I, too, was amazed.
Similarly, once a week, there are landscapers who come by to care for the lawn and shrubs around the office. A few weeks ago, the gardeners were there. They were using the leaf blower. My son was with Jessica. Again, he made eye contact with her and asked, “What’s that noise?” She told him it was a leaf blower. He asked to go look at it. Jessica held his hand and, together they went to watch. My son got scared. Jessica picked him up and he returned to stimming and tuned her out. Jessica, too was struck by the fact, he had both eye contact and a timely communication with her.
Then, just a couple weeks ago, we were returning from a social skills class. On our route, there is a water slide park with an arcade built to look like a castle with flags. My husband and I have not taken our son there because of the potential for vast overstimulation, crowds and loud noise. Neither have we talked about the water park. We have, though, passed this park twice a week, both to and from therapy, for nearly a year now. Two weeks ago, as we drove past, my son said, for the first time, “Wow! Look at that AWESOME playground!” He pointed to the castle.
I cannot really describe to you how I felt at that moment. First, there was a “What?” moment. Almost immediately, it morph’ed into a bubbly, overjoyed, ecstatic moment! I answered that yes, it was an awesome playground and had games inside that we might be able to go see someday. I asked him if he would like to do that. But just as quickly as the moment came, it was gone. He went back to self-talk.
These moments, as a package, could mean something or they could mean nothing. I hope upon hope that they mean something. I hope that they mean that the therapy is working and that he might be able to re-route signals that are now disconnected in his brain. Then, he will be able to make stronger connections with the here and the now. I’m hoping that it means he will come to our world and stay here with me instead of leaving to the stim-land where he soothes himself. I love him, no matter what, either way. But I want him with me. Selfish, yes. But love can be like that sometimes.
Winter is cold. It can be beautiful and clear one minute and cloudy and hard to see another. Autism has been like the winter for us. There are moments of crisp, blue sky and then the clouds come rolling in with the next storm. But when you can see the sky, it’s beautiful. The sky is always there. Always blue. Always beautiful. Maybe, we just can’t always see it that way from where we stand.