It’s Been Cloudy, with a Chance of Progress…Autism’s Moments of Clear Blue Sky.

Bright Blue Winter Skies

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.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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22 Responses to It’s Been Cloudy, with a Chance of Progress…Autism’s Moments of Clear Blue Sky.

  1. Wow…. those moments of clarity you describe are so teasingly beautiful. I totally agree with you on the “what?!” moments — it IS like the clouds being pulled away to reveal a shining blue sky.

    Kaia’s first day of school was a lot like that for us. I expected her to pass out in her car seat on the way home, but she was mostly alert and awake the whole way. When we got home, I offered her a sticker for doing such a great job on her first day of school and she actually identified the shape as a square! (up until now, the only shape she could regularly identify without help was an octagon… yeah, I know… go figure).

    Here’s to hoping that there are many more “what?!” moments for both of us and that you will get to see that blue sky quite a bit more often!

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks Karla! It’s been really weird for us all because he’s going back and forth and we are getting more and more “relevant” talk but it disappears so quickly too. It’s frustrating and hopeful and different. I’m glad Kaia had such a great grown up day at school. My son also, loved the octagon for the longest time…He’s over it now. Now, he loves the oval!

  2. spectrumdeb says:

    Speaking of geometric figures, my son called me a dodecahedron, (that would be a 12 sided figure) this morning. Moments before, he had called me an a**hole, so it wasn’t as cute as you might think.
    Karen, your post is great. I am constantly reminding myself, “Baby steps, always baby steps.” Our progress goes in fits and starts, and has for the nine years we have been on this journey. It is so encouraging that you are seeing movement in your sweetie’s development. Hooray!

  3. Stephanie says:

    I totally agree with your analogy. I’m so happy that he is making such great progress. I’m thinking that maybe he regresses, because all of the new behaviors are so tiring for him. Our kiddos have to really work at the things that seem to just come naturally to us. I’m sure that it takes a lot out of him, so he rests by returning to his norm.

    ….and my son was really into octagons and ovals early on, too. Interesting… 🙂

  4. Beautiful. Hope you get to see lots more of that beautiful blue sky. 🙂

  5. eof737 says:

    Here’s to more clarity and beautiful clouds for you. Progress must be applauded. I concur. ;-:-)

  6. What a lovely post! In it I see intention and it I see those moments when life suddenly bursts into a rainbow of colours. Colours that signify the moment and your and your son’s presence in that moment.

    As i try to lay my finger on that one single aspect in your post that brings up so much positivity. I realise that this has to do with your attitude to look within and seek happiness and love there.

    God Bless!


    • solodialogue says:

      Oh Shakti, thank you for such a kind and thoughtful comment. In this experience, the weather and life just presented a parallel I could not overlook. 🙂

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