Often, in the community of autistic parents, we talk about how the little developmental steps are celebrated in a big way. Progress in areas of language and communication either comes slowly or comes to a complete standstill for our kids, at times. Meanwhile, non-autistic children (neurotypicals) seem to fly by us with words. When our kids add a new word or a new sentence to their repertoire, as ASD parents, we can get very excited.
It’s hard to describe. For me, I feel lighter. Like the worry I carry gets a little lighter each time some form of progress occurs. It’s happiness. With each step toward progress, my child is given a gift, one that cannot be purchased. A gift that comes with time and patience and love.
Having said this, something is going on inside my little boy. He is growing. And changing. The changes should be subtle. They should be hard for me to detect because I’m around him so much. Maybe they have been hard for me to detect. Perhaps they’ve been happening for a while, and I just haven’t noticed. But what I am seeing now is strange and wonderful.
This weekend we spent all our time together. It was not anything spectacular. We just followed our usual routines of grocery shopping, getting gas, doing laundry, cleaning and playing at home. But, even though our activities were the same, this weekend was different.
It started on Friday night. I was on the computer. My son walked up and without any prompting gave me a full string of about five to six sentences in a row. Each sentence was complete. It was not all grammatically correct but, nevertheless, complete. He made eye contact with me through the whole thing. He was excited and animated. It was a long description of the make, models, colors and features of the toy cars he collects.
I was floored. I think my mouth was actually open, catching flies as he talked to me. He was kind of swaying from side to side, almost dancing as he spoke. And he was smiling. As soon as it was over, I forgot what he said. Completely. I could kick myself for not being more in the moment, but it took me a little bit to catch up to what was happening.
It was like this in my mind:
“Oops, he’s talking to me. Listen. Okay cars. Wait a minute. He’s giving me more than one sentence. Hey – he’s not repeating the same thing – these are new sentences. This is not echolalia! Hallalujah! Wait, what did you say?”
It may just be more complex echolalia or a different kind of obsessive language, but I am just happy that I’m getting more language that come from thinking, instead of repeating or reciting something stuck in his head. It was beautiful.
And the moment was gone. I immediately wished I had listened better and written it down. Was this a fluke? Was I exhilarated now only to be disappointed later? I wondered when it would happen again. I promised myself that if it did happen again, I would be sure to write down the sentences immediately.
The very next morning, we were getting ready to leave the house and it happened again. Not as many sentences as the night before. He, spontaneously, approached me and said:
“If you fall down the street, you could get hit. And you could get dirty. Cars could hit me.”
Okay, so it’s not the Gettysburg Address or anything, and not exactly on point, but he was actually thinking about the discussions I’ve had with him lately, talking about watching where you are walking in parking lots, so you don’t fall or get hit by cars.
Two days of good language completed our burst of communication.
The following day, the little guy was back to giving me a couple words at a time or asking questions to communicate. “What color is the truck?” (He knows the answer – just a way to talk) and “You could eat this,” to ask me if his taco had gone bad.
There were no big changes to his diet or his routine. He is on no medication other than his asthma and allergy stuff. He did not get too much, or too little, exercise. I have no way to identify any associations between what happened that might caused these moments of fluid language. I wish I understood.
Maybe it was a fluke or maybe it’s slow progress. I don’t know yet. I’m just hoping for more.
Let us not underestimate the power of hope.
No matter how fleeting its life,
It offers to us the most convincing
And fulfilling power.