This morning Jesse and I were lounging at a water park. He was working up the courage to go in the water with his cousin and sister. Something I knew he’d need the moment we walked in the park.
He laid back eating his chips and as soon he was done he sat up and handed me the bag. He looked down at his greasy, crumb filled hands and then at me. I grabbed the wet wipes from our bag and handed him one.
He scooted to the end of his chair and I knew he was ready to head to the pool.
Not a single word exchanged.
My seven year old son Jesse is autistic and is now considered speaking or verbal.
Since about one, he has always had words. Sometimes just one or two words. Around 18 months he lost many that have slowly come back. Only in the last year has he used them to communicate with us.
He still doesn’t speak as well as his three year old sister, but we are grateful for every word. We are in awe of his voice. And while it is new, I hope I never take for granted his ability to tell me what he wants, needs or likes.
But after years without many words and no verbal communication, I know my son like the back of my hand. With one look I can tell what he is about to do, what he needs and, for the most part, what he is feeling.
Now he tells me things that surprise me, every so often, and I feel guilty. Maybe I assumed a look meant something entirely wrong for years. Or that I thought I finally had my firstborn figured out only to be misled by my own projections.
Over Christmas we were at a Christkindlmarkt. As we walked around it became apparent that Jesse was grumpy. As a mom, I knew he needed to eat but as he wandered off I thought he wanted to see more. I said “do you love all the lights and people?” He responded “no, I hate people. Go [home].” While this mostly came from him being hangry, I knew there was a truth to it.
I want him to want to be out and about so he and our family could do things. Not all the time but sometimes. In my head I knew he was uncomfortable but I thought perhaps he would also be curious. Jesse always needs about 45 mins to an hour to warm up anywhere, but to hear him say “I hate people” hurt me. It felt so strong. I too am not always the biggest fan of people or large crowds, but “hate” felt so strong. I’d never heard him use that word.
A lot of language is still new to us.
Had I’d been forcing him into these situations for too long? Just because they hadn’t resulted in a meltdown I would keep pushing. Not every day, or even week, but every so often making an effort to get out. To help him warm up the world and to educate the world.
After eating for about an hour, he was having fun. Exploring, playing with cousins and enjoying yummy German Christmas treats.
He didn’t even want to leave when it was time to go.
That day taught me that I wasn’t wrong about what he needed or wanted, but I need to take his words into account and to talk him through it. I needed to be there for him.
Today we sat together at a waterpark. We didn’t need words but I knew he needed time and a snack to start the day. And he knew I would have everything ready for him. If he didn’t want to go out in the water at all I would sit with him. Now we have words to confirm.
I love this about us. Our communication runs deeps but we can always still learn from each other.
For those of you who don’t know about autism, some kids never have words and some kids have them but never use them to communicate. There is definitely a beauty to it but also pain. Be kind to those individuals and their caretakers. Just be kind.