Ah, it feels so good to be back here.
All week I’ve been itching to write, but it’s not just the wordsmithing that I love (and I LOVE the wordsmithing), it’s the knowledge that some of you out there really hear me. And I need to tell you something: I’m not the only one in this family who needs a vacation.
My son is talking so much these days, working harder than he ever has before, and I think that the heart and soul of it all is this: He needs to be heard. And on behalf of the communication-challenged population, including my sweet son, I have something to say: Difficulty with language must no longer–not ever—be equated to a lack of substantive thought. Spend a while getting to know someone with autism, and they’ll flip everything you thought you knew about intelligence and ability on it’s head. You’ll be prying your jaw up off the floor. Trust me, I am raising two wonderful children with autism, and I still wind up with my mouth gaping open multiple times in one week. If you need a little practice, just watch this (but be sure to see it through to the end…it will ASTOUND you): I posted a link to this video a few years ago because it had such a profound impact on me, and every so often, I watch it again to help me keep things in perspective when it comes to my kids. It has moved me to try, even as I expect my children to learn to talk in a way that the larger population can understand, to learn to understand the ways they communicate that are not language based. Because there is so much that they want to say, and like the rest of us, they have a deep need to be heard and understood.
Almost every night, Adam talks to Kevin about all the things he has to do that he doesn’t really want to do. Adam climbs into bed, frustrated that the day is over and he’s had so little free time.
“No brush teeth today! No school tomorrow! No homework! All done!” And as he slides under the covers and snuggles up with George monkey, “It’s time for the weekend.”
So, of course, Kevin pursues the conversation. “I know, Buddy. School tomorrow, but no school Saturday. No homework Friday. What do you want to do this weekend?”
“Goodnight! Finished! All done!”
“Wait—what do you want to do this weekend?”
“Goodnight! Time for sleep! Byebye!”
“Why do you want me to leave the room?”
“School tomorrow. School Friday. No school Saturday. Get up, get dressed, make bed, check blood sugar, eat breakfast, get shots—all finished!”
Kevin knew exactly what his exasperated little Adam was trying to say, which was something like, “Dad, just go ahead and leave so that I can go to sleep and get all of this stuff I don’t want to do DONE so I can have some free time!” Every day, Kevin and I battle that very feeling. If I can just get past all this stuff, I might just get to rest and enjoy life a little. It’s why we have the word TODAY spelled out in capital letters above my desk downstairs. We need a constant reminder to enjoy the moment we’re in rather than wish it away. We want to be present, joyfully, in the present moment. But that’s tremendously difficult when responsibility means doing more than just what we want to do. So, we get it.
“I know, Buddy. You need some time. What do you want to do after breakfast and shots on Saturday?”
“You want to go outside. What do you want to do outside?”
“Jump on trampoline.”
“Ride Adam’s bike.”
“What else do you want to do on Saturday?”
“I want play computer, please. Adam’s turn, Riley’s turn, Zoe’s turn.”
“You want to play computer?”
“What do you want to play on the computer?”
“Primary games. Dune buggy. You’re good, dune buggy.”
“You like dune buggy. That’s cool, Buddy.”
“Yes. Time for sleep! Goodnight!”
And so it goes. Almost every night, the conversation is a little different. Last night, Adam offered, “Home journal.”
So, Kevin looked at Adam’s home journal from school and talked to Adam about what he had done at school that day. Adam commented, “No science tomorrow. I don’t like it science.”
I cannot even put into words what it’s like to suddenly discover all these tiny little things your child has been feeling that he’s never been able to express to you before. Adam doesn’t like learning about science. That’s interesting to me, since he’s already a little physicist. When Kevin took the training wheels off of Adam’s bike, Adam hopped on and started riding, swinging the front of the bike back and forth in huge lunges. Kevin waited for Adam to fall off, certain that he would, but Adam never fell. He experimented with balance for about 3o minutes, and then he took off as though he’d been riding that way for weeks.
Every night when Kevin comes out of Adam’s room, he shares a new detail with me, and I soak it up like a sponge. It’s so sweet to me that at this age, Adam not only desperately needs to be heard, but he needs to be heard by his dad. He lives to talk to Kevin, and he looks at his dad with this expression that says what he just can’t say yet in words: Dad, I know you understand.
There are days, when I feel like I’m about to go completely insane and I’ll text Kevin just to tell him what measure of craziness I’m hurtling through at the moment. He’ll send back a smile, a few knowing comments, and usually some witticism that makes me laugh out loud in spite of my frustration. It’s amazing how much it helps just to know that he understands what I’m feeling, even when I’m fully aware that there’s nothing he can do to change my current predicament. So, I have no trouble understanding exactly why Adam goes to him for the same measure of comfort. And I hear them in there, as I’m leaving the girls all tucked-in behind me, talking and laughing together. I know Kevin’s doing for Adam what he always does for me—listening, understanding, getting it, and making Adam laugh despite his frustration. Seconds later, I hear giggles and shrieks coming down the hall from the girls room. Dad has arrived.:)
Oh, how children need their fathers. I need mine still, and I’m all grown up. My dad still hears me, still understands, still makes me laugh when I need to lighten up and let go of my angst. As I grew up, my dad patiently taught me how to understand God as a father who is absolutely just and at the same time deeply loving, always hearing, and faithfully compassionate. I am so thankful that Kevin is teaching our children the same extremely important lesson. He’s a good dad.
Last Friday, as we sat beside the basketball court waiting for Riley’s game to begin, Adam beamed up at Kevin and placed an index card with a question written on it on Kevin’s thigh. Adam’s extremely gifted teacher (We love you, Ms. Heidi!) makes question cards for her students so that they can practice asking and answering questions. For a child with autism, it’s often not just how to answer a question that’s difficult, it’s also recognizing that conversations happen between at least two people. They have to learn to be interested in the other person’s answer, and they have to learn to wait and listen for that answer. And you know, I’m pretty sure that most of us neuro-typical adults could use a little practice in that arena as well from time to time.:) Anyway, on one side of the card there’s a question about a favorite (it took Adam a little while just to understand what the word favorite even means) like, “What’s your favorite movie?” On the back, there are several possible answers to the question. The questions and answers are written using words and pictures, to help the kids understand what the words mean. Adam likes to practice answering with every possible answer on the card, in order.
“What’s your favorite movie?” He says aloud to himself. “I like Madagascar.”
Then, “What’s your favorite movie?” He asks himself again. “I like…Cars.”
He practices religiously, like a basketball player who spends hours practicing shots from every spot on the court. But not only does Adam practice with himself, he also loves to use the cards appropriately, to practice conversation skills. He wants to ask us the questions, and then he wants us to ask him.
So last Friday, Adam put the “What’s your favorite movie?” card on Kevin’s leg, pointed to it, and said, “Question.”
Kevin smiled, looking down. “Question, huh? Let’s see…Who’s your favorite sister?”
Adam made quick eye-contact with Kevin (in other words: You switched the question.). “Zoe.”
He pointed to the card again. “Question.”
Mischief played out all over Kevin’s face. “Who’s your favorite…teacher?”
Adam did not look up, but flipped through the home journal on his lap. “No.”
“Who’s your favorite teacher, Adam?”
Adam bounced a little on his seat. He doesn’t like to talk about school or teachers except to indicate his current displeasure with them both (Hard work, you see. Productive, wonderful, obviously important work. But very hard for Adam, so not his favorite.) “No! Math.”
“Math is your favorite subject (It definitely is…Adam is a math whiz.). I asked: Who’s your favorite teacher?”
Adam pointed sternly at the index card. “No. Question! Just the paper!”
Clearly, Adam wasn’t going to answer the favorite teacher question, but I smiled so much listening to and watching my son talk to his dad that my cheeks hurt. It reminded me of a recent Wednesday evening, when it had been Adam’s turn to ride home with Kevin in the truck. The two of them walked in and Kevin said that somewhere along the beltline, “What is your favorite vegetable?” had appeared on an index card thrust right in front of his eyes. Gently, Kevin had had to push Adam’s arm down with one hand, pointing out that they could talk, but that Kevin would have to be able to see the road. The gesture touched me though, as Kevin relayed the story. With one quick thrust of an index card, Adam had said, “Dad, I need to talk to you. I’m not sure what to say or how to say it, but NOW, please. I need to talk to you—now.” It reminds me so much of the neediness with which I pray sometimes, and the deeply wonderful satisfaction of knowing that my heavenly Father always hears me, even when the words just won’t come.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. ~Romans 8: 26 and 27, NIV