Thursday, March 17, 2011

Use your Words

Our older son, nine years old and low-verbal, entered New York State's Early Intervention system when he was 17 months old. At that time, he received services to assist him with his sensory processing and also with his speech. Up until that point, my husband and I may have heard him say three or four  random words. When he turned two years old, he received a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, and his in-home services increased to 30 hours weekly of speech, special education, music, and physical and occupational therapies. Life was busy! We maintained this schedule until he turned five.

"Use your words, please," I would hear from the therapists over and over, day in and day out. In return, our son would whine, cry or flee. However, more than a year into this intense therapy schedule, during one of his speech sessions, it happened. I heard his voice. 

"More," he said, and reached for a ball to a motivating toy which the therapist was purposefully holding out of his reach.  I held my breath. I was scared to breathe and miss anything else. What happens next? Will he say it again? Will he remember how to say it in five minutes:? An hour? A day?

Does this mean he's going to start to talk?

He continued to say "more," and by the time he entered preschool at the age of four, I proudly gave his teacher a list of roughly 50 words that I knew he could say. How hard we had worked for those fifty words. That number seems ridiculously small, I know, but I was so possessive of them and proud!

One morning when he was six, he decided that he did not want to wear clothes to school. This, I told him, was NOT an option. I'd put the pants on. He'd take them off. Shirt on. Shirt off. We wrestled, struggled and worked up a sweat! But, in the end, I prevailed. I felt invincible. I held his hand as he walked, CLOTHED, in resignation to his bus which was waiting in the driveway. "Hello," said the driver to our son. "How are you today?" Our son was bent over, looking at a light on the stairs.  "Shit," he said, and he quietly stood up and walked to his seat. I stood, processing the pink elephant which had just been tossed before a group of dumbfounded adults. "Well, I believe my son just said 'shit,'"  I said. "Yeah," said the driver. "I noticed that."
Our younger son, who had heard this exchange and noticed the resulting snickers from everyone, decided to try the word out himself on the afternoon bus. Ugh. There went my chances for Mother Of The Year.

Over the years, I've learned not to hold my breath for words as I did that first time, but the pride is still there.When he was seven, he spontaneously said, "I love you" to me for the first time. I have not heard it since. It was also a year ago that he finally decided perhaps I needed to be called something  just in case he wanted me and I wasn't by his side. At eight years old, he settled on "mamamommy," and I still answer to it today.

Always, I look at him as he sits in life in silence, and I wish I could read his thoughts.

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