Try as I may, I never could.
"I think he ate some gluten last night," I would offer visitors to our home by way of explanation for his actions. They would watch his far away gaze with dissecting eyes. Never did I chalk his behavior up to autism, although he was already diagnosed. Never, ever did I leave him alone to stare off into the distance.
His detached stare hurt. I always offered some excuse.
"I hear the pollen count is very high today. Perhaps he has sinus pressure in his head," I would offer feebly.
I knew that he was in there. I knew it. I felt it. I had seen it during his moments of clarity and connectivity. He was so smart. He was capable. He could do this. He could do everything the therapists were asking him to do and more.
He could sit.
He could attend.
He could answer to his name.
He could look us in the eyes.
He could talk.
He could do it...if he wanted to.
But, just when I thought he was about to do it, he'd turn his head and stare off to a distant land. Somewhere I did not know. Somewhere I could not reach. My heart would fall. It must have broken a million times over in those days. For, each day I woke, positive that day would be the day--the day our son would break through his autism--and that day, as with every day, he would eventually turn his head and stare off to some unknown destination.
What did he see? What was he thinking? How I wished that some way, some how he could give me even the slightest clue as to what was drawing him away from us.
Years later and immune to his staring--was it better? I wasn't quite sure--I found myself left on single parent duty while my husband was out of town for work. By day's end, I was happy to close the bedroom doors to each child's room knowing they were happy, comfortable and that I was heading to the quiet couch for some hard-earned relaxation.
Down the stairs and past the first floor powder room I walked, reaching in to turn off the light, when I was greeted with this lovely sight:
Not one to enjoy immersing my leisure time in autism, I usually preferred to stare blankly at the television, or at a spot on the wall when I found myself with free time on my hands. Sometimes, I did nothing in particular at all. At the end of my day, I had often felt as though I had witnessed a war of sorts, and reliving that war during my recovery period was not my idea of fun.
So, why did I do it? I don't know. Curiosity propelled me to turn it on, I suppose.
Seated on my couch, my dog on one side and a glass of wine in my hand, I settled into the movie, unsure of whether I could truly last until the very end. Struggle. How could I watch yet another person with autism struggle to live in a world where everything around her is so very offensive? That's when I saw it. The blank stare.
The scene showed a young Temple Grandin, staring off to an unknown place. I knew that look. I knew that child. As I watched the movie, I saw in place of the young girl my own son, and I started to understand.
The sun bouncing off of a piece of glass.
Dust particles floating through the air.
The hum of the family computer.
The swooshing of water running in the dishwasher.
Even when we all think that the world around us is still, all is not still--not to the autistic mind. As I watched what I already thought I knew, I became hyper-aware of all that I took for granted. Every sight, sound, touch, and smell that I move on from without a second thought. Things that could stop our son in tracks.
"Perhaps his stomach hurts and he can't tell us? It is so hard to concentrate on speech when there is stomach pain," I had suggested on more than one occasion during that time. How little I actually knew about the one thing I thought I knew the most.
The next morning I rushed about to wake, medicate, feed and dress him in time for his morning bus. Pre-teens are so apathetic to the bus deadline in the morning. Mamamommy was pressed for time. It felt as though I pushed, prodded, ordered and flat-out demanded of him the entire time we spent together before I was to walk him out of our front door.
Frankly, I prefer to start his day on a friendlier note.
However, this day needed some pushing, and once I finally got him down the stairs and I heard his bus back into our driveway I could taste the Finish Line. We were just about there.
"Come on, Buddy!" I begged him when he dug in his heels at the threshold of our doorway. There he stood, looking into the driveway where the bus sat. He was in no hurry to move. His slow gear was frustrating to me. I simply wanted to get this process going, but, just as I was ready to scold him, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye.
The red flashing light of the bus right above its 'Stop' sign was flashing. I took in the environment a little longer and noticed that the bus was beeping to warn to those around it of walking students. The exhaust was terribly loud, and, in the background of all this was the sound of morning traffic.
There was a lot to take in, and that was when I noticed that I, too, was staring off as if to a distant land, right there along with our son. However, I now realize that the land wasn't that distant at all. It was the same land that everyone else shared. We were just viewing it through a different, more detailed lens.
That morning, I gave our son a little extra time to allow for that viewing, and then together we walked to his bus before he climbed on and made his way to school.