Child development books typically portray your child’s growth as a gradually, but steadily, up-sloping line described in neatly organized groups of milestones and checkboxes. Days like yesterday promote the idea that a book about autistic child development would be rather like taking a bucket full of checkboxes, strapping that bucket to a roller coaster, and then hitting the big red Launch button. Needless to say, with the J-Man we threw that book out long ago. It was too stressful, constraining, and not helpful anyway. (One funny sidenote – he actually likes to sit on the couch and thumb through the Your Child’s First Year development book. We’re still not sure what he gets out of that.)
We can spend weeks at a time struggling to get over what seems like the smallest hurdle, though we all know there is no such thing as that in our worlds. The last couple of weeks in many areas it feels like we’ve gone backwards. Then you have days like yesterday where things come seemingly out of nowhere, and you have no idea how they suddenly sprang up. Sometimes we refer to these as ‘quantum leap days’, or ‘leap days’ to keep it simple.
So yesterday the J-Man:
- Fed the baby!!! With a real spoon! With real food on it! And with a great deal of care! We helped him scoop the baby food on to the spoon, and then he did the rest himself moving it carefully to Dale Jr’s mouth, which he accepted with open mouth and unblinking eye. Mary and I almost both fainted.
- While we were outside swinging (beautiful day yesterday too!), I asked him whether he wanted to go inside now or do more swinging. He replied without hesitating using our syllable-at-a-time verbal exchange method that we’re trying to invent a term for, “I want swing.” (his verbal approximation is close to “ssss-wuh-eee”) Wow!
- On top of that, he actually walked to the swing by himself. It did take some coaxing and he wasn’t super happy about it, but he did it. Normally we have to carry him out into the backyard or he has a meltdown on the back porch rather than walk out into the yard without being carried. Again, he wasn’t pleased but he did it!
- While sitting at the dining table, he said (again using our syllable exchanging) “May I be excused?” No kidding. He learned this from a Signing Time video and The Blessed Lady Rachel Coleman long ago, but he said it this time actually at the table in a contextually appropriate way. Woot!
- He went to the kitchen sink and reached for the faucet, which I’ve never seen him do. He said, again a syllable at a time, “I want wash.” Wash hands! After getting over my surprise, I told him we needed to wash hands in the bathroom, which wasn’t what he had in mind at first but then was fine with it. He did want to hang out and play in the water, so we ended up washing hands twice but stopped it there. Still not sure why he asked – his hands weren’t really dirty – but hey, we’ll take it!
- He was very cuddly with Dale Jr. in a way that’s showing he’s relating to him more as a person and brother now. He’s been doing this more and more in recent days, but he was very sweet with him in particular yesterday. The J-Man kinda burrows up next to him. I know this is in no small way a sensory-seeking thing, but you can see more and more how he enjoys the baby’s company. And of course, Dale Jr worships the ground he walks on already.
- All about the ‘family pile’ -The J-Man wanted us all to ‘do pillows’ yesterday morning, which usually involves just one of us resting in the floor on a pillow – or a pile of them – with him. When he indicates he wants this, he’s asking for a sensory break and for help regrouping. This time he started pulling us all into the floor with him, baby included. One could say he was arranging us as his sensory aids, but we could tell this was more an intentional, affectionate act. He didn’t seem particularly out-of-sorts sensory-wise; he just wanted to be close to us.
What was particularly awesome is that these involve two areas he really struggles with: communication and interpersonal relationships. That makes these achievements all the more sweet.
After hundreds of iterations of practice to help him acquire a new, simple skill, sometimes he comes out of nowhere with something that you don’t even remember practicing. Then there are others you know he’s at least seen or heard before if not drilled repeatedly on it, but no matter how much you’ve tried to coax it out of him he may not respond until one day he just up and does it on his own with no prompting at all. There are others still that have involved epic meltdowns on every attempt until one day it seems like a switch got flipped. This is both the mystery and frustration of autism, but to me it’s also one of its greatest wonders.
There are plenty of days – perhaps most of them – where waking up and having no idea what might happen is a scary prospect. Sometimes what we fear comes true, and sometimes we get something different entirely. And then there are days like yesterday with plenty of the challenging autism things still happening, like trying to shepherd his easily overloaded sensory system through the day, but in between all that we discover little furrows where seeds landed unnoticed, scattered there by some unknowable wind or force, which grew hidden for a long time and then suddenly burst forth.
We’ve made it to the season of light and growth and bloom, and finally we have some warmth after a long, cold winter. That doesn’t guarantee anything, except that today, anything could happen.