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A Simple Question, Really

May 4, 2012

Today, my son, Troy, asked me if I think that his baby sister, Mary, will ever speak. We were driving in the car, and looking back at him in the rear view mirror, I could see the intensity in his gaze. I also noticed my middle child, Joyce lift her head in interest. It was clear that this was a topic of interest to both of them.

I paused, not sure how to answer his question.

As I usually do with Troy, I settled on the truth, “I don ‘t know.

“But what do you think?”

“I would like to think that she might…. Someday….”

“But what do you think more? When she’s five. You think she’ll talk when she’s five?”

So, now he was getting specific. And of course, optimistic me (stupidly) conceded that she might start talking by the time she is five, but we really never know.

Now, if you know anything about Aspergers, or if you’ve even met my son, you should be able to figure out that if Mary is not speaking on October 10, 2014 (her fifth birthday), I’m going to have a situation on my hands with her big brother – and her big sister, who was listening intently to this whole conversation.

Here’s the thing: I have come to some level of acceptance in terms of Mary’s beautiful silence. I have struggled with it, to be sure. If I am completely honest with myself, there is still a part of me that expects her to speak, someday. That said, I have come to truly appreciate the gift that is her loving silence. I wrote earlier in Shifting Goals,

There is an elegance to this. There is beauty in her silence. There is love in her touch. There is a peaceful understanding here. A bond of love that comes from the unspoken language between us.

“My daughter has taught me well: when the tongue is bound and eyes don’t seem to see and ears don’t seem to hear, love translates.

Autism mamas know the power of connection, we look for it in unlikely places. We know to cherish it, celebrate it, no matter how small.”
~Jeneil at Autism in a Word

Jeneil writes about her daughter, Rhema. Her words are so poignant in part because they apply so easily to those of us with nonverbal children.

There is so much more than what simple words could explain in the smallest expressions of understanding from my daughter, such as the joyful slapping of her hands on my shoulders when she realizes that I do understand what she is trying to tell me; the celebratory hand flapping and rocking that come when she sees something that she really likes; the silence and stillness that come when her senses are completely overloaded; the quiet bumping of her forehead against mine in lieu of a kiss; the silent stroking of the skin on my arm when she needs to be soothed. She tells me more in these moments than any verbal child could possibly communicate with words.

So, I’ve been working on my own level of acceptance, but what of my children? How can I explain to them that they may never hear their baby sister speak? How do I explain to them that she may never be able to attend their school? How do I explain one sibling’s autism to her autistic siblings without minimizing their own challenges? How do I walk that line of their autism being a positive thing that makes them special, but explain that the same thing fills their sister’s world with massive challenges? How do I make that ok for them? I’m still working on that, as best I can….

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 12:11 pm

    Hi, I found you via Jeneil’s blog… had to comment on this post. I wish I had good answers, but this is something we’ve struggled with as well, we also have three children on the spectrum (10-yr-old twins with mild autism and a 7-yr-old with moderate autism). My twins asked me the same question about their little brother when they were younger, and as they get older the questions change but they don’t really get any easier to answer. Right now we are dealing with a lot of frustration on the part of one of our older boys toward his younger brother, some of it is probably “typical” sibling stuff but I think it gets magnified by the challenges of autism. That whole last paragraph summed up what I worry about all the time too… just wanted to let you know you’re not alone.

    • May 7, 2012 12:55 pm

      Thanks. I guess it’s a tightrope that too many of us are walking right now. My only real answers for them are the truthful ones, but that’s difficult when the truth is, I just don’t know. Thank you.

  2. May 8, 2012 12:18 pm

    I know… I had to smile at the part where your son asked, “but what do you think?” because one of my sons asks me that all the time when I answer a question with “I don’t know.” I hate to guess because as you said, he wants specifics and he’ll hold me to it.

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