I always know when Lucas is getting tired. While being non-verbal prevents him from telling me, the signs are pretty easy to see.
I should add “now” to the end of that. The signs are pretty easy to see now. It makes a world of difference in that sentence.
That’s because it took a while before we figured out that he starts to break into hysterics just as he hits exhaustion. It’s the kind of tired that makes him pass out as soon as he hits the pillow. The moment it kicks in, he begins to wildly laugh. It’s like partying with The Joker at Mardi Gras.
Initially, it was difficult to figure out what was going on. We found it funny to watch him go from small chuckles to huge guffaws within minutes. Now, it’s still funny, but we laugh along as we walk him up to bed.
We figured it out on our own. Through time and observation, we were able to get to a point where we could say with certainty, “Uh, oh. He thinks we’re hilarious. This kid’s gonna drop.”
Even better, in conjunction with his teachers, we determined how to spot when he gets to the point just before laughing exhaustion. He begins tapping. Whether it’s a table or a wall, he will casually begin banging slapping his hand down. I refer to it as him “tapping out” for the day.
To some, it might seem like an arduous task to decipher these different moods, motions, and mannerisms. Truth be told, it’s easy. I, like many other parents, have been doing it for years.
His sister, Olivia, was three when he was born. She is not on the autism spectrum and very-verbal. She also, like every other kid, is just like Lucas in this respect.
Learning about my daughter’s mood is the same way. Very rarely will a kid come up to you and say, “Mom, dad, I’m very upset right now. I’m really just trying to process my feelings about why I didn’t get a second donut. I want you to know I’m very disappointed. I’m sorry but I might be a bit moody this evening.”
No. They flush a sock down the toilet or tear their wallpaper off. Kids rarely, if ever, come clean with their feelings. More times than not, it’s because they don’t even know what those feelings are.
This happens every day. In fact, this literally happened yesterday. I had strolled over to pick up Olivia from camp. Tugging Lucas in the wagon behind me, I could tell she wasn’t happy to see me. Mommy is the one who drives for pickup. Daddy’s the nut who makes everyone walk everywhere. On a sweltering day, the last thing she wanted was a march back to the house.
She slushed her way from step to step, all with a big frown on her face. Finally I asked.
What’s your deal? Are you angry, tired, or hot?
She stopped, clenched her fists, and, with tightly shut eyes, huffed out.
So I laughed in her face, which, in turn, caused her to laugh. Everything was back to normal.
I knew that I could laugh at her and it would go over fine because I know her personality. Another kid might have burst into tears or chased me with a stick. I know my daughter because she’s my kid. I learned who she is and what her unspoken feelings are even when she’s unsure how to express them.
The only difference here is that I can explain to my daughter that she has to process her feelings or understand them better. My son isn’t at that point yet. Maybe one day he will be. Maybe not. Either way, he’s not the only one with a code to crack. Everyone has non-verbal cues and communication. Figuring out the feelings and motivations for others isn’t always tied to language.
It’s not just tied to things like managing emotions either. It’s about the bond you share. It’s the same as siblings or friends claiming to “know what the other is thinking without saying a word.” That’s true of my relationship with both of my children – the one who currently says words and the one who doesn’t.
The world is full of parents who accomplish the same thing. How often have you known a mother who can tell that her child has to pee because he’s sitting a certain way or a dad who can detect that his kid’s lying because her cheeks are red? That’s common for so many people. Having a non-verbal son simply removes the safety net of being able to confirm afterwards with, “Are you laughing like that because you’re ready to fall asleep?” Other that that, it’s the same practice.
The absence of language can seem like a major barrier and, in some ways, it can be. In most ways, though, it’s not. At the end of the day, the bonds we share with our children and family isn’t about what we say. It’s about what we do.
Lucas may not be able to say “Good Morning”, but his giant hugs and shining smile beats that any day of the week. I can tell he’s happy to see me when he wakes up. He doesn’t need to say it and I don’t need to hear it. We both know it. That’s what being a parent is all about.