Sitting By His Side

Lucas wants apple juice – all the time. If you don’t have apple juice, he’ll take orange juice. In dire circumstances, he’ll even take water, but that’s far from his first choice.

Our goal during these thirsty times is to get him to use his communication device and press the keys that say, “I. Want. Apple Juice.” Often, we’ll hear it from the next room over and he’ll come stumbling in with that adorable look on his face. A voice in my head tells me to make him get the talker iPad and bring it to me. Make him “earn it”, in some way. After all, that’s how he will eventually learn to use it correctly. But, as I said, he’s adorable and just requesting is already such a big step in the right direction.

As a non-verbal eight-year-old with Autism, my son has a variety of ways to tell you what he wants. In the absence of his iPad, he’ll usually just bring over an empty cup. He walks in and hands it to me with the sad puppy dog eyes and immediately leaves the room to await my arrival. It’s his word-less way of saying, “You’ve been served.”

Most of his cups are ones with straws inserted into a screwed-on top. It makes the drink accidentally spill out slower than it would without one, but it flows out nonetheless. There’s nothing worse than handing him a full cup of juice only to see him take one sip and immediately place it, face down, on the couch. I watch the wet spot grow and he barely seems to notice as I yell out, “Lucas! No!” At that point, his thirst is quenched. So, he’s good. Scream your heart out, old man.

sideThe most annoying thing he does in these situations is also the funniest. As I mentioned, his drink of choice is juice. If you hand him a water and he thinks he can score some OJ instead, he has a unique way of trying to scam some. He’ll stare you in the face, ball up his fist, and strongly yank the straw out of the top of his cup. Water will begin to trickle out as he hands it back to you with an expression on his face that says, “Whoops. Your cup broke. Better get me some juice instead.”

It rarely works, but he gets points for effort. Writing it out doesn’t do the act justice. It’s a pretty hilarious sight to behold.

Lucas’s quest for liquids is constant. If I’m on my computer, typing on the keys, he’ll walk in and pull my fingers from the keyboard. If I’m playing a video game, he’ll work his cup in between my hand and the controller. If I’m sleeping, he’ll tap me on the forehead. I usually wake up with a jolt. I jump. He jumps. I laugh. He leaves a cup. He walks away. It’s a whole thing.

So why am I telling you this? Because these acts of drink-begging had caused me to believe that my boy sees me as a beverage dispenser and nothing more. If it wasn’t for the occasional requests for his iPad, TV show, or pizza, I’d think he views me as his own personal Kool Aid Man. Every time he walks in the room, I find myself asking, “What is it, Lucas? Something?”

It usually is.  There were times when I would be so fed up with his persistent requests for me to fetch his items that I would send him away before he even had a chance to ask. After a steady stream of drink orders, I’d put my foot down. He’d come back into the room for the twelfth time and I’d insist that he goes back to whatever song Elmo is belting out in the living room. Enough is enough. Be gone, Old King Cole, no more calling for your treasures. You’re done drinking for now.

That is, I used to do that until the day I stopped. I’ll never forget the scene. It was in our new house, the one we live in now. I was seated in my office and typing on my keyboard. My boy came stumbling in with his round cheeks and body-hugging blanket sleeper. As I punched away on the keys, he worked his fingers around mine and began to lead me from my chair in that familiar way he does.

Truth be told, I rolled my eyes. I knew what was coming. He was bringing me to a cup or to an empty box of Goldfish. There was food at the end of our journey and I was the one expected to deliver it. I could feel it in my bones. A part of me was ready to send him away as soon as he arrived, but he caught me in a good mood. I even told him as I stood up.

You’re lucky that you’re so cute, little man. I’m in the middle of something.

He lead me into the den, where no cups were in sight. I was confused for a moment and then, he walked to the couch and took a seat. With his hand in mine, he guided me to the spot next to him.

Once there, he sat by my side, turned to give me a smile, and then hopped up with a clap. That’s when I realized it. The thing he was requesting was for me to come watch TV with him. The prized item he wanted wasn’t a drink or a toy or a snack. He wanted me. He wanted his dad. I was the prized item.

This moment meant more to me than these words can even explain, because it was a moment that, at one time, I didn’t think would ever be possible. As professionals and doctors looked at my baby, they threw around words like non-verbal and Autism. My mind went to some dark places. I made assumptions about who he would be and what type of relationship we could have. I thought he would always see me as, at most, his caretaker.

Yet, here we were, sitting on a couch and watching Elmo at his request. Sure, we had sat together before, but I had always made the initial approach. Often he had been disinterested; seeming to tolerate my presence. This time, the choice was his. He wanted me there. So I was.

Since then, I’ve never been dismissive of him without first finding out what he wants again. Truth be told – nine times out of ten, it’s juice. There’s always that one time, though, waiting to sneak up on me. He’s brought me to the couch on more days after that. Had I sent him away and made assumptions that first time, I may have squashed his spirit before he ever got the chance to show me he cared about having me there.

It was a great moment and, after all those years, we had found a reward that he didn’t have to earn. It’s one that I did. And it’s the greatest reward of them all.