When you have a non-verbal child, there are many instances when you have to make decisions based on instinct. This could encompass a wide array of situations, urgency, and reasons.
During Lucas’s younger years, I tried to reel back on these predictive responses so as to get him to ask for himself. I had him use pictures to choose his lunch rather than forcing a bagel on him. He’s been given choices of clothes. I even famously made him ask for every single potato chip while watching television by using the “more” hand signal. Even as family members questioned the seemingly tedious nature of my methods, we persisted. Today, the “more” signal is as easily understood between my son and I as if it was being spoken.
That’s just one cog on the communication wheel, though. I’m not talking about those kind of instinctive decisions here. Those decisions are important. Feeding your kid is a part of the parental job description. Those are the types of things that every parent does whether they have a child on the spectrum or not.
I’m talking about the kind of situations similar to the one that happened earlier today. My son had spent a good amount of the morning on his iPad. It’s his favorite toy and, despite a brief walk around the block, we had been inside doing next to nothing on a lazy weekend day.
I lounged on the couch with a game controller in my hand as he sat next to me, had his iPad pressed up to his ear as he usually does. He was jovial and bouncy with the spark of energy I am so envious of. As I heard that same Sesame Street YouTube video starting and stopping, I knew that my guy was in his element. Admittedly, from a few feet away, I had to struggle to hear what Elmo was saying. It had nothing to do with age and everything to do with volume.
For a parent, the faint loudness was perfect. Limiting the app to a near whisper of sound kept the room serene and he didn’t seem to mind at all. He wasn’t really thinking about it. I watched, though, as he held it closer to his head than he normally did. While he could hear it, I could tell it wasn’t easy he for him. I hadn’t even noticed any of this until we had sat down on the couch.
Then the daddy mode kicked in. After a brief internal debate about what’s good for him versus what’s good for me, I reached my hand out.
Lucas. Give me the iPad. Please.
I did the Pac-Man motion with my flapping fingers and he looked at me with a suspicious expression. I felt like I could hear his thoughts wondering, “Is it bed? School? Are we going to the doctor? Why does he want to take this?”
My hand went up to my ear and I started turning an imaginary dial while saying, “Louder? You want it louder?” As I did, I knew that this turning ear motion made no sense. I would never get it if someone was doing it to me. It’s the internet age, grandpa. This kid never dialed his volumes.
Volume control and things like that are abstract concepts. He might easily understand food and televised entertainment, but things like volume, emotions, and time passing requires leaps of faith that his father had his best interests at heart.That’s what I was hoping for here.
I’m proud to say that he trusts me, so it didn’t take long for him to hand it over. Still apprehensive, he leaned over to see what I was doing to his device.
With my right index finger, I tapped the loudspeaker icon and slid the line up past halfway from the meager speck it had been sitting on. As I did, the sound instantly grew. He took it back and held it up to his ear.
Then, he looked at me with the happiest smile I had seen from him all day. It’s hard to say which one of us was happier in that moment.
Moments like this are a major example of how there’s a lot of selflessness that goes into raising a non-verbal child. That’s just a fact and I’m not telling that as a pat on my own back. He’s my child. It’s my duty to make sure he reaches his potential and lives his best life possible. I’m only telling you that to explain why some people are incapable of doing it. For many, it’s not easy. For others, it’s built in you.
You need a selfless approach when it comes to expecting gratitude. With my boy, I get hugs and kisses, but there are many sacrifices I make that he won’t understand or openly appreciate in the classic sense. I know, however, that there is love there and he expresses it, although not with the immediate “thank yous” that some moms and dads need. I don’t need immediate thank yous. That’s not why I do it. That’s not why so many parents to children like Lucas do it.
The selflessness I’m talking about is the ability to anticipate the things that might make him happy. It’s about buying him the best brand of cheese when he might be content with the cheapest. It’s about giving him new lunchboxes when he would be fine with a plastic garbage bag. It’s about raising the volume when he might not seem to care and I would rather not hear Elmo’s World sing the Shade Song for the tenth time in ten minutes.
So, that’s what I do. I do for my kid because he’s my kid. He doesn’t have to ask, expect, or appreciate. I do it because I love him. Most of us do these things for our kids, whether they can ask us or not. We’re parents. It’s part of who we are.
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