When my son was very little and we were starting to accept that he might be non-verbal, I came across many others like me. Acquaintances and friends who were just having children also went through the fear we were going through. Initially, the potential autism parenting boat was a fairly big vessel and had lots of passengers.
Of course, Lucas’s early days were filled with a lot of wait-and-see times. We were told that he could start talking at any minute. Keep saying words. Keep interacting. Keep showing him the way and maybe, just maybe, he would develop language.
For my son, that didn’t happen.
For some of those friends and acquaintances, it did.
And with that fact came a host of issues, feelings, and problems that are hard to, well, put into words.
One person I knew had a boy who was non-verbal up until around four years old. He would write to me occasionally about it and how it’s important to be there for our children in any way they need. When his son finally did begin talking, it wasn’t the words that the kid said that bothered me. It was the words his dad, who I had known for years, had said.
In a social media post, he had a video of his boy speaking and wrote about how happy he was that his son no longer has to live in the darkness and loneliness of silence. He was no longer “locked away” and could finally live life to his fullest. These were all his words. I read them. They annoyed me.
They annoyed me because I watched the video first and was happy for him. I’m not a “hater” as the haters say. I want the best for everyone, so the fact that his son had started speaking words and mine didn’t wasn’t a reason to be jealous or resentful. Do I wish the best for my son? Sure. Do I wish it for his too? Absolutely.
What did annoy me was the choice of words he used to describe being non-verbal. My son isn’t locked away. He doesn’t live in darkness or alone. To think that and to say that is ridiculous. It’s a slap in the face to who his son could have been. It’s a slap in the face to who my son is. In fact, on a long enough timeline, it’s a potential slap in the face to everyone reading this.
The truth is that some kids suddenly “catch up” out of nowhere and others don’t. At eleven, my son hasn’t. Today, I’m cool with it. I love who my boy is. I want him to be the best he can be. Whether that involves speaking words, driving a car, or getting married is up to him. If he does any of those things, I will be proud of him. If he does none of those things, I will be proud of him. He’s my son. We don’t put restrictions on the love we give our kids.
The hard part for many parents of children with autism or any special needs is watching the circle of support tighten as we get older. Suddenly, the same parents who used to hang their hats on autism parenting were placing their caps on something else. Little Johnny wasn’t non-verbal. In fact, Little Johnny won’t stop talking. See you next April.
I think that was the loneliest part of it all. You watch as other children start to reach the milestones you had been praying would be reached in your own house. The puzzle piece magnetic bumper stickers come off their cars and you go from hearing similar worries from those moms and dads to hearing things like:
I don’t want to complain about my son’s food allergies. After all, you have so much on your own plate. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you.
That was a direct quote from someone in the early days of my son’s diagnosis. Between me and you, it may have been an out-of-nowhere gut punch, but I’ll accept that gesture. Who wants to hear about her kid’s food allergies anyway?
Lucas might talk tomorrow. I hope he does. Then again, I also hope he learns how to shoot a perfect three-pointer. I hope lots of things for him. Hoping isn’t needing. I don’t need him to do anything. That’s the thing I’ve learned in all of this.
My kid is awesome and that’s not just spouting words for the sake of words. I know how precious words can be. It’s the truth. He has given me a relationship unlike any other I have ever had with anyone else. He’s redefined what love means for me and I am grateful beyond, well, words.
I wish I had known that back when the potential autism parents started to drift away. I wish I could have fast-forwarded to right now and seen how easy, normal, and loving my life with my kids would be. I wish someone had told me.
So, if you’re going through that time right now, let me be your fast-forward button. It’s all going to be alright, even if it’s not the alright you expected. Kids don’t need words. They just need love.