I once worked for a company that sold bottleless water coolers to businesses. Sound boring? It gets worse. I didn’t even sell the water coolers. I made appointments for salesmen to go meet businesses to sell water coolers. Still sound bad? I started work on September 4, 2001. The businesses on my call sheet were all in the World Trade Center.
That’s all true and not entirely relevant to the story, but interesting enough to warrant a mention. At this job, there was a stream of quirky salespeople. Everyone had their own schtick. Picture the famous TV show The Office, only not funny. That is where I worked.
One salesman, who I will call Bob Smith, had a weird way about him. With his head shiny and shaved, Bob liked to wear thin dress shirts with visible undershirts shining through the translucent fabric. He fancied himself humorous. His weekly reports were performances no one signed up for. Monday meetings were a bit part of that.
Yeah, so that’s the final report on the sale to Trager’s. They liked the units. If you guys need me to send over any numbers, you can just email me at my private address. That’s Bob dot Smith at Hotmail…uh, dot com. That is Hot…Male...dot com. Uh, a hotttt-male dot com.
With a big smile, he would look around the room for any reaction. That’s when I’d lock eyes with Pete, a salesman across the room who I was much friendlier with. He wouldn’t make any noticeable reactions, but simply looking my way and the dead expression on his face told me all I needed to know. Picture Jim from The Office looking into the camera only… well, this one was kind of funny too.
Afterward, Pete would come up to me with his deep Brooklyn accent and gesture over to Bob’s desk.
Yo, get a load of Mr. Clean over there with his hot male. Heh heh heh.
I knew he was going to say that. I knew without exchanging a word.
And that’s how I communicate many things with my son.
Lucas has autism and, at 12 years old, is non-verbal. He doesn’t speak in the traditional sense and has never said a word. We don’t communicate that way.
He has a communication device that helps him ask for pizza and orange juice constantly. We even have hand signals for things like “eat”, “wait”, and “give me.” There are many conventional ways that we interact in which a parent, preparing to have a child with delayed or non-speech, might be able to pick up in a book.
Those are all great and, as he gets better with his iPad “talker” device, he will eventually be able to tell us more about his wants and needs. However, for now, the way that we communicate best and, I’m assuming, will for a while, is through instinct.
I can usually tell what my boy wants by his expressions and approach. It’s a gut feeling that comes from non-verbal experience with him. Like a friend across the room, mocking Mr. Clean’s email joke, I get him. I know.
One example is his love and confusing over the Kindle. Lucas loves devices. His mini-iPad is a favorite and he can navigate it so well. Since the age of 2, he’s been swiping away and learning how to find what he wants. He can sit on the iPad for hours without help.
The Kindle? Not so much. He still can’t get back to certain menus and screens. It requires my help most times.
And that’s why he always wants that one specifically. You’re not supposed to put emojis in blog posts, but this is where I’d post the facepalm guy if I could.
It’s an uncomplicated process. He navigates away from the search results for “Sesame Street Songs” on Youtube and constantly needs me to Hansel & Gretel him back to it. It is a matter of pushing the search bar, pushing the x, and then selecting the first option of saved searches. It takes me a second to do, but he needs it every other minute, which makes it a tedious chore. It can be maddening over a long enough timeline. Yet, I do it with patience.
He must realize how annoying it is because he approaches me like a street beggar from a Dickens novel. Hunched over and creaking slowly, he outstretches his arm and dangles it in my face. I look little Mr. Oliver Twist in the eyes and it always gets me when he looks back at me with that forlorn expression.
Someone might be reading this and thinking, “Aw, he’s scared to approach you.” Yeah, no. Even in this trepidatious state, he will literally place it in front of my face, all but placing it on the bridge of my nose if I ignore him.
I can read this request a mile away. As soon as he comes hobbling into the room Tiny Tim-style, I know what’s coming. I get him. He’s my kid.
The same instinct helps me know when my neurotypical 14-year-old daughter has an issue she is dealing with or a need for something. Parents can sense their kids’ needs without words to spell things out. It’s not a magic trick. You can tell when your child is hungry, tired, or uneasy. Parents know. How? No clue. We just do.
Having a boy like mine seems daunting to those who can’t fathom how we communicate, yet we all do it every day, as many others do without even realizing. My son is my little pal and, like a friend across the room during a boring meeting, we can sense each other. Words are overrated. Perhaps if more people talked less, they might just realize.
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