I've been thinking lately about the very first, honest-to-goodness, back-and-forth conversation that I ever had with Bud. I can recount it to you verbatim, because it was such a big moment that I immediately captured it in writing:
Me: Let's go get your coat.
Me: Yes, we're going outside.
Bud (getting a ball): Ball.
Me: No, we can't play ball outside today. It's too cold.
Me: Yes, it's slippery, too. We're going bye-bye in the car.
Bud: No boots.
Me: No, you don't need boots in the car.
Bud was just over two-and-a-half, and he wasn't speaking much. There were occasional words and phrases - mostly echolalia, though I didn't really know it at the time. He was already in early intervention, but he had not yet been screened for autism - though the possibility of it may have begun to creep onto my radar.
But then: conversation! I was certain at the time that it was the start of what would become an explosion in language development - a sign that, within months, I would chuckle and wonder why I'd ever been worried. It was the thing that I pointed to - the thing I clung to - as I shaped a world view in which my child did not have a disability. Yes, I thought, his speech is delayed. But we have conversation!
And we did have conversation - one conversation - when he was two-and-a-half. The next one might have been a year later; it might have been much later than that. I'm not sure, because that one was not captured in his baby book.
I've been thinking about how that one conversation shaped my mindset in those early days. It may have held me back from really recognizing what was going on with my son's development - may have kept me longer in denial, may have made me less likely to seek additional support. But I think it played another role, too. I think it kept me focused on Bud's potential. It made me see him not as a child who couldn't converse, but simply as a child who didn't converse. There's a big difference there. With the former mindset, I think I would have viewed him as a child with limitations; with the latter, I saw him as a child facing obstacles. It helped me to focus on helping Bud master the obstacle course, rather than making it okay for him to sit out the race.
And as I think about that, I think about all of the attention paid in the popular press to the "early signs" of autism - the behaviors that indicate that your child might have the disability. It occurs to me that we might want to start giving equal attention to a different type of early sign - the behaviors that indicate that your child with autism might have tremendous potential - tremendous ability. Even if you only see those behaviors briefly. Even if you only see them once.
Bud and I have frequent conversation these days. They're different from the conversations that I imagine most parents have with their ten-year-olds. But now, as when he was two-and-a-half, our conversations are full of moments - brief illuminations - indications that he is capable of so much more and that he is constantly reaching for his capacity.
We should talk about them more.
MOM-NOS writes about life with Bud at Mom - Not Otherwise Specified and is delighted to have joined the Hopeful Parents writing community.