Like most children with autism, Taylor loved his videos (still does!). When I say “love” I mean he watched them on repeat over and over and over. He had them memorized.
Okay, who are we joking? I even had them all memorized.
I heard all the advice and read all the articles about how I shouldn’t let my child watch TV too much. That my TV was not a babysitter. That Moms should spend more playtime with their child. That he needed to go outside and play, blah, blah, blah.
I also learned that you have to do what works for you and your child. Taylor was learning to talk by watching those videos on repeat. He was hearing the phrases over and over again and understanding what they meant.
How do you explain to someone who doesn’t have a child with autism that those videos brought him comfort? They kept him calm. They gave him something that made sense. They gave Taylor something he could memorize. They gave him his words. They gave Taylor his sentences.
I think Taylor had just turned four years old before I finally heard the word “mommy”, only it wasn’t “mommy” it was “mother’.
I was outside in my garage while my mother-in-law was sitting with Taylor inside. I heard his little voice and I thought…”No! Did I just hear what I thought I did?”
I listened a bit more closely.
“Mother? Mother? Where are you mother?”
Oh my God! I dropped everything and ran into the house. My mother-in-law was standing there with this look of surprise on her face and tears in her eyes, smiling so big at me.
“Did you hear him?! He’s calling you!”, she laughed. She was absolutely giddy!
“It was a moment I had waited four long years for. My child had called out to me. He said my name.”
Then it hit me…hard. No, he wasn’t calling me. That was from “Bambi” when Bambi is looking for his mother.
I had waited so long to hear him call my name and I had wanted this to be real.
Damn, echolalia. I was crushed.
I explained this her but she shook her head at me. “No, Dawn. He was LOOKING for you!”
About that time, Taylor walked back into the kitchen, saw me and ran to me saying “Oh! There you are. Can I have more…?” (“Oh! There you are.” was from ‘Bear in the Big Blue House’)
I don’t remember what he wanted because I realized that he HAD been calling me. He had learned that phrase from “Bambi”, yes. In fact, he actually said it EXACTLY like Bambi did, same voice inflections and everything, but he was using it like he was supposed to. He was looking for me and he plugged in the phrase that went with his need.
It was a moment I had waited four long years for. My child had called out to me. He said my name.
I was encouraged and I wanted more. I wanted conversations. I wanted chit chat. I wanted the constant “why” questions all toddlers ask.
I wanted the barrage of “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Momma. Momma. Mommy!!”
I wanted to be able to tell my child “We need to play the quiet game. There is just too much talking!”
I wanted normal.
I believed we could get him to talk more, we just needed to figure out how.
Frustrated, I asked his speech therapist about it. Why could he said the words “I”, “outside”, “want” and “go”, but could not put these words together in a sentence to say “I want to go outside?”
Why could he recite an entire video to us, but was unable to create on his own the simplest sentences?
This is what raised the red flag to his speech therapist. It was a few weeks after this that we would hear the word “Autism” for the first time and we fully began to grasp the journey that we had in front of us. This wasn’t just a speech issue anymore. This was about far more than teaching my child to say and form words.
This was big. This was scary.
I had to process this information and I am not going to lie, it took me a couple of days.
I didn’t want to be around anyone. I didn’t want pity for us, for Taylor. I went into a dark place those first couple of days. Angry at God, angry at myself, angry at my husband, angry at other parents with their ‘normal’ kids.
“I put myself in his world
and he began to teach me.”
I had to get a grip. I woke up that second day and shook it off. My child needed me. My anger was non-productive. I had to figure out how to approach this sharp turn life just gave us and my first step was trying to understand what life for Taylor must be like.
I paid closer attention to him. Why was he lining up his cars through the house? Why did he hold dry leaves up to his ears as he crushed them, laughing uncontrollably as they crumbled in his hands?
I put myself in his world and he began to teach me.
The way I began to understand Taylor and his language abilities helped me help him. My father-in-law asked me the same question I had asked the speech therapist that day. I felt like I finally understood and explained it to him like this.
Taylor’s brain is like an enormous library but instead of books, it is individual words. It is so full of all these wonderful, fabulous words. So many words that it becomes difficult to decipher which words are more important, which words were happy, which words were sad.
One of the ways Taylor began to understand the meanings of the words was to ‘color’ them. Angry words were in the red section of the library. Sad words were in the blue section, calm words were in the green section. You get the idea.
Taylor understood the words. He understood language. The words were going into the library BUT the library exit doors were closed and locked.
His words couldn’t get out.
My job was to open that door. The words are there, waiting to get out. Some days those words are beating on that door and some days they are waiting patiently, but every day they want to get out.
When that door finally opens I knew Taylor’s world will open, too. I was determined to see that day happen.