I will turn 5 this year, and I’m not yet talking. Although I’m progressing on several areas, verbal communication is the biggest challenge our little family faces at this moment.
When I was 2, I didn’t speak as well, but somehow -although the average 2 year old speaks about 50 words- this never turned into any problematic situations.
For example: at the grocery store I can do strange things like climbing into somebody else's shopping cart, but a 2 year old gets a free pass to do basically anything. People look at you and reason: ‘Ah, that’s such a small kid, almost like a baby, so it’s ok.’ They even find it cute.
The expectations towards a 4 year old are a bit different however. When I do the same strange things now, people try to correct me. I don’t know what they are saying -I am not even aware that they are talking to me- and that leads to irritation and angry faces.
Thankfully, mommy and daddy are always my spokespersons and their explanations that I have autism usually generate a lot of compassion. However, there are also people who look at my parents and judgementally say or radiate: 'I don't see anything wrong with your kid. He looks perfectly normal to me. Maybe it has more to do the way you raise him.'
It’s becoming more and more necessary to explain my condition and for mommy and daddy to defend their parenting skills.
So why don’t I talk yet? People wonder all the time. They see I have wit and intelligence, but somehow I haven’t discovered the need to talk yet. I get by just fine the way things are now. When I want to drink, I walk to the fridge and get a Coke. If I can’t open it, I walk to someone in the room and hand it to them. It’s that easy really.
About a year ago I started to become intrigued by words and started to say all kinds of stuff, although never in a functional manner. I said 'A Apple, B Book', etc. Until this day, I like to vocalise and practice talking a lot. I often run apps on my iPad that focus on words and sometimes -even in the middle of the night- I wake up and start to do my best to repeat them. Mommy and daddy are then woken up by me saying: ‘M Moon. M Moon.’ They always let me and compliment me, even though it disrupts their sleep. They feel there is nothing more important in the whole world.
I can run like Speedy Gonzales -which is great-, but when mommy and daddy go out with me, I will always see something that pulls me like a magnet. An escalator at the shopping mall or gravel besides the road that I just love to throw in the air. They always have to keep an eye on me and be ready to start chasing me.
Therefore they carry me a lot. Often they are questioned by people: ‘Why don’t you let him walk on his own?’ They can’t. I can’t. I will end up somewhere I really don’t want to be as it’s not the normal thing for me to walk safely besides mommy or daddy all the time.
When we are traveling, we often visit completely new and unfamiliar places. Usually, I don't want to walk on my own under these circumstances, unless I see something that completely amazes me (thing again about gravel or rocks that I can throw). Therefore, I get to sit in the child carrier a lot, which I actually find immensely safe and comfortable.
I am turning out to be quite the little stuntman. At home, I always seek the highest point I can climb and the most dangerous edge to stand on. Mommy and daddy are often busy keeping an eye on me and taking me out of the situation. This leads to frustration frequently and I start to become agitated. I mean: ‘Why can I not climb on top of the garden fence?!’ On a positive note: everyone seems to be amazed by my balancing skills and I often perform tricks with acrobatic precision. Everyone also seems to be astonished that despite my daredevil skills, I hardly ever take a fall.
I cannot sleep on my own. Not now and maybe not for a long time. I like to sleep safely in between mommy and daddy. I need to touch their hands and feel their presence. When they wake up early in the morning and think they can still let me sleep on my own for another hour, yeah well: think again! Within one minute I'm up as well and looking where they went. I just feel -like a little Jedi- when they are no longer next to me, even if just a moment before I was sound asleep. Until a couple of months ago, I woke up around 3AM almost every night, sometimes crying and sometimes overjoyed and ready to play. These moments have decreased substantially to about once a week. Overall, I'm happy mommy and daddy allow me to sleep with them. Often they get to hear that they should let me sleep on my own, even if I cry for hours and that they spoil me this way. Mommy and daddy know however that I am simply not ready.
Although I can sit now for seconds to even minutes on the toilet on my own, that big EUREKA!-moment hasn’t happened for me. I’m still in diapers and probably will be for some time. I don’t get it yet.
I got this thing down! Two years ago, eye contact was limited to a few seconds a day, but nowadays I do it all the time and I enjoy it! I use it when playing or to get things done. Although I’m not yet speaking with words, my eyes do all the talking at this moment, which often melts my parents hearts.
Eating is still difficult for me. Fruits and vegetables are definitely off limits, which frustrates mommy and daddy often. I get some food supplements every day -still in my bottle- to make sure I get the right nutrients into my body, but I cannot enjoy ‘healthy food’ the way everyone is it seems. I like to eat mostly the same things over and over again, and sadly these things are not that healthy. Instant noodles, sausages, hamburgers, etc. You know: the good stuff. Until about a year ago, I puked a lot, sometimes for apparently no reason. Thankfully, the throwing up of food has subsided tremendously.
Up until now, I don't like brushing my teeth. It's weird, it's crazy, it's nuts. At school, for some reason, it goes a bit better. Cutting my hair is like the biggest nightmare. Other kids may understand that hair is just something you can cut and will grow back, but for me it's like removing something that belongs to my body. It may not hurt, but it's unsettling and I simply cannot comprehend. So when my parents want to cut my hair, they have to do it when I'm sleeping, which is quite a challenge. The same goes for cutting my nails. I love to shower and take a bath though.
I still go to the ABA House. Every day, my trainers are doing their best to help me develop. They work on speaking, eating habits, potty training, pointing at things, listening, etc. I enjoy it very much there. The trainers are so kind and I’m always in a good mood, even though I’m attending my school 5 days per week.
The thing everybody is most excited about is me working with PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). Since I'm not yet talking, the trainers at the ABA House have introduced the use of pictures of a desired item or action, known as PECS, which help me communicate. Research has shown that some learners using PECS also develop speech, something everyone hopes will happen for me at one point.
By now, when I want to eat chips, I take a picture of the chips (the desired item) and hand it over to my trainer. She rewards me by giving the chips. When I want to play with a toy car, I give a picture with the toy car. The trainers are impressed by how quickly I understood the principles of PECS and how well I seem to remember these after I've been on vacation.
SELFIES IN THE MORNING
Mornings can be really enjoyable right? For me, the best part is that mommy always makes a selfie with me. By doing so, she learns me how to look and focus at a single spot. I may not get that just yet, but still we end making some truly cool and awesome shots. It's moments like these that I'm at my most content.
I still have a lot to learn as this article points out, but the most important thing in life I figured out: I am a happy and joyous kid.