If you have kids of your own, or nieces or nephews, I know you’ll remember that stage that hits all toddlers when suddenly their eyes really open and nothing but curiosity courses through their veins. You’re holding your toddler on your hip and they point every couple of seconds and either say, “wass dat?” or “eh?” because almost overnight they’ve become so very interested in the world around them. And they’ve discovered that everything has a name. And not only do they want to touch it and smell it and taste it……they want to know what in the heck it’s called! They MUST know or they will lose their minds!
“That’s a table, sweetie. That’s a kitty cat. Oh that over there? That’s called Kleenex.” And if you’re at the zoo surrounded by animals, familiar and exotic, forget about it! You will spend the entire day labeling every animal under the sun, including all species of primates, felines, birds, and reptiles.
It’s a great stage, but an exhausting one too. Sometimes you just want to carry your toddler in silence. You want time to think without labeling toilets and backpacks and artichokes and whatever else crosses your sweet child’s visual path.
But it was a stage that Scott and I NEVER took for granted with our three children that came after Adam. Because he was just starting to do that when it was ripped right out of his sweet soul. No more curiosity. No more questions. No more interest in the world around him. So when Zac started pointing and saying, “eh?” I was ecstatic and would answer questions and label things until midnight if he wanted me to. I knew how heart breaking it was to have a child not question.
So imagine my elation this week when practically out of nowhere, Adam has become incredibly curious again. (This is not by chance, Ms. Amy Jamison and Ms. Jill Davis) but it happened suddenly! And for many kids with autism, it doesn’t matter how much therapy or nurture they receive: this doesn’t come back. But Adam is bringing me piles and piles of flash cards every single day. He labels the ones he knows and expects oodles and oodles of praise (which I freely give). He asks when he doesn’t know one and has me repeat it several times until he’s sure he has it.
So, we are at Ozark Natural Foods today right after his therapy sessions and Adam is a labeling maniac. He takes me to the milk and points to a picture of a cow on the carton and says, “Cow.”
“Yes, Adam…that’s right!” I praise. He repeats this with several items “Yellow butterfly,” he says confidently and points to one on the package of kids’ yogurt tubes.” He continues this routine with several items he knows until he comes to a swan. He doesn’t know this one. So he points repeatedly to the swan and in his own way, asks, “what’s this one?”
“White swan,” I say. White swan.”
“White swan,” he repeats and flashes me a smile as big as Alaska.
So, a shopping trip for four items that should have taken 15 minutes at most, took us an hour because Adam wanted to label and ask questions. And so we did. Up and down almost every isle. And people stopped and stared but I didn’t care, because honestly I think they were just curious too.
So I sit here pinching myself repeatedly with tears of elation dripping from my face, because I wasn’t sure this would ever come back to Adam. But it has. And I pray every day that it will stick and it’s not just a phase and that he will continue to be curious and ask what things are called, because all of sudden, something has connected neurologically which has allowed him to hit this developmental mile stone that was stolen from him 14 years ago.
Now this story has a funny ending. He’s hit another, not-so-pleasant stage as well. It’s the “NO!” stage. I’ve also seen this emerging the last week. Flat-out back talk. For example, “Adam, please turn down the T.V.” His response… “No.” Say what?! Since when does he talk back like that? And not just to me, but to his siblings and my mom, who has been staying with us.
On the way home from Fayettville today, Adam and I even had a hearty disagreement over the radio. I wanted pre-set station #2, which was playing Pink. He insisted on #5 which was playing Bruno Mars. I explained to him, “This is mom’s favorite. Let’s finish this song and then you can pick.” We’ve worked all along on teaching him to respect that others have opinions of their own and to be fair and flexible. Not today. Today it was the “terrible two’s” which he also never hit. Or perhaps it was typical 15-year-old behavior. Don’t kids that age have really strong opinions on which music is cool and which isn’t? And don’t they usually fight for control of the dial? We went back and forth at least 4 times with the radio, because honestly it was really fun to see Adam assert himself in that way, to express his opinion and to show some typical behavior, whether it was that of a two-year-old or a 15-year-old. Whichever, I will not take it for granted and I will pinch myself one last time to make sure it’s all real.