My fourteen (almost fifteen) year old son Lenny is classed as being non verbal.
His relationship with language is unusual, and has caused me (and, of course, him) much frustration over the years.
It is difficult to place Lenny at any one point on a developmental timeline. His profile is so spikey it could be used as a weapon. Skills in relation to balance, escapology, technology and cunning are disproportionate to more classically simple accomlishments such as eating with a spoon or mastering the mysteries of continence. There are times when I believe that his learning is a comletely ad-hoc ‘hit and miss’ affair; he tries something once, and if that method works, then this is the way that he will fulfil the task until the end of time. If his stab in the dark method bears no fruit, then he will abandon the task altogether, dismiss the fruit, and return to a more reliable endeavour.
But every so often motivation overcomes Lenny’s force of habit, he will try a new way, his family will be shocked into silence, watching as the new, magnificent skill is unveiled, with no sense of showiness or pride, just a revisited determination to get into that locked kitchen, to wear that particular shirt, or to repeat that line of the song which will provide the magical clue for Mum to select from Spotify the tune of his dreams.
Because I am a human, and therefore grossly flawed, sometimes I sullenly reflect on the things that I have missed out on, being an ‘Autism Mum.’ I try to stay away from this mode of thinking, this delicious self pitying melancholy which does nothing but convince me that I am a victim of circumstance. I don’t allow my children the indulgence, but sometimes find myself irresistably pulled towards the magnet of ‘Why me?’
If Lenny were to have a voice (a regular, voice, one that asks questions, supplies answers, philosphises, chats about trivia, etc….as opposed to one that occasionally screams ‘Giggit!’ (that is ‘biscuit’ in Lenny’s language)) what would I have him say?
Some time ago, I decided to teach him to say ‘I love you’ because that is what I would most like to hear (selfish, huh? how about what would be the most useful for him to make his needs met in this world??)
When I tucked him into his bed on a night, I would kiss his forehead (much to his disdain) and say, ‘I love you Lenny.’ Not leaving his room until he repeated the sentence was my cunning plan, as I knew that he wanted me gone as soon as possible. Eventually, I would receive a very irritated ‘I love you Lenny!’ in return for my endearment. ‘I love you, Mummy’ I would correct, and loiter in his room, until he angrily said repeated the words.
Angrily repeated the words ‘I love you, Mummy’. There was clearly something wrong with my teaching.
You will be happy to know that eventually I abandoned my determined lesson in love, and stepped from bossy teacher’s shoes to the more exilerating role of student. I allowed Lenny to teach me how to love. I stilled myself, listened with my whole being and not just my ears, and noticed how he chose to express his feelings for me.
‘I love you’ is not love, just as the word ‘ocean’ is not the ocean. These are signposts. I can say ‘I love you’ with anger, sarcasm, bitterness. I cannot show love with anger, sarcasm or bitterness. I can say the word ‘ocean’ a million times, but nothing compares with the experience, standing at the edge of the sea, being mesmerised by the frothy, living rolls of the tide, smelling the brine, hearing the gulls. Our words are signposts, nothing more. Remove the signposts from our world and we are free to examine that which they once pointed to.
Lenny tells me that he loves me every day; he always did. He sits very close to me, caresses my face with a tenderness made all the more loving and sweet by the fact that his hands are huge and rough due to constant gnawing and biting. He puts his cheek next to mine, so that the skin of his face touches mine, he closes his eyes in an exression of pure bliss. The act actually makes my heart ache with love. This is real love, the act of loving, love in illustration. Beautifully illustrated. Thank you Lenny 🙂