Most people assume that my son Connor has been non-verbal his whole life–that he’s never spoken. However, early on he was able to speak a little. Part of the tragedy of autism is what it steals from you.
So, to help others understand what we’ve gone through over the years, I want to share with you a few of the words that Connor has said.
Shortly after we began therapy with Connor, shortly after he had lost his speech and retreated into his own little world, I got an actual word out of him.
In speech therapy the goal isn’t just communication but useful communication. The goal is to give them words that will enable them to get their wants across. One of the key words a child needs is the word “more.” It’s useful for “more food,” “more drink,” “more tickles,” “more time on the swings.” So “more” was taught over and over again, pronounced with precision so Connor would know how to use it.
It was early morning–a Saturday morning, in fact. Back then, with young kids, Saturday morning for me meant getting up, turning on the TV and laying out some cereal and a drink. It worked for me growing up, why wouldn’t it work for my kids?
Apple juice was the drink of choice back in those days. We always had a jug of it in the fridge and I had already poured a glass out for him. I had taken my place back on the couch and fallen asleep like any good, attentive father.
“M-m-mmore,” I heard, half asleep. I opened my eyes and there stood my son, holding the jug of apple juice close to his body. His little hands supporting it but unable to take the cap off. I watched his lips, tight together, pushing the word out. “M-m-mmore,” he said.
“More?” I asked him. “You want more?” I knew he wanted more. What I wanted was more communication. I wanted to hear more words. I wanted more….of him…in my world.
I didn’t get more. It was like it took every ounce of strength he had just to get that one word out. He struggled to speak it–fighting his own nature to make his need known to me. I got up, poured another glass and he drank in his silence.
Today I hold him down on his bed and tickle his toes. I grab his belly and listen to him squeal. Then I watch him quickly and easily bump his hands together, saying “more” in sign language. It’s his language. It’s natural for him. And most importantly it’s understood by me. I oblige and tickle some more.