Giving Connor Back His Voice

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One of the realizations we had to come to as parents was that we didn’t lose our son to autism. Autism muzzled him, muffled his voice, clouded his head and put a barrier between him and our world. As devastating as that was, I’m constantly reminded that there is a little boy still in there. He laughs, he cries, he eats like a horse. He loves his daddy and interacts with me as best as he can. We have a pretty good time together.

AutismWhen we determined that something was wrong with Connor’s development we immediately went looking for help. One of the best resources we found has been Eastern Illinois University’s Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic. The instructors are incredible and the student clinicians are receiving great training with excellent oversight. Connor gets wonderful care there and many opportunities for growth.

With growth comes success. As we began therapy I quickly found myself looking for any glimmer of hope we could build on. As opportunities to communicate were given to Connor I started looking for more intentionality in the things he was already doing. Continue reading

Words Connor Has Said: Night Night

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When Connor was born no one wearing a labcoat and carrying a clipboard came into our hospital room and said, “I’m sorry to inform you, your son has autism.” That’s not how autism works. Autism is subtle at first. We left the hospital with a healthy and happy baby boy. Our hopes and dreams were intact and life progressed normally.

I sang with all three of my kids when they were little. Mostly “Old McDonald.” I would start the song and they would join in with the “EIEIO” part. I remember teaching the song to ConnoAutismr and his eyes lighting up as I sang, “Old McDonald had a farm.” He looked me in the eye, completely engaged and said, “OH! EIEIO!” We proceeded with cows and pigs and other farm animals, each time he would join in, “EIEIO!”

It was at about fifteen months when we first noticed something was wrong. He stopped making eye contact. Interest gave way to obsession. He would simply sit and rock or wave his arms for what seemed like hours. And he was losing his language.

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Words Connor Has Said: I Poop

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We have always been fortunate in that Connor doesn’t have the outbursts and meltdowns like so many other kids with autism. When he was very young he was usually quiet and fairly compliant. At his babysitter’s this earned him the nickname, “The good boy.”

Autism

Damian was “The bad boy.”

Damian was the other boy at the sitter’s. It’s not that he was bad, really, it’s just that he was a boy. He was rambunctious, loud and everything you’d expect a boy to be. Damian played with toy guns, Damian teased girls, Damian pretended he was a superhero and beat up bad guys. Damian did boy stuff.

And he made an impression on Connor. Like many autistic children Connor doesn’t play with other kids, he plays alongside them. There’s no real interaction. However, I think that while he may not interact he does observe other kids. He might even learn from them about how to have fun. Especially boy fun.

I picked up Connor from the sitter and brought him home. It was a nice summer day so I headed out to the porch to sit and read and Connor followed. He ran, jumped, made noise and did everything he could to keep me from reading.

Everything.

As I sat in my chair I heard a small noise behind me. It was Connor. He had passed gas. Then he stepped around to the side of my chair and did it again. This time it was louder. Then, with a cheesy grin on his face, giggling and looking me in the eye, Connor said, “I poop.”

He laughed and said it again. “I poop.”

He hadn’t. It was just gas. Stinky and hilarious gas.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about my son’s autism is how much like any other boy he is. He’s loud, he plays hard. He likes to reach up high and touch things. He loves to climb. Connor does boy stuff.

I for one am very pleased that my son appreciates fart jokes.

Words Connor Has Said: More

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Autism

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.