[Author's note: This is not an April Fool's joke. These events really happened in my home. Today.]
Nik slept through most of the night; he woke for about an hour at 11:00 p.m. last night, asked for his book and had a temper tantrum when he did not receive it. (Tough luck, kiddo.) I feel compelled to add that Niksdad and I lay in bed chortling with glee at both the impressive display of vocal histrionics coming through the monitor and the fact that this behavior was so, well, normal.
Nik went back to sleep around midnight and proceeded to sleep straight through until 8:15 this morning. No, that’s not a typo. In fact, we’ve had a few of those kinds of nights in a row now. I haven’t mentioned it for fear of incurring the wrath of the sleep gods, but I honestly wonder if we’re turning a corner.
To say the benefits of good sleep are plentiful would be a gross understatement. Nik’s been eating better, playing more happily, cooperating more readily (swoon). The leaps he’s making in communication have just blown us away.
Today, Nik managed to get his pants on and pulled up all by himself. That alone is a herculean task for a child who has poor fine motor control, serious attention wanderings, and who won’t generally use both hands at the same time. Oh, and he had to put down his beloved letters in order to do so. HUGE.
Many of you know that we recently got Nik’s speech-generating device. It’s been challenging to figure out how to tell you more about it since I am still learning “best practices” for implementing it and teaching Nik how to access what he wants to say. It’s somewhat akin to giving a brand new reader the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and asking them to find the section on aardvarks. Overwhelming.
Nik —being, well, Nik— seems to have already figured out some of it for himself. Just this morning he wandered over to his “green box of words”, turned it on by himself and proceeded to touch all the food choices to let me know he was ready for breakfast! Granted, we had a few months’ worth of trials with a loaner so this is not completely new to us, but Nik has been exploring and finding new words and trying them on for size. I give him feedback for each word, trying to help him see that it’s not just a sound.
Nik is discovering the power of communication. He’s also realizing that it’s a reciprocal activity requiring a partner. If I leave his device turned on and accessible to him while he’s playing, Nik shows little to no interest in exploring, unless he has something to say. He already recognizes that this magical box is not a toy.
Ha! As I was writing the above paragraph? Nik turned on his device and told me he was hungry. Using the actual word “hungry.”
The boy is voracious —not just for food. He’s on a quest to learn all about the world around him and how to be in it, how to master skills to build on. He wants to be with people and be social—he just needs our help in learning how to do that. He has so much going on inside his beautiful head but doesn’t know how to get it out there. That’s my job —to help him find his voice. To empower him to tell us who he is, how he feels, what he thinks.
Our shared responsibility —yes, yours and mine? To listen when he communicates, to honor what he feels. To nurture the potential he already knows is there.
April is Autism Awareness Month.