Ring of Silence

The only way I may completely connect with my autistic grandson is through God.

Last summer we had a houseful at the beach, with our children and their spouses and the seven (soon to be nine) little grandchildren. The cousins don't see each other much, so they splashed and ran and shouted, the wind tearing at their voices. But Adam, then four, stayed by himself. He moved along the edges of the dunes, circling the family like a silent satellite. Last year, Adam received a diagnosis of autism.



Adam is a beautiful child with a cream-and-rose complexion and clear blue eyes. He wasn't quite two when, at a backyard party, he walked over to the cars parked in the yard and began reading aloud the license plate letters and numbers. No one had taught him this. He developed a fascination with the alphabet, words and numbers, maps and globes, and any repeating pattern (he loves M. C. Escher images). When he was evaluated at three and a half, his cognitive level was that of a seven-year-old. Ever since his toddler days Adam has surprised us by coming out with things no one could recall teaching him, and it was sort of unnerving. I kept thinking we were going to find a bill from the University of Phoenix in his crib.


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But talking--that's different. When Adam began trying to talk, the strain was evident in his face and tender eyes. In photos from his first birthday, he looks worried and lost. Sometimes words would come out too loud, sometimes too soft, usually flat and expressionless, always halting and reluctant. Adam looks like someone who doesn't speak English and is laboring to translate word-by-word in his head. I told his mom, "When God made him, he must have put in the Japanese module by mistake."

So there's a ring of silence around beautiful Adam. He doesn't interact much. If you ask him a question, he's likely to repeat it, or just ignore it. He isn't interested in other children, and doesn't have friends outside the family. He is remote, a space station overcharged with data, orbiting silently, far away.

The silence is what hurts. Parents don't only love their children, they also crave to know their children. I've heard moms in the delivery room say to their newborns, "Open your eyes so I can see you!"--though they can see every inch of the baby but his eyeballs. A baby is a present you can't unwrap all at once. It takes years of reading his eyes, learning what makes him laugh, watching him run and tumble with friends, hearing his bedside prayers. But with an autistic child much of this can be impossible.

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