An Autism Diary

A day in the life of David Hartley

Visitor From the Past

One of the hardest and also most heartbreaking aspects of David’s struggle with Autism is the breakdown of communication and sometimes the complete lack of it.  This morning was one of those moments where Autism leaps up, slaps you in the face, and leaves you reeling as your poor child just sits there completely at a loss over everything and anything that is going on around him.

He woke up a little more giggly than usual and quickly showed some loss in gross motor skills and balance.  The changes were small so I didn’t truly take them in at first, but they were definitely there.  We had a couple conversation misfires when I tried to talk to him, but I got a clear “good morning” and “I love you” out of him so I let it go.  Sure they were echolalia based, but I am used to that so thought little of it.

Then it happened…  David was climbing again and this time it was on the window sill with a full bottle of water sitting between his feet.  I usually leave him alone in these kinds of situations as I have learned over the years he has the balance and reflex skills of a cat and me calling out to him only serves as a distraction that leads to breaking his concentration.  This time though I had to say something because something was different about David.  As I watched him clumsily move one foot over and ironically miss his aim more than once with his arm (he never misses…) I started to hold my breath.  As he started to lift his other leg though and it was crystal clear he didn’t have as complete control as he normally would, I called out to him to be careful and to watch out.  At that moment, his foot hit the water, the water spilled out all over the window and floor, and he barely missed losing his footing all together by managing to grasp the sides of the window just in time.

My first reaction I will admit was one of frustration over the water as “no climbing” is definitely not a new rule over here, but the frustration quickly gave way to one of concern as it sank in that he didn’t have his natural cat like reflexes and balance today.  I put him in his usual time out for climbing after having him help me clean up the mess and he started crying and pointing to an old picture of me holding him that was hanging on the wall behind him.  When trying to comfort him wasn’t working because his cognitive abilities were misfiring too much, I stepped outside long enough to take a breather and calm myself down.  Autism had me by the throat so to speak and my temper was dangerously close to being lost.  I didn’t want David to think it was because of him though which is why I stepped out.

When it came time to talk to him again though, Autism had completely taken the stage and David was hopelessly sitting behind the curtain, still in tears with a look of complete confusion on his face.  I know this scene way to well for my comfort.  It used to be one I saw on a regular basis.  This wasn’t just an isolated incident that could be solved by waiting it out or by redirecting attention.  Having shown the first signs of it as early as Saturday afternoon, the pattern was full blown already and this was it’s completion, not it’s starting point.  David hit a regression.

It was two hours before I was able to get through again and even then it wasn’t with words or reason or anything along those lines.  I had managed to get him to stop crying by using his echolalia to “talk” him back out into a more calm state before heading to my room to do a bit of crying myself.  I wanted so badly to get across somehow that I wasn’t mad at him, that I still loved him, and that everything was truly ok.  Telling him wasn’t working, showing him was proving useless, and reasoning with him was an option long gone.  So I did the only thing we had left and prayed for a communication miracle.  I called him in and held him close.  As we laid there on the bed, cuddled together as much as he would allow, I rocked him till he was calm and all his fidgeting settled, got his attention as best as I could, and then smiled at him.

It took a handful of seconds that felt way longer than they were, but when he traced my smiling lips with his fingers and then slowly started to smile back, the music filled the air and my heart swelled with so much emotion it was hard to not start crying again.

Of all the things Autism has insistently and repeatedly taken from the two of us, I will always be grateful for the one thing it has yet to be able to touch.  Our smiles.  By the grace of God, I have always been allowed to keep at least this last window of communication with David when I need it the most.


Dear David,

Don’t worry sweety.  Mommy has your back.  Everything is going to be okay.  I promise I won’t give up on you.  We’ve worked our way back from here before and we will again.  Until then, just focus on my smile and know that I love you more than words could ever say. ((hugs))

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