He spins before me, a love, an imp. His face upturned, his eyes squint, he laughs. In an instant he’s off again, galloping away from me. He stops then jumps. Upanddown. Upanddown. Upanddown. Hands flap in unison.
I don’t know what he thinks. I sometimes know what he feels — he is transparent like that. If he is tired, he is still. But he is rarely tired. He is always on the move — even in the middle of the night, although this has improved. My favorite time of day is when he first awakes, when his limbs are yet heavy with sleep and all he wants is to curl in my lap. I count his breaths and match them to mine.
He still won’t answer a direct question, but he has started to repeat back everything I say. So if I should mutter, “Oh, crap!” he’ll repeat “Crap!” from across the room without looking at me or acknowledging where it came from. This makes me laugh, but should probably make me watch what I say. If I ask him if he wants juice or milk, he might pick one but he’s just as likely to repeat, “Juice Milk?” Contrast that with the times he pulls me to him and says, “I want. Hug.”
This is new: he turns when I call his name. Such a simple thing, it only took five years. When he was a baby, we thought he had a hearing problem — but we were autism-naive back then and had no idea that it was a big red flag. If I shout down the stairs, “John! Come here!” and then turn back to the kitchen and count to ten, he will actually appear by the time I reach 8 or 9. This was once such an exercise in frustration, my frustration. But he is getting there and so am I.
He brings me books and reads the titles aloud. His voice makes grown men cry, it is so sweet, so plaintive. It is different than any other child’s voice I’ve ever heard. Today he asked for his itouch, which we’ve recently put limits on. “itouch?” he said over and over. I said, “Not now, sweetie, later.” He stopped, stared straight in my eyes, and said instead, “itouch, please?” He knows just how to push my buttons.
His teacher called the other day and raved about John’s progress, about her excitement with the amount of comprehension he’s showing her these days. “If he keeps this up, she says, “he may be able to leave the autism program for a less restrictive learning environment.” I listen and realize I’ve stopped breathing, I’ve allowed myself to float somewhere else. Here we are, then, five years out. So much has changed.