I want to trip inside your head
Spend the day there…
To hear the things you haven’t said
And see what you might see…
The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile

My darling younger sister and her husband and their unborn son spent the Thanksgiving holiday with us.

They live in Nashville, and simply put, we just miss them all the time.

When they arrived, there were lots of joyous hugs and hellos. Soon after they were seated on the couch, I noticed that Rhema was sitting in between them. She was hugging her knees to her chest. She was giddy, smiling to herself.

This caught my attention because she is not one for “greeting” people. No matter how much commotion may be going on near the front door, she usually stays in the other room seemingly uninterested in the people, conversations and activities going on around her.

But the night that my sister and bro-in-law visited, there she was, somehow right in the midst of them. O.K. It could have had something to do with the fact that they came bearing gifts… But something was different.

Periodically, she would jump from the couch, run toward nothing in particular and then find her way back to the couch. She was happy. She was giggling. She was with us.

I knew that this was her form of salutation, her way of saying, “I don’t know where you’ve been all this time, but it sure is good to see you.”


We are preparing to spend the Christmas holiday in Michigan. A loving family member (who does not see Rhema often) said, “Maybe she will recognize her grandparents this time.”

“Of course she will recognize them. She knows and loves them very well. She just doesn’t always show it in a way we would expect…” And then I had to add, “And she has a great memory.”

I think it is a common assumption that people with autism do not have close relationships with others. That they are only self-centered. That people are just tools to them. At first glance, it would seem so with Rhema. She does not greet or approach people. She does not look you in the eye. She does not seem to respond – (“Can she hear me?” is a question I often get by tentative, well-meaning people. Yes, she most certainly can hear you.) She squirms out of hugs faster than the speed of light. She has never given a kiss. She does not seem to acknowledge your presence — unless you have a hand that can be thrust towards a desired object on a high shelf.

But in my heart of hearts I know that she is so much more complex than people’s assumptions.

There’s an old book I enjoyed called “News From the Border.” It suggests that sometimes it is because of close relationships and intense feelings for others that people with autism may seem aloof or indifferent. In fact, Rhema may be so excited and overwhelmed by the presence of someone she loves that she does something unexpected, or she looks away or runs away.

But did you catch the smile in her eyes? Did you notice the lilt in her repetitive babbling? Did you hear the tiny giggle?


We had not seen Rhema’s home ABA therapist, T, for a couple weeks. T owns the animal puzzle that makes animal sounds (as seen in the video here). This puzzle is currently highly motivating to Rhema. The other day T came to our front door, and when I answered it, I had Rhema by the hand. When Rhema saw T, she exclaimed,

“Cock a doodle doo!!! Cock a doodle doo!!!”

T and I dissolved into laughter as Rhema continued to crow like a rooster at the top of her lungs. She sounded just like the rooster in the animal puzzle. She followed T all the way into the living room with her heartfelt cock-a-doodle-doo’s.

One might say that she was just cock-a-doodle-doo-ing because she wanted to play with T’s puzzle. And certainly, she did. But I like to think that Rhema was so happy to see T that she wanted to awaken the dawn with her excitement.

Who knows?

One thing I do know.

Her love is not always recognized by us, but…

she always recognizes love.

14 thoughts on “Recognition

  1. My Natalie has always been affectionate also. She likes to be hugged and squeezed and will give kisses now. She used to just lay her lips on your cheek, but now she actually is starting to pucker them. Her receptive language is excellent; she understands just about everything you say. Her expressive language just isn’t that great, but I have much hope that it will get better. She is almost too social sometimes and for some reason really likes men; she went and threw herself into our next door neighbor’s lap the other day when I went over to talk to them and once when we were at the park she went and sat on some teenage guy’s lap and he didn’t know what to make of it! I had to run over to him and remove her and explain that she had autism. I think he was surprised because you always hear that autistic children do not like physical contact and shun people. That is SOOO not true!

  2. Lovely post! It reminds me of what Joy’s school district team leader once said about her: “Her file drawers are full — we just don’t have the key to the cabinet!”

    Navywifeandmom — my daughter too has a “thing” for men, or at least she used to. We used to go to a toddler music group, and there for a while she would go around distributing hugs to all the daddies (and the occasional mommy, but mostly the daddies!)

  3. I think you are very right about Rhema being excited by the presence of someone she loves that she runs away. At least, I have found that to be the case with Chee. When her grandparents come in she will often time run and hide in another room. Or she’ll drop down to the floor and cover her face with her hands and hide. She even does that with her Daddy when he gets home at the end of the day (and in her world the sun rises and sets with Daddy). Now that she is better able to communicate she will say, “I’m a little bit shy of Daddy right now.” I’m not sure why she does it, but I think it has to do with being so excited to see him, or her grandparents, that she is overcome with her feelings.

    I’m glad that Rhema enjoyed the visit with her Aunt and Uncle!

  4. I am glad that Rhema had a wonderful visit with her aunt and uncle and that the rest of the family did too! An early Christmas gift to you to remember in years to come. I love moments like this that we can cherish in years to come.

  5. Beautiful post (again)! Thank you for that different perspective. I have never thought of running actions at the sight of visitors quite in that way, but it makes so much sense. My son is VERY like that, so thank you for making me look at those greetings in a more positive light! 🙂

  6. I think it’s wonderful you’re reading and recognizing her language! No doubt, you’ll be able to distinguish more and more about Rhema’s avenues of communication and behavioral traits. I believe it is quite encouraging and pray you’ll notice more and more positive changes in Rhema!

  7. oh it is true. every word is true. there is so much happening in that little head of Rhema’s and she IS engaging her world.

    have you seen the Amanda Bagg video? she talks about exactly this concept – how when she is most engaged with her world she can appear to be the least?

  8. “Her love is not always recognized by us, but… she always recognizes love.”

    Just when I thought I’d get through your post without a tissue, Jeneil … I read that last line. 🙂

    How perfectly glorious that the Lord intentionally chose such a wise and discerning mama for His precious Rhema, a mama who gives love unconditionally and who recognizes love … regardless of its packaging.

    Reading about the reactions and assumptions that some have about Rhema, I am reminded of Christ Himself, whom Isaiah described as having “no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53:2)

    How tragic that some with preconceived ideas and expectations for the Messiah missed Him altogether, because they failed “to recognize love”. How tragic that thousands of years later, many still fail to recognize love … and Love.

  9. Brilliantly said. You opened my eyes in a new way (yet again) here. You’re an amazing mom to advocate further for your daughter who continues to speak volumes…

  10. How blessed Rhema is to have you as a mom. That you know the gleam and sparkle in her eyes speaks volumes of how well you know and care for her. May we all take the time to know the sparkle in our children’s eyes even if they are able to communicate in “normal” ways.

    Sweet blessings and peace upon your household tonight!

  11. Pingback: Thank You « Autism In a Word

  12. Pingback: Extravangant Christmas « Autism In a Word

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