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.
One thing I do know.
Her love is not always recognized by us, but…
she always recognizes love.