Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sometimes You Just Have To Climb

My one and a half year old son Devin and I were at the park one morning, chasing lizards, weaving through groups of other children, and climbing on the playground equipment.  For a while we were doing our own thing that day, occasionally stopping to watch someone play, until Devin observed one boy playing alone on the slide.

The boy, a young teenager, had crossed our path several times earlier.  He never spoke a word, his teacher always nearby, occasionally reminding him gently to "wait" or "stop."  Devin wanted to climb up the slide so we waited for the boy to finish and get down.  As Devin climbed the boy came back and sat in the middle of the slide, watching us.  Devin was struggling to climb as I reassured him from behind.  The boy put his arm out toward Devin and wiggled his fingers.  He started making noises that sounded like encouragement as he reached for Devin.  Devin smiled and babbled at him, trying to climb closer.  They did this "dance" a few times as the boy climbed higher, then back down closer to coax my son up the slide with him.

The boy's teacher had come closer to us by now as she watched the activity going on.  "He's nonverbal.  He has autism," she said.  She was smiling at the boy as she praised his efforts to communicate.  It was a beautiful thing to watch, and I felt privileged to witness this boy's accomplishment.  As we left the park a short time after, Devin waved at the boy.  He watched us walk out while sitting in that same spot in the middle of the slide.

I hope the boy's parents will soon get the chance to witness his hard work if they haven't already.  As hard as it is to learn to climb a slide, learning to communicate with others is an achievement that is no small task.  I am always observing my younger son, looking for clues, and noticing changes in the way he communicates almost daily.  To speak, to write, to read takes years, and many teach about the best ways, the most engaging ways, the easiest ways, and the most playful ways to practice and succeed at it.  My older son is in the thick of learning to read.  His efforts to try are a reflection of my efforts to help him.  Communication takes work, and if you want to help someone get there....sometimes you just have to climb!

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