Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Asking Why

Jake in the pool, Summer 2012

No, this is NOT a "Why Autism?" post.

Because that's just a tail-chasing exercise in speculation and futility. (My usual answer if pushed to spit one out is: just the right combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers, a complex process that is different in every individual on the spectrum. Epigenetics, dude.)

What this is, instead, is a post about hope. And awesomeness. And Jacob.

It's also long overdue, because what I'm about to share took place this summer, right at the end of our usual Berkshires vacation. Something I'm so excited about, been dying to share. But if you've been reading here for a while, you will recall that we returned home from vacation on a Friday evening at dinnertime in mid August, only to have the phone ring at 2 AM with the news that my mother had fallen in the nursing home, and was headed to the hospital.

So things got a little out of hand in my life at that point, and this post sat, languishing and half-written in my "zombie files" of unfinished posts that I really mean to complete and send out into the world someday.

And so this is that day...

There is something new afoot... a wonderful blossoming in Jacob's development...

At the boys' Aunt Patty and Uncle Jimmy's house in Great Barrington there is a wonderful pool. And Jake, given his druthers would spend nearly all day there. He is OK in it alone - with me right at poolside watching OF COURSE - but prefers the company of others for his frolicking.

So the day before our final packing and leaving day, we had all been in the pool together, having fun, playing our version of something like pool volleyball.  This involved Ethan and I playing against Danny, with no net and semi-contentious guesstimating of the center line and outer boundaries and which were actually point scoring shots. Meanwhile Jacob was parallel playing a game of catch with all 3 of us with a separate ball, right in the middle of it all.

I had begged a moment to myself to just float off to the deep end which was still bathed in sunshine. Dan had gotten out of the pool for a moment and was getting back in the water when Jacob looked up at him.

I heard Jacob asking his daddy one of his thousand incessant questions and I had piped in to help answer it when I suddenly realized -- hey! This wasn't yet another usual Jacob question, rhetorical and answer-already-known; his idea of conversation.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

What had I heard? I replayed it in my head.

Jacob: "Why are you not wearing a shirt Daddy?"


It was a genuine, spontaneous, curious and wanting-to-know-the-answer WHY question.

A why question!!!!!!

And, because it came out so naturally, I answered just as naturally and didn't even realize what had happened until a full beat afterward: "Because boys and men have the option of not wearing a shirt when swimming and Daddy makes that choice, like Ethan does." (Jake prefers a swim shirt.)

And then I had the biggest cognitive double-take I'd ever taken.


I suppose Dan's shirtlessness had just registered with Jake, and as my husband is not the type to wander around our home without at least a t-shirt on, Jake rarely sees his Dad bare chested.

And he wanted to know why. And he asked.

(Simple really. But momentous if you know autism.)

I honestly did not know, up until that exact moment, if I would ever hear this from him, if he really understood the meaning of "why" - an abstract concept if ever there was one; certainly compared to who, what, and even when.

And maybe it makes sense that it happened in the pool where Jake is so happy from getting its sensory input needs met, water giving up so much more information and pressure than air against his every millimeter of skin. So brain firing on all cylinders, chugging along, he made a new connection, a leap.

It hasn't happened since, but I have no doubt that it will.

And on darker days, stormy and difficult, I consciously choose to turn around, look back to this bright shiny moment and remind myself: patience. He will get this; get there, in his own way, according to his own internal timetables. Remember: it's all inside, waiting to burst forth, someday. When he's ready.

And until then?

Patience. Love. Support. Set the bar high. Never give up hope.

And be prepared to hear to a thousand basketball statistics, while listening for the next "why?"


  1. I don't know you or your son, and I can not fully comprehend the challenges that you face, but I do know what radiates off of the words of this post: You are a good mother. I know you don't need me, a stranger, to tell you that, but I also know that sometimes it's nice to hear. I can hear your love for him and your pride in him in your words, as loudly as if you were shouting them in my ear. Congrats to you and Jake on your "shiny moment"

  2. I get this. HUGE. Those moments are the ones you'll remember, not all the tears and the struggles and the dark and stormy. That one, right there.

  3. I learn so much from you,

    Right now, never even thought that I could ask for a moment to myself.

    Never occurred to me.

    (thrilling news with the "why" appearance.)

    ALSO: BlogHer 13 room rented: me, you, Dusty and Jennie.

  4. What an awesome story to share! I didn't realize that "why" questions were unusual for children with autism. Thanks for educating me.

  5. Always remember to refer back to this post on those dark and stormy days. What a great day for you!

  6. Ahhh yes...the wonderful world of Why's! Your post made me smile and feel all warm and fuzzy. Yea Jake!!! :D

  7. It reminds me of a moment when a client (with autism) said, "funny!"...when I was being silly. It was a turning point for him! I hope it is for your son too!

    Visiting from Ellen's blog!

  8. Hooray! Good for him, and for you!

  9. Oh this makes me happy and so hopeful!


  10. Just saw this. Huge gleam shining from my heart! Yeah for Jake!!


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!