Frequently people ask me how I know what my 18-year-old son, Skyler feels or thinks because his level of autism renders him speechless and unable to clearly demonstrate many emotions.
It’s a fair question and one I’ve asked myself hundreds of times.
What is he trying to tell me? Even though I’m not always confident I’ve interpreted his outward displays correctly, I do my best to understand and help.
As frustrating as it can be for both of us, I appreciate that Skyler has never given up on me or stopped trying to reach me via charades or any means necessary to gain my attention.
Over the years, I’ve relied on his body language and mannerisms to help me decipher his feelings. Although, as with most relationships, it also requires paying close attention and learning to trust your instincts.
When Skyler’s sad, tired or in pain, I’m careful not to overlook the subtle hints he gives – an occasional whimper or sudden increase in aggression toward himself, other people or the walls of our home could mean he’s feeling any of those emotions. So, I evaluate potential triggers or the events of the day to narrow the options and attempt to determine what’s wrong.
Excitement and happiness are substantially more obvious. If we walk into his favorite restaurant or use a simple phrase like “Mom’s bus” repeatedly in a funny voice or song, Skyler completely loses it… in a good way with tears of joy streaming down his face! His infectious and uncontrollable, deep belly laugh garners a smile from every person within ear shot.
I don’t take for granted that Skyler has patiently led me into his world, allowing me time to absorb and crack the code of how he expresses basic emotions. However, I’ve always longed for a deeper connection with Skyler, one that he initiates. Knowing he flinches at the first sign of a hug, I never pushed for that or thought I’d get a physical reinforcement of love and affection that this momma desperately needs from her son.
Until a few months ago… when suddenly, he insisted on holding our hands.
What a remarkable experience to have Skyler grab ahold of our hand at random moments throughout each day – as we stand at the tv watching Elmo; sitting next to each other on the couch; while we’re driving him to and from school and each night when he’s asked, “are you ready for bed?” we lock hands as we walk side by side up the stairs to his bedroom.
After 18 years of waiting, often impatiently if I’m being honest, my son has finally displayed affection on a timeline and level he’s comfortable with. I treasure these precious moments and never take for granted the warmth of his hand in mine.
For those of you still working on decoding your child’s feelings and answering the question, “What are they trying to tell you?” trust your instincts and allow them to guide you.