Autism is nothing without theories. Specialists, doctors, scientists, geneticists, parents, everyone has a theory when it comes to autism.
Richard claims I have more theories regarding autism than the most versed specialist. And he’s right, I do. The only difference is, I freely admit 95% of them turn out to be wrong and the remaining 5% have no validity because while they may prove right for Emma on any given day, they do not hold up long term or within the larger autism population.
Richard and I have a running joke about my desire, my need for theories. When we are confronted with any new behavior from Emma, Richard will look at me and say, ”And your theory is?”
The beauty of having theories is, autism remains an enormous question mark and so the most impractical of theories hold weight if for no other reason than because they are difficult to prove wrong. There is so much more we do not know than we do. The other thing about theories is they give us (me anyway) hope. Hope that we’re moving forward. Hope that maybe this line of thinking is going in the right direction. Hope that the theory will lead to another theory, which in turn will prove to be true, leading us to a cure, a cause, something, anything… No matter how crazy, the theory stands until proven otherwise and with autism that may be for a long time. It’s something, anything, to go on amidst the great expanse of unknown.
Richard usually leaves the theorizing to me, so I was surprised when he said to me last night, “I have a theory.’
“Really?” I said looking at him to be sure he wasn’t making fun of me.
“Yes,” he said.
“Great! Tell me more.” I said.
“Emma is doing great. “
“And your theory is?” I prodded.
“That is my theory. She’s doing great. The other day she and I were walking down the street. I passed her and stepped off the curb to hail a taxi, but she didn’t see me. She looked around, her eyes got really big and then she said something, I can’t remember what. But she was scared and didn’t know where I was. I called out to her – Emma! I’m right here! When she saw me, she cried out – There’s Daddy! There’s Daddy! I found you! That’s never happened before,” Richard paused. “She was really frightened when she thought I wasn’t there,” he said.
Suddenly I remembered when Emma was three and we went to New Paltz for the weekend. We stayed at a huge rambling hotel right out of The Shining. Richard and I in one room, the children with Joe in an adjoining room. At around 2:00AM I heard a door slam, thinking nothing of it I started to go back to sleep. Five minutes later our door opened and Joe said, “Is Emma with you guys?” In a panic all of us threw on clothes and began searching the labryinthian hallways calling for Emma. We split up hoping we might cover more ground that way, I ran to the front desk and reported her missing to the hotel staff. It was the dead of winter, snow drifts piled up around the hotel, I was terrified Emma might open one of the self locking doors to the outside and not be able to get back in. She was bare foot with just her nightgown on. After about 20 minutes when panic had turned to ice – when your body no longer feels it is your own – one of us found her. It was either Joe or Richard, I can no longer remember, but I know I began to cry in relief. She was holding hands with some man who worked for the hotel. He was quietly talking to her – at that time she had almost no language – and leading her back to the front desk. I was in tears, thinking of all the horrible things that might have happened to her. But Emma acted as though nothing unusual had occurred.
Richard continued, “Her sentences are becoming more complex, she’s become much more engaged, she talks all the time now and it’s not just because she wants something. She’s talking to connect with us. She wants to connect with us. And except for the other night, she hasn’t wet the bed in almost a month now.” He looked at me and then added, “She’s doing great.”
I remember when Emma turned four we had a big birthday party for her, hired a musician to come and play the guitar and sing kid friendly songs. Emma was dressed up in one of her “party” dresses with a tiara on. She spent most of the party trying to lie down inside of the musician’s guitar case, ignoring all the other children and the music. I remember plastering on a smile for our guests, at one point I excused myself and wept in the back, giving myself two minutes to cry before returning to the party and pretending everything was fine. I didn’t fully understand her sensory issues; I hadn’t developed any theories at that point. I was still in the process of reading everyone else’s theories regarding autism.
“It’s a good theory,” I said to Richard.
“Yup. I like it,” he said.