I remember the first time Emma’s older brother, Nic asked permission to do something. He was about 14 months old and he asked if it was okay to take a particular toy with him to the playground. It was noteworthy for a number of reasons, but as his mom, I remember thinking how incredible it was that this tiny child understood that if you asked, rather than just did something, chances were you would be able to do whatever it was. The whole “polite” thing wasn’t part of the equation yet, but it soon came to be, shortly thereafter.
With Emma it was different right from the beginning. For one thing, she didn’t ask questions as much as demand that her basic needs were met. Because her language was severely delayed, she would often drag one of us to the refrigerator and indicate what she wanted. As she didn’t “want” our attention, toys or many of the things other neuro-typical children do, there was less motivation to ask for things.
As Nic grew older his questions became more complicated and interesting. Suddenly we were discussing such topics as religion, questioning the existence of God and if there was a God, who made him. Could there be a heaven without a “God”, why did people die, was there life beyond our planet earth, how did we come to be and what was our purpose, where did the earth come from, how is it possible that the universe is infinite and what does that mean, exactly. Nic also became curious about Richard and my experiences. He wanted to know if I’d ever felt scared (yes!), whether I was nervous when in front of new people (often), when did I know what I wanted to be when I grew up (that concept continues to evolve), when did Richard and I meet, and the questions have never stopped.
Emma does not ask questions about life and the world. She has never asked me a personal question. But she has learned to ask for things that she needs or wants. Often the question is a demand with an upward lilt added, making the demand more palatable, as in – “Go to the zoo?” “See the snake bite boy?” “Apple juice?” However lately her questions have changed slightly. It’s a subtle difference, but I have noticed it a number of times in the last few days. This morning she came into the study (this in and of itself is startlingly new as in the past she would simply ask from where ever she was and then when no one responded because no one heard her, she would begin to scream until someone appeared) but today she found me and said, “Mommy?” Then she waited for me to respond. When I looked up, she said, “Can I have a caramel yogurt?” Again she waited for my response. This too is different. In the past she might have asked if I was standing nearby and then after uttering the words she would have raced off, not waiting for a response. The question was rhetorical.
“Sure Em. Go have a caramel yogurt,” I said.
To which she ran off, only to reappear a few minutes later saying, “Okay. Last one caramel yogurt? Eat one more and then it’s all done.”
“Yeah. Okay, Em. That sounds good. Go have another one.”
“Okay!” She yelled as she went back into the kitchen.
Last night she found me in the bathroom, where I was brushing my teeth. “Mommy?” She waited.
“Can I watch Winnie-the-Pooh?” Again she stood looking at me expectantly, waiting for my answer.
“Sure Em. But first put on your nightie and brush your teeth. Okay?”
“Okay!” she said tearing off to change.
I cannot describe my surprise at her actually waiting for me to respond. This is new and a welcome change.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com