I asked Nic this morning if he was looking forward to anything in particular in the new year.
“To sleep in,” he said with a grin.
He laughed, wryly (I might add) and nodded his head.
What I didn’t say, but thought, was – We’ve been on vacation since the 16th! You could sleep in every morning if you wanted. But Nic likes sleeping near his Granma and so has set up a little bed in her office for himself on her foldout couch with the promise that he make up his bed every morning, which he has.
“Hey Em. What about you? Are you looking forward to anything in the new year?”
Emma ignored me.
“Do you know what it means to look forward to something?” I tried again. “It’s when we feel excited about something that hasn’t happened yet.” I waited as Emma who had turned her back to me, continued to twirl her string that she has now “repaired” every morning since we’ve been out here. The “string” resembles a snow board in the middle with long, thin tentacles coming out of the repaired part. She holds onto the fat, taped part and twirls it in her hand very quickly. “Hey Em,” I tried again. “Are you looking forward to anything?”
“Yeah,” she said, staring out the window.
“What? What are you looking forward to?”
“Uncle Victor and Aunt Susan took a train home,” Emma said, nodding her head, twirling her string and looking sad.
“Does that make you sad?”
Emma looked at me with such a sad expression and nodded her head. “Yeah.”
I continued to ask her in various ways if there was anything she was looking forward to or wanted to have happen in the coming year, but Emma walked away or ignored me, until I finally stopped asking.
People have likened Emma to a two-year-old, but this is incorrect. For one thing it vastly underestimates her and for another, it oversimplifies every aspect of her. Emma’s mind is capable of some fascinating leaps, she will come out with incredibly creative ways to communicate – such as when her teacher, Lauren every Friday dresses up as “Laurenzo” and so Emma began calling herself Emmaenzo, which she (and everyone else) thought hilarious. It is easier to think of a child like Emma as a “two-year-old” and leave it at that, but it does her a great disservice. I continue to insist her mind is far more complex, holds all kinds of interesting thoughts and I insist on this thinking because I have seen too many nonverbal children with autism display staggering intelligence, but who are treated by many as though they are “two-year-olds” or worse. I have read the poems and stories they have written. These children and adults are profoundly intelligent, but their thinking and their difficulties in communicating are so vast most of us do not have the patience or interest in hearing from them.
What I wish for, what I look forward to in the new year is for all of us to increase our awareness of our possibilities. We are capable of so much, whether it is an act of kindness toward another or withholding our judgements when we are annoyed, looking to our potential or assuming the best in one another instead of the worst. If I could wish one thing for both my children, it would be that they realize their potential, and now come to think of it, I wish that for myself too.
Happy New Year!
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to: Emma’s Hope Book