The Short Bus Diaries » Confessions About Life With an Autistic Son

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What I Imagine He Sounds Like

Last night I dreamed that my son could speak. The details are fuzzy. But I do remember that it was not some miraculous binary shift; he did not start uttering amazingly long, eloquent phrases, a fact which made the whole thing seem that much more real. But he did tell me what he wanted. And he described something he saw (The image of a fox engraved on one side of a penny. Nevermind the fact that there are no animals on American coins – this was a dream, people.) And – the part that stands out most in the hours that have passed since I woke up this morning – I remember his relaxed smile when he saw how surprised and thrilled that we were at his transformation. It was as if he was saying “Things were always going to turn out this way, Mommy. You just have to wait.”  I don’t remember his voice, exactly, but I do remember the sunny, hazy dream-like view through which I peered at my now verbal son. And I remember the sense of a weight being removed from my “soul” and the return of optimism.

And then I woke up.

And I felt sad.

Because the dream had felt so real, so entirely possible. But it wasn’t true.

Now, I have been called a cynic by people who don’t know me very well. And, the fact is that I was never actually a cynic – just a sarcastic type.  In fact, I remain a relatively optimistic person – probably the result of being raised in a stable, upper-middle class home, where things generally worked out just fine in the end. But, when it comes to my son, I have adopted a protective, cynical stance along the lines of “expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if things end up better than that”. I refuse to be disappointed and instead challenge the world to prove me wrong – WISHING the world would be prove me wrong.

But I have occasionally daydreamed about what his voice would sound like, what kinds sentences he would speak, what kinds of opinions and preferences he would express…

In fact, my son is capable of speech and does speak a few words here and there, when prompted or when he’s attempting to get food or a cord to twist (his favorite form of entertainment).  But he’s not what I – in my unscientific way – would call “verbal”. And now that I hear the constant stream of opinions, requests, adorable questions and observations that flow from my 2.5 year old daughter’s mouth, I try to project all of that onto my son and wonder what he would tell me and what his voice would really sound like.  It’s kind of a fool’s errand as they say – a masochistic imagining that does nothing to lift my spirits in the end.

But in this dream, I could hear him. I could really truly hear him tell me what he wanted and what he understood. And I could therefore really and truly see him.

But as I staggered down the stairs a few minutes after waking up from this magical fantasy, rushing to the front door in time to see my son and say good-bye to him before the aide came and walked him to the school bus, the sweetness of my dream quickly faded. I told him I loved him and said good-bye with that expectant tone of voice and facial expression I use to indicate that he is supposed to say something in return. But he did not. He just continued looking straight ahead and then walked down the front steps towards the waiting bus without looking back at me or uttering a sound.

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