Monday, September 19, 2011

The sweetest word

There have been many things that I feel we have missed out on, since my little boy was diagnosed with autism. For the most part, we have stayed busy and proactive and have not had time to dwell on them much. Finger pointing - eh, not such a big deal.  Baby babble - no biggie, we can work on it, he'll catch up. The list goes on, but one thing that has really bothered me - really made my heart just hurt, as a mother - is not hearing my baby say "Mommy."

Now that his speech is picking up, he verbalizes all the time, pointing out letters and numbers and various inanimate objects galore. And, if you ask him to, he'll say "Mommy", but only as a manner of rote. He repeats it, nothing more. Maybe it shouldn't bother me - after all, the relationship is the same. He still runs to me the instant he needs something, or just wants to be held. He loves me as much as any typically developing child would love their mother. Yet that doesn't keep my heart from breaking, just a little, when I pick him up from the sitter's house and other children run toward their mothers, exclaiming "Mommy!" happily.  My baby is glad to see me, and his chubby little face stretches in a smile, but he is heart-breakingly mute. Unerringly, I find myself silently coaching him on those sitter-days.  Just say it, baby, I think.   Just once, for me.

But he doesn't.

I don't really know how to explain the lack, there - he knows who I am, he will look for me if my husband queries, "Caleb - where's Mommy?"  He just doesn't say it.  He'll light up and run for his favorite letter, chirping "R!" merrily as dashes by, but for whatever reason, "Mommy" has fallen by the wayside.

I remember him, as an infant, saying Da-da and Ma-ma.  I recall how smug my husband was that he said Da-Da first, and how we laughed about it.  There was never an abrupt loss of speech with Caleb, as there is for so many ASD children.  He just said the words very sporadically, and only when prompted.  I can't pinpoint when even that stopped, but it did.  Sometimes I look back at those words, at how brief they were, and mourn them - I never realized how precious they were.  I would have been miserable at the loss of speech either way, but perhaps if there had been an abrupt cessation, I'd have known something was wrong then.  Those precious syllables would have been fresh in my mind for at least a brief period of time, instead of the very gradual fading that leaves them a faint and distant memory now.

His therapists say it will come - we're focusing on bigger things now, hurrying to take advantage of his youth and eagerness to learn.  I know these things are important - building his vocabulary and social skills and appropriate toy play are all going to be essential to our all-important goal of Mainstreaming.  I get it, I do.  But at the same time that I find myself growing exasperated at hearing "MommyMommyMommyMommy!" a hundred times a day from my four-year old, despite my heartfelt threats to change my name to Bob at any given moment, I still would give anything to hear it from Caleb.

It seems so small, in the grand scheme of things.  It's not like he's never going to say it - it just breaks my heart to think of him being unable to call for me.  There's something elemental about that - what parent doesn't sleep with one ear cocked toward their child's bedroom, always on the ready for that plaintive sound?

But it'll come.  Just like the play skills and imitative learning and the now-approaching-massive vocabulary have come.

I just kinda hope it's soon.

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