My ears perk up whenever Joseph puts his autistic deficiencies into words.  He is now able to express himself quite well, and at the same time he doesn’t really understand that he has a disorder. No one’s told him he’s got this challenge or that limitation, so when he puts his thoughts and emotions into words, I find it fascinating.

Recently, for example, my niece and nephew had a graduation party. As we neared the front door, we could hear a crowd of around 15 people talking and laughing. Joseph looked at me, frightened. “It’s too noisy!” he said. He refused — and I do mean refused — to enter through the main door. I finally got my brother to open a side door, away from the noise. We parked in a spare bedroom for a while and, slowly but surely, I coaxed him closer to the action.

Eventually he figured out a role, which was hanging out with his younger cousin — but still, the volume of conversation and the number of people overwhelmed him. My father died a few weeks later and Joseph refused to come to the service, saying it would be “too noisy and too crowded.”

A week ago I presented some July 4th celebration options to Joseph — a parade, fireworks at the Fairgrounds, that sort of thing. He’d either shoot down the option with “Too crowded and too noisy!” or ask me, “Will it be crowded? Will it be noisy?”

We ended up having another family over for a swim and a BBQ. It was great.

We’ll quite possibly never attend a big July 4th celebration again. I can live with that. I can live with finding other options for Joseph when we go to big gatherings. I am, in fact, proud of him for stating his needs and looking after himself in appropriate ways.

We went grocery shopping this afternoon.  Joseph flashed friendly smiles at the store clerk and at an old neighbor we’d bumped into…and I realized how rarely he did that. I hope someday he can express why he acts so withdrawn around other people. Perhaps it’s too overwhelming to be open and friendly — to let people in like that.

Our lives are full of noise and full of people. Joseph ended up with us, not with some Himalayan yogi family, so there must be something for him to learn here.

When he’s able to express what it is, I’ll be listening.

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