Joseph got sick this past week: cough, fever, ear infections — the works. It started on Christmas evening, shortly after we’d gotten to a friend’s house for dinner. Joseph had a major meltdown, claiming he was sick and needing to go home.

Devoted mother that I am, I didn’t believe him. I thought, This kid has autism; he doesn’t like unfamiliar situations; he is just making excuses to get away. We sat for a long time in the sewing room, Joseph crying and pleading, me trying to get him out of his unhappy mood.

Eventually Blue Eyes came in and ended the stand-off, pointing out to me that, sick or not, Joseph was not in the space to be at a gathering. The family kindly packed us Christmas dinner to go, and home we went. Sigh. Merry Christmas.

We all regress somewhat when we’re sick, don’t you think? It sure happens in my family: Blue Eyes crawls into bed and doesn’t come out until he’s well, and I get mopey and weepy.

Joseph’s form of regression is different: he  retreats into more autistic behavior. We’ve seen this time and time again so it’s not frightening, but neither is it any fun. I’d forgotten what it was like to ask him questions multiple times, or to call his name, and not have him respond in any way. I’m so glad that phase is over in our non-sick lives.

Long before Joseph’s time, when my niece was 18 months old, she taught me to play the chase game. I imagine there is a variation of this game in every culture; in our case Madison would look invitingly at me over her shoulder and then start to run. When I took up the chase, chanting, “I’m gonna get you!” she’d run faster, almost falling over from giggling. I’d catch her and tickle her, and then we’d do it all over again. And again. And again.

I expected to have the same fun with Joseph but, alas, it didn’t happen. That laughing invitation, that teasing “come join me” look, is not exactly an autism staple. The autism attitude is more like, “Leave me alone; who needs you?” Autism touches every aspect of a person’s life, including play interaction.

Still, Joseph has, slowly but surely, started to understand the chase game. About six months ago he started chasing me in earnest (well, earnest fun), up the stairs, down the stairs, outside, inside, laughing all the way. He wasn’t so good about being chased, however: When I’d try, he’d run a short ways and then, no longer interested, stop. Game over.

We are enjoying amazingly warm, sunny weather for wintertime. After a week of sickness and regression, Joseph was finally well enough to get outside and enjoy it. We celebrated by going on one of our favorite hikes, through oaks and madrones, with river views and a waterfall as the final destination.

Joseph began the hike by saying, “Mom, chase me!” and running off ahead. Then he called, “Dad, you chase me, too. Both of you — chase me!” Blue Eyes took off after him, and for the first time Joseph ran from him, far and fast.  Then he called to us again. This time I caught up and tagged him. Without any clarification from me, he took off after me, running until I was tagged.

Oh joy. Parents, if this is something you take for granted around your child, please don’t. It’s someone wanting you to play with them and being able to communicate that fact, even persistently enough to bug you for it. It’s your child knowing how nice it is to share an experience rather than to go it alone. It’s someone understanding a pattern: run, get tagged, chase, tag.  In other words, it’s good stuff. Important stuff.

Ever since conquering the monkey bars we’ve been on an upswing. Oh, we’re still dealing with public screaming and various other autism unpleasantries, but in general the trend is our friend. Lots of good firsts happening.

Blaise Pascal said:

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”

This sums up how I’m feeling about this new phase. There are a bunch of little miracles happening, step by step. When I see  the laughing invitation in Joseph’s eyes, the reaching out for the company of his parents and friends, the willingness to stick with interactions and play more fully — oh! I feel that incredible something there, just waiting to be known.

What is that something? I think — no, I know — it’s more of Joseph. More of who he really is, when the autism isn’t in the way. More and more Joseph is emerging, unhindered. That, my friends, is my something incredible, and I will take it over anything else this old world has to offer.