Last week I was doing some writing in my office when I heard a strange noise coming from the kitchen. I asked one of Ronan’s siblings to check out the noise hoping I could finish what I was doing. My oldest belted out, “M-o-o-o-o-mmmmmm. Ronan’s got his cupcakes from the freezer. You might want to come and help.” I darted around the corner and was greeted with Ronan’s beautiful smile as he enthusiastically signed “Help me”.
Just a few mornings prior when I woke Ronan up for the day, I signed his breakfast menu to him. Since it was a Sunday morning we were having a larger-than-normal breakfast. I signed, “Ronan, I made you waffles, eggs, bacon and milk and juice.” He looked at me as I was changing him and signed back, “Cake.”
“Cake?! Ronan! I didn’t say cake. Wait, do you want cake for breakfast?” He flashed a smile and signed cake again.
“Cake. For breakfast?” I asked.
“Yes. Yes. Yes.” Ronan signed. This time his whole face was smiling.
“You got it, Buddy. Cake for breakfast it is!”
When we got to the breakfast table Ronan didn’t want to sit down. He walked into the kitchen with me and saw where I keep a few gluten-free muffins (which we have a habit of calling cupcakes) ready for special occasions on the top shelf. Ronan watched me open the box and kept his eye on the toaster oven as it heated his tasty treat. Not interested yet in the meal I had prepared, Ronan lingered in the kitchen. I showed him the package and pointed to the words on the box. Since it was going to be a few minutes more before he could eat his cupcake, I took out a pen and a notebook from the junk drawer and wrote some words down: cake, cook, oven. I asked Ronan to point to the words as I said them aloud. He easily could identify them and pointed to cake several times after. When the toaster oven was done warming up his special treat, he sat down at the table, gobbled up the cupcake and then ate the rest of his breakfast.
It was no surprise that Ronan would try to ask for a cupcake again another day now that he knew where they were. So, when his big sister beckoned me to the kitchen last week, Ronan was already a step ahead of me. He had grabbed the box of cupcakes and was trying to open them before I walked into the kitchen. I knew he was serious because he was also holding a bowl and a spoon. He was trying to figure out how to get the cupcake out of the box and into his bowl.
I could handle this one of two ways—refuse him this snack I was not intending to serve him, or watch Ronan try to navigate snack time on his own. I chose the latter.
Ronan had already taken the cupcakes out of the freezer (the loud sound I’d heard was them falling to the floor) and was attempting get one out. Because of some fine motor delays and motor planning issues, Ronan couldn’t get the box opened nor opened fast enough in case I said no to his choice. Looking right at me, Ronan signed “Help me” while clutching the box of goodies under his arm.
I said, “Ronan, it’s not time for cake.” Ronan signed “Help me” again and “cake” and smiled. He knows I don’t usually give desserts out in the middle of the afternoon, so before he let go of the box of cupcakes, he walked toward the junk drawer. What is he doing? Carefully, Ronan put the box down (where I couldn’t reach it), grabbed a pen and the notebook we’d used on the weekend and wrote c-a-k-e.
C-a-k-e. It looks so simple. But, to plan all of that, and to execute it as well as Ronan did, deserved some praise. I asked Ronan to write cake again just to see if he could (of course he could!) and said to him, “Next time, if you want cake, you need to ask me first. Okay?”
I asked Ronan to hand me the box. He hesitating knowing I could just as quickly put it away, so I assured him that I wasn’t and that he would get some cake. Ronan handed me the box and watched me start the toaster oven. He hovered near the counter holding his bowl and spoon and waited. I smiled toward Ronan and said, “I love you, Buddy.” He leaned in for a kiss and a quick hug.
Some days I only see what Ronan isn’t able to do yet because his abilities are so limited. I see those types of reminders every day when I watch how his siblings have surpassed him in every developmental category. To catch a glimpse of a typical kid in these other moments when Ronan proves he is capable are worthy of a celebration and one I am happy to partake in. While we waited for his cupcake to heat up, I took the page out of the notebook and put it on the refrigerator so we could all see it.
The next day, Ronan’s little brother looked at the refrigerator, stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Mom. Did Ronan write cake?!”
“I hope you gave him some.”
“I did. Aren’t you so proud of him?”
“Yeah, he’s awesome.”
Ronan requested cake two more times last week. He wrote his request down neatly first and did so with great determination. Two more chances to bond, two more meaningful connections made and two snacks made that he wanted to help prepare. I couldn’t be more proud.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.