By Cathy Jameson
We haven’t had the best summer. The kids have been sick on and off since June. A reliable care giver left us for another job. One of our cars was on the fritz. The central air conditioning unit bit the dust. Other things, like the fact that Ronan now refuses to walk into one of his therapy places, cause frustration. Delays, increased stress, and bearing the weight of intense negative moments have me questioning my sanity. When some of my kids start school next week, I will be somewhat ecstatic and totally relieved to start a better routine.
While this summer had more stress than relaxation, the kids’ vacation from school wasn’t a wash. We made some new friends. We celebrated several birthdays and anniversaries. We had fun family time. We got to be lazy when everyone else was scampering to early-morning summer camps and jetting out of town on expensive vacations. The positive experiences this summer weren’t as frequent, but one in particular brings the biggest smile to my face. It came last week on a day that Ronan wouldn’t leave me alone.
Desperate for just five (consecutive) quiet minutes to myself, Ronan wouldn’t have any of it. He was in constant search of me. And as soon as he found me, he glued himself to my side making sure I stayed close to him. This seeking me out isn’t unusual. The fact that he wanted me to join him was. Ronan is typically a loner. He prefers to be on the outskirts of the room doing his own thing while the rest of us carry on with whatever it is we’re doing. For the most part, while his siblings are playing, Ronan is either observing them or doing something quiet a safe distance from them. Since Ronan doesn’t stay put for too long and needs constant watching, I sometimes have limited time to complete a task in one sitting.
Thursday of last week was no different of what’s become of our daily summer routine. The big kids were playing together while Ronan chose to play Wii. He learned how to play Wii appropriately a few months ago and is quite good at some of the games. He especially loves bowling and will stay at the game for a good stretch of time. I knew Ronan was safe and happy, so I sat down thinking I had time to catch up on some reading. I really needed the break before I had to get up again to make dinner.
Not that I was hiding, but I was hoping to do absolutely nothing for just a little bit. Within seconds of sitting down, Ronan found me. He needed something, so I got up. He held my hand and guided me to where he was playing Wii. I checked the unit. It was working fine. “Nothing broken. See,” I said pointing to it. “It works. Try it again, Buddy.”
Ronan handed me the remote control and insisted I keep it. I tried to hand it back but Ronan wouldn’t reach for it. I pushed a few of the buttons on the remote and saw that the blue lights lit up. Console works. Batteries work. Huh. What could be wrong with it, I wonder, unless….OH!
“Ronan, do you want ME to play?!” He signed ‘yes’.
I played for a few minutes on the same bowling game Ronan had started. He smiled. When that set was over, I offered the Wii remote back to Ronan. He happily took it and turned toward the TV. I watched him play for a few minutes and then went back to the office to read.
Not more than three minutes later, Ronan found me again. He reached for me, signed please and waited for me to get up to follow him. Together we walked back to the Wii. This time Ronan had a tennis game up. He handed me the remote and signed yes. I played a match, and extended the next game to play a few minutes longer.
Ronan laughed when the ball went out of bounds and jumped up and down when I made the players swing their racquets quickly. He wanted a turn so I gave the remote back and asked if Ronan wanted me to stay. He signed no. I quietly turned and walked away and back toward the office but stopped in the kitchen for something to drink. No sooner had I poured the drink did I hear Ronan’s footsteps.
It’s been a long time since Ronan’s been this interactive, so I dodged around a corner to see where he was going. I went into the living room, sat on the couch and waited. I could hear him in the office, but he didn’t stay there very long. I could hear him getting closer and coming in my direction. Rounding the corner, Ronan made eye contact a smile spread across his face.
‘MOM’, his eyes and smile said. ‘MOM, play’ I imagined him thinking. I smiled back and said, “Ronan, you’re a stinker today! We hardly ever play together. Do you want me to play Wii again?” Ronan’s smile got bigger. ‘Wii’ he signed. ‘Wii bowling’.
Not that I doubted Ronan and how he was initiating this playtime, but his attention span is so very short and I needed to get dinner started that I wanted to be sure he wanted me to join him again. I handed Ronan my phone. I asked him to type out his request to me to see if he really, really, really wanted me to go play with him one more time. This is what Ronan wrote: Mom please play wii sports.
Dinner would wait.
“Wow, Ronan! Let’s go!” and we started toward the Wii. This time, maybe because I had snuck away the few times before, Ronan walked a step ahead of me but kept looking back toward me. He watched me feet. He watched to make sure I followed him. He looked up at my face and made eye contact over and over again. Then, he brought his hand toward mine and reached for me. Hand-in-hand, with me half a step behind, I followed Ronan until we were back in front of the Wii. This time I stayed put. Forty-five minutes we played. Together. Laughing. Getting encouragement with smiles and giggles as my attempts to play aren’t nearly as good as his.
Game after game, Ronan would stare at me. He’d sign yes or point to the next game he wanted me to play. He’d sign no if he had enough of what I was playing too. I’d catch him peering at me again while I bowled, boxed and swung. He was relaxed and happy. I was too. It was so simple yet incredibly glorious.
I’ve waited for Ronan to catch up to where I think he should be for a long time now. I’ve been disappointed along the way, not by Ronan, but by how much hard work and time it’s taken to do what other children do so simply. Hard work and perfect timing can pay off though. Thursday’s events reminded me of that. They also reminded me that when Ronan is ready, I need to be also.
I’ve waited a long time to have consistent and meaningful interactions and typical play time with my son. It’s been a long time coming, but days like last Thursday were absolutely worth the wait.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.