Ronan has regressive non-verbal autism. Losing his speech years ago, I never knew how unbearable the silence that followed would be. When Ronan needs me, he’s able to show me in a variety of ways that he needs help. Sometimes he comes to me and reaches for my hand. Other times he signs “mom” with his pointer finger pointing at his chin. Rarely has he done it, but he has called out to me using his voice to get my attention.
Eye contact accompanies most of Ronan’s requests. Piercing me with his dark brown eyes, I wait for Ronan to tell me what he needs.
Hey, buddy. What do you need?
Ronan may or may not sign his next request.
He may or may not gesture what he wants.
He may or may not take me physically to where he needs my assistance (like to the kitchen cabinet for a snack, to the refrigerator to get a drink, to the living room to plug in the Wii, or to the den to watch a movie).
Since Ronan cannot tell me verbally what he needs, what follows is sometimes a game of charades.
Do you need help?
When Ronan can’t communicate what he needs, which is quite often, we’re both left frustrated. Since Ronan can make some vocalizations, I’m encouraging Ronan to make them after he’s gotten my attention.
The sounds don’t make sense yet, but since vocalizations can turn into verbalizations, I celebrate every sound that Ronan can make. Others celebrate with us, too. Over the years, I’ve shared a few of those happy moments with family and friends.
I don’t recall why the day was so bad, but look how things turned around when I heard Ronan call for me in January 2011:
The day drastically improved. Cathy Jameson will now be known as "Ah-mum-mum" Thankyouverymuch to Ronan for calling me that to get my attention.
I was over the moon excited that Ronan called for me by name in September of 2011:
Twice this week Ronan has called me Mum. First time was a whisper and second time was a forceful effort. Both times those big brown eyes of his staring at me made me melt.
In March of 2012, I shared this:
I *think* Ronan just called me Ma!
The following year, I got to share this message:
My new name from Ronan, Ehm-mem. Heard it twice in the car. Once while trying to get my attention. Then to hand me his cup, "Eh-mem, ah duh." (Mom, all done.)
Fast forward to 2014 to when I heard my name again:
Being offered two bites of Ronan's chocolate chip gluten-free Belgian waffle (made by big sister) and being called Em-Em by that gorgeous little boy makes this Mommy so, so happy.
I didn’t see any notes from last year, but Ronan has said my name once in 2016. I commemorated the milestone with a smile, tears and this message:
You know how Ronan will sometimes say Em or Um or Uh-Mum-Um for Mom? Well, Ronan whispered mommmmm while trying to get my attention after breakfast this morning. He's said it before, but it's been years, literally years, since he said my name that perfectly.
I shared that story on February 26th this year. I cherished that moment, as did the rest of my family, since we don’t know when we’ll hear Ronan’s sweet voice call for me by my name again.
Ronan’s younger siblings have never known Ronan to have language besides the sign language he uses. Nightly, they pray for Ronan to get his words back. They imagine he’d be a chatterbox talking about the Wii games he loves or about the gluten-free cookies he enjoys eating.
I pray along with my children each and every night hoping that Ronan will be able to talk again, to tell us everything that he knows, and to have meaningful verbal conversations with us. We know that Ronan knows a lot, and we can’t wait for the day that he can tell us everything he knows.
I long to hear my son call me by my name again. However he can say it, if it’s Ah-mum-mum, Mum, Em, Ma or mommmm, I will be ready to answer him. Hey, buddy! Thanks for saying my name. I’m here. Do you need me? Can I help? Mommy will always find a way to help you.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.