By Cathy Jameson
“Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.” –Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Ronan has loved his Dr. Seuss books for several years now. He really enjoys ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’. Flipping back and forth to his favorite pages, he hands us his books so we can read aloud to him. Since he loves the books so much, I’ve memorized several of the pages. To Ronan’s delight, I offer these silly sentences to him at random times of the day. Ronan’s siblings do a really good job at keeping Ronan engaged too. Big Sis adds silly sounds and acts out certain scenes. Little Buddy offers goofy expressions at the really funny pages while pointing to the words he’s reading. Ronan’s little sisters wait patiently to see the pictures while Ronan eagerly looks for his next favorite part of the story.
Ronan’s been thumbing through, scanning and reading books for several years now. We have multiple copies and other Dr. Seuss media—board books, apps for the iPad, DVDs, flip books and have bookmarked favorite youtube videos. I love that while I read aloud, Ronan is able to fill in many of the words. It’s not verbal language yet, so he signs everything to me.
I turn into a teacher again asking Ronan to fill in the words, “But our fish said, ___, ___! Make that ___ ___ away. Tell that ____ in the ___ you do NOT _____ to ____. He should not be here. He should not be about. He should not be here when your ______ is out!”
Happily, Ronan knows the words and quickly adds the signs. I don’t have too much time to pause between pages, so I catch my breath and continue the delightful tongue twisters that bring Ronan and me closer.
Not every day is as fun as a Dr. Seuss storybook though. Last week, as the kids were piling in the car so I could drive them to school, Ronan began to struggle. He’d woken tired and cranky. It had already taken me a few extra minutes to change him as he snuggled deeper under his covers. Once I’d finally gotten him dressed and ready, Ronan refused to get into the car. Instead, he attached himself to my leg while holding onto the doorknob. This preventing us from taken another step and raised both of our frustration levels.
Careful strategy and baby steps got us safely to the car. We were now running very late, and Ronan was still upset. My other kids, already buckled in and waiting patiently for their brother to calm down, offered encouraging words. “Ronan, it’s okay.” “Mom, should I sing him a song?” “Ronan, here. Do you want a book? It’s your favorite.” I shushed the kids thinking their extra chatter might set Ronan off again. But as Ronan reached for the book Little Buddy was handing him, Big Sis began quoting his favorite pages.
Thank God for Dr. Seuss! He helped us out in a jam that day. Quickly calming Ronan before he got agitated again, we all joined in the Cat in the Hat read aloud. Ronan smile got bigger. Then we heard him laugh. This may not have been perfect behavior strategy on that very rushed morning, but knowing how to redirect Ronan with one of his favorite book passages gave the rest of us a feeling of accomplishment. My hopes were once again lifted up. Things were going to be okay.
And then they got better.
Half-way to school that morning, and after we’d said our morning prayers, the kids began talking about their last week of school and the fun events being planned. In the midst of the excitement from my four typical kids, I heard something else. “Look at me…” Keeping my eyes on the road, I moved my rear view mirror to try to get a glimpse of my kids’ faces. “Who said that? WHO?!” Little Buddy smiled. Both little girls squealed. With the proudest smile Big Sis calmly said, “Mom, it was Ronan.” And it was. I cocked the mirror a bit lower and saw that Ronan was pointing to that sentence on his favorite page.
“Look at me…”
Look at me. A sentence. A breakthrough. A step closer to typical and where I hope Ronan one day will be.
What an exquisite thing to hear after what could have been a traumatic morning. It’s so meaningful, too. Meaningful because this has been something I’ve been screaming for years now: Look at me! Look at what happened! Look at my kid! Look at what’s happened to him! Please, just LOOK!
But, in that moment when Ronan said, “Look at me,” it wasn’t the time to be frustrated. It wasn’t the time for me to be in mama warrior mode. It wasn’t time for me to envision marching down the streets of Washington, D.C. waving banners of protest. It was time to stop, to look and to believe again—to believe in Ronan and what he can do.
Through his eyes, parts of Ronan’s life must be very difficult. But through his eyes, I will open mine.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.