Ronan said my name the other day. He was trying to get my attention, and boy, did he ever! He wanted his iPad while we were in the car, but it needed to be charged. As I sat at a red light, I saw Ronan in the rearview mirror signing for his iPad. “iPad, iPad, IPAD!” He really wanted it. His facial expression and rapid signing let me know that. Even though he was communicating his request well, I told him he couldn’t have it yet. I reminded him that the iPad was charging and that he’d get it soon. Further down the road when we stopped again, he took his attempt to the next level. That’s when I heard Ronan. Then I heard him again as he said, “Ma…” I whipped my head around so fast and stared at my non-verbal 15-year old in the backseat.
“Ronan! Did you just say….mom?!”
Looking me straight in the eye, Ronan stared at me and then muttered loudly, “Ma…,” and smiled back at me. I never knew how beautiful a two-letter word could sound.
Ronan doesn’t talk. He lost his speech post-vaccination over a decade ago. We get many vocalizations, but clear words are few and far between. But one day last week, he spoke with purpose, with inflection, and with a smile. He’s said ma (and mum-mum) before, but it’s been a very long time since I heard his sweet, and now deeper, voice asking specifically for me.
When he does attempt to speak, we can hear vowels. We can hear consonants. We can hear inflection and emotions. He’s in there. We believe his voice is somewhere in there, too. In all honesty though, whatever does come out of his mouth usually sounds like muttered jibberish. That’s frustrating for us and very frustrating for him as well.
Ronan never stops trying though. Either with sign language or by typing his requests, Ronan tells us exactly what he wants. Every now and then, like last week, we’ve been blessed to hear his voice. Only one or two words at a time, we love to hear him speak.
One time, Ronan was d-o-n-e with me and belted out, “ahhh duh-n” with an accompanying look that look spoke volumes. He was about to reach his limit and told me right away that he was all done listening to his Therapeutic Listening CD. Another time, he was all done wearing his shoes and told me by saying, “ahhh duh-n” and by signing the ‘all finished’ sign. When he was more than all done with a boring movie I chose for him because he couldn’t find his favorite DVD, he signed ‘no’ and typed out f-i-n-i-s-h-e-d. I didn’t believe Ronan and asked if he could watch it for a bit longer. Oh, the look he gave me! He went to his voice output device and typed 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0. Then he typed f-i-n-i-s-h-e-d one more time.
I taught Ronan to use a countdown strategy years ago. It’s come in handy at doctor’s offices when Ronan’s been asked to do invasive-to-him procedures like putting on and keeping on a tight blood pressure cuff. I don’t let him see it, but I can’t help but smile when he uses that countdown strategy on me. He becomes so typical like my other children get when they don’t want to do what I’ve asked them. Like the siblings must, I make sure Ronan follows through with whatever I’ve asked him to do. He usually does, but I love to imagine that he’s rolling his eyes, sighing heavily while thinking, “M-O-M! You’re so mean!” as he completes whatever it is that I’ve asked him to complete.
All done. Finished. The countdown. Be it typed, signed or vocalized, it’s meaningful. It’s 100% communication. It’s effective, too. For so long, though, we’ve been used to short, cryptic messages. We’ve been used to catering to Ronan’s every need without the luxury of clear communication. Without being able to decipher what he’s uttering, we’ve tried to stay one step ahead of Ronan making sure his path is clear, his needs are met, and his wants are satisfied. Without being asked, all of that has happened. Now that Ronan’s been able to get my attention with his voice once, twice, and three times in a row, you better believe we’ll up stakes and hope to hear him contribute more verbalization.
Even though he’d already gotten my attention, even though he’d made his thoughts perfectly clear, even though he’d waited long enough, Ronan was agreeable while I had my camera out to speak one more time. I thank the Lord I had means to video tape that rare moment. I’m even more thankful that Ronan’s siblings were over the moon excited to hear that awesome brother of theirs tell their mama that he needed something. They replayed the short clip several times this past week. I’ve played at least a dozen times myself. Here it is for you to enjoy as well.
I’m so glad that I was able to get Ronan to share his simple but profound request one more time.
Ma. Hey, you!
Ma. Yeah, you!
Ma. I need you.
One single word, one hopeful moment caught on tape, it was enough to fill our hearts with joy. We’ll hope for more joyful moments. We always will because we never want to stop believing in Ronan.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.