A few years ago a friend shared that she had a dream about Ronan. Just as she was going to tell us more, Ronan’s younger sister, Izzy, who was 9-years old at the time, excitedly interrupted, "Ronan could talk in your dream, couldn't he?!"
The friend, who was equally excitedly, said, "YES! He could!!"
Izzy replied quickly, "Everybody who dreams about Ronan dreams that he can talk."
I added, "And they say it's not just one or two words he says. At least 20 friends have shared that it's been ..."
"...a whole conversation!" my friend interrupted as she finished the sentence for me.
Yes, a whole conversation.
My friend was one of the lucky ones. She got to hear Ronan talk. Not just talk – he talked to her and with her. Can you imagine? A whole conversation with my non-verbal child. I would be over the moon if that really happened!
Long before that conversation, and ever since then, I’ve dreamt for the day that Ronan could talk to me. I don't mean fall-asleep-and-dream-about-it. I mean I dream as in I hope, and I pray, and I pine, and I plead, and I wait (impatiently) for that day to come. Before Ronan lost his speech, he had only just started to talk. After he went completely silent, we’d occasionally hear some almost functional, verbal language. He’d sputter out a few typical words: mama, dada, -oggy (for Doggy), -ight (for light). And then he wouldn’t. During that time, Ronan had never—and still has never, spoken a whole conversation.
Ronan can tell us he's sad, happy, and that something hurts, but he doesn't offer details, or share opinions, or share his hopes, or his dreams with us. We've worked daily to give Ronan a richer vocabulary, but detailed conversations others have dreamt about just don't happen. Thankfully, as I’ve shared before, Ronan has showed that he can communicate in other ways. He isn't having lengthy conversations yet, but he is capable of signing and typing several very short sentences. That happens with tons of prompting, with lots of encouragement, and sometimes with a tangible reward at the end of the dialogue.
Back-and-forth convos. I so wish Ronan and I could have them. They could give me insight. They could give me better understanding. They could help me. They could help him.
One dream that I had, around the same time my friend shared hers, was also about Ronan. It was such a good dream. I was watching my son from across the room. I couldn't hear him, but as I glanced across a high school cafeteria, I saw Ronan. He was a teenager, sitting with some boys, boys who were carrying on. The boys were clearly all friends. They were doing typical teenage things—laughing, chatting, being part of a group that enjoyed each other's company. All of them. Including Ronan. In that dream, Ronan wasn't just sitting next to those other typical teenage boys; he was one of those typical teenage boys.
He, too, was laughing.
He, too, was chatting.
He, too, was enjoying their company.
And they were enjoying his.
It may have been just a dream, but it seemed so real…and it felt like it was a glimpse into the future.
I recently saw one of the young boys who was in that dream I had so long ago. That young boy is now a young man. About to start his second year of college, I’ve often wondered if Ronan would ever catch up to him developmentally. Would they be fast friends like they were in my dream? Would they have played on the same sports team? Would they have learned to drive together, gone to concerts together, or gotten summer jobs together? Now, all those years later, the young man is finding success on his own path. His schooling is going to catapult him into a career, a career that has the potential to give him solid footing for a solid future. It’s truly been a blessing to see this young person grow up.
Ronan’s path has been a bit rockier.
It hasn’t always had the best guides.
And it has come with nightmares.
While I walk down Ronan’s path with him, I’ll still long for it to be different. I’ll still hope for to be a bit easier. I’ll wish sometimes that it could be more like this other young man’s. Ronan may never experience the same things that other young adults his age do. That’s a fact. Even so, I know my son has also been blessed. That’s because Ronan is cared for. He is encouraged. And because we, his family, can still help him. None of us ever dreamed we’d have to do the things we’ve done for Ronan. But we continue to help him inch forward on his path and at his pace. As long as we can all keep going forward, I think we’ll be okay.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.