Brooke is three.
I don’t understand why we’re here. We’ve got to be in the wrong place. I know I asked for help, but an autism specialist? This makes no sense. My baby can talk, so it can’t be autism — right? For God sake, someone say Right.
The word took the air out of the room, sent me running for the bathroom, retching over the cold porcelain, searching for something. It was huge. It was terrifying. It couldn’t be right. But I was the one who had sounded the alarm. I was the one who knew we shouldn’t be waiting. I was the one desperate for help. But autism?
The waiting room is small. One family comes and goes while we wait, replaced by another. I focus on them. It’s easier.
I don’t remember who was with her – was it her mom? Her dad? I only remember the girl – a young teenager. Fourteen maybe? Fifteen? And the eerie familiarity of that high-pitched hum.
She can’t sit still. She roams the tiny waiting area. Up. Down. Up. Around. Down. All the while, humming her song. I know that song.
It happens in the kitchen. Brooke running like the wind from the den to the office. Hey, silly squealer! we yell after her. It happens in the car. What’s up, squealer? we ask. She doesn’t answer. She never answers. It happens outside in the wind. When she’s free. When that rare look of quiet contentment comes over her face. Hey, happy squealer. we say.
I will myself to look at Luau. Tears roll down my cheeks. He’s been watching too. And listening. He extends a hand, but he can’t reach me. The tiny waiting room is now five miles wide.
My girl squeals. It’s sweet and cute and funny. She’s three.
This girl is a teenager.
I watch the adult with her – Damn it, I can’t remember anymore – was it her mom? her dad? I watch them reel her in. Keep her safe.
She’s a teenager.
It’s too much.
The squeal is sweet and funny and cute. And three.
Brooke is nine and a half. When she runs, her long hair trails behind her in the wind. She’s so damned beautiful – her face telegraphing the young woman that she will be any minute now – so quickly replacing the little girl that she was just a minute ago. The days are long but, man, the years really are short.
She squeals in the kitchen, sitting at the table, happily munching a brownie – her ‘special dessert.’ She squeals in the car, then laughs that delicious belly laugh – the one that could light a thousand suns. What baby? What’s so funny? we ask. Kiki is making me laugh. she says. Kiki is her imaginary twin sister – quite the card apparently. She answers now. She almost always answers now. She squeals outside in the wind, when that not so rare look of quiet contentment comes over her face. Happy, sweetheart? we ask. But she’s already answered.
I have the words now. Vocal stim. High-pitched hum. Self-soothing. Sensory seeking. Self-stimulatory behavior.
I have those words now, but they don’t really matter.
My girl squeals.
And it’s one of the happiest sounds on God’s green earth. It’s the most visceral, instinctual, REAL expression of happiness I’ve ever heard.
These are the words that I have now – visceral, instinctual, HAPPY. These are the ones that do matter.
My girl will be a teenager before we know it.
And there’s a lot to be terrified of.
Doesn’t make the list.
Quite the opposite in fact.
Ed note: Happy Halloween, all! Have fun and be safe tonight. And to those still dealing with the aftermath of Sandy, our hearts and prayers are with you.
Please note: AutismCares is actively seeking families affected by autism who are victims of Hurricane Sandy and invites those families to call the Autism Response Team at 1-888-Autism2 (288-4762), En Español at 888-772-9050, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive assistance. Families may also register directly at www.autismcares.org. Please pass the info on to anyone who might need help.