what she needed



We were in the car, about to leave the mall. My baby was hurting. Really, really hurting. And I couldn’t make it better.


We’d gone to the mall to buy a birthday present for our beloved baby sitter, Julie. Brooke had decided that Julie needed a bear pillow pet, and I’d remembered that a pillow pet store had popped up at the mall, so I suggested we give it a try.

It should have been quick and easy. But alas, a lot of things SHOULD be easy and if we’re being honest, almost nothing is ever really quick.


From the moment we’d left the house, nothing was right. Brooke was drenched in anxiety. It dripped from her pores like a bitter, toxic sweat.

No matter what I did – or offered to do – to try to help, her face remained contorted in a painful mask of frustration and fear. Her voice was tight and her words, when they came, were strangled. She’d been crying on and off for the better part of forty-five minutes.

The mall had been a disaster. The pillow pet store had closed up shop after Christmas. Once discovering it was no longer there, I tried to make a run for it, but she wanted to go to her safe zones – the toy store and the Apple store . I wasn’t about to say no if something – anything – might offer her some comfort.

The Dora game on the computer at the Apple store was tweaky. Something wasn’t working the way it was supposed to. Her nerves were shot and her tolerance for the slightest frustration was nil. A toddler cried out and Brooke shrieked in response. I gently cajoled my now sobbing girl out of the store.

We tried the toy store, but it was worse. Chock full of little kids, it was a sensory nightmare. As soon as we walked in, she let out a blood curdling shriek. I knelt down to her. “Brooke, honey, we can’t yell in the store. There are a lot of kids in here. Why don’t we leave and go to a different store where we can get Julie’s pillow pet?”

“No,” she said emphatically. “I want to stay HERE.”

She darted around frantically. She was absolutely miserable. Finally, when a little boy cried out for his mom and she began to sob again, she let me pull the ripcord and get us outside.

As we walked to the car, she cried. As we got into the car, she cried some more. I whispered to her as I helped her take her jacket off. I said the same thing I’d said in the mall. “Baby, I’m here, OK? If there’s something you need, you just tell me. I will do anything I can to help, OK?”

She yelled, “OKAAAAAAAAAY!” in my face, then sobbed.

I put the key in the ignition and took a deep breath. I cued up our favorite Carrie Underwood song on the radio.

As the ignition rolled over, Brooke yelled.


Her voice was strained, plaintiff, desperate.

“Yes, Brooke?”

“I need …”

She paused after the word ‘need’. Time stopped in the moment, offering just enough space for an entire world of possibility.

My heart raced as I thought, Anything baby. Any God damned thing. Just say the word. TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO TO SOMEHOW, SOME WAY MAKE YOUR WORLD EASIER, because for the life of me, I CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT.

She finished the sentence.

“… a hug from you right now.”

I pulled the key from the ignition and got out of the car. I ran around to my girl, opened her door and hugged her for all I was worth.

Snowflakes fell on my back. One at a time, she touched them with a single finger.

Her breathing slowed. The tears didn’t stop, but they finally ebbed.

My baby told me what she needed. And what she needed in that moment was me.

We spend so much time and energy trying to find what our children need – trying to discern what we can possibly DO, SAY, BUY or TRY to ease their way in a world that just doesn’t fit.

It’s awfully nice to know that sometimes, what they need is exactly what they already have. US.

35 thoughts on “what she needed

  1. I don’t know how you write, work and mother all at the same time. I am humbled by you and every other parent that gives their life and love to children on the spectrum. God Bless!

  2. I love this, Jess. I love that she was finally able to voice what she needed. I find it so frustrating when my little one self-injures because she cannot express what she needs. You are so right when you say that it is wonderful to know that many times what they need is what they already have…us. I am not a quick learner, but that is what I am learning myself, being relatively new at all of this. Now, if I can just think clearly enough to give her that instead of getting frustrated. An eloquent, beautiful story once again! Thank you.

  3. DOAM, while she may never have been able to tell you before(Yeah Brooke), what she needed was always right in front of her, YOU! Each time she struggles, or Aidan struggles, or Brody struggles, all they want is for mama to take ithe struggle away. Hell, truth be told, when I struggle, I want mama to make it better too. xo

  4. Wow this story is exciting on so many levels. My son hated hugs for a long time, so when he first asked for one it was a thrill. He didn’t know how to ask for things either, so wow, that one sentence just shows so many things coming together at once. You must have been crying too.

  5. My heart literally jumped into my throat when I read this post today. Hooray for Brooke!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in such a beautiful way. Hang in there. We’re all rooting for you, for Brooke, for all of us!

  6. awesome!! She has unlocked the key to knowing if she says these wonderful things out loud, Mommy will give me just what I need. I’d bet good money this blossoms into an avalance of progress. My little A now says “Mom, can I have some of my quiet time”? It’s not so much of a request as a warning that should go something like “Mom, I’m gonna blow any second if I don’t get some time and space to decompress” The answer is always YES.

    • yes! with every little step, i think that we’re headed toward that place of self-awareness mixed with the ability to communicate her needs. so happy for your daughter (and you!) that she can do that!

  7. Wow amazing post!! God bless you for your talent in writing, I would give anything in the world to translate my feelings and experiences in writing!!, please don’t stops feeding us with all your expeciences!, I know my Lucas will get as far, as Brooke has gone, that keeps me motivated it!

  8. Wow…. that has 2 be the most beautiful words she could have said 2 u…. just hope my little monkey will be able 2 tell me what she needs one day…. so happy for u and for ur daughter….

  9. How wonderful that she was able to tell you — and how wonderful that what she needed was a hug from you!

    I recently saw the movie Temple Grandin and was struck by her aversion to human touch, and how fortunate are those of us spectrum-parents whose kiddos are open to hug-comfort.

  10. Baby step by baby step…. She has walked thousand miles in the short time I’ve known you! I’m guessing that was one of the top five hugs in your lifetime, huh? It’s only the beginning too! My son refused to let me touch him for his first three years. When I did hold him, there had to be some kind of sensory input on my part ( rocking, bouncing, whatever…) and he would pinch me the whole time( I had blood blisters from his nails for years). Now… Mr. Man’s favorite place is wrapped in my arms ( when HE wants to be there). I’m SO happy for you that your little angel was finally able to ask for what she needed and more importantly, she was able to ACCEPT that hug from you. ::::::::::::::: tossing confetti::::::::::::::: ;oD

  11. If only ALL of us could learn to ask for just what we need… You, too, honey- ask for your own hugs every now and then. Even mommies have to learn to ask sometimes.

  12. Wow, seriously, wow! There have been a number of posts recently where that precious little girl has been able to ask for what she needs. It is so exciting for both of you. Being able to figure out and ask for what we need is more than half the battle! So very happy for you both, and you expressed it (as usual) so eloquently!

  13. oh, jess, it must have felt so intensely wonderful to have her tell you she needed you – her mama. i’m so glad she was able to say that. so glad. sorry about all the sheer difficulty that led up to that moment, though. xxx, k

  14. I’m crying, too! I have no children of my own, but I do have neices and nephews, all who have autism. At one point or another, each of them has done this to their mom, me, their great-aunt, or someone else. THANK YOU!

  15. As a mom of a son who was recently diagnosed with ASD, this story touched me. The urgency and stress of watching helplessly. The ache to make things better when there is so little you can do. The lump in my throat that forms when I know things are fracturing for him and yet I can’t prevent it.

    You are a far more brave mom than I. My love received his diagnosis last week but we have lived a special kind of hell for over 4 years getting here. I gave up the mall, and most other “normal” outings years ago. I didn’t see that we were slipping more and more into our own quiet world away from judgmental stares and cruel whispers. Home has been our refuge and I have become his security blanket. When the world is too harsh for him, he finds his way into my arms and we sit – and I thank God that there is at least one small thing I can do to help him feel safe. I cross my fingers and pray every day that it’s enough.

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