happy squeal


June, 2006

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. 

I’m terrified.


October, 2012

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.

But squealing?


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 autismcares@autismspeaks.org to receive assistance. Families may also register directly at www.autismcares.org. Please pass the info on to anyone who might need help. 

17 thoughts on “happy squeal

  1. Brooke is a happy child. That squel often says it all and so does that picture. I know I’m prejudiced, but she is magnificent! Remember the album, “Free to Be You and Me”? That picture says it all.

    Love you,

    • Love that album!! “Free to be You and Me” gave me the ability to be an individual, never realized it may have also helped me embrace the individual my son is. Thanks for that! I wish everyone could hear the message on that album and be more accepting of individuality.

  2. My son has a happy squeal, too. This post made me tear up–resonates with me…from the feelings inside the specialist’s office to the not worrying about the squeal. Beautifully written.

    • Katie is SO not to old for Halloween! Or, as we call it chez Wilson, the high holiday when our all-time favorite activities become socially acceptable 😉

      As for the costumes, I’ve been sworn to secrecy until this evening. Check back for photos! 😉

  3. B~E~A~U~T~I~F~U~L post today. LOVED every word of it. Today, you are my sanity…

    You don’t know me, but you understand me.
    You don’t know me, but you value that somedays you must cry.
    You don’t know me, but you get that somedays I AM ANGRY.
    You don’t know me, but you know my worry.
    You don’t know me, but you grasp that I AM OVERWHELMED.
    You don’t know me, but you get that some days are terrifying.
    You don’t know me, but you see my deepest fears.
    You don’t know me, but you comprehend what makes MY girl tick.
    You don’t know me, but you love me and my girl anyway.
    You don’t know me, but really you do.

    You don’t know me, BUT I AM GLAD I KNOW YOU… just a little from this place.

    Blessings… 🙂

  4. I am there…that feeling, that realization that some things change but in a way, it’s all still there. Nigel is 18 now and still vocally stims, but I’m with you – that’s the least of our concerns. Love you and miss you!

  5. it seems my thoughts and feelings about autism have evolved so much since I began reading your blog. You have such a way of articulating exactly what so many of us wish that we could. As I watch my son grow, I watch the gap between him and his peers continue to widen, and I remember when I used to think that it would be somehow growing smaller by now. But as I walk that fine line between hope and denial, I find myself wondering not only if I’m doing the riight things as far as therapy, meds, education, etc., but also, and equally important, is he happy? I find that most days the answer is yes, and this comforts my soul. In the end, I realize thatthisishis human experience, and happiness counts. A lot.

  6. Over the past six years, my brother, sister, and I have gotten really good at recognizing the happy squeal of a child with special needs. We know, because the kids we love dearly make those noises! In the mall a few months ago we heard a child make a really loud noise. “Happy noise!” my sister said. Three minutes later a little girl in a stroller came zooming past us, making her happy noise. We just grinned.

Leave a Reply to Mom Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s