Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Many individuals with autism do not demonstrate autistic tendencies until after their second birthday. This is called "regressive autism." From a parent's point of view, it is heartbreaking. You feel that you have lost the child that you once knew, and you don't know if you'll ever get them back. Life normalizes after a while-- a different kind of normal. But you always wonder what "could have been."

We have a storm drain near our townhome. It makes the parents of the neighborhood nervous because it's wide enough for children to fit through. Many a neighborhood ball has been lost down this drain.

Thankfully, the storm drain empties out about 25 yards south, into a pseudo-creek. The water then travels to an actual creek. I haven't seen the path that the drain takes as it goes underground. But I do know that sometimes, months later, a missing ball will re-appear on the other side, a bit worse for the wear.

A while ago, our four-year-old was outside, playing with a snazzy little airplane toy. This plane makes a roaring noise that mimics the Doppler effect. It also has a light on top. He ran to and fro on the sidewalk with the plane until.... silence. He appeared at my elbow with a tragic look.

"Mommy, duh plane is gone. It falled." He pointed to the drain.

Our six-year-old Aspie was crushed. He loved that plane. His tears were especially devastating to me because he has difficulty forming attachments. I held him close and let him cry it out. Then I explained how the drain worked, and how the plane might not be gone forever.

"It will come out?" he sniffled.

"Maybe, if there's a big storm that comes all of a sudden. The rain might wash it out in a big burst," I speculated.

But I was uncertain. The dark route of the underground drain combined with the irregular shape of the plane gave me doubts. And the batteries? Corrosion was a certainty.

He recovered from his loss and, in perfect childlike fashion, went back to what he was doing. And I, in perfect mommy-brained fashion, promptly forgot the episode.

Fast-forward to months later. It was a cloudy fall day and the kids were out, ekeing the last bits of outside play from Mother Nature. It began to rain. We took shelter as it grew more intense and watched the pelting rain through the glass storm door for a while. Then I turned to load the dishwasher.

The storm subsided just as quickly as it began. And I hardly registered the click of the door closing behind our 6-year-old.

I was bent over, loading the dishwasher, when I heard the storm door click again. I turned to see our little guy: hair plastered to his face, droplets of rain on his eyelashes. He was standing in a rapidly-spreading puddle of rainwater. And in his hands was the toy airplane.

He had remembered what I had told him, and believed.

He offered the plane to me, and I took it. The plastic was discolored and there were deep gouges that marked its journey through the dark tunnel. I ran my fingers over it.

"And look, mommy!" he exclaimed. He pushed the button on top and the little light turned on. The roaring sound still worked, too. I cried. Over a toy, and so much more.

Because when he gets older, I can't wait to recount this story. I can't wait to tell him how he believed me. Then I'll tell him how I believe that we're going to make it through the sometimes dark tunnel of the autism spectrum. And how there will be storms that could leave scars. And that we'll never be the same.

But we'll make it.