Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking about Oliver's deficits that I forget to take note here of the many small victories that we've had over the last few weeks. One gift, if you can call it that, of autism is that nothing, even the smallest stride forward, is taken for granted. A new word or skill, or the simple act of focused play, is cause for celebration and appreciation.
Oliver has learned to dress and undress himself after only a few days of prompting. We still have to sit behind him and provide occassional direction but he manages to do it fairly well and that is tremendously heartening. After donning each article he is rewarded with cheers and hugs and "Yeah, Oliver! You did it!! What a big boy. I'm so proud of you!" and the smile he delivers tells us that he is proud of himself.
Oliver's verbal skills have also been getting more exercise lately. "I want dinosaur." "I want whistle." "I want balloon." All of these phrases were uttered in the same hour when unplanned guests came to visit and invaded Oliver's play room taking up to play with the various articles that he then requested. Oliver's language ability is something that I have puzzled over. He seems to have a vocabulary stored in his head that rarely gets used. I haven't heard him say dinosaur in over a year but then suddenly there it was. And occassionally he will come out with a sentence that is full and understandable and clearly of his own invention. One day I was pretending that a stuff cow could make all the other noises of the animal kingdom. When I made the sheep's sound he looked at me and said: "That's not a sheep. That's a cow!" I was dumfounded. One day I sneezed and he said: "Gezhundheit!" Some days Oliver will be full of verbals that are clearly understandable and other days all of the syllables of the same words will slide together and like a secret code I have to decipher what he means. And some days he says practically nothing at all; the gibberish reigns.
Why these good days and bad days? What subtle things beyond my comprehension influence him? I wish there were a guidebook written by some wizened old expert like Dr. Sears that said: "If your child is like this, then do this." But there isn't and we do what we can do to piece together the clues we are given. Starting on November the First we will begin experimenting with our diet to determine if there is a possible link between what he eats and his various behaviors. I am overwhelmed at the prospect of changing our eating habits but lucky enough to have a lovely, encouraging diet "coach" who will help us along the way. And I am excited to see if this experiment will yeild some new clues that will help us along the way.
About a year ago Oliver would run to me saying in a breathless sort of way: "I love me!" (meaning "you") and throw his arms around me. I hold the memory of that simple phrase and the feeling of his warm breath on my neck very close to my heart. There are many days when I am tempted to mourn the loss of that phrase. But mostly I feel confident that if we give Oliver all that we can find it in ourselves to give then each day will bring new victories and cause for celebration.