“TALK” the three year old said as he smacked the dirt in between him and my daughter, sending it up in a wispy brown cloud that I at once worried would whirl it’s way into her already gunky lungs. “TALK! TALK! Why. Don’t. You. TALK?!” More brown lung damage swirled around them, illuminated by the bright lights of the football field that shared its space with the baseball diamond where Abby had plopped herself down to draw in the dirt, away from the overstimulating ruckus cheering at Peyton’s last football game.
I waited the socially acceptable time for mom to intervene, she didn’t, so I knelt down beside them both and placed my hand on the boys hands, “She doesn’t talk with her mouth,” I said, the same line I have said over and over and over. Mom then starts move to rescue her child or mine, or simply to look like she was paying attention the entire time. Hurriedly, I add “She can talk with her hands…” Mom picks up her son before I can finish. “Nooooo,” I think, “Don’t take him away. He was almost playing with her!” Out loud now, “He’s fine! I was just explaining to him…” Mom was gracious, but her son was already running off to play with the other kids who had all only but momentarily given Abby the “Maybe she’ll play…oh…nevermind” glance.
Left alone again, I sit down on my knees and gently smooth out the dirt so that Abby can have a fresh canvas. I can hear the laughter of the kids as they stomp around in the dirt, play tag and dance. My heart aches in the same place with the same familiarity I’ve known since Casey was born and autism took from him normal childhood experiences. Abby draws a stick figure with crazy hair and a wide smile with her finger in the dir. When I ask her who it is, a big smile spreads across her face as she puts her thumb up and to her chest with a deliberate cadence, “ME.”
I have to remind myself that the pain is my own. She’s as happy as she can be. What autism takes- normal childhood interactions- autism also protects. My autistic children don’t usually care to be doing as the other kids are doing. Like Casey with the butterflies when he was the same age as Abby.
She was happy. So I was, too.