by Susan Senator
When my autistic son, Nat, was about 8, we learned that he loved looking at family photos on my husband’s computer. This discovery rocked my family’s world. Before then, we did not know that Nat enjoyed our faces. He had never seemed that comfortable looking at or talking to us. Perhaps he liked the unchangeable nature of pictures, their static predictability. Or maybe the stillness of photos gave him the space to process his thoughts.
“Go there,” Nat would say, pointing at an image from my mother’s house during Passover. Once we understood that the house, our family and the holidays were things Nat liked, my son Max started taking pictures of them and we’d put them on the laptop for Nat. Laptop photos gave Max something in common with his older brother, perhaps for the first time.
But as with all people, interests fade. The laptop eventually lost its allure for Nat, at the same time his frustration with communicating grew. His brothers were often targets of his anger, straining our family relationships. During some phases of his teenage years, things were so volatile I feared that Nat would hurt us — or that we would hurt him. I didn’t know how to talk to my son and, far worse, I didn’t know how to listen to him. Sometimes it felt like life had frozen, that I was merely maintaining Nat rather than helping him grow.
Sometime in the past year, Nat had a sort of mental growth spurt. This is not atypical with autism. In Nat’s case, he suddenly seemed to labor less over answering questions and he became very interested in other people. He was more alert, if more on edge; it was as if he had acquired a new sharpness.
[From the Washington Post.]
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