Our thoughts about who this boy was were veering wildly. For a period of time, when Walker was three months old, we believed he might be remarkably gifted. He was showing his sister's affinity for language. "Say 'I love you,'" we'd say.
"Ah ew uh," he imitated, "Ah ew uh." Of course, he didn't know what it meant. Still, in those second and third months, we had moments of shared joy, a growing sense that Walker was emerging.
Yet as the months moved on, he somehow didn't. As he became four months old, five months old, it seemed as if a heavy veil, or shadow, lay between us and our son. He was growing increasingly unresponsive, deeply uncomfortable, morose. His pattern, if he had one, eluded us. He was a puzzle.
The doctors were not worried; we were.
One day when Walker was four months old, I was in the bathroom brushing my hair. I had propped him against the wall so he could see more. Thud! I looked down to see him lying sideways with his head on the hardwood floor. He must have taken a hard blow, yet he lay there as if nothing had happened. Why wouldn't a baby cry when he felt pain?
Walker's habits, and even his instincts, were not what we were used to, or what anyone had given us to expect. He continued to strike peculiar postures. Most babies fall over their parents' shoulders like flour sacks when they're being burped; Walker struck an S shape, arching as if he were doing pull-ups, balanced on someone's shoulder. When I held him this way I had the sense he might climb right out of himself up to the ceiling.
Now why would a baby fall into hysterics, after not crying for days, then suddenly sleep?
Why would a baby recoil when someone put a rattle in his hand?
Why would a baby sleep the very second you let go of him, but not while you're holding him?
And then, as mysteriously as it had appeared, Walker's talent for language was gone. When he was four and a half months old, he could no longer repeat our sounds: "Say 'I love you.'"
When I asked him to perform this little trick, he now turned away.
I remember the sense of guilt I felt when I realized he would no longer speak the way he had before. I had pushed him too far again.
I would let him do it on his own schedule; I resolved to give him more time.
Yet by the time Walker was five months old, it was clear something was wrong. We knew we were losing him; he was slipping away into the shadows. "Perhaps he's just uncomfortable because of his perpetual cold," suggested our family practitioner casually. Yet by now Walker still couldn't look at me at close range. Worse, he gazed away more often than he looked at us. He seemed more interested in the light that flooded into the house through the slatted blinds than in our daughter or us. He searched the windows, obsessively, compulsively. What was it about those windows? They seemed somehow significant to him. When he looked out, which he did now almost constantly, it seemed he wasn't just staring blankly but that he was reading something into the light, or the frame, or the blinds, as if there were an entire scene being played out for him there between the dust motes and the windowpanes.
One night when he was four and a half months old, Walker was in the bathroom with Elizabeth and me. He was lying in his baby basket; she was in the tub.
Elizabeth plunged her hands into bubbles and produced a plastic frog. It squeaked. Walker began laughing--uproariously, hysterically: the first time we had ever heard our baby laugh.
Elizabeth jumped out of the tub and squeezed the frog in his face: Squeeeekkkkkk! We saw a baby we had never seen before--a child of boundless joy and energy, laughing, responding, asking for more with quivering, excited hands. It was one of the first times brother and sister had any connection at all. Their laughter harmonized, filled those great bathroom acoustics with high-pitched mirth. Elizabeth squeezed and squeezed as Walker laughed and laughed. This was the moment I had been waiting for. We were a family, finally.
From The Boy Who Loved Windows: Opening the Heart and Mind of a Child Threatened With Autism by Patricia Stacey. Copyright Patricia Stacey 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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