Oct 12, 2012 0 Share

Breakthroughs in Communication

Illustration of two people talking with word bubbles over their heads.

In a recent column I mentioned how Cody, like other individuals with autism, has a difficult time expressing when he is sick or in pain. But this morning that expression was very clear.

I had woken him up at 8:00 a.m. to start his morning routine of having coffee, eating breakfast, brushing his teeth and getting dressed before Stephen arrived. Everything was going as normal when Cody soon decided his breakfast was not settling right. He just couldn’t keep it down.

Cody used to have a habit of eating too fast and then soon after he would become sick. But he hasn’t done that for quite some time. He had also been rather lethargic the night before.  So when he became ill his morning I was a little concerned.

Anytime I feel like a physical ailment may be present, I start out by asking him a direct question.
“Cody, do you feel sick?” That is usually followed by a series of questions. Do you have a headache? Does your ear hurt? Does your neck hurt? And I make my way through the anatomy until we ascertain what, if anything, is wrong.

I expected to do the same thing this morning. But when I asked if he was sick Cody’s immediate reply was, “Just don’t feel too good.” While I hate it when my child is sick, I was elated that he was able to express it to me with so much more ease than he has done in the past. I had to just sit and wrap my mind around what had just taken place.

Later I asked him if he would like to ride with me to the grocery store. A normal response from Cody any other time would be for him just to make a beeline for the passenger side of the car, sick or not. His response today was, "I think I'll just stay home." Again I was in awe. It was an answer I would expect to hear from most anyone else when they are ill. But this was so atypical of my son.

Evening came and when dinner and dishes were done we all settled in downstairs for some family time as usual. But Bill had had a rather hectic day at work and was tired and cranky. He headed to our bedroom to get ready for the next day and take a shower. Cody watched in silence. I could tell by his facial expression he was aware Bill was not himself tonight. Normally Cody would make no comment. But tonight was different. He said, “I just don’t know what’s the matter with Bill.” To hear him make a statement totally in context with the situation and in such a succinct way was music to my ears.

Some medical professionals have suggested that when people on the autism spectrum become ill, normal patterns of dialogue will sometimes emerge. And that has been true with Cody in the past, but it commonly happens when he has a fever and it has never been to this degree. However, he had no fever and it wasn’t just that his pattern of speech was typical, so were his actions. So what do I make of this?

First, my hopes soared as I thought of the possibilities that finally Cody was showing progress in self-expression and communication.

Then, it gave me pause to consider that perhaps this illness wasn’t just a mild stomach bug as I had originally supposed. Maybe there was more than met the eye. Maybe those learned people in the medical community were more on the mark than I first believed. Thus, I watched him closely throughout the day. He has complained of no other symptoms and none have presented themselves.

Analyzing the facts I have is all I can do. He said he didn’t feel well. He said he had a headache. He said his stomach was upset. His temperature has remained normal all day and in spite of being a bit under the weather his spirits have been bright. And this time, he was able to communicate a need; his actions backed it up. I can’t help but to trust that God has been listening to my prayers.