He was clutching his Backpack full of DVDs when we entered the waiting room. We were on our way to yet another evaluation. This time speech in hopes of being told he would qualify for an assistive speech device (AAC). I was not excited about this evaluation. They aren’t easy at all and even after all this time on the autism roller coaster I still crash when I get home from the adrenaline that courses through me on these trips. I often drive with this silent kid in the back seat who has no clue about the fast beating heart in my chest and all the millions of scenarios that run through my head with each mile that runs past as he peers out the window.
we walked in and immediately both he and i scoured the room in search of technological devices. The walls were bright, green or yellow i cant remember and there was a large Television hanging on the wall to our left that any man would covet and to our right was the check in center with a kind looking woman at the computer. As we walked up he stood beside me with two DVDs in his hands and leaned over the desk to see what interesting thing was on her computer screen, “Aiden, No, No touch that is her computer” I said as the woman looked over and smiled at him. He yelled out that loud autism moan that all autism families know so well and took the backpack and set it on a chair where he took out all fifteen DVDs he brought and sat in the chair backwards on his knees head resting on the back of the chair as if to hide from the world. I grabbed the paperwork and began filling out his case history form as i stood because I knew where he was going next. I wrote his first name before he darted over to the television and tried turning it on. He couldn’t reach it at first but Aiden being the type of guy he is problem solved this. He climbed up on a little ledge to the left of the tv that gave him just enough height to reach the button. I turned to the lady running the desk to see what her reaction would be so i could tailor my response accordingly. She looked up smiling and said, “hey Aiden, pretty cool TV isn’t it?” I looked at her questioningly as if to non-verbally ask, “Is this okay” and our eyes met and she said, “he cant hurt anything. that thing is mounted so good and no one is in here don’t worry about it”. So I just stood there joining in his fun noting that the tv never did turn on. There was obviously something that woman was not telling me but she gave us our moment. After a while of him trying all of his tricks he lost interest and ran back to his DVDs still resting on the three chairs he had claimed as his own.
I finished about three more questions on the case history form when the speech therapist came out to greet us and call us back to her office. She was a young girl, probably at the start of her career I had assumed and with her was a young student that was following her. As we began to speak Aiden walked up to us with one of his DVD cases and tried asking me something and I couldn’t make out what he was saying. It was something new so I did what I always do in this situation. I pulled out my iPhone and opened up the Notes app and said “Aiden, type it” handed it to him and as we all peered over his shoulder he typed “mario party” and showed us. I looked at him and said “ohhh yes Aiden Mario Party I get it!” and he looked up and smiled as he flapped and let out a gleeful moan as the other therapists looked at me shocked and more than excited about this. The speech therapist looked at me and said, “Wow! I love this!”. I looked around me and immediately the butterflies left my stomach and my body softened. I was ready. and I was so proud of him already.
As we began walking down the hallway to get to the room his evaluation would be held Aiden was captivated by all the computers in the offices as we passed and eventually as we passed a room with a video game console in it and a bean bag chair it was all just too enticing for him and he darted into the room and sat on the bean bag chair. The speech therapist said, “we cant stay in here Aiden but we can take the bean bag chair with us. Do you want to take the bean bag chair?” Aiden just looked at her blankly questioning her question that contained too many words for him to decode. I looked at aiden and said, “Aiden take bean bag, Yes or no?” “WES” ” okay aiden we can take it”. I said as we got him standing and he reached down and picked it up and said “Red” noting its bright red color.
We finally entered the tiny room about the size of two walk in closets void of any computers or distraction and I placed my chair in front of the door to prevent elopement. We talked for a moment and then she pulled out that ever familiar flip book and began to ask Aiden “what is this”. As i sat there in awe I couldn’t believe what I was hearing after so many years of being told he may never speak. He knew every word! He knew every color, shape, and noun. I sat silenced as my heart began to pound harder. I sat transfixed on him as he ran from place to place. Sitting on a chair, then running to the bean bag to sitting on the therapists lap as the student therapist followed him still asking him the questions. At one point he layed with his tummy on a chair as she layed on the floor showing him the picture upside down. He couldn’t sit, we all knew that going in, but they worked with it and just followed him so they could get the data instead of just giving up and giving him the lowest score because they didn’t want to chase. They did what HE needed them to do and gave him a chance. And the outcome was amazing.
During one of his three minute breaks between sets we sat talking more as he looked through his Dvds and cuddled with each person in a way only he can do. Until something quite extraordinary happened. I was sitting there talking to his therapist again about some more case history and he walked up to me and said something I couldn’t understand fully but I knew it was a name. It was Something Segal and I couldn’t quite make out the first name. (he was reciting a contributor to PBS) i said “Greg Segal?” he looked a me not satisfied. We did this round about for about three more rounds before he looked to the floor and picked up the curious George DVD he had with him and pointed to the word George and said “George” in the garbled speech he often uses. I said, “ohh GEORGE Segal! you mean George Segal!” at this Aiden got all excited and began flapping his arms with a huge smile on his face. I looked at the other therapists as they sat in awe both with their mouths open and as all three of our eyes met the speech therapist was the first to speak, “that was Extraordinary. I have never seen anything like it”. The student just sat there legs crossed still on the floor unsure of what to do. I pushed back the emotions as i said, “this is why we are here. He wants to communicate so badly he just doesn’t know how and you have the tools here to help him. Hes smart, like really smart and I think you can help us”.
Needless to say, the rest of the appointment was talking about different devices he could use and how to obtain them and how to work with out insurance to get it in his hands as quickly as possible.
As we walked out and set our appointment for two weeks from that moment and began saying our goodbyes the student said, “My last day on this rotation is December 6th and I’m so bummed. I really want to follow Aiden there’s something amazing about him”. I looked at her and smiled and said “you are more than welcome to follow him after your rotation I will see you next appointment and I would be more than happy to keep you updated”.
I walked out of that appointment in awe. That silent boy in the back of my car was not silent at all. And what he had just proven to all of us was that he was in there and wanted to come out. The effort and planning it took for him to realize that a dvd he had brought had that bridge to his communication was nothing less than brilliant. So that is how I choose to describe this boy they say has an IQ of 48. To those with closed eyes and close hearts he is a 48 but to those of us who stop to take a moment to see him he is brilliant beyond measure.