Beautiful day in autism world

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood …”

The words of the opening song from Mr. Rogers float from behind my daughter’s closed bedroom door as she sings herself awake. The song announces that she is starting her day.

A minute later, the door opens and she races through the house repeating the words from a television commercial.

“Good morning Mikelyn,” I say. “How are you this morning?”

“Good,” she answers as she rushes back into her room closing the door behind her.

I know that for now that is all the interaction with me she wants or can handle; so I give her privacy and time. She is singing again. This time it is a Beatles song, and I smile at her perfect pitch even when she confuses some of the lyrics.

I know when she is ready I will get a breakfast request and sure enough about 10 minutes later she comes into the kitchen.

“Waffles,” she says in my general direction.

“Sentence?” I remind her.

“I want waffles,” she says.

“Waffles it is,” I answer.

This is pretty much all the conversation we have until I tell her it is time to get dressed and she gives me her standard reply.

“Five minutes.”

Every request usually gets a “five minutes” delay response. Sometimes it stretches into 30 minutes in five-minute increments. When that happens, I finally resort to setting the timer on the stove for five minutes and its beeping ends the waiting game.

This week that child, my youngest, celebrates turning 20 and so I ask her what she wants for her birthday. I see her struggling with my question, trying to understand what I’m asking and to come up with an answer. She looks at me for a very long minute before saying, “just nothing.”

“You don’t want anything for your birthday?” I say.

She looks at me again and I can see her searching her brain for another answer.

“Chocolate cake,” she says, and with that, she heads back to her room.

Behind the closed door, I hear her repeating words and odd sounds softly to herself.

“What’s the matter? What’s the matter? What’s the matter? You earn 25 points. You earn 25 points.”

I listen wondering what, if anything, those phrases mean to her. Maybe the repetition is calming; kind of like repeating a mantra calms a person.

Later in the day, she allows me to sit beside her in the oversized chair she likes. I begin to sing the Mr. Rogers song and she smiles. Her voice joins mine.

It’s a small thing, but a big invitation. For a few verses of a song, my child allows me into her world, granting me passage into the land of autism. I grab every chance I have to visit her there.

“Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

She places her forehead against mine and smiles again as she says, “Hi, neighbor.”

“Hi, neighbor,”I say pressing my head against hers and thinking that it is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood.