When My Son With Autism Said, ‘I’m Not Very Good With Words’


My son Ryan is trying. He is trying so hard. I swear I can almost see him searching through the files in his brain.

These files of his seem to be scattered in no particular order, which makes retrieving the information within the files an arduous task. More often than not, he gives up, but on this day, he kept searching. As the words scrambled and cluttered on his tongue, I reminded him to take his time and that I wasn’t going anywhere.

Kathy Hooven’s son, Ryan.
Kathy Hooven’s son, Ryan.

Ryan finally found the school file and shared what happened in school with me. Then, exasperated by his efforts, he looked out the window and sighed, “I’m not very good with words.”

I quickly assured him he’s awesome with words. I reminded him how amazing his brain is and how he can find the right words from a movie, television show or YouTube video and make those words fit just the right conversation.

I told Ryan that although my brain files seem to be more orderly and “words” seem to come more easily for me, my brain can barely remember what I ate for breakfast that morning, let alone repeating the perfect phrase (or script as we like to call it) for a conversation.

We’re both good with words in our own unique way.

Ryan didn’t look convinced. I wanted him to understand that even though he may have heard those words somewhere else, they’re still his words and part of the way he communicates, and he is indeed good with words. So I gave him some perfectly awesome examples.

I asked him if he remembered when we were driving around Grammy and Pappy’s town, looking at all the old Victorian-era mansions, and I was “oohing and ahhing” about the size, and in his best Shrek voice, he said, “Sure, it’s big enough but look at the location.” We all laughed until we cried (him included). His words were so good that I almost wrecked the car into one of those Victorian mansion’s fences, which wouldn’t have decreased the value of the mansion since, according to Ryan (and Shrek), it’s all about location, location, location.

He smiled. A little.

Then I reminded him about the time we were eating dinner and asked him if he liked the cake I made for dessert. In his near perfect Cousin Eddie impersonation from “Christmas Vacation,” he shouted, “This is goooooood!” Again, he finds just the right words at just the right time.

He smiled again. Bigger.

I asked him about the time at the beach when we couldn’t decide where to eat dinner, and we wondered what he wanted to eat. Suddenly, Jim Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill character was in the car with a “He’s cooking fishsticks!” quote. And then we knew just what you wanted to eat. Those were good words that made us all giggle.

He laughed. Quietly.

My favorite was when we saw a rainbow and my daughter Emma said, “Water plus sun equals a rainbow.” And Ryan piped up and replied, Rainbows are a result of refraction of moisture and light in the air,” sounding just like his favorite cartoon character at the time, Gumball. Those words were so good that Emma and I had no words, which never happens.

He laughed. Louder.

And then I reminded him of something he was too little to remember. Once when we were snuggling in his bed, he wrapped his arms around me and told these words that were so good they went straight from my ears to my heart: “I wish you were a human who could live a thousand years.” Those were his words, and they were beautiful. You are good with words, Ryan.

He grew silent. Again.

Worried I hadn’t proved my point, I continued with more and more examples of times he was good with words and how those words — those scripts — were his way of communicating and that my words are no better, no more effective, than his.

Ryan perked up. He sat up higher in his seat. Then suddenly, it seemed as though his brain files had order. Ryan gave me this script and that script. He used this voice and that voice. He smiled. He laughed. He believed.

As we approached the house, knowing the ride and this conversation were quickly coming to an end, Ryan never said, “Thanks, Mom. You’re right, in my own way, I am good with words.” But he didn’t need to because his smile and his Fire Marshall Bill voice as he opened the door and yelled, “Let me tell you something,” said it all.

Follow this journey on The Awenesty of Autism.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? If you’d like to participate, please check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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