Yesterday morning, I awoke to the sounds of quiet whimpers from the adjacent bedroom. My son, Leo, was lying in bed with the covers pulled up over his face and tears streaming down his cheeks. I crawled into the bed beside him, wiping away his tears and comforting him in whatever way I knew how. His dad followed, and all three of us laid in bed until the tears ceased and anxiety seemed to slowly be exiting Leo’s body.
It was a nightmare that caused his distress, I believe. Although, I can’t be sure. It is still one of the most heart-wrenchingly difficult aspects of this autism journey that I grapple with — not knowing why my child is upset and how to help him.
I find myself playing detective a good deal of the time, looking for clues and trying to solve the mysteries that are so often attached to my beautiful boy.
Babies are unable to express what they want or why they are upset through the use of words, so they do so, more often than not, by crying. As parents, we learn very quickly to check off the handful of basic needs generally linked to their discontent before further exploring: Are they hungry? Do they need to be changed? Do they simply want to be held?
Leo still has basic needs that he has difficulty communicating to us: Is he hungry? Does he have to go potty? Is he over-stimulated? Is he seeking attention?
Like parents of newborns, I, too, go through my checklist.
But Leo is not a baby.
He is a 6-year-old boy with rich and complex thoughts and emotions that he simply can’t fully express.
Yesterday was one of those days where the weight of this challenge seemed to fall heavily on all of our shoulders. Until Leo, in his own uniquely glorious way, gave his mommy a glimpse into that beautiful mind of his.
While the three of us sat together, we watched one of Leo’s favorites, “The Muppet Movie.” I glanced over during one of the last scenes of the film and noticed tears welling up in his eyes. Except unlike that morning, there was no fear behind them. They were happy tears, as he had clearly been moved by what he was viewing on the screen. I was moved, too, feeling every emotion through his tear-filled eyes.
And when the final scene began to play (a song and dance number that Leo adores), he grabbed my hand, looked at me intently and requested, “Everything is great?” That prompted me to sing along with the film.
And so I sang:
Everything is great.
Everything is grand.
I got the whole wide world in the palm my hand!
Leo’s own tiny hands clutched tightly to his chest excitedly, while he turned his attention back and forth between myself and the film, eagerly anticipating each new verse.
I’ve got everything that I need right in front of me.
Nothing’s stopping me.
Nothin’ that I can’t be.
With you right here next to me.
There will be challenging days to come. But those challenges will continue to make us stronger and help us to appreciate the love we have for one another — and moments like these where I’m able to connect with my child through a song and a movie that brings him so much joy.
Because no truer words could be sung.
Life’s a happy song when there’s someone by my side to sing along.
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