Sonny doesn’t talk.
They tell me not to say that, but then they tell me all sorts of things – he’s waiting to surprise me, just turn off the TV, boys are slower to develop than girls. Give him time – I get that one a lot.
It doesn’t make any difference: he just doesn’t talk.
As a baby he never shut up. Screamed and screamed, until even my mother gave up and put him back down. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with him’, she huffed, humiliated. ‘He’s trouble, that one‘.
And though I agreed – though I had lain awake the previous night worrying to that exact tune on repeat – I felt suddenly fierce and defiant and protective. Told her to get out, then sat by the Moses basket and sobbed right along with him. But that’s when he was tiny.
Now he is 2, nearly 3, and I still don’t know what he wants. He cries in the supermarket and I never know why; he can’t tell me, of course, so I’m left to guess how I can fix it. The answer is never what I expect. Spoons it is, right now; he likes to hold them in a bunch in his hand, slide them into the little nest of each other, bang them against something hard. Spoons, for goodness sake.
Jacob heard him speak, once. He said ‘bye bye’ to someone on the TV, when I was out getting my hair done. I never go out, I’m not that sort of person, but my mum had insisted I needed a treat. Something to make me feel a bit more like me. And so of course he spoke, and then refused to do it again when I got back.
Now Jacob thinks it’s just Sonny being stubborn and refuses to talk with me about it. Says I’m just making it worse by worrying, but it’s different for Dads, isn’t it? I’m his mother. If I can’t reach him, what does that make me? My own son doesn’t want to know me.
And then there’s the running – how can I ignore that? Runs and runs up and down the hallway, sometimes for half an hour or more. ‘He’ll wear the floorboards out’, my mum says, and I think I know how they feel. Ground down imperceptibly, day by day. The shine goes first, then it eats a littler deeper.
Now he does it with the spoons in his hand and they clatter and clang and his feet bang and he laughs & laughs and I think I could just go mad right along with him. That’s when I go out and have a cigarette in the garden and then have to hide the evidence from Jacob. He’d be doubly annoyed with me – for worrying and for smoking about it too.
Sonny doesn’t care, anyway. He doesn’t even notice I’ve gone. Doesn’t want to cuddle up or play with me – I’ve given up trying to join in – if I touch his toys he gets hysterical, acts like I’ve ruined everything. Then has to start again, lining them up all neat and tidy and safe from me. Safe from his mother the monster.
It’s a girl from the NHS who finally mentions it. She comes to the house to do some speech therapy, and I tell her it’s a waste of time, because you can’t fix something doesn’t exist. She watches Sonny run for a while and do his thing with his spoons and his train set and then she says, ‘have you ever heard of something called autism?’
I look it up later on the computer, and I know right away that this is it. It’s a relief to be honest, which probably sounds awful – but I really thought it was me, it was my fault, and then Wikipedia said it wasn’t. Just like that.
Sonny doesn’t talk and he might never learn.
He doesn’t really play with other children or even his family. He doesn’t copy or make eye contact or sing.
But gradually I learn about the things he does do. I learn to enjoy his spoons with him, how they feel cold on your cheek, how satisfying it is when they nestle together. He runs them on his toes so I have a go too and it’s a funny feeling that I couldn’t ever describe. He thinks of things I never would, and I like that about him.
He still runs and screams and flaps, and I still sneak out for the odd smoke, but that’s parenting, I suppose.
I’m out there finishing a cig when he comes to find me.
He’s really looking for me, because when he sees me he runs over and starts pushing my free hand about. I’m a bit taken aback to be honest, because Sonny never seeks me out, so it takes a moment for me to register that I’m supposed to do something back.
I look down at our hands, where his is bumping against mine, and he pushes something against my palm, squeals, and does one of his little jumps. Cold and hard in my hand, shining in the sun, is a fork, and after a heartbeat, after I think like my Sonny would, we both start to laugh.
AN: I feel a bit iffy about this, but then the whole point of 100 stories was to put imperfect stuff out there, so… yeah. Is it patronising? I don’t want to be patronising. I worked in Speech Therapy for ten long years so I’m not just assuming, btw. Thoughts?