Thursday, May 19, 2011

Elvis Sightings

I was reading a blog awhile ago by a woman who has a daughter with pretty severe autism. In one post she mentioned the concept of Elvis sightings: these brief, incredibly almost unbelievable moments in which her daughter would blow her mind by doing something this mom didn't know she was capable of doing. In her case, I think it was saying a few words clearly. And then - poof! - the moment was gone, the words were gone, and did not reappear that day, or the next, or the next month, or even the next year.

Elvis sightings can leave you wondering if you only imagined what you saw or heard. They leave you bewildered and hopeful at the same time.

Apparently Elvis sightings are pretty common with autism. I remember we would have them once in awhile with Andy. The big one was undoubtedly when Andy started singing "Happy Birthday" out of blue when he was nine years old after being non-verbal his entire life. The moment came and went, just like that -- but that was our first glimpse that he was capable of more speech then he had been producing.

We've had a couple of Elvis sightings with Ethan, too. The first one was at the beginning of 2010, when he was a little over two and barely putting two words together. During Christmas we had put out this manger that is quite possibly one of the cheesiest bits of decor we have in our home. Let's just say that a well-meaning relative found it for us at the Goodwill. This manger is complete with a plastic lit up star and a garbly version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" that plays again and again. We called the manger "Jesus," for Ethan, and he absolutely loved it. Once the holiday were done and he noticed "Jesus" was gone, one day he up and out of the blue said, "Where Jesus go?" When I told him he ran over to the basement, opened the door and called out, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus is in the basement!" I laughed so hard I cried.

Today, a year and a half later, those exclaimations would be amusing, but not a big deal. He knows how to ask questions and speak in long sentences now -- but after his "Elvis" moment, Ethan went back to speaking two-word phrases for the next eight months or so, then 3 and 4-word sentences, and it's only in the past few months his sentences have grown longer. Yet I knew he could do it. The ability was in there, somewhere.

Fast forward to the present. Ethan is 3 1/2. He's pretty good at answering "who," "what" and "where" questions now. "Why" is the tricky one. I've been thinking he doesn't quite get it yet. Usually if I ask, "Why are you sad?" He'll just repeat, "Yeah? Why?" in a sad voice. But today I happened to be walking by him in the kitchen, and he was looking at his electronic Thomas toothbrush that hasn't worked in quite awhile. There happened to be some double A batteries out on the kitchen counter.

"I know why toothbrush broke. It need new batteries!" I heard him say, mostly to himself. He seemed quite impressed with his discovery. To Ethan, the way to fix anything is new batteries, or a new cord ("Gas station is broke!" he yelled the other day when we passed a closed one in town. "Need new batteries!").

I stood there very still for a moment, amazed at this problem-solving. Voila. A "why" question asked and answered by Ethan himself, no less. We may not hear another one for quite awhile. But it's in there. It's in there.

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