We thought Max was going to speak first.
He was the one running around the house mumbling before his twin sister Molly did. About 11-12 months later, we noticed that Max was starting to withdraw. At their annual checkup, the doctor read through the list of milestones that kids are typically hitting by their first birthday. Every response to the doctor’s questions was “yes” for Molly. I already started to feel uncomfortable. I knew that she was going to ask us these same questions about Max, and that just about every response to them was going to be “no.” That is when we first heard the words “autism” and “your son” in the same sentence. It’s such a big word.
Following the doctors instructions, we had Max checked out. Our state, Connecticut, has a “birth to three” program that helps families afford daily, in-house, ABA therapy sessions. I was just finishing graduate school when all of this happened and with my wife having the insurance already set, we decided that I would stay home with the kids.
I put my research skills to work and began reading. I read about autism, I watched Youtube videos about autism, and I got involved with the therapy sessions Max was doing.
“I could do what they are doing,” I thought. I wanted a different way, though. My daughter attends a Montessori school and I was really drawn to that. This eventually led me to discover the Floortime approach created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. I bought his book, “Engaging Autism” and began to learn a different approach.
I tried to go into his world. Where I once would say, “he only likes to put things in his mouth,” or “he will only play with you if you wear his blanky on your head,” I tried to shift my perspective.
Having a background in researching different cultures, I applied what I had learned with Max. I would have to learn his language, follow his seemingly aimless running, chew on things, and yes, wear his blanky over my head, just so he would play with me.
Over time, Max would begin looking me in the eye when I would chew on his toys.
He stopped and looked up at me when I ran behind him, and he slowly let me move that blanky off my head, rubbing his face into my prickly beard.
I made an effort to enter his world and he made an effort to enter mine.
I explained to Max that he should try to learn our language, because it will make life easier on him. Daily, I challenge Max to push a word or two out. It’s actually unbelievable that we’ve come this far, but here I am, talking with Max, listening to what he might be saying, and doing what I believe all of us should do who are affected.
Engage autistic people in the hope that they will engage with you.
This blog post was written by Shawn Garan, a father of a son with autism. He shared this touching video of a conversation with his nonverbal son, Max. Watch it below.