Words can be famous. They can build up or destroy, be memorable or forgettable. They can make or break you, heal or harm you. They can form a basis for deception, or strung together, tell a lasting truth.
When you can't find the words to say, sometimes you borrow someone else's... a quote added to the beginning of a composition, chapter of a book, or paper in university. People with autism can use echolalia to convey a thought when they can't come up with the words on their own.
I marvel at the power of a word.
Today Alanna looked at me and smiled, then said Daddy. She said it clear as a bell - she was clearly engaged and she knew what it meant. I broke down right there beside her and sobbed. I completely lost it. The hope I had locked deep inside came out all at once and I just couldn't handle it. My wife came beside me and wept with me and cradled my head until I could compose myself.
Before you revoke my man card, you have to understand what this means to me. I have been waiting for this word for three years, not knowing if it would ever come. A child with autism is lost in their own world, and getting them out is a long, tortuous process. Today Alanna was able to do more than just interact non-verbally... she showed recognition and called me by name. It's as close as I've ever seen to her reaching out to me and expressing her feelings - something that comes to naturally to my son and other kids not affected by autism.
If you are a parent who has been through this - or perhaps you are still hoping for this moment, you know what I mean. Something so small, yet so significant. A memory I can hold onto during the bad times, the long nights, or the meltdowns. I hope it will come again many times but there are no guarantees.
To all parents - treasure your children. If they call you by name and recognize your face... if they show you their love, consider it a blessing. It may be second nature to them, but to some parents these are words and expressions they will never hear. They will love their children for years and never know one way or the other whether this is reciprocated. They may dream, or guess, or think they know. But to hear it for themselves is something else entirely.
She said Daddy!