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Words and Worlds: #thisisAutism

First came signs, and then speech. Nirav signed his first word (milk) when he was almost two. And spoke that same word nearly 9 months later. “Mikku,” he would babble excitedly.” Mikku.”

Since speech was challenging for Nirav, we offered him more resources to add to his communication toolkit. We learned the basics of American Sign language and toted around those massive PECS (picture exchange communication system) binders. There was also an assortment of apps on our devices, with brightly colored stick figures and images that he could point at to express his needs. And while we kept exploring verbal speech, Nirav taught himself to read. By his third birthday, he had mastered the alphabet and graduated to phonics and sight words. When he turned four, we got him basic storybooks — he loved them! And he’s never looked back since.

Nirav now speaks long sentences with good diction and grammar. He asks bright questions, makes clever observations, and often blows us away with how much he knows. Goes to show that there is really no limiting children — they’re capable of so much, even if the path they take is zigzag. We were never obsessed with Nirav’s speech journey. He would talk when he was good and ready. And even if he remained nonverbal, he would still have other ways to “speak.” Communication is always more important than language, and that remains the truth.

Yesterday, I walked in on him elbow-deep in an article about a class of trains in Europe (Bombardier DB BR 185 class, in case anyone’s interested.) He could probably recite this train class’s entire ancestry with exciting tidbits and “DID YOU KNOW” facts. And that isn’t all. He reads about geography, Mario, transportation, and aviation. Big people articles, with lots of details and none of those, daunt him. His interests calm him when he’s anxious, excite him when he’s bored, and challenge him to learn further. When he’s feeling affectionate, he will come in for a hug and whisper something about subway trains. Or he’ll bounce around on the trampoline, reciting quick facts about San Francisco public transportation. This is how he communicates — by sharing what he loves with those he loves.

Few things in life really grab our attention and hold it captive. For some, it’s music, and for others, it’s art. A lot of folks love old movies, and many others excel at coding or horse riding. The key is to find your special something and embrace it all the way.

Be like a child. You won’t regret it.

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