My son Nicholas is autistic and intellectually disabled. He is 22 years old.
Since he was little he has had echolalia—a tendency to repeat what’s said to him or around him by the other person or people.
Sometimes these echoes become practiced and his own form of proactive speech: He reads contexts and says the words he associates with them.
So, when we lean in for a hug, or when I tell him that I love him, Nicholas sometimes whispers, “You’re my son.”
For a while I’ve been trying to reroute this gently with a sentence starter. “I am…” I offer, and he’ll usually pause and then continue “… your son, Poppa.”
Sometimes I reply, tapping on my chest, “Who am I again? ‘You’re my…’” and he’ll catch up and say, “You’re my Poppa.”
But that’s all been pretty dumb on my part.
Nicholas has always had pronoun and language-perspective confusion. What he’s giving voice to with “You’re my son” is the knowing, the feeling, the warmth and intimacy—the love and surety of our relationship captured in the phrase.
There’s no need for clarification or correction from me at all.
Really, there rarely is. Nicholas is loving and caring, joyful and fun—perfect exactly as he is.
Now, when our heads are leaned against one another, or when he’s sitting next to me on the couch, and he says, “You’re my son”—well, I try to reply with something like, “Yes. You are.”
Or I say nothing at all.
Instead, I pull him close, kiss him gently on his forehead, and count myself so lucky and blessed.
I invite you to read other writings on this site, including ones about my relationship with my son. Here are a few that come to mind and feel connected to this post today, at least to me:
- “Poppa, Do You Have Autism?”
- Never Met a Stranger
- Poem: To Have and to Hold Until Death Has No Part
- Women and Men and Autism: Love and Bathrooms
- Hammer and Screw: Autism Acceptance and Rejection
- Poem: Favorite Person
- No “Because” but Love—Intellectual Disability, Identity, Representation, and Value