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 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:
This is a wonderful article. “Or I say nothing at all.” As people, we are so quick to think we need to correct or teach. Imagine how being corrected all the time would make us feel. I have a sweet friend who always confuses pronouns. Before it was trendy to identify yourself she was they and they were her and they were him. She gave the best hugs ever. Always felt a little like she might not let go! I quickly stopped saying “you mean her…let’s shake hands.” When I stopped, I just appreciated Linda for the joy that was our time together. Let’s just say…nothing at all.
The relationship that you have with Nicholas is so beautiful and a constant reminder that the beauty of love is allowing those we love to be and to lean into saying nothing at all instead of satisfying our own need to say something. Thank you for the ways that your love for Nicholas has allowed you to share insight with others and provide a pure glimpse of unconditional love.