Late in the afternoon of August 16th, 1998, as I was taking 22 month-old Zach out of his crib from a nap, my water broke - Josh arrived a mere 5 hours later, after about 4 hrs of labor and all of 5 minutes of pushing. In fact, "pushing" is hardly accurate as he crowned all on his own after a run of some pretty heinous contractions. He was in a bit of a hurry. Delivered by the resident because my OB didn't get there in time and without, yes WITHOUT an epidural or drugs of any kind. Not by choice mind you, I wanted that epidural! But toadie was coming and there was no time and the intern couldn't tell the difference between 5 cm and fully dilated, so, there we were, au natural. In all my writings of how different and often difficult things are with him it's easy to lose sight of how wonderful he is as well. So today's post is devoted to all the joy that is Josh :)
Josh does experience a wide range of emotions as well as he elicits them. Some of them can be hard to distinguish from one another because of his inability to understand them and how to manage them, but I can usually tell the difference between sad, angry and frustrated, even though his response to all three is pretty much the same. But Josh is happy too. Sometimes flat out gleeful. He can be silly - he actually makes his own jokes (this involves his changing around Blue's Clues scripts to make them nonsensical), he can be mischievous, wry, sneaky, amused, and fearless. The only way to really know is to watch him, because of course he can't express any of this verbally, but his face and his behavior will tell the story. Which classically, is counter-intuitive for someone with autism - they are "supposed" to be unemotional, have flat affect and essentially appear disengaged. Josh can be that way. But he is also very expressive and that is definitely one of his gifts to us. I love to just watch him while he's looking at his books or at himself in a mirror and see the different expressions on his face.
Josh also loves to laugh. Usually this is self-induced, because in his head something was REALLY funny and he will just start laughing and laughing... he still has that great belly-laugh and giggle that babies have and he will just laugh himself to tears when he gets going. It's infectious and anyone else around usually ends up laughing too even though we usually have no idea why. But we can also make him laugh like this by tickling him. He can be pitching a massive fit over something and you can start tickling him and within seconds he's laughing hysterically. He's got to the point now where he knows that tickling will break the tantrum, so he actually tries to avoid it if he thinks that's what we're going to do! "Don't make me laugh, I CHOOSE to be in a bad mood!!"
But the most special thing about his personality is his capacity for love and affection. Again, this is not "typical", if you subscribe to the notion that anything about autism could be characterized as such. He really does have it though and it's beautiful. He needs contact and physical comfort from people he cares about and asks for it on a regular basis. His way of showing his affection is by kissing you on the forehead - he will ask for "head please", and that is what he wants. So you lean your forehead close so he can give you a kiss. Sometimes several. He does this with people who are important to him. When he's really upset, there are many times when if I sit really quietly with him, and just wait, he will start asking for my head and he'll need to kiss it a few times but then, he's ok. He's calm again, like, the forehead kissing helps him feel settled and safe. He will wrap his arms around you and give you the best hugs! He really is a love and I feel like we are very fortunate.
There is nothing better than watching him experience joy - which happens with things like rides at Disney, being in a pool or other playable water, or playing with Mylar balloons. It's very pure, just completely uninhibited happiness that you can see in his smile, his eyes, and that infectious laugh. For a child that has difficulties with so much in this world, seeing him happy is the best feeling ever. It's all I want for him.
One of the things that a lot of parents of autistic children will often lament is their inability to get "good" pictures of them. I am no exception to this. But I thought about it last night as I was thinking about what I could write about for his birthday, and, turns out I have a lot of pictures of Josh that I love. They are not necessarily the best photos, but I love them because of his expressions, or what he's doing, or how they make me feel. I spent a couple of hours going through my collection this morning, and have put together an album of Josh pictures I love - head to the photo gallery and check it out, hopefully you'll enjoy them too.
Happy birthday, my sweet little toad, and thank you for 12 years of head kisses, belly laughs, and rides at Disney no one else will go on.