I love you. Those three simple words I used to yearn to hear from my daughter. When Leah was first diagnosed with Autism at eighteen months old, she could not speak at all. Every attempt came out as a sound or a grunt, and I had become pretty good at figuring out what those sounds meant. However, it was hard watching other children speak so effortlessly using their perfect, tiny, squeaky little voices. I would have done just about anything to hear my Leah speak–just one clear word baby girl. I know you can do it. Please do it. Please tell me that you love me. I need to know that you love me and that you know how much you are loved. We worked tirelessly with therapist after therapist. Eventually, Leah began to use words. It was an exciting time listening to her request her favorite foods, but I wanted more, needed more. I would prompt her by saying, “Say I love you,” and she would repeat what I asked her to at times. So, I began to model like crazy. Every chance I got, I would prompt her to tell me that she loved me. If she wanted another Goldfish, then she had to say it. If she wanted a drink, she needed to say it. Then, boom! One day, she came up to me and said it!! “I love you.” It really sounded more like, “ah wuv ooo,” My heart was about to burst…but then…she took my hand and lead me into the kitchen and tried to reach for the Goldfish crackers. I thought to myself, “Oh, great! I just taught my child that Goldfish crackers are really I love you crackers.” So, I decided that what I needed to do was teach my child what she needed to learn and that what I needed would come later. Every time she would climb on my lap, or rest her head on my chest, or rub my face with her tiny hands, I knew she was telling me she loved me in her own way. After I stopped trying to hear her say it, I could feel her say it. In return, I would hug her a little tighter and plant kisses on her beautiful face, so she could feel that I loved her back. No words were needed. After all, love is an action word.
Written by: Jean TenBrink