“What does Aidan understand?”
It’s the $64,000 question; one I ask myself every day.
Because Aidan doesn’t have expressive language skills, or, he can’t tell us what he understands and doesn’t understand, I’ve become a detectives of sorts. I watch Aidan’s facial expressions, follow his eyes, try to decipher his actions, look for patterns of behavior.
There’s always a chance I could be wrong, that I’m assigning meaning to something that’s not there. Did he really mean to throw that food on the floor because he doesn’t like it?
His wheelchair has actually become a powerful communication tool for Aidan. He knows where he wants to go and is able to follow directions.
Aidan’s class was told to line up for gym. Aidan, in his power chair, was the line leader.
“Ok, Aidan. Let’s go to the gym.”
There was a brief kurfuffle of kid chaos that needed to be attended to. After sorting things out, the teachers (yes, there were several) looked at each other and asked, “Um, where’s Aidan.”
In the gym, of course, having driven there all by himself because he was clearly following directions. I love this story, even if it did induced a moment of teacher panic. My boy is smart indeed.
Fast forward several weeks. One of Aidan’s former teachers has died.
“What does he understand?” I ask myself, wishing for a brief moment that I wouldn’t have to tell him.
Aidan would recognize her name. I know that. My strong belief that Aidan is smart, that he is comprehending the world around him, has led me to this moment where I have to share this hard truth.
I put my face right up against his, feeling that this moment demands touch and closeness. I recall his teacher to him and tell him that she has died and that many people are very sad. Aidan grabs my hair and giggles. Even as I know that’s just his reaction to my face being in his, I’m so frustrated, needing to know he grasps the bigness of this moment. I back away and tell him again. I know I’m supposed to ask how he feels, if he has any questions, but how can I possibly do that? I tell Aidan that God always hears him and loves him so much and will answer any of his questions. It’s meant as a comfort but feels like a cop out.
I suppose there are many ways of knowing. Sad is more than a word, more than a symbol on a page; sad is in your heart whether you can name it or not.