My 2½-year-old daughter stands in front of me, arms stretched out from her sides. “Huuh,” she says.
“Huuh” is special. A “huuh” is a hug, and it's one of the few things she actually asks for. In fact, it's one of the few things she can express verbally, because my little girl, standing there with her arms stretched out for a hug, is autistic.
We've suspected something like this for a while. We'd become increasingly concerned about her reluctance to talk, as well as other behavior, such as not responding well to her own name, some compulsive/ritualistic behavior and selectivity about food. Our pediatrician and a speech therapist have evaluated her, and have come to the consensus that she is mildly autistic. I know that the term mildly ought to be comforting, but it's hard to feel that way right now.
To some extent, I understand what she will have to deal with as she grows, having myself grown up with attention-deficit disorder. The frustration of struggling with things that come so easily to others is something to which I can definitely relate. To this day, I must take extraordinary measures to remember things like appointments or tasks, or to make sure that I don't lose things. If I am given a task, I am strongly inclined to just do it right then and there, because I know that the odds are high that I will otherwise forget it. For about a year when we moved into our new home, I had to maintain a ritual of tethering my keys and wallet to my belt until it became a habit to always put them back in my pockets instead of just leaving them in some random place. It's upsetting to see other people able to do these things with far less effort.
Fortunately, the prognosis for our daughter seems fairly good. She doesn't talk much, but she does say a few words, and she's slowly learning more. She also understands some sign language, and there are a number of common autism difficulties that are mild or absent in her. Nothing is certain at this point, but it seems that, despite some struggles, she will likely be able to live a relatively normal life, much like myself.
I look at my little girl, and I can tell there are thoughts and feelings trapped in that little head that she wants to tell me. I want to come home and have her tell me about what she ate that day, or the funny thing that Elmo did on Sesame Street, or the game that she played with Mommy. It may be some time before that happens.
But what she can tell me is, “I love you.” She stands in front of me, stretches out her arms, and says “Huuh.”