From the time that PJ was first diagnosed in 1976, I was instructed that I had to get eye contact from him in order to accomplish anything. PJ did not want to give eye contact. He would run, scream, hit or whatever he had to do to avoid eye contact. For years, he did not want to be touched and would avoid any kind of interaction. It was always a stressful situation for him and for me.
He was seven years old when my first granddaughter, Jacinta was born. This was the only time that he initiated touch. He loved to hold her and would say “baby” when he wanted her. He would gaze at her adoringly and wanted to kiss her on the cheek. I watched him move his face toward her check, then pull back over and over again. He constantly tried, until one day, he finally kissed her. She was the first person that PJ kissed on his own.
When she was about four or five, PJ started giving her eye contact. He would hold her face and she allowed him to look into her eyes as long as he wanted to. She was the only person that he would initiate eye contact with. Once he got started, it seemed he couldn’t get enough.
One day, Jacinta left her doll at my house. It was a doll whose eyes opened and closed. PJ started carrying the doll around, looking into the doll’s eyes. Eventually, PJ was walking around with just the head of the doll and looking into her eyes.. I don’t know how he beheaded the doll, but he was only interested in the head and the eyes. Needless to say, this was a strange sight in my already strange household.. He carried that doll’s head for weeks.
I don’t know if eye contact is still the goal for children with autism. I’ve discovered that you can accomplish some goals without eye contact as have some of the professionals who worked with PJ.
When PJ became an adult, he wanted eye contact but was very selective about who would get this eye contact. Jacinta, his sisters and I were his choices. He is much taller than I am, so I have to look up to him. He began to hold my shoulders and look into my eyes with the most beautiful smile. Like Jacinta, I would stand there and let him look into my eyes for as long as he wanted to. If anyone else had looked at me that way, I would have been suspicious of their motives. This made all the stress, pressure and anxiety worth it. I never would have predicted this look.
This look from PJ inspired this poem: It is included in “Inspired By Autism” and has been included in this blog before. Having gotten another of his beautiful smiles and loving eyes motivated me to include it again. It is dedicated to PJ.
A Love So Pure
A love so pure that I am sure / it’s coming straight from God. / This kind of love comes down from above / and right into my heart.
Your smiling eyes were a big surprise / that I never thought I’d see. / Who knew that one day you / would be smiling down at me?
How could I guess that I’d be blessed / for taking care of you? / You’ve taught me a lot of things / about how love can be true.
I never thought the day would come / when you’d be teaching me. / But now I’m sure that when love is pure / it’s unconditionally.
Until next time, one of my favorite scriptures: Galatians 6:9. “Be ye not weary in well doing, for in due season, ye will reap if ye faint not”.