Yesterday I took my kids through a drive-through car wash for the first time in their lives. It was, to Josh, a revelation. He was immediately deeply engaged by the experience, exuding a sense of awe that one might have when observing the Grand Canyon or the earth from space. The brushes going back and forth, the spray of the water, the squirting of the detergent, the vibrating rumblings of the machine that ensconced us, these things were absolutely enthralling to him.
This blog is called "shower heads and hairdryers" because those have been two of Josh's absolute favorite things since he was very little. Many autistic individuals have a special interest in unique things such as elevators, trains, or dial tones. Showers have always been the zenith of interest for Josh. He can spend a good part of a day drawing them. One year for his birthday, we printed out dozens of images of shower heads and hairdryers and put them up all over the house. It was better than a trip to Disneyland for my son.
As the carwash brushes whirled by spraying florets of water, I could hear Josh whisper with a voice of wonder, "shower head."
"Yes, Josh" I said. "It's like we're in a shower head. Like a car shower."
"Like a car shower," said Mr. Amazed. "Like a car shower."
For the next 10 minutes, Josh yapped happily about his experience, savoring the sounds of talking about what he had just seen.
"Like a shower. Like a brower. Like a shower head. Like a dower. Is it like a zower? Drower? "
After a while, Josh's annoyed sisters coudn't tune him out. "Josh, please stop."
But there was no stopping him. Home boy was on a roll. "Zower. Like a shower. Shower head. Brower. Would you like a dower? It's a car shower. A car brower."
"Girls, let him talk. He's happy." I said, taking in Josh's exuberance.
Yes, Josh was very happy and he wanted to share it, in his own way. And this filled me with joy, even though it was a little bit like being swallowed by a Dr. Seuss book. My son was sharing about something. He wanted us to share in something that he was experiencing.
When I serve in our church's nursery, one of the things that tears my heart a little is watching little 9 month babies point to things. Pointing is a sign of something very important in a child in terms of his or her neuro-social development. That child is wanting to share about something with another person. Pointing, eye contact, shared attention on another interesting object, these are things that naturally happen in a typically developing child, even at a very young age. It is a critical building block of learning and connecting. A child points to something then an adult says, "Yes, that's a train. It's Thomas the train. And this is Percy. Percy is green!" With a facial expression, tone of voice, and eye contact the child takes in the nuances of meaning. The experience of sharing attention is a magical portal for learning.
Most autistic children have a very low impulse to have shared attention. They are often content to experience things on their own, thus, their worlds tend to develop in ways that are not very connected to most people. This was true of Josh. I don't ever remember him pointing to things. He rarely wanted to share his interest or joy in something that was interesting to him. Shared interest has been, to Josh, a very, very thin thread in his developmental life but it's there.
Yet, in this moment, even in his ramblings, I could tell that Josh was trying to express to us that he had experienced something extraordinary: a shower in a car. I longed to milk this moment of shared attention and shared joy for all that it was worth.
This morning as I woke Josh up, I said to him, "We were in a car shower yesterday, huh, Josh?" He smiled a little smile and said, "Car shower". And I thought that there was a split second of eye contact as he said it.
A professor once told me that a shared joy is a double joy. And even though I need to be at work in a few minutes, I have to post about this moment because I want to double, triple, quadruple my joy. My son had a moment of joy and, in his own way, he wanted to tell me about it! It brings me such happiness to reflect on it, to relive the moment! ZOWER!
May you have a moment of wonder today and may you have the grace-joy-synergy-energy to share about it.