Power Through It Stories:
“That Man is Fat”
by Cindy Buckley Koren
I wondered how long it had been since my fourteen month old son had stood up in his crib and cheerfully greeted us with is typical “Hi Dad” or “Hi Mom.” One day he just stopped talking. He wouldn’t even answer to his name anymore or respond in any way. I would sneak up behind him when he least expected it and obnoxiously shake a tambourine right next to his ear—he didn’t even flinch. It got to the point where I had to pick him up and move him when I was vacuuming because he was so captivated by dust particles floating in the sunlight through the window.
The hearing tests came back normal. But Clark wasn’t normal. Our pediatrician dismissed me and claimed his big sister did the talking for him. Suddenly everyone was referring to how old Einstein was when he first spoke. I didn’t care about Einstein. I found a checklist of symptoms, and that is when I knew… my son was autistic.
After the diagnosis was confirmed, Nikki the speech therapist came to the house several times a week. Nothing seemed to work. I cried myself to sleep, knowing I may never hear my son’s voice again. He seemed to hear and understand words —he just couldn’t say them. Determined to help him communicate, I created a picture book Clark could use to point to the words he needed. I took pictures of everyone we knew, our house, our car, and his favorite foods and toys—including his beloved Sheriff Woody. I covered the images with clear contact paper and cut them out. Using Velcro I organized them into a three-ring binder so they could be easily removed and replaced. The learning process was exhausting but we were firm. If Clark wanted a cracker he had to point to the picture, even if it meant we had to grab and press his finger for him. He absolutely hated this and his tantrums were out of control, screaming and throwing his body on the floor. It was painful for all of us.
Each day I would find new evidence in a book or an article that validated our methods. Finally, the long process started to payoff; Clark began to point at the pictures instead of crying for what he wanted. He also began to incorporate some sign language by pointing to a picture and signing the word “more.” Eventually, he spoke a few words during his sessions with Nikki. Each new word was celebrated with joyful clapping and hugs. We constantly prompted him with “use your words” and commended him with “I like how you use your words.”
Clark was three and a half years old and taking him out in public was still a nightmare. I was “that woman” in the grocery store with the screaming kid who was wearing a Spiderman costume even though Halloween was months away. Normally I avoided taking Clark anywhere that didn’t have a shopping cart or a drive thru window. However, one day I was feeling rather proud of myself for creating a new survival kit of items to keep him occupied on outings, so I convinced my husband to take the whole family to the local Chinese restaurant. “It will be a fun adventure,” I chirped.
The visual stimuli at the Main Moon Buffet kept Clark mesmerized while we loaded up our plates. He was fascinated by the chandelier light show projected on the ceiling from the shards of glass floating above his head. I couldn’t wait to dig in. I was thrilled, the outing was going splendidly. Suddenly, Clark stood up on his seat and pointed across the room, then at the top of lungs, he yelled out —“That man is fat!”
I was stunned, mortified, and elated—all at the same time. My son had just spoken a complete sentence without any prompting. But before I could think of a response, he roared, even more loudly and proudly than before—“That man is fat!” He must have thought we didn’t hear him and was confused why we did not immediately praise him for his words. I pulled him down and muffled his next attempt with my hand as I tried to explain that it was not a nice thing to say. He didn’t understand why I would disapprove of something we had spent the last year and a half begging, bribing, and praying for him to do. He refused to stop yelling and crying. My husband had to take Clark outside while I had my two other children.
My stomach was churning and people were talking. The commotion that Clark had made deserved every “she must be a terrible mother look” being thrown my way. My son’s behavior was rude, hurtful, and inexcusable. I pulled out my pen and wrote an apology on a paper napkin. I put my head down and walked in shame for what seemed like a thousand miles. The man and his wife were uncomfortably overflowing out of their seats. I set the hand scrawled napkin on the table and spilled my guts. I explained autism and how we thought Clark would never speak.
The incident was humiliating and had upset them deeply. Clark had spoken the truth; they were the two largest people he had ever seen. The obese man muttered “from the mouths of babes.” Each one of us had tears in our eyes, and as I was leaving, the man’s wife placed her hand on my wrist and with a short squeeze whispered, “bless you.”
The Power Through It Story Collection is a series of true-life events meant to be shared and credited using the Creative Commons licensing system.
“That Man is Fat” by Cindy Buckley Koren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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