Adrian is a fastidious man. Among his many missions in life is to teach Martin the proper use of a napkin. He insists that Martin not eat without a napkin within reach. In the event that Adrian sees a sleeve rub across a mouth, he springs into action, cleans the sleeve, and assists Martin to use his napkin instead. So he was tickled pink last week when Martin, supervised at breakfast by me (of course), realized he had no cloth handy, thrust his squash-fry-oiled little hands into the air, and demanded, “Napkin!”
I am not a fastidious person. The napkin demands echoing through our apartment tend to annoy me. Not this evening, though. This evening I witnessed a miracle:
It was dinner time. Martin and I were sitting on stools in the kitchen watching a Sesame Street DVD while he ate. Adrian, unusually, was at home, so I was doing my part to ensure that Martin had a napkin. At some point during the meal, Martin wiped his hands, then tossed the napkin to the floor. I picked it up and explained that we don’t toss napkins to the floor.
A few minutes later, Martin’s hands were messy again, and I handed him the napkin. He wiped his hands. Almost without thinking, I kept my hand resting in my lap but turned the palm upward, in a subtle, unspoken suggestion of, “All right. Give it back to me.” Just as casually, without taking his eyes from the television screen (he must have seen my gesture from the periphery of his vision), Martin reached over and dropped the napkin into my hand.
Without words, without requiring exaggerated motions or repeated promptings, Martin caught, understood, and obeyed a tiny gesture. Kids on the spectrum really don’t do that. They don’t read faces. They seldom respond to commonplace non-verbal communication.
It’s true that Martin’s action may have been accidental occurrence. But I hope instead it was the breakthrough we’ve been waiting for, after a long week of diminished attention.
When I’m asked how I know that Martin is getting better, I often resort to accurate but indefinite answers like, “He is aware of his surroundings,” or, “He’s just more . . . present.”
If anyone inquires in the near future, I will answer, “I know he’s getting better because he dropped a napkin into my hand.”
And I will leave it at that, because a miracle allows no explanation.