My laptop’s “sleep” mode is set to play a rotating photo montage. We got our first digital camera to take baby pictures (kitten pictures?) of our cat Levi, early in 2004, which was 11 years ago and, you realize, also one million years ago. That was the advent of digital photography in my and Adrian’s life. The thousands of photos stored in my laptop have been taken over the past decade or so, including during Martin’s childhood before autism.
When I take a two-minute break from working and return to find pre-autism Martin on the screen, my first feeling is usually sadness. My son at twelve months, fourteen months, sixteen months, looks directly at the camera and smiles naturally. He shows us what he’s doing. In one beautiful photo, he’s lifted high on Adrian’s right arm as both of them point toward me, the photographer. Within six months of that photo, Martin got lost in himself. His eye contact, pointing, and connectedness disappeared. He stopped meeting milestones for social development. The repetitive behaviors began.
I try to use the sadness from seeing those photos and turn it to resolve. Slowly, Martin is returning. By now he points again. His eye contact is not as sustained as it should be, but it’s there. He wants to connect, not only with me and Adrian, but with peers. We have come a long way.
Yet we still have to far to go. When I think about that, I become angry—angry at all we have to do to reclaim that easygoing little boy, anger at a toxic world that stole him.
Maybe I should change my laptop’s sleep setting. But no. There’s no use in avoiding reality.