One of the nice things now Dylan is in residential care is that I get lots of positive affirmation from him. Parents of autistic children often don’t get this, at least not explicitly. I remember feeling, in the years after diagnosis, that one of the hardest things was the lack of a feedback loop. ‘Dylan does love you’, my mum used to say. ‘He might not show it, but he does.’
In time I came to realise that I was important to Dylan even though he rarely communicated this to me. Dylan wasn’t explicit about his feelings for me partly because of the impact of autism on his social understanding but also due to his limited communication strategies. Since his move to a residential setting, however, Dylan has been supported by a visual schedule which, as well as reassuring him about the sequencing of events, is enabling his communication.
Dylan loves to point to the pictures on his weekly schedule while someone names the activities for him; he does this several times a day and again before bed. Although Dylan usually points to pictures in sequential order, he sometimes picks out a picture of particular interest and indicates it repeatedly. Usually, these are activities which Dylan is especially excited by the thought of: a trip to York, for example, or a ride on a steam train.
Happily, I also qualify as something to look forward to; Dylan, I have been told by staff at his home, points repeatedly to the pictures of me on his timetable. ‘He’s settled down now’, one of the night staff said when I telephoned one evening. ‘I don’t usually see Dylan when I come on shift anymore – only if he’s still up because he’s excited about something on his timetable the next day – if you’re coming for example. Usually he’s fast asleep though. I miss seeing him actually.’
I’m due to see Dylan tomorrow for our mid-week meal out; I imagine him going through his schedule tonight, lingering over my picture and saying my name: Mooey, Mooey. I suppose, in a sense, I’m doing the same: Dilly, Dilly.