A Boy of No

Once upon a time, there was a boy who always said no.

When he was very small and didn’t have his words, he learned to sign it with his fingers. When that didn’t work and his mother or his father kept asking him to try a bite of a banana, he simply clamped his mouth shut, and shook his head.

No.

Later he learned to talk—first one word at a time, then two. After a long wait, he began to string them together like bright lights on a wire.

But his favorite word was always the same.

No.

Sometimes he said it quietly. Sometimes he shouted.

Sometimes he used his body to make the word, all stomping feet and flapping hands.

You see, this boy had autism. And anything new made him feel scary, and uncertain.

So he said no.

He said no to taking a bath and no to a blueberry muffin and no to sliding down the slide outside in the yard.

He especially said no to sleep.

He said no, he didn’t want ice cream, even though he very much wanted it and as soon as his father gave him a spoon, he gobbled it right up until it was gone.

It pained his mother and baffled his father, the way their son said no to the things he really enjoyed.

Swimming.

A trip to the movies.

Dinner in the food court at the mall.

If someone suggested any one of these things, this boy Jack might throw himself on the floor and cover his ears, or worst of all, bang his head.

No no no no nononono.

Why?

Why did he do this?

Why does he do this?

Because he still does do it.

This boy is sixteen now. He still says no, before he ever says yes. He even says no to things he’s done or eaten a dozen times before—things that once brought the smallest smile to his blue eyes.

No, he doesn’t want to go for a walk.

No, he doesn’t want to listen to some music.

No, he doesn’t want to paddle board.

Now that his string of words shines even brighter, he is always ready with excuses and complaints.

I cannot for to GO. On the paddle board.

The water will be. COLD.

The sun is to too bright. It will SUNBURN ME.

This makes his mother very tired. It makes her frustrated, and sometimes angry.

See, it is very hard work to convince someone to leave the house every day, and participate in the great big world around him.

But she has learned a few things over the years. She has learned to expect the no.

She learned it was not actually her boy talking, but the wily snake of anxiety.

Anxiety makes him curl beneath a shell so he can protect himself. The snake whispers in his ear that things are too dangerous, he will get hurt, and paddle boards are a very high risk for injury.

Paddle boards are a very high risk. For INJURY. I have heard this.

Every day, the mom stares down the snake, and beckons to her boy.

Sometimes she confronts it head on, and looks it square in the eyes.

Let’s go, Jack. We are going to get in the car now.

Other times, she avoids the fangs and chooses to soothe her son’s spirit.

Buddy, I know it feels scary, but let’s just try it. Let’s give it ten minutes, okay?

Constantly, she is dodging the strike.

Sometimes she is successful, sometimes the whining and the arguing continues and she feels angry and sad and so, so tired.

Her turtle boy of no, always hiding.

Yet just when she least expects it, he peers out from under his shell, and finds the smallest piece of joy. It lights up her heart like nothing else.

For today, I liked it. I liked paddle boarding.

I’m glad, Jack-a-boo.

I regret. They way I said no may times.

It’s true, the sun shined bright. But it did not burn.

Written by, Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of What Color Is Monday, How Autism Changed One Family for the Better, and Someone I’m With Has Autism. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children. 

Carrie is a contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY Show, Parents.com. She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk.

She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at www.carriecariello.com. One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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