Perhaps Ben was autistic the day he was born.
It could be that the symptoms, to which we are now accustomed, had lay dormant or existed in mild form. Then something, the big mysterious something, happened to accelerate things. You want desperately to understand. You start to question your memory. You become a Monday morning quarterback: why didn’t I connect the dots sooner?
There were two key events that told us something was amiss. The first was when we enrolled Ben in basketball. With great anticipation, Heather and I arrived with our cameras for the first day of practice. While the coach led the excited kids down the court, Ben stood frozen. Moments later he took off in the opposite direction…out of bounds, crisscrossing another court, out to the soccer field…not running away per se, just running. I think of the Forrest Gump character who started running and found he simply could not stop.
Ben was in his own world, though at the time we hadn’t figured it out. His mother assured me that, at 3, Ben was the youngest member of the team. I was more than willing to accept that explanation.
The second time was at a party. The kids were taking their turns at whacking the piñata. Now it was Ben’s turn. I was almost salivating as my baseball player son approached “the plate.” I handed him the bat with an encouraging smile. Ben held it for a long minute, unable to focus on or understand the challenge. The other children began to stare and grow impatient. Ben examined the bat and then discarded it like a piece of trash.
Ben’s 6 now and the past few years have been marked by ups and downs, steps forward and back. I am grateful that over the past weeks, Ben has shown modest improvements with his speech, responsiveness, and eye contact.
Every so often I try to engage him in a little catch. I have him hold the ball, touch it, get to know it again. I feel we’re making progress. And then I put my fragile heart aside and everything on the line: “Ben, toss the ball to Daddy.” He stares blankly, dropping the ball in favor of his object-for-the-day.
Today was different.
He actually pitched the ball to me—once and then a second time with surprising authority. It was only two tosses but that was enough to cause my eyes to brighten. It’s not that recovering his interest in baseball is of any benefit to Ben. Obviously I am more concerned about his limited speech, his preference for residing in his own world, and his daily living skills like dressing or wiping himself.
And yet the idea that Ben will again pitch the ball to me, and that I will again drive it a vast distance, is full of metaphorical power, just like the game of baseball itself.
If Ben can regain his fastball, then anything is possible.