Anna and Col

Anna’s Sandwiches

Anna is the light of my life and Anna has autism. Many moons ago, I took a break from my graphic design career for three years in order to work with her and my world has never been the same.

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The first word Anna ever said to me was “sandwich!”

At the time, she wasn’t speaking and would sorta just wander around the classroom. I worked with her every day with books, counting ducks, asking questions about pictures and identifying objects.

She never spoke to me.

As a matter of fact, she’d be walking in one direction and if I went over to her, she’d turn and walk the other way, like a magnet repelling its identical pole. I felt pretty bad about that. (A small child running from you wasn’t exactly the ideal work situation! 😉 )

So yes, I was bummed. Until the day that Anna’s physical therapist Christina (bless her soul!) told me it was actually a good sign.

She said Anna knew that if I were there, she’d have to communicate or something would be required of her and she walked away because she wanted to stay in her own little world and not face the challenge of me.

That made a whole buncha sense (and felt better).

Still, I knew that she was capable of great things so I’d read books with her anyway and keep trying to make contact. Each day I’d get Anna off of the bus, ask her to look up and talk to her about the weather, “Look up in the sky … I see blue sky … It’s sunny!”

I’d talk to her about what we were doing each step of the way so she could hear how sentences were put together, how ideas were expressed and how things were described. “What am I doing? I’m tying shoes.”

Never any response or sign of recognition.

One book had pictures of food objects all over the page so I’d point and ask, “What do you see?”

No reply.

I’d tell Anna, “I see sandwich … fries … apple … muffin …” pointing to each.

No response.

One day I went to get Anna from the bus as usual. I stood on the sidewalk and the doors opened. Anna appeared at the top of the stairs and as the attendant was putting on her backpack, Anna looked directly into my eyes with a big, gleaming smile and exclaimed, “Sandwich!”

I was floored, stunned for a second, and then I recovered replying, “Yes, yes, sandwich!”

Funny how a thing like that can make your whole day.

From then on, our conversations went something like this …

Anna: “Sandwich!”
Me: “Sandwich!”
Anna: “Fries!”
Me: “Fries!”
Anna: “Apple!”
Me: “Apple!”

(Pause as Anna’s eyes searched an imaginary page in her mind, deep in thought… )

Me: “What else is in that book?”
Anna: “Muffin!”
Me: “Muffin!”

(Another pause)

Me: “Burger!”
Anna: “Burger!”

When Anna attempted to communicate this to others, they would often reply, “No, silly, you can’t have a sandwich now, it’s not lunch time!” and I’d tell them, “N’no, she’s telling you about a book she read!”

Anna really wanted to make me happy.

When we ran programs, I’d get all excited if she got something right. I’d exclaim, “YAAAY!” holding out my hands, palms up. Anna would put her hands on top of mine and give me this gleeful look, like she was so delighted that *I * was so delighted.

If she got an answer wrong, she’d look up at me expectantly and ask, “yaay?”

Anna and Col

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Carly: “ANNA is the CUTEST KID in the WHOLE school!”
Molly: “She’s cuter than a TEDDY BEAR!”

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Find out more about autism and what you can do to help children who have this puzzling disorder: Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew.

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Share on Facebook :: Photo by Anna’s sister Maria, a loving, supportive and precious girl as well as a kick-butt photographer!

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