Tag, You're It

A mother plays tag for the first time with her son, who has moderate autism.


I’m just finishing the dishes (one of my least favorite chores next to actually cooking, particularly as it seems it’s always mealtime around here), when out of the corner of my eye I see my oldest son Justin, who has autism, barreling into the kitchen.

I have enough time to turn to greet him as he rushes over to me, plants his open palm squarely in the middle of my chest and shoves, then turns and races back into the living room.

After my husband pulls me back off the sink and we ascertain that I do not have a collapsed lung, we look at each other in surprise. In the past, with this particular child, we’ve endured biting, kicking, and my personal favorite, his unique brand of pinching that unerringly located our most tender pieces of flesh.

Thankfully, we haven’t seen any of that behavior in a long time.

My spouse reads my mind as I look at him and convey my hopes that this is not a new type of aggression. He runs after Justin calling “What was that buddy?!”, then I hear him summon me with “Kim, get in here, quick!” 

I imagine some new disaster, and I hustle into the living room as fast as my winded self can make it. My husband Jeff is standing behind Justin, the two of them contemplating a video my son’s loved for years, one where kids label things and play all those childhood games in which my son’s never been interested.

Jeff says “look at the DVD!”, and I do, and realize all the kids are playing tag, running around in gleeful abandon and screaming “you’re it!”  Fortunately my brain makes a stunning post-dinner connection, and I run over to Justin, slap him on the back and yell “tag, you’re it!”, then step back to see what happens.

He immediately breaks into a huge grin, jumps up and down repeatedly, maintaining eye contact the entire time. He loves that I “got it”.

My son is eight years old, and this is the first time we’ve played “tag”.

Years ago, I would have taken this as a “sign”, as I did so many fleeting brushes with typical child development in which Justin occasionally delved. I can recall how he once let out a string of “B” sounds when I rolled a ball to him, a previously unheard of consonant I was certain would lead to a breakthrough in speech, but didn’t.

I remember once how for five consecutive minutes he seemed fascinated by the antics of several of his toddler friends, and I thought this was the day he’d engage them in play, finally. It wasn’t. Each little blip of “typical” raised my hopes, and was followed by crushing disappointment when the “miracle” was not repeated.

But tonight, I don’t allow myself to travel down that road, as I’ve found so often it leads nowhere. This evening I’m just tickled my kid not only made such a connection, but chose to leave his precious video long enough to smack me in the torso and get me to play with him.

It’s a big deal, and I decide not to ruin in by attempting to get him to do it again.

Instead, I just hug him, and thank him for playing tag with me about five years after I first tried to engage him in the game. It was a moment. It’s over. I let it go.

I’ll tell my mother and Justin’s teacher, and like almost everything else in my life, soon I’ll forget it even happened. I’ll remember this however- his glorious smile, and that gourgeous eye contact that stops me in my tracks every single time.

I’ll also remember that me and my boy had some fun.

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Kerri Mc Cormack Licini February 12, 2012 at 04:14 PM
I love it! That is so cool that he imitated what he was seeing on the screen and that you and Jeff didn't just get mad that he hit you but took the time to understand what was going on. I wish more parents would take the time to understand a child from a child's point of view and not from a grumpy adult point of view.
Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty February 13, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Thank you. It really took a long time to get to the point where we didn't take things personally. It's difficult in the moment to do so. I appreciate your support!


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