What I Know. For Sure.

What I Know. For Sure.

It was an introductory meeting. A new service coordinator wanted to meet with Madison, my 27-year-old daughter with autism, and some of the residential and day program staff on Madison’s team. I suggested we meet at lunchtime in the conference room at the day program, where Madison and I have often shared a meal.

Madison came in, gave me her customary kiss on my cheek, and sat down beside me.

“What do you say, Madison?” I asked, trying to get her eyes to lock on mine.

“Hi Mommy!” she said softly, glancing at me while raising her hand to give a slight wave.

Like many kids with autism, communication is difficult for Madison. Although she can talk, she uses short phrases that she’s learned from intense therapy or from her favorite videos. Her verbal responses are generally prompted, rarely spontaneous.

“Madison, you have a new friend today,” I said, first introducing Madison to the new coordinator and then prompting her to say the names of the other team members in the room.

She complied, but seemed distracted. She kept looking at the door.

Then her one-on-one assistant brought in Madison’s lunch, placed it on the table, and made sure Madison had a napkin. Although Madison can use utensils and feed herself, she often puts too much in her mouth and makes a bit of a mess.

“Careful, it’s hot,” her assistant cautioned her.

But Madison wasn’t interested in the food. She got up, looked around the room and then grabbed my hand to pull me toward the door.

“No, Madison. Sit down. It’s lunchtime with Mommy,” I said, urging her to sit back down.

But she wouldn’t.

She began to grab each team member’s hand, one by one, pulling them toward the door. Each declined, attempting to redirect her back to the table.

She resisted.

Then she began to pace back and forth. Restless. Agitated. I was worried she may have a meltdown, a once routine occurrence that often ended in self-injurious behaviors.

“Let’s take a walk,” her assistant offered.

Madison took her hand and bolted out the door. Part of me wondered if she would be coming back. This non-compliant behavior, so rare now, on the first day of the new coordinator! Yikes!

“Maybe she just needs a moment,” I said, trying to fill the awkward silence. “Does anyone remember that show, Ally McBeal?

Blank stares answered my question.

“Well, it was a long time ago. Anyway, there was a lawyer on the show that would often stop, right in the middle of a courtroom proceeding, and say, ‘I’m sorry. I need a moment.’ He would pause, shut his eyes, and pinch the bridge of his nose to apparently gather himself before proceeding.”

The group chuckled at my story.


“Maybe Madison just needs a moment,”

More polite chuckling.

About that time Madison came barreling through the door with her caregiver, plopped down in her chair, and took a huge bite of her lunch.

“Well, I guess she did need a moment,” I said, feeling like a bomb had just been diffused.

Then the unthinkable happened. Madison stopped her spoon midair and in her best Barney-the-purple-dinosaur voice belted out:


Shocked, we all burst out laughing. Forget polite chuckles; these were deep belly laughs. Sustained peals of laughter put us all on the verge of tears.

Where did she learn that? How did she learn that? It was so spot on. I was stunned, dismayed, and encouraged, all at the same time!

As I looked around the room, I realized that laughter connected us in a way nothing else could.

Laughter was like electricity, connecting and charging us all at the same time.

Laughter was like electricity, connecting and charging us all at the same time.

We even got her to do it again.

“Madison, do you need a moment?”

“For sure!” she boomed back, and then, she even laughed herself!


Rarely does she ever give a spontaneous reaction—and it was appropriate! She engaged, fully. It was as if she had joined our group and enjoyed making us laugh.

I was beyond grateful. For the moment we shared. For the assistant who knew exactly what to do. For the growth of my sweet daughter’s ability to engage.

Madison, the comedienne. Who knew?

Autism is mystifying. Just when I think I know how it has limited my daughter, I’m proven wrong. What do I know about autism after parenting it for over 27 years?

Not as much as I think I do.

For sure!

How about you? Has laughter ever created a special moment of engagement and encouragement for you? Tell me about it. I’d love to know.

And on we go.

My best – always,

Becky  (Nana B)

P.S. Tomorrow is the big day! Pathfinders for Autism launches it’s 20 for 20 Campaign in celebration of our 20th Anniversary! It started with a little yellow flyer in Madison’s backpack. The full story is here: Pathfinders for Autism: Twenty years and counting–who we are and why.

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