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  • He's now 29. My wife's oldest son.

    He's both autistic and profoundly retarded, and it's taken me a while to get to know him since I met him 8 years ago.

    He comes over twice a week with the caregivers from the home he lives in. What this photo doesn't show is that on occasion, he can get very angry, and hurt himself. Others, if you're not careful. But most of the time, he is sweet, and affectionate, and he loves to laugh. That's all he can do - make baby sounds like "dee-dee-dee-dee," giggle, laugh, and then, when things aren't going his way or something inside his body hurts or he's getting sick, yell and shout and hit himself.

    His mind is at a 9-month old level, but he can walk, and pick things up, and kind of feed himself. He can even play catch, in his own special way. He can open doors, as well.

    He communicates in non-verbal ways that make me acutely aware of the possible ways in which humans can reach each other, but frequently don't. A touch, a grab of your hand, a response to a simple effort to make eye contact with him.

    He speaks entire paragraphs and pages with his eyes.

    The way he looks at the world makes me very aware that our grip on who we are as humans - intellectually, spiritually, emotionally - is structured around highly complex interactions and dynamics that are always at play when we are with groups of people. And his? It feels like a much different calculus based on things like: is this person afraid of me? Will they help me get food and drink? And how can I get them to interact with me?

    I suppose at the base level, though, that is what all of our human interactions are ultimately driven by.

    He has brought so many wonderful people into our lives; his caregivers, his family, and just himself. He's opened my own eyes to things that had never occurred to me. I've never kissed a man before, for example, but he leans in for one every now and then, when he's feeling very happy and keeping your eyes locked on his, and you can't resist his non-verbal request for a kiss on the cheek. He seems to like the feel of a beard - maybe he doesn't understand it, and it just registers as a sensation, a tickle.

    When I saw my Dad in the hospital last year and we left after knowing the surgery went well, I gave him a kiss on the cheek, too, and it occurred to me right then that I wouldn't have done so pre-Josh.

    I cannot describe the way I love him. It's partly through the way his mother loves him and partly through my own connection with him, when he stands in the kitchen watching me cook yet another meal, knowing that there are parts of it he will devour and parts that he will simply spit out. Or when he grabs my hands, standing beneath the ceiling fan, rocking from side to side in ever-larger arcs, inviting me to dance with him and laugh.
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