Nineteen Words


“Come here Justin,” I say quietly, and as always my towel-clad boy obeys, happily sliding into my lap for his post-bath cuddle. We have a routine for our bed-time ritual that we adhere to religiously, and I can tell my son enjoys the familiarity, smiling at each step in our path to bed. Tonight, however, I’ve decided to deviate just slightly from our norm, as I want to try something different within our usual arsenal of me saying the coveted nineteen words he’s so recently acquired, then waiting eagerly for his response. Tonight I simply hold up the word list, and wait.

He looks at my mouth curiously, waiting for those hard-won words to spill forth, but for once I just point at the list. Justin regards my outstretched finger for a good 30 seconds, then I swear I see a slight grin slide across his face as I listen in amazement.
Ten years ago we were told if he didn’t speak by the age of seven he probably never would. We heard his first coherent utterances at ten.  He takes a deep breath and shifts slightly on my lap, then forges on.
Ten years ago we were told there was a good chance he’d never read. We watched him master his first sight words at three. Justin seems to gear himself up for his finale, not the slightest bit daunted by the fact he’s facing new words he’s just learned this week.
“Bed” (a favorite)
I can feel his focus shift as his eyes slide away from the paper I’m clutching. As I balance my boy, I sense the display of his newfound skill is over, and I see him eyeing his toothbrush as he scoots off my lap. It’s a momentous moment this, one I want to savor as I think of all the “can’ts” and “nevers” I was told or had read about a decade ago, many that sent me hurtling toward despair. Justin may never have conversational language, may never even use a technological device to solicit more than his basic wants and needs. But no matter what, he has this. He can read to his mama out loud. And I have a reminder to always push him to be his best self.

Nineteen words.•

Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty has written several articles for EP magazine. She is also the author of Raising Autism: Surviving the Early Years, a memoir about parenting her two boys, both of whom have autism. Her new book is available on the

Source Exceptional Parent Magazine

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