Love Is a Language That Knows No Verbal Boundaries

I am the proud parent of a severely autistic and nonverbal miniature force to be reckoned with. His name is Ari Raphael Vincent Joyce—and he saved my life. And by save my life, I mean more in a spiritual sense. Not religious, I am not religious, but in a sense he allowed me to see the world as beyond the transparent neurotypical walls that society has constructed.

Love Is a Language That Knows No Verbal Boundaries

To appreciate the simple beauties and phenomena of everyday nature. To take comfort in sharing this unique experience by opening my mind and shedding the stigmas attached to autistic behaviors. By trying to see the world through Aris’ eyes, I have literally been forced to stop and smell the flowers along the way. To find the beauty in a world that most take for granted. The way the sun might filter through the blinds and spear the carpet. And in that broken light dust motes float. Dance. Drift. And Ari will stare at this simple ballet of something so inconsequential as dust in the light, and I am humbled by how he sees the world. The beauty and intrigue of simple pleasures. And I’m humbled. Because what are we all but vessels of stardust, ultimately?

This last summer Ari and I were homeless. I had to flee a domestic situation that was becoming too unhealthy for us. Ari was four years old at the time. We left the day after my birthday—with nowhere to go but just needing to go. I figured if my son can brave this strange world everyday then so can I. We did find temporary shelter at a women’s center and proceeded to have an ultimatum life-changing and unbelievably awesome summer. We spent the majority of our time outside.

When Ari was not in school and when I was not busy trying to find housing, we spent our days carmelizing under a summer sun. Splashing the creek, roaming the beaten paths in the woods, and some not so well-treated paths. We charged into the melted sky blue bay when he didn’t know how to swim and tried to just walk out into the depths of the bay without fear of drowning. Others timidly dipped manicured toes in the water and Ari just charged in regardless of the cold. Which meant I had to charge in regardless of the cold.

I spent hours trying to keep him from walking in over his head. Over and over he wanted to just keep going. Deeper and deeper. With no fear. And I realized after hours of exhausting attempts to keep him safe how I should apply that determination to our lives. Plunge into the depths—head first—and not forget to breathe. It will be cold and the current might work against you, but don’t give up. Life is worth fighting for. His life is worth fighting for. During this period of homelessness I also potty trained Ari. Mostly because I couldn’t afford diapers.

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But also I saw in him signs that he was ready. This was very tricky to accomplish, especially on the go constantly. Oh yes, I also don’t drive. So we had no car to get around in. I walked him everywhere. Miles upon miles I pushed him in a stroller every day. I’ve never been in better shape. Lol. Ari has had an extraordinary life in his brief years. We spent years homeless in a campground when he was six months till around three years old. We camped all year around. Our camper was a 1964 Hi-Lo camper—the size of a bathroom. I had to live in this with two kids. I have an older son also. We had no direct running water or bathroom on site.

I cooked via microwave and toaster oven most of the time. Because our camper was so compact, I had to take Ari into the public restroom of the campground and teach him to crawl/ walk in that space. Fortunately, I had the means to keep that place sanitary. But a mom does what she has to do. Ari learned to walk in a public restroom. He was potty trained essentially on the go over the course of several months. I can’t tell you how many times I was peed on. Particularly before having to meet with potential landlords this previous summer.

Today Ari attends ABA therapy and is in pre-school. He has a huge cache of words but selectively uses them at will. In other words, I cannot have fluent communication with him. This causes mass frustration on both our parts but at the end of the day he curls up next to me and lays his head on my chest, and he might groggily mutter something that sounds nonsensical and then insist I hold his hand. He drifts off, and I lay there in wonder at this little human who has gone through so much in his life. We can’t talk to each other via words very well, but love is a language that knows no verbal boundaries. I love Ari. I love his autism. I love this beautiful and strange journey we are on together.

I am a stay at home single mother. Ari and I live in Traverse City, MI. Ari is five years old, severely autistic and essentially nonverbal. His name means “lion-eagle.” He loves music, visual stimulation, and lots of physical contact like hugs and squeezes. I am currently working on attending culinary school in the near future hopefully. We have been in stable housing for the last five months. 

This article was featured in Issue 77 – Achieving Better Health with ASD

Ashley Bursian

Ashley Bursian is a stay-at-home single mother who lives in Traverse City, MI. Ari is five years old with severe autism and is essentially nonverbal. His name means “lion-eagle.” He loves music, visual stimulation, and lots of physical contact like hugs and squeezes. Ashley is currently working on attending culinary school in the near future. They have been in stable housing for the last five months.