Will has never said these three little words to me. "I love you". So simple. Yet, so foreign. Will says them to Leigh during a long held rehearsed bedtime salutation. He doesn't repeat them to me. Never has. The hugs he asks for are for his needs and have nothing to do with loving me. He asks them of me because I am his safe space. Not because he loves me.
Will has autism--though for him in particular, I prefer the term Asperger's, but it isn't widely used anymore. Expressing his own frustrations and happiness is not an issue. He does that well. But he struggles at interpreting other's feelings. Expressing these deeply held, intense feelings about things larger than himself seem to allude him as well.
A few years ago, we had a few exchange students who were not a good fit for many reasons. They ended up leaving in less than desirable ways due to their poor choices. One of them said part of her reason for leaving was that Leigh and Will were too hard. (They are tough, but they are worth the time and energy). Will felt that attitude the whole time the students were here. He said he didn't trust them. I am thankful for the student we had after this rough year. She cared for Will and won his trust. Trust is hard won with Will for most people. There are few who immediately earn his heart. (Miss Kay, Mr Frank, Miss Emily).
He never told these people he loved them either. Not with his words. But he trusts them. Their hearts speak to his. He loves them. Though he doesn't tell me with his words that he loves me, I know it is there. Maybe I will live to hear him volunteer the words "I love you". Maybe he will never say them. I know it is there. I know he loves me. But hearing it would bring me great joy. I won't tell him that. He would feel guilty. He doesn't need to feel guilty for being himself and expressing his love without words. He shows his love in many ways--to me and to others. Choosing to spend time with me, gifts, and notes are just a few ways. Trust me, if Will ASKS to spend time with you, you are IN!
To all the mommas who don't hear "I love you" from your children because they're non-verbal, they just don't say it like Will, or they're no longer with you--those babies DO love you. You are their safe space. You are their person. I know it is hard to not hear those three precious words. In 11 years, I haven't from Will. But I know he does love me. And mommas, I love you!