How long did those toys lay unused for, waiting for you in their boxes?

Months, sometimes years, telling me the story of our journey.

When you were little, we didn’t have much money. I remember rainy Saturday afternoons, whiling time away in charity shops, trawling through piles of toys. I was always looking for educational toys, games and books, putting my faith in finding the right toy to help bridge that gap, that missing piece in your development.

Because autism is so big a spectrum, depending on where you are on it, your developmental age lags behind your chronological age. So, while your neurotypical peers galloped ahead, we were stranded in an island where time seemed to stand still, not knowing where we’d be headed in the future. These toys represented an attempt to help you progress, and also a way to explore my inner desire to build a veneer of normality in our radically different lives.

So many times you were not interested, rejecting baby dolls to push an empty pushchair for sensory input, tapping on plastic food items, scattering a multi-colour sea of calming hairbands across the living room. You found a way to explore the toys and made them your own, and over time, we learnt the rules of our waiting game. Some things would come; some things would always be different. You follow no one’s agenda, you develop at your own rate.

No toy was more hated than a jigsaw puzzle. I remember you driving your pushchair wheels over it relentlessly, pulling the pieces apart whenever I tried to show you the joy of putting the puzzle together.

Lately there had been some signs. We had played some games of ‘Red dog, blue dog’ – a simplified version, but so exciting to be playing a game for the first time. You smiled when feeding food cards to the ‘Greedy gorilla’. At age six, you were interested in visual games, memory stuff that you are good at, games that do not require many words.

I took the puzzle off the back of the cupboard, the one that has photos of duck, apple, teddy bear and other objects that you recognise. Because you love photos, rather than pictures.  I saw you move your hand towards the two pieces I had laid close to each other. Move them closer together. Patting one piece into place. Fighting tears.

It came on a weekend when you cut through a piece of paper with scissors for the first time – you, a girl with fine motor skills issues. When you self-initiated taking yourself to the potty. When you put on your ear defenders at church, because you realised you were struggling with the music from the band and tried to stop an episode of sensory overload.

You are, more and more, finding your feet in the world, the missing piece that you need to grow up. It gives me hope that your life as an adult will be as fulfilling and happy as possible.

What an incredible human being you are. We feel so fortunate to be here, to help you meet the challenges ahead as you grow up, to share your successes. And if one day we fall, we will get up again and continue walking together.