Travis is nine years old, but it’s hard to pinpoint how old he is, intellectually. Sometimes I tell people it’s 18 months. Sometimes I say he has the mind of a 2-year-old. The truth is I’m guessing. I don’t know what’s going on in there – but to say he’s at the level of a 3-year-old seems like a stretch. After all, Travis has a brother about that age, and Oliver is light years ahead of Travis physically, mentally and emotionally.

But I wonder if I’m doing our Lionheart a disservice by trying to pin a label on his brain. It makes me underestimate his abilities.

For instance, this weekend he was swimming in the pool with his dad and brothers. All four of them, splashing and laughing and doing Boy Things in the water. Travis spends half his life in that swimming pool and moving to a house with a bigger yard and this magnificent, solar-heated swimming pool was 100% the best decision we made last year.

Did I mention he learned to swim in this very pool? Ditched his water wings. His brother Ryan also said goodbye to his water wings in December and is now swimming like a fish. Or a scrawny, many-limbed crayfish – more like it. You know boys at that age. All weirdly long arms and legs, and sticky-out ribs and awkward co-ordination as they try to catch up with the growth spurts. (In comparison, Travis weighs 42,5kg and is shaped like a particularly well-fed Cape seal. He is ROUND.)

Where was I?

Oh yes, Travis waded to the shallow end and got out of the pool at the steps. He then made his way into the house, dripping wet, obviously in search of something. That something turned out to be a “someone”, and that someone was sitting on the loo enjoying the peace and quiet. That someone was me! Travis shuffled into the bathroom, took me by the hand (I hardly had time to awkwardly pull my jeans up!) and pulled me down the passage and out into the garden.

He nudged me towards the pool, and made some – what I call his “urgent” facial expressions – and it was clear he wanted me to get in. Obviously, Travis had looked around and decided that something was missing. “Mom, where is she?”

Long story short, I threw on a swimming costume and lingered on the steps at the pool before the Lionheart crept up behind me and shoved me in.

This tells me two things: Travis sees and understands our family unit. He knows there are five of us, and he can tell which of us is missing. In his head, we are a family and we all belong together.

I know, I know – it seems like a Captain Obvious situation, but he’s never demonstrated this level of awareness and attachment to our family before. Which makes me feel all the more guilty about packing him off to live in residential care last year. It seems so obvious, in hindsight, that he was pining away and missing us terribly – but at the time, I didn’t even know if he cared/noticed that I wasn’t there. Even though I’d bawl my eyes out in the car on the drive home after dropping him off!

But we’ve moved on as a family since then, and I’m so glad we have Travis home with us, even though sometimes… Last night when he cried until about 11am, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and we were all desperate for sleep, and he kept wandering around the house switching on lights and making loud stimming sounds, and. And, and, and… and well, this is just our life and we’re in it together.

When Travis is like this, I usually put his little brothers in our room and we all sleep with the door closed, while he roams free in the night. It’s fairly sound-proof.

What I really wanted to write about today – sorry, I got carried away with the storytelling there; it’s been such a long time since I shared this much – is that Travis is in one of his “learning” cycles. He coasts on for a year or two, and it seems like nothing much changes except his shoe (and his pants!) size. And then in the space of a few weeks, it’s like a switch goes on in his brain and he takes a cognitive leap forward.

I can see in his eyes that the lights are on. Something is clicking back there. He joins dots that he never joined before, and makes connections that seemed out of his realm of understanding.

He’s also more emotional, and this is the bit I hate. With more thinking, comes more feeling. And Travis will get agitated that he can’t get his meaning across, and bites down hard on his one arm – you should see how calloused it is. I’ve tried wrapping a bandage on it, putting those thick wristguards on it that you wear for playing tennis or squash. I’ve even tried wiping lemon juice on his armsso it tastes bitter.

Anyway, I’m thinking back to the other times when something changed with Trav. There were those weeks when he learned to walk, around about his sixth birthday. Then things were quiet for about two years, and he suddenly started showing us what he wanted by taking our arm and pointing it at objects to show his meaning. Recently, just before I realised there was another “awakening” coming, Travis has been making sounds. Just trying out different noises. Like he wants to get a feel for their shape before he learns new words. (At the moment he says “Ma-ma-ma-ma,” which isn’t really “mom” but it’s still nice to hear.) So there is a chance he might learn to talk some day.

So there’s a little Lionheart update for you. I’m glad I got to write something today.

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