NO, not Toys”R”Us.
TOY + RUS (two words) TOY-RUS.
That is what Dylan used to call the store.
He’d visited Toys”R”Us before, but never truly showed age-appropriate interest. That summer, during a random visit, his eyes lit up in a new way. Out of the blue, he was excited to look around and pick out a toy (or two). All baby toys, but I didn’t care. The light switch went on, and he finally connected that if he “asked” for a toy, I would probably take him to the store for it. Asked= speech. At eight years old, he’d never asked us to buy anything for him. Not a single request. We welcomed this new development and phase.
During the weeks that followed after that last visit, he asked for “TOY RUS” and “LADYBUG TOY” over and over. I searched the stock online for a ladybug toy, there and everywhere, and could not find what he wanted. I needed to know the toy would be there for him. How could I not reward this request when he so specifically found the words to ask for it?
Of course, I then couldn’t find a way for him to comprehend the toy might not be there for him. I took him in anyway. We looked everywhere with no success. Finally, I remembered one more possible area we had not yet checked out. Imagine my surprise when he picked up, not a LADYBUG TOY, but a LEARNING BUG TOY. I had misunderstood! It was, however, shaped like a ladybug. He held it happily and eagerly walked with me to pay for it. Such a small victory, but I was delighted to see the joy it brought. It was also a rare “typical” outing for us: no tears, no tantrums, no autism woes. It felt like teamwork! He asked, using his limited speech, and he received. Never mind that I didn’t initially get the name right. I beamed, knowing this exchange happened.
During the following month, he asked for TOY RUS every day after school. Of course, I didn’t take him that often. But I did drive him there once a month or so for a treat. The visits continued motivating his speech. He started using movie, online, and TV scripted lines and plugging them in appropriately. As I pulled up to the store, he once said, “I can’t wait to play again!” When I took a little long putting items away in the car, he urged, “C’mon everybody, let’s go outside!” As we walked to the entrance, he pointed and exclaimed, “This way!” and “Let’s go!” Once we got home, he exhaled: “Here we are!”
Toys “R” Us became a favorite spot for our family for years right up to their very end. He loved knowing we understood this particular request. Eventually, visits turned into strolls to just look around and play with the existing displays without actually purchasing things: a place where he always felt comfortable, I suppose. A couple of years ago, we were devastated to have to tell him that stores would shutter. I don’t think he ever truly understood why we stopped taking him in. Even now, when we drive by the old locations, he always takes a look to see if it has returned.
Sharing this memory from ten years ago reminds me of the earlier struggles as our family started on this autism journey. Dylan’s speech has significantly improved since, but he still can’t express his feelings, dreams, and other complex thoughts. I don’t know where we will be in 2030. I do, however, know I will never stop helping him find his “ladybugs.”
And if ever a new Toys “R” Us location comes to town, we will be first in line. Even at 18.