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David and Mercedes Rizzo's daughter, who has autism, recently achieved a new and unexpected milestone.

Why did the bumblebee put honey under its pillow?


Because he wanted to have sweet dreams.

That was a joke that our 22-year-old daughter Danielle told us a few days ago. We love this joke so much because it is the first joke she ever told us.

No kidding. We never heard her tell a joke until she was 22. This is because she has autism and is unable to speak. However, she independently and spontaneously told us the joke using her iPad speech-generating device. 

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This was unexpected and caught us by surprise. She often speaks using the iPad. She started out with electronic speech machines when she was a young girl about seven years of age. At that time, just being able to tell us what she wanted seemed like a miracle.

I want water.

I want cheese curls.

It was very simple, but it was a start. Over the years, with the persistent guidance of her speech therapists, she learned to ask for a wide variety of wants and needs. Not only that, but she learned to comment on what was going on around her, call us by name, answer simple questions, and even say prayers.

Her skills developed slowly, and sometimes it was up and down. But looking back across the years we could see the progress she had made. Although she never learned to vocalize and is completely non-verbal, she has learned to communicate in her own way with her electronic communication devices. We have come to recognize the electronic voice coming out of the iPad as Danielle’s voice. 

But we had never heard Danielle tell a joke. We knew she had a sense of humor, for sure. She would laugh at things that were funny or things she thought were funny. She could be very devilish and we could see the corners of her mouth break into a smile or even a smirk.

But we never heard her tell a joke. Until that day when we saw her pushing buttons on her iPad and we heard, “Why did the bumblebee put honey under its pillow? Because he wanted to have sweet dreams.” 

And laughter, genuine laughter, spilled out of us.

Laughter. And gratitude.

We never heard her tell a joke. #catholicmom

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Copyright 2020 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images (top to bottom): Andrea Piacquadio (2020), Pexels; copyright David and Mercedes Rizzo, all rights reserved.