CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Max didn't want to hike up the steep trail to Cranny's Crow. He let me know this by sitting down on the trail and going limp, nonviolent-protester style, as I tried to lift him.
I persisted, and a couple of hours later, my 7-year-old son and I broke through some shrubs and onto the rocky ledge. In the distance, the Shenandoah Mountains rolled into the horizon like waves in the ocean.
Max was elated. He lifted his head and let out a yelp of joy.
Which is how Max communicates such things. He has autism, and he doesn't really speak. A word or two, here or there. But mostly, he is non-verbal, as they call it.
On the other hand, I am very verbal. I'm a writer, by training and habit. Words are how I measure the world. They're the standard by which I judge other people -- how articulate are they? How smart are they?
Max is trying to teach me the value of life without words.
The lesson started when he was two, and he started flapping his ears with his hands. Until then, my wife and I had rationalized away the fact that he hadn't spoken very much yet, and that he wasn't really communicating with others.
We said he was a late bloomer. We said he was independent, and refused to perform like a trained dog when people asked him to say hello.
But then, the ear-flapping started, in a way that scared me to death. I thought it would never stop. It was his cry for help.
We got him the help he asked for. Kids with autism need intensive, one-on-one therapy called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Our insurance wouldn't cover it -- at the time, state law allowed insurance companies NOT to cover therapy for kids with autism.
We paid for it anyway. And when the money ran out, and we no longer could borrow another dime, we moved to Florida, a state that mandates autism coverage.
We made a fuss on the way out. I wrote a story in the Gazette, and my wife agreed to be featured in a CNN story about our forced migration.
Meanwhile, a lot of good people fought very hard to change the law in West Virginia, to require insurance companies to cover Max's treatment, and therapy for all kids with autism.
And now, that law is changed. Some West Virginia insurance companies are now required to cover therapy for children with autism -- including our company, the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency, or PEIA.
There's still a huge hole in the coverage. It doesn't help kids insured by Medicaid -- the families who need the most help. And some large, self-insured companies are exempt from the law and have chosen not to cover kids with autism.