When my son was diagnosed as autistic I remember telling the doctor how odd it was to be one of those people with a special child. I remember seeing things on the news or on television specials about families raising children with special needs or diseases. Those programs always made it seem like it was such a privilege for those families to have those special people in their lives. My eyes would tear up and I would say a small prayer of gratitude that there were good people out there in the world somewhere. The shows would always end with images of a mom, a dad and a sweet needy child in the middle, holding hands while walking down a sidewalk or some rustic path with the sun setting in some beautiful sky full of colors. Peaceful contentment is the image that comes to mind from that scenery. I remember telling the doctor that I never imagined I would be one of those people. Well I’m not one of those people. Because there is no beautiful sunset or peaceful contentment in the every day life of families with special needs children. Television is an illusion.
That is not to say we don’t have some wonderful experiences with our children and sometimes we appreciate those experiences a little bit more than maybe we would have if they were not autistic. There is just no way to be content with something that causes so much trouble for the child we love so much. The best we can muster is acceptance and that can come and go with each day. That being said, it really is a privilege to raise an autistic child. It is an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of someone with a truly unique perspective.
My son dances. He loves music and can break a song down into the parts of different instruments, humming or mimicking just those parts. When he dances it is with the feeling of the music. His body flows with gentle sounds, and bounces with heavy beats. He doesn’t care how he looks or what anybody thinks. He doesn’t care where he is either. He will dance in the middle of a hospital, or in a supermarket. He understands that the music is meant to move him emotionally and he is not embarrassed to interpret his feelings into motion. He is not trying to express his coolness or his sexuality. He could care less about the latest pop star, or the hippest dance moves, he just moves and enjoys the sounds he is experiencing.
He loves sweets. There is no logic in messing with broccoli or carrots to him. He knows what is good and doesn’t see the point of eating things that aren’t. Now of course I know that he needs other healthy foods, that is not the point I am trying to make. It is his point of view, however flawed, that is charming. He likes what he likes and that’s all there is to it as far as he is concerned.
He likes things that feel good. He likes clothes that are cotton and soft. Jeans and other scratchy things don’t appeal to him. Now he has learned that he has to wear certain clothes to go out in the world and do other things he really likes, like hanging out with all those kids at school, but when he comes home he immediately reaches for his cotton shorts and a t-shirt. He appreciates clothes that don’t have collar buttons, collars, or long sleeves. He is all about the comfortable, and doesn’t care much if they are stylish. Instead, he likes bright colors and his favorite characters on his clothes. He does have those days when he wants to wear his suite, because he is craving all the oohs and aaahs that comes with being a sharp dressed fellow, but I can be sure once home again, he will return to his comfortable favorites.
Autistic children can also be brutally honest. Sometimes this is embarrassing, but most of the time it is pretty funny. “Mom, you can’t ride my bike you are just too big.” “Oh that guy is just weird with his no teeth.” “That dog is gross, he just smells butts.” It can really keep you rolling. These are things that we know, but have just accepted or politely ignored. To him they are unacceptable and to obvious to ignore.
Then there is the way he loves me. When my boy brings me a flower from the yard he says, “Here you are my love, a princess flower for your hair.” How many eight year old boys say that sort of stuff to their moms. When I wear a dress or put on make up he tells me I am a princess or a beautiful queen. He doesn’t just hug me, but he takes my hair and rubs it across his cheeks and says, “soft”. How could I not eat that up.
Yes we have our trials, but just like any parents we have our moments of fun and joy. We get frustrated and we vent a lot, but we know our kids are special and not just autistic. Maybe there are no ideal sunsets in our lives, but we are privileged.