When our son was first diagnosed with autism, there were a plethora of activities we couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to do. A simple trip to Target was hell. The toddler years were hard, with weeks of no sleep, hours of screams, biting and not eating. Thankfully, with lots of help from some very caring therapists, teachers and professionals, we are in a much happier and communicative place. Now that he’s older, he continues to show us all the things he can do that make him special. Recently, he informed us the “n” in the logo for 7ELEVEn was wrong because it’s the only lowercase letter. And then he showed us an arrow in the FedEx logo that we’ve never paid attention to. He sees the world slightly differently than we do and never ceases to amaze us.
It’s not often now that we experience the negatives of him having autism. To us, he is a kid trying to figure the world out like everyone else is. When he was around four, we took him to the aquarium, where other kids were running from each fish tank to the next, talking with each other about what they were observing. They were holding hands and giggling together as they enjoyed the experience. We overheard them tell their parents about the different fish, about the Nemo fish that he quietly corrects to “clownfish.” He would stand at one tank and enjoy the beauty of the fish swimming and dance with his hands as if they were swimming and dancing with the fish. We usually stand and enjoy how amazing he is, especially with his differences.
This particular day, it was upsetting: he didn’t want us standing next to him. It felt as if the whole world around us was having a party and we weren’t invited. He was quiet and behaving, so most parents around us probably didn’t understand why my partner was getting emotional. He doesn’t talk much yet, so didn’t have the words or ability to communicate his needs and feeling in words. When it was time to move along, he started screaming and screeching. A nearby parent steered his children away from us as if we had some disease. It’s amazing how he notices there are four puffer fish in the tank, and knows they are puffer fish, and sees ten fish are blue and one is smaller than the rest. We love that he can sit and watch the stingrays and use his hands to trace them as if they were playing a tickling game. Those things make him special, but sometimes I can’t help but to look around at the other children and wonder what it would have been like if we could have a conversation with him about Nemo fish. If we could walk through the aquarium without a meltdown or allow him in the jumpy house with no worry of him lashing out in fear. Autism has taught me so much about him, and a tremendous amount about ourselves. It has taught us to find the amazing things about him and try not to dwell on the things we don’t yet have. We’ve come so far since then.
He is now nine and we’ve celebrated many successes within the last year, and a tremendous amount of smooth sailing by comparison to five years ago. Within the last several months he has been trying new foods, having full conversations, managing his emotions and behavior, having playdates, making his own sandwiches, cleaning up after himself, asking for what he needs, getting himself dressed, gotten regular haircuts and near enjoying the experience, taking on chores and managing his homework, and joining cub scouts! Autism is not a disability in our experience, it’s a blessing and a beautiful experience to share the world with his beautiful spirit.
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