When you have a baby, it’s exclusively yours. In order to meet your little bundle of joy, friends and family have to go through you. You decide who sees him or her when or where. It’s like being the public relations manager for a tiny person.
I used to think about that when my daughter was first born. She wasn’t enrolled in any school or attending any city council meetings. Heck, for the first year and a half, you can pretty much just change their name if you want to.
He’s more of a Joey than a Rob. That’s it. You’re Joey now.
Sure, the people in your inner circle might give you a few sideways glances, but other than that, you’re good. There are no school records to change or driver’s licenses to alter. Rob was off the grid this whole time. Besides, he’s Joey now.
As they get older, though, that comfort fades. It’s a slow burn at first. My three year old daughter would come home talking about kids at preschool I hadn’t met or teachers I barely knew. Soon, she was in school activities, sports, and tons of other things that brought teams of people into her life. As her branches spread, so did the amount of lives that interacted with hers.
It brought us to today, where she’s pretty much a little socialite about town. If I had half the schedule that she does, I would never stop whining about wanting to sleep.
This wasn’t the case with my son, Lucas, though. He’s six and, while passed the point where most kids start branching out, his non-verbal autism makes those dad-less interactions less frequent. Sure, he has school friends and doting teachers, but I know them through our meetings. While he might smile and tap a picture of them when it pops up on my Facebook feed, he can’t tell me about the fun times they have together. I hear that from the teachers themselves, which further solidifies me as his long-running public relations manager.
If we’re at a party and someone wants to say “hello” to Lucas, they usually need to come over by me. He stays by my side for a lot of the time and, even when he isn’t, I get him to greet whomever comes by for a hello.
The fact that Lucas is near me so often also is why he’s usually one of the best behaved kids at social gatherings. I make sure that he doesn’t accidentally knock anything over or reach his hand into a bowl of sour cream and onion dip…which, let’s be honest, we all wish we could do. I make it a point that no one has any reason to bother Lucas in a negative way because Lucas doesn’t bother anyone else in a negative way. His interactions with people are pleasant and have no reason to be anything other than that.
I’m a bit hyper-vigilant about his behavior around others. I’ll take him outside a theater if he’s making noises that interrupt a show. I will sit him next to me and quietly sing songs if he’s stepping in the way of a game people are playing. It’s the right thing to do for him and those around him.
Not only don’t I want him to ruin someone’s birthday party or outing, I don’t want people to see him as something he’s not. I want them to see through any negative views they might have of Autism to the sweet person he is. The few moments where he could cause a problem are, in my opinion, exceptions to the rule. He’s not a nuisance or a burden and no one should have cause to view him that way through any of his actions. If they do see him that way, it’s because of their own preconceived notions and prejudices.
Those notions definitely exist. While I’ve never been directly confronted with someone purposely trying to be offensive about my son, I’ve heard people say insensitive things about special needs in general. Whether it’s the flippant use of a derogatory term or heavy-handed conspiracy theories about the causes, we’ve all endured them.
Here’s the thing, though. Some might think those moments make me sad because the words hurt me in some way. They don’t. I’m not disheartened over how someone’s ill-informed opinions make me feel. Instead, all I can think is one thing.
Oh, man. One day, I’ll be dead and my kid will be in a world with people like this.
And that, above all else, is my biggest worry in life. It’s trusting my son, who I have been lucky enough to see precariously grow into the little boy he is today, to a world that I have shaken my head at in disgust on more occasions than I care to count.
Sure, I worry for my daughter too, but she’s pretty tough. Anyone who doubts the power of a nine year old girl just needs to experience a sudden kidney punch from one who thinks you agreed to a play fight (which you totally didn’t). Plus, as she’s gotten older, Olivia has sprinted towards the world of social interaction while Lucas tip toes in and out of it depending on his mood.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tie this whole thing together and tell you how to make sure you can trust the world with someone you love and protect so much. But it’s not. I’m going to be honest. I don’t know how to do that. Even the least cynical person on Earth would have a tough time with this situation.
The good news, or perhaps more appropriately the bad news, is that you don’t have to learn how to do it. It just happens whether you’re ready or not. Your child grows up and, as they mature, the number of people they interact with will grow. No matter how much or how little independence they have, there will be people in their lives that you don’t control. It happens whether you’re ready or not.
So why am I writing this? I guess to just ask the world to be good to my son. I will do my part to raise him to be as independent and polite as I can. I just ask others to do the same for him.
While I’m at it, it would be great if they can be nice to my daughter too. Same deal. I’ll raise her the best I can, just treat her the way she treats you.
Actually, perhaps we could all just go ahead and agree to use that approach with everyone. If we did, maybe the world would be a much easier place to trust with our most precious people.