When my son was first diagnosed with Autism, I worried about all the things that I felt might never be. Some call it a parental grieving process over a life that your child won’t have, and it conjures up images of marriage, education, and employment. Those three, though, are only the tips of the iceberg.
They paled in comparison to my biggest worry of all. I had to come to grips with a reality that I wasn’t sure I could. I had to accept that my son might never show me love.
It seems like a harsh thing to say, but it’s a harsh thing to accept. At such a young age, Lucas was accepting of hugs or kisses, but he wasn’t yet running up to give them. In fact, many times, my need for affection seemed to pull him from whatever fun thing he was doing. I’d yank him away from a mirror or giant book to give him a forced hello that he couldn’t wait to escape from.
That didn’t stop me though. I still wrapped my arms around him when I walked in the door, even if he sat completely still. I’d tell him all about my day, even if he wouldn’t look up once from his iPad. I’d buy him presents that he refused to open or play with until months later. I kept trying. I did my part.
This whole story sounds terrible, I know. However, it’s not. In fact, it taught me a very important lesson about love and parenting. It showed me something about the lens I had been using to see my responsibility as a family member.
Up until Lucas was born, I was looking at love in a selfish way. The fact that my son, with Autism, might not be able to show me how much he cares was only half the equation. It was the half of the equation that affected me directly. It was the half that left me without homemade birthday cards or running thank you tackles at Christmas.
There was, however, another half. Nothing stopping me from showing him love. No diagnosis, no matter how dire, can ever prevent that. No matter where a child is, what they’re dealing with, or who they are, nothing can ever stop a parent from loving them if they want to. That was a fact, but one that was lost on me at the time.
It’s not just love that this holds true for either. It’s his ability to say hello, enjoy my activities, or watch my TV shows. There was no guarantee that Lucas would ever do any of those things. I had to accept all of that but also realize that nothing was stopping me from saying hello to him, enjoying his activities, or watching (and eventually memorizing) his constantly rerunning episodes of Sesame Street.
It’s easy to forget that relationships don’t have to be a two way street, because so much of what we do always seems dependent on what the other person does. Jennie says hello? Say hi back. Bob reaches out for a handshake, shake it. Skip wants to give you a kiss? If you know Skip and he’s not incredibly creepy, go for it.
The fact of the matter is that you don’t need to have someone playing social volleyball with you to have them in your life. No matter what might keep a relative from remembering, acknowledging, or socializing with you, nothing can stop you from doing all those things with them. You just need to accept that you might not get the reciprocal satisfaction that we’ve all become addicted to.
Over time, Lucas started to show us his affection. I’ll never forget one of the first times he did. While sitting on the big red chair in our living room, he walked up behind me, placed his hand on my head, and began stroking my hair as he watched TV. I could feel his movement mimicking those I had done to him so many times before.
I smiled like an idiot and called my wife over, being careful not to move too much. It was as if I was balancing a pile of plates on my head. I wanted to make very certain that I didn’t give the impression that he should stop. I was worried that it could be the only time he ever did it.
It wasn’t. Today, my son shows us love every day. Sure, it might not be in the conventional ways that other kids do, but it’s the way he does and that’s fine with me. After all, I was prepared for a possible lifetime where he might never learn to do anything close to that.
And that’s why I’m hesitant to end this post with that story. I don’t want to imply that he needed to do that to give us a happy ending. That’s not true. As I mentioned, I had already come to grips with the fact that it might never happen, and our relationship didn’t hinge on it. In fact, our relationship doesn’t hinge on anything. It’s solid.
On top of that, he’s still young. There are still many things that Lucas hasn’t done and my love for him isn’t dependent on him doing them eventually. If he does, he does. As crazy as it sounds, it doesn’t matter if he lives with me until I die or if he becomes President of the United States. He’s here and we love him. That’s the happiest ending we need.