It’s easy to understand why people would say that my seven-year-old non-verbal son “suffers from Autism”. After all, Autism appears to affect so many aspects of our life together. Every time we take Lucas out of the house, there seems to be a laundry list of worries swirling in my head.
What if he has a meltdown? What if even his routine outbursts annoy people near us? Will someone say something to us? Will they have a right to? Even if they have a right to, will I overreact like a nutcase and mentally scar my family by tossing chairs around? What if we have to leave early? What if he wanders off and knocks into someone? What if he takes someone’s drink or food? What if we have to get a stroller and it’s too big to comfortably walk without knocking into people? What if we’re asked to leave or stared at by rude strangers? What if, well, anything?
With a list like that, an outsider would almost definitely insist that “yes”. All of that points to the fact that my son suffers from Autism.
But, it only appears that way until you realize that, with the exception of the first item on that last, none of those things are things that affect Lucas. Every single thing after the meltdown is about how someone else is affected.
Go back. Take a look. They’re all about how our family’s feelings or some nameless stranger who I have projected all my fears upon. They’re about scenarios that haven’t happened and anxiety that, while prevalent in my own brain many times, doesn’t even occur to my son as I lace up his shoes.
Nope. He’s smiling and holding his iPad mini up to his ear as he listens to Elmo sing-shout that same song that I’ve heard hundreds of times. He’s grinning, clapping, and patting me on the head without a care in the world. Every day is an adventure and, while he might not always be on board for every activity we plan, it never seems like he’s ever suffering from anything.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone with Autism, just my son. But when it comes to Lucas, stares and rude comments don’t affect him in the least. For a stranger’s callous nature to really bother my little guy, they would have to really do something major. Of course, I would have already started throwing chairs by then so we would never reach that level anyway.
Rude behaviors from others don’t bug Lucas. They bug me. Sure, it might bug me because I don’t want someone to disrespect my boy, but it’s not because he would be emotionally hurt or even understand what was happening. It’s more like “who the hell does this mook think they are to talk to my kid like that?!”
Lucas does his own thing. People don’t disturb him unless he allows them to. I admire him for that. Ironically, it’s his Autism, the very thing that some say he’s “suffering from”, that contributes most to that aspect of his personality we all should try to emulate.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tie all of that together and say that the real people suffering are me, my family, or those anonymous strangers sitting two tables over at The Olive Garden…but I won’t. I won’t because it’s not true. What’s true is that no one suffers from my son’s Autism.
I get how it might seem that way at first glance. It’s easy to look at that laundry list of worries from earlier and assume they are a testament to the harsh realities of caring for a special needs child. In actuality, they are an example of how parents in general have to approach the world. Sure, Lucas has a unique list of concerns but so does his sister, who isn’t on the spectrum. I might worry that his outbursts will disturb someone in public, but never whether kids are trying to peer pressure him into bullying a friend. That’s her thing. There are unique responsibilities associated with every child – Autism or not.
These random strangers aren’t suffering either. I know this because, as the parent to a child who can sometimes wind up in someone else’s business, I tend to overdo it when it comes to keeping an eye on him in public. Like any parent should do, I make sure he doesn’t cause a disturbance when there’s a reasonable expectation of quiet. It’s not like we plop down in the middle of a silent library and allow Lucas to scream at the top of his lungs. These “outbursts” I worry so much about are scattered shouts at an already loud restaurant or waiting in line at Target. They’re managed and maintained more than many other kids I see running around. We make sure of that.
Even on those days when I do miss a moment here and there, the most that someone will be disturbed by my son might be an unexpected noise or a casual tap on the arm. While I do desperately try to avoid allowing it to happen, it’s truly nothing in the grand scheme of things. If such a small act in such a short time from such a sweet kid causes a major hassle to a stranger, then they really need to toughen up anyway. That ain’t suffering. Go churn some butter or something. You’re soft.
Not every diagnosis is a dire sentence that needs grief-stricken language associated with it. There are children out there right now who are really suffering. My son is not one of them and I’m thankful every day for that. He has Autism, he doesn’t suffer from it. Smiles, happiness, and carefree attitude aren’t things that cause anguish. They’re an approach to life that all of us should strive to have.