People talk a lot about Autism Awareness. Less people talk about Autism Acceptance. It seems rarely, though, does anyone ever talk about Autism Appreciation.
The phrase may sound bizarre to a person who isn’t connected to someone on the spectrum. As the father of a non-verbal seven year old child with Autism, I can tell you honestly and without question that Lucas’s Autism doesn’t just bring negative qualities that require acceptance or awareness, but help shape his personality in positive ways as well.
My son is unique. I don’t mean it in that “everyone is unique” pep talk way. I mean it in the literal sense. His characteristics are unlike anyone else’s I’ve ever met and the motivations behind them are as well. Not only does he live his life in his own way, he doesn’t take any social direction from those around him. So, you always know that his feelings are authentic.
Lucas never pretends to like a movie or toy to impress anyone. The things he watches and participates in are his own choice. Some, like repeating Raffi concerts, are easy to see the appeal of. Others, like clapping at his side-glanced reflection in a glass window, aren’t.
Sure, those self-stimming moments might be shocking to a person outside of our house. People’s basic instincts are to try to stop him. Hold his hands. Tell him to settle down. Do whatever you can to stop this motion that we, as parents, are conditioned to fear. After all, a child with non-verbal Autism or anything considered “a disability” is every parent’s worst-case-scenario.
My son is not a worst-case-scenario. He’s the realest human being I’ve ever met. He doesn’t jump on bandwagons or try to hurt people behind their back. In his heart, he has all the virtues we should strive to achieve every day. His motives are pure and his love is real. He doesn’t need speech to show me that. It’s the type of caring and compassion that I try to instill in his sister. It’s the type that I try to foster in myself.
Of course, there are those who still see his lack of speech or socially unacceptable behavior as his real issue and I’m not going to pretend those things don’t exist. I would love for Lucas to be able to join me in conversation or even understand some of the more complex things I say to him. For now, though, he doesn’t. That’s fine with me, because that’s who he is and I’m his dad. I love him. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.
Those without a child like mine might not understand this rationale, but if you replace his non-verbal Autism with another trait, they might. Imagine you are the funniest person in your class. You grow up to make people at work spit their water out at the cooler with your dry wit. You sometimes think how one day, you’ll have a kid of your own who you can tell jokes to around the dinner table.
Then, you have a son and he’s not funny at all. Doesn’t like jokes one little bit. Doesn’t like telling them, doesn’t like hearing them. Nothing. That might be a tough hurdle to get past initially.
But you do. You don’t love your kid for one or two qualities you mandated in your head before he was born. He’s made up of many skills and abilities. So, you learn about science or woodworking or tropical fish or whatever he’s into. You relish in his abilities rather than wringing your hands over his pitfalls. In fact, over time you even start to find humor in his humorless reactions. His deadpan reaction to your latest killer material makes you laugh out loud. His woefully missed lack of humor makes him your ultimate straight man.
In other words, you still appreciate your child. In fact, the thing that you thought was a shortcoming ends up changing his personality in such a way that you see the beauty in it. He’s yours and you’re proud. Sure, you might see another kid laughing with his father and wonder “what if” now and then. But it’s not all you ever think about and it’s doesn’t make any of the other wonderful qualities he has any less wonderful. They all come together to make your child, well, perfect.
I’m not special in thinking this. Parents do this every day on different scales. Whether it’s athletics, creativity, or social skills, there are many skills that parents want to see their children possess but accept that it might not be. It all makes up their personality and you find yourself loving them, not despite it, but because of it.
I know that some might think that comparing lack of sports or humor to lack of speech is a major difference, but to a loving parent, it’s not. No matter what, this is your child. You see the similarities you share simply because you know what to look for. My son’s personality is made up of many pieces and Autism is a part of that. Sometimes it can make things a little rougher, but nearly every time, it makes them so much more interesting.
Make no mistake. Lucas’s Autism doesn’t make him any worse or better than any other kid. Just like his sister, there are moments where I look to the sky in frustrated parental rage. And, if we’re being honest, many times his lack of communication can contribute to that frustration. Those select moments don’t spoil the good ones, though, or take away from the beautiful way in which he sees the world because of it.
When I look at my son, I don’t see the person he might have been if he didn’t have Autism. I don’t even know that person. All I see is the wonderful person he is because he has Autism. Without it, he wouldn’t be the same boy I’ve grown to love. That’s something I don’t need to be aware of or accept. That’s just something I need to appreciate.
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