Parents love the idea of having a fearless child. We brag about how our kids are scared of nothing. A lack of dread when interacting with the world is seen as a sign of strength, ambition, and potential.
While I know it might sound like bragging, I have to tell you that I have a son who is completely fearless. Little, if anything, scares him.
He is non-verbal with Autism.
And it’s terrifying.
Lucas’s Chuck Norris-like lack of fear is a major issue in his upbringing. I talk a lot about how there are an overwhelming number of positive points to being the father of someone with my son’s special needs. Like anything, though, there are negatives as well. This is one of them. Frankly, this is the biggest one of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I stand in awe of the beautiful way in which he sees the world. I would, however, trade that beautiful worldly outlook in a second for the security of knowing that he’d always be safe. Few if any parents wouldn’t. It’s a concern that stretches out and touches so many different aspects of his life. As his Dad, it makes keeping him out of harm’s way, the hardest job I have, even harder.
It’s the reason why I was so worried back when he was a “runner”. If I thought that he would run somewhere and then sit quietly on the ground until I caught up, it would be fine. It was my son’s fearless nature that made his running a bad thing. It’s the reason I would conjure up images of him walking into traffic or falling off a cliff. It’s the sole reason why his running was so scary. Without that, it would just be exercise.
It’s the underlying issue with his food habits too. My son doesn’t care what diseased hobo just put down a Starbucks cup, he’ll put it in his mouth and drink it. If something looks like a chicken nugget, he’ll eat it. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the floor, the counter, or on a hot stove. Almost nothing is off limits when it comes to his food. We can say “no” repeatedly and he might stare in my face like he plans to comply, but the moment I turn around, he’s munching hobo lunch.
Because of his communication issues, I can’t verbally confirm when he’s fully recognized the need for caution in a situation, so I have to take cues from his actions instead. For instance, I can see that if his dinner is too hot, he won’t continue to eat it until it cools off. That’s a good sign and it gives me some solace. I’m left feeling 95% sure that he understands the dangers of touching something hot. There’s still that 5% of concern though. It’s the 5% that comes with with burnt tongues and ER visits. It’s the 5% that could hurt my child. I live in that 5%. I think most parents in my situation would too.
The first time we took him to the beach was a prime example of his death defying extreme lifestyle. We figured that he loves water and squishing sand in his feet. So the beach would be a perfect fit.
He definitely loved it. His favorite part? That would be darting off under the boardwalk with all the broken glass, garbage, and other various weapons of the Earth eagerly awaiting his tiny feet. My wife and I spent the day trying to catch this barefoot sprinter through the sharp obstacle course of doom. How he managed to escape without losing a toe is beyond me. By the time we went home, we were ready to pass out. The only thing that could have made it a worse beach day would be if Jaws showed up.
You know the worst part? He would be mad when we would catch him! I’m heroically standing there, holding him safely in my arms, and he’s crying with his back arched like it’s a Greek tragedy. It’s enough to make you want to scream, “Why are you crying?! You would have died ten times today if it wasn’t for me!”
It sounds scary for a family and, if we’re being honest, it is. Soon, though, it becomes another part of your life. Your thinking changes to include the realization that your child backs down from no threat. It becomes a part of your normal routine. I realized how ingrained that thinking has become for us during our move last week.
My favorite part of the new house is our vapor fireplace. I didn’t even know this type of thing existed until I saw it here and I immediately knew I had to have it. Essentially, it mimics the look of an actual fireplace, but uses water vapors so it’s safe. You can basically sit on top of it and you won’t get burned. It makes me feel all wizardly.
The two major selling points of this vapor fireplace are that I don’t have to worry about burning the house down and my kids can’t fall into it and die. When you have children, them killing themselves on various items around the house is always a primary concern. It’s not just Lucas either. The way my daughter will break into a maniacal spinning dance at the drop of a hat could easily include a fiery tumbling finale. The no-death fireplace definitely helps us all sleep better at night.
Of course, when a fireplace like that gets used, your immediate instinct is to put your hand in it. It was my wife who had the foresight to realize that we should save that for certain times.
Don’t put your hand into it in front of Lucas. Even though it’s safe, we don’t want him to think he can do that to a real fireplace.
She was right. She usually is with these things. My wife has always been cautious with risks around the house and Lucas benefits a lot from that. It’s a type of forward thinking that many people wouldn’t understand, but it comes with life experience. When you have a kid who doesn’t fully understand all the risks of the world, you learn to protect them ahead of time. We all have.
Lucas is our guy. We love him and he’s a member of our family. The responsibility of keeping him safe, while gigantic in scope, is one that we all naturally fell into. Sometimes I will hear my daughter in the next room correct something he’s doing. In the sweetest ten year old voice, she’ll tenderly say, “No, Lucas. Be careful.” When I hear that, I know that not only is my son taken care of, but I know that I’m raising her to be a caring and protective sister. Those are some of the proudest moments I have as a father.
I mentioned that this problem is somewhat specific to my son and his Autism. While that might be true, how I handle it is not. The overlying idea of protecting my son, much like every other aspect of raising him, isn’t unique to Autism. It’s actually the same for any parent of any child – on or off the spectrum. When you love someone, you want to help them avoid danger. Nine times out of ten, you’ll see the risky turn before they do. Maybe it’s something as simple as a hot plate of hobo food or as complex as a bad life choice. Either way, our jobs are all the same. I use the same approach to Lucas that any of us would use with any of our children.
Show them the way, teach them right from wrong, and hope that when the time comes, if you’re not there, they’ll know what to do. Whether they’re verbal or not, one thing is true. You never fully know if they understand your warnings until that time comes. When it does, all we can do is hope that they remember what they were taught and make you proud. At the end of the day, that’s the best any parent can do.