Sometimes, I’ll be sitting on the couch as my son plays with a See and Say. He pulls the handle, the arrow spins, and the cow goes moo. The process is repeated.
Lucas has Autism and is non-verbal, so he’s content to sit by himself when he plays. Yet, as his Dad, I want to reinforce the lesson that he’s learning. Plus, I feel bad that he’s playing alone and want to join him. A voice inside me says, “You’re a bad dad. Go play with your kid, jerky.”
So I get up and creak my bones to the floor next to him. I watch as he carefully inspects each movement and stares off into the distance to focus on every sound. He spins it again and I do a little clap. He doesn’t look at me, but I still give commentary.
That’s fun. You see that? It goes around.
The arrow stops. The pig goes oink. I continue my overview.
Hear that? Pig goes oink. Oink, oink. Like a pig.
That’s when he will remove his gaze from the See and Say and look right at me. I’ll smile and, without changing his expression, he will stand up with his toy, walk four feet away, and sit down with his back to me, where he will spin the wheel again…away from me.
Usually I sit there for a minute or two in comedic shock. Sometimes I will call out with an, “Ohhhhh! You dissed me!” It’s as if he just ranked me out with a Yo Mama joke from 1992 Junior High. I used to be stunned at moments like this. Now, I am more used to it. The truth is, seeing it as a third party would be pretty funny. His comedy timing, while perhaps unintentional, is darn near impeccable.
Don’t click that sad face just yet because, much like everything in the lives of children, nothing is always. For every time that we play the See and Say Walkaway game, there are many times that he has clung to me like velcro.
Those times are the best. I’ll walk into the house expecting the casual glance up. Instead, he’ll come trotting over with his hand raised for a hello. We make eye contact as the happy expression on his face grows even happier. Sometimes, he tries to say “hi” by doing a hard H sound. I reach my hand out and he’ll grasp it with a smile. I always beam from ear to ear like an idiot when he does. It’s a great parenting feeling.
That’s something I wish more people knew about children like Lucas. We say that all kids with Autism are different. But, they’re not just different from each other. They can be different from themselves. Lucas isn’t all one thing. He’s not always happy. He’s not always upset. He’s not always cuddly. He’s not always distant. He’s him. He’s Lucas.
Going back to the early days of his diagnosis, I wish I realized this. It’s a time when professionals might be giving you dire warnings of a definite future. He’ll “never do this” or he’ll “always do that”. No one can predict a personality and children, no matter their personal needs, will always find ways to surprise you. Regardless of how much or how little you know them to be capable of, there will always be days when you ask yourself, “Who is this kid?”
There are some days when Lucas will happily sit in his room all day without a second thought to me. I will walk by his door and have to shout hello to him five times before he even looks up. Even then, I make him wave out of practice and obligation. On that day, in that moment, he couldn’t care less if I was there. In another moment, maybe on another day, he might follow me from room to room just so he can be near me. Same kid. Same Dad. Different moments.
My ten year old daughter is the exact same way. She goes from begging me to hang out with her to telling me she wants to be left alone…all in the span of less than a minute. It can be dizzying. I asked her why she was moody the last time this happened and she took a deep breath, puffed out her chest, and shouted.
That’s kids. Kids are all over the place. Sure, adults are moody too, but children take it to a whole new level. Just because you are a child with Autism, it doesn’t change that fact. Some days, Lucas likes to be around me. Some days, he doesn’t. Just because he doesn’t have speech to shout in my face about his moodiness doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s there. Big time.
When my son was smaller, the moments he didn’t want me around hurt. I saw them as examples of his true personality or what Autism was supposed to be. Words of “professionals” ran through my head. This, I thought, was who he always is. He will never want me around. Today, I know that he has different days and different emotions. Kids aren’t all or nothing – regardless of Autism.
There is nothing he always does or never does. Rather, he’s more about sometimes or most times. Those absolutes that you’re warned about don’t always happen and, like most kids, he’s more than a checklist. Every day is new and his abilities can suddenly shine at unexpected moments. We can all relate to that. That’s not about having Autism. That’s about being a person.
I feel foolish for having asked all those experts about ways he would act when he was older. I feel even more foolish for listening to those definite answers. I know now that I can’t even predict what my son will do in the next ten minutes, much less the next 50 years.
He never fails to always surprise me. Looking back, that’s the only “never and always” about him that has ever been true.