It would be very easy to forget that the story of my son’s life isn’t the story of mine. After all, when asked, I tend to take center stage in the replies to, “How has Lucas been doing?”
I can rattle off responses for days about how I am working with him on bettering his sleep at night, pushing towards new goals, and doing many other tasks that are important for him going forward. My son has Autism and I am here for him every step of the way.
Since Lucas is non-verbal, I’m the one narrating these answers regarding his progress. I am a big part of these stories since they are told from my point of view. Tales of his learning usually start with tales of my teaching.
That right there should be a major indicator of my role, though. I may be the teacher, but he’s the star. That’s a fact. There’s a reason they call the movie “The Karate Kid” and not “Mr. Myagi.”
If I’m being honest, though, I wish it was about me – both in every positive and negative sense. I would give anything for Lucas’s struggles to rest firmly on my shoulders. I know that’s not the case, though.
Wishing this fact to be true isn’t done with selfish intentions. I don’t want my son’s journey to be about his dad because I want the attention or praise. There are a number of reasons, but almost all of them are due to fear, guilt, and the desire to save him from, well, anything that a father might want to save his son from. I wish the consequences of not reaching his goals were mine alone. They’re not. They’re his. Still, I wish they were my victories to reach and struggles to face. I wish I could carry him to every finish line.
Because of that wish, there’s a strong internal desire to approach helping my child the same way I approach any task that is on my to-do list. After all, that’s how I get things done. I look at a mirror that needs hanging or a floor that needs cleaning and think, “I’m going to do this today.” I set goals and make plans. I tell myself that by the time the sun goes down, I’ll have these things done. If they’re not, it’s because I was lazy and I failed. That’s about the size of it.
That mentality, while fine for unraked gardens and dirty laundry, doesn’t hold true when deciding to help another human being, with Autism or otherwise, reach a milestone. You can’t dictate to Lucas what he learns today, tomorrow, or even for the rest of his life. His ability to grasp ideas and excel in areas that give him trouble all come from inside of him. He’s the only person who can make those things happen. No matter how hard I try, some of those concepts won’t get through to him until he’s ready. Some might never get through at all.
And that’s something that I, as the parent to a child like mine, had to accept. If not, it would tear me apart and rob me of the proudest moments we’ve shared.
I’ve seen this mentality applied to others in his life too. When he was little, one of Lucas’s teachers told me at the start of the year that her goal was to make him trace the letters of his Elmo’s ABC iPad app on his own. She proudly told me that she looks at him and says, “By the end of the year, Lucas, you’ll be able to trace this “A” yourself. You’ll see!” She smiled big. I smiled back. Deep down, I had a feeling how the year would end. I didn’t share that with her, though. I went along with her optimistic, and overly specific, plans.
So now, here we are today, four years later, and I’m still holding his hand, outlining the letters, and repeating “A. You do. A. Good job.” He has made many attempts and tried his best, but it’s not something he learned to do. The goal that his teacher placed on herself never came true because, if we’re being honest, it should never have been her goal. It was really one that should have been his. She wasn’t the one who needed to succeed and couldn’t demand it happen by a certain time. Only he could.
That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t hit goals and milestones. He has, but just not on that one specific thing that another person deemed important. In fact, Lucas has made strides across the board since then. Today, he can sit calmly at a show when, a few years ago, they had to physically hold him in place for his preschool graduation along with many other examples of maturity. On so many levels, he’s shown improvements on his own terms. They were his to make and his alone. I may have helped, but his successes were about him doing it, not me teaching him.
My role is important, but it’s Lucas who needs to rise or fall. I’m just here to guide him. Thinking about it any other way would just make me feel like a failure every time a breakthrough that I deemed him ready for didn’t come to pass. It would destroy me and make me unable to truly appreciate the things that he’s learned through the years because I was too focused on the things he hasn’t.
Whatever Lucas did yesterday, does today, or will do tomorrow are all his actions to do. I can take pride in the assistance I offer and the role that I play, but all his achievements and missteps belong solely to him. Like his sister, who’s swimming skills and violin accolades can both bring me pride, those skills or lack thereof aren’t skills that I can claim as my own. Doing that would only bring stress, heartache, and ultimate discontent for a parent who’s trying as hard as he can.
I’m not the only one, though. I know he’s trying as hard as he can too. And for that, I can be proud. It’s not about what he does or doesn’t do. It’s about how he pushes himself to be a better person today than he was yesterday. That’s something amazing and that’s all about him.