My son, Lucas, runs stairs like a champ. Even when we tell him not to, he eagerly zips to our staircase and comes clomping along with his big Fred Flintstone feet. It’s pretty impressive considering how we once worried about him even walking, much less climbing.
The steps to his school bus are the same story. He runs up to the open door in the morning and, darting past the aide, shoots up the three steps into his seat. She always says the same thing.
Lucas! Where are you going? Hold on. OK.
We laugh. She buckles him in. They zoom away. In the afternoon, we do the same process in reverse.
Truth be told, the steps are an old school Lucas favorite. Scaling them was one of the first skills he picked up after walking. Because of that, he can get on and off a bus in no-time flat.
The bus aide he has this year knows about his mad stair skills, but she hasn’t always been his aide. He’s had a whole bunch of different matrons through a whole bunch of different years. They all have unique perspectives on how to assist him. Our current aide knows he can run up and down at breakneck speed, so she’s prepared for it.
Most of them have been that way and, because of that, he’s never fallen in his dash up and down those little metal stairs. For the most part, they’ve all known what he is capable of and watched with minimal assistance as he executed his step climbing perfectly.
I should say that they all were that way except for one. It was about two years ago and I can’t tell you what her name was. Actually, I can’t even tell you if she spoke English. She never said a word. She smiled as we approached, though. So that was a good sign, I suppose.
Her style with Lucas, however, was a bit overbearing. For some reason, she assumed that he couldn’t do much of anything, most of all climb stairs. While I’m sure some of the other students who shared the bus with him might need help, my boy wasn’t one of them. He may have some missing skills, but not the steps. Kid’s like Rocky Balboa. I’ve seen him.
Yet, here she was, holding his shoulders and gingerly guiding him up into his seat. I didn’t like it, but the whole process only took like five seconds. To stop her and make her start over seemed rude. By the time I spoke out, he’d practically be done. So I would usually say things like:
Oh, Lucas. Come on, buddy. You know you can do this.
And he could do it. I knew he could. However, as time went on and this bus routine became more familiar, a funny thing happened.
He suddenly seemed like he couldn’t.
I’ll never forget that first day when the bus pulled up in the afternoon and I witnessed him completely give up his crown as Stairmaster Extraordinaire.
With the matron pushing behind, holding him beneath the armpits, Lucas leaned back at a 45 degree angle on wobbly knees and barely crumbled down to the open door. Keep in mind, he wasn’t walking like he had physical challenges. He was walking like he had no bones. It was as if someone glued a slinky to a rag doll and threw it down the steps. He was putting on a grand performance of “Yo. I ain’t doing this.”
I didn’t know what to say. I just watched as he globbed down each stair into my waiting arms. Confused, I stared into his eyes and asked, “Dude. What are you doing?” He’s non-verbal, so he couldn’t answer me or understand my words. But it didn’t matter as the WTF expression on my face conveyed my point.
The next day, I was ready. There was no way I was going to let this kid Jell-O himself onto that bus. So when it pulled up in the morning, I watched as the aide came to guide him. I stepped in first.
No. No. Here. Let him do it. He can show you.
I sent him on his own and said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t wipe out unexpectedly and break a bone. The thought of that happening seemed to come straight from a comedy skit, but sometimes life imitates art. I held my breath and released his hand.
Then, shakily, he made his way up the steps. He looked like a kid who could do it, but barely. Both she and the driver thought I was going for some sort of personal victory. Like “hey, look what I taught my boy yesterday.” They didn’t realize he was a champ at this stuff. Little faker.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that this approach to my son isn’t limited to stairs. Lucas is whoever people treat him as. Those who see his Autism as something that holds him back will get a kid whose Autism holds him back. Those who treat him like he’s capable of anything will get another kid altogether. They’ll get the best him he can be.
I can’t fault him for this either. We’re all like that sometimes. My daughter, who is not on the spectrum, had moments in her childhood where she would try to act like a baby in order to get out of doing some sort of job or chore. Actually, now that I think about it, she’s eleven and did it this morning. Actually, I’m 41 and I did too.
Either way, my son is capable of wonderful achievements. It’s my job to make sure he knows that. If not, he’ll gladly slide down the stairs of life. I can’t carry him through challenges that I, as his father, know he can on his own.
No matter how much I want to.