I tried not to read too much about Autism when my son was first showing signs of delay. Although my thinking has long since changed, at the time, I felt that any acknowledgement of it would cause it to come true. Some things, though, seeped through and one in particular has stayed in my memory.
It was a blog post from the mother of a twelve year old non-verbal boy on the Autism spectrum. Much like I’ve done here, she opened with talk about how much she loved her son and how wonderful of a blessing he had been in her life. She shared personal stories that made your heart swell and presented him as a person you’d want to meet.
The main theme, though, was that he loved Sesame Street. Despite being years removed from the appropriate age, he gravitated to the songs and characters in a way that she didn’t see in any other entertainment outlet. Her television played it on loop, his toy box was full of Elmos, and whenever the show came to town, she took him to Sesame Street Live.
The traveling stage show of giant Muppets was something that I, along with many parents to young children, had become accustomed to. Our babies love it and then, as they enter elementary school, they move away from life on the street. It morphs into obsessions with baseball, tween sitcoms, and things like that. Sesame, in the eyes of many, is more geared towards preschoolers and below.
However, this mom wasn’t dissuaded. Her boy loved Sesame Street so that’s what he got. When they arrived at the local arena, she was first in line for tickets. Her blog told the story of one such visit.
I remember she mentioned that they don’t sit up front since her boy liked to clap and shout. Although she wanted him to be there, she didn’t want to ruin the experience for the babies in attendance. This mom wrote about how happy she was to see her son enjoying the event despite his age. The claim was that seeing him smile was enough to make her proud and she would be happy to do this forever because she knows it brings him joy. It seemed like a great time.
Now here’s the part you don’t usually read in blogs like this.
I didn’t believe any of it.
Don’t get me wrong. I believed the facts of it. I believe this woman had a non-verbal son with Autism. I believed that they went to Sesame Street Live and that he loved it. Heck, she had pictures. That part wasn’t made up. It wasn’t the setting or the story that I questioned. It was her own personal reaction.
She was happy? Come on, lady. How can she be happy? Her son doesn’t speak! It was reading about my worst case scenario coming true. Every single thing that she was celebrating in this post was something that I had convinced myself would destroy me, if it happened to Lucas. There was no way that she was smiling, proud, or even comfortable in that environment. I wrote it off as some positive internet nonsense that people post for Monday Motivation or Friday Smileday or whatever day it was. I didn’t buy it.
That was over six years ago. Today, things are very different in my life. They’re different for the better, although the me from back then wouldn’t see it that way. The me from back then would look at my life from right now and think, “Oh no.”
That’s because today my son is eight and, just like that woman’s child, is non-verbal with Autism. Also, like that woman’s child, he loves Sesame Street. He laughs at Grover and comes to get me when Elmo’s World comes on. He claps. He shouts. He smiles huge.
And, on Sunday, when Sesame Street Live came to the Nassau Coliseum, the whole family took him.
Now I know that there are people out there in a similar place to me all those years ago who came across this post and are reading with an upturned eyebrow. They are going to question what I am about to say. But I will say it anyway. It was a wonderful experience for our entire family.
To those people, I want them to know something very important. It’s totally true. I’m not convincing myself that it’s true or trying to sell you on having a child with Autism. I am being completely honest from the bottom of my heart. There’s no reason to write these things otherwise. I was just as proud and happy as that mom I read about. In fact, I’d like to think I was even prouder and happier.
As I planned this outing, I was conscious of that blog post in the back of my mind. While I can’t remember the link or name, I remember the post itself. I can see her pictures in my head and remember the words she wrote. When buying the tickets, I even followed her plan of getting a seat that was good, but far enough back that he wouldn’t distract people if he became overly excited or agitated. It was my turn to be like that mom. Finally, I knew that everything she said was correct.
The whole family went. The way I saw it, my daughter has made us sit through thousands of mind-numbing Tik Tok videos, my wife insisted I watch that insane Beverly Hills 90210 reboot, and I’ve forced them to “enjoy” random clips of obscure 1990s wrestling. We all have our likes that we push on those in the house. Lucas’s is Sesame Street. At least his is something we all once enjoyed in our lives. Plus, he has patiently sat through plenty of girl scout events and supermarket runs. We owed him this.
What struck me the most was how natural it all truly was. I didn’t wring my hands and cry over his age the whole time, as I assumed I would when picturing this scenario years ago. No one stared at us or said anything rude. They were all busy with their own children. In fact, my son was perfect and didn’t bother a single person there. The two-year-old girl behind me? She put her feet on my shoulders. Lucas? He was a gentleman the entire time.
We bought popcorn and souvenirs. We sang along with the familiar tunes. I leaned in every few minutes to remind my eleven-year-old daughter that, “You used to love this song.” She rolled her eyes back, which I can only assume means, “That’s right, daddy. Thank you for remembering. I love you so.”
It was normal. It was natural. It was perfect. That’s the truth.
Anyone out there who is struggling with the thought of things “not turning out OK” should know that they do turn out OK. Know that the baby you barely know will grow into the boy or girl you care more about than almost anything on Earth. Know that you’ll be able to celebrate those moments that you tell yourself now you never will be able to. You’ll see your child happy and, in your heart, you’ll have no choice but to happy yourself. Know that everything will be fine. It might not be the fine that you expect it to be, but it will be fine. In fact, things will be better than fine. They were for me.