To the outside world, my son Lucas is very different from other children. He is non-verbal and his autism can make him fixate on things that people might not even notice. A glare in a window or a sound from a TV show can captivate him in the same ways that a football game or a box of crayons might capture another kid’s attention. At quick glance, he appears to be unlike anyone else.
That is one of the main reasons I began writing here. I wanted to tell the world his stories. I wanted to explain the things we do and the person he is. I recognize that those differences are glaring. They might cause people to be standoffish or timid about asking questions for fear of offending us. In reality, they don’t. I love him and I love talking about him. However, I can see why they would feel that way.
So, I search for unique parenting moments to share. I look at our days, pinpoint particular issues, and start typing.
I guess food is a big issue. That’s unique. Lucas loves to eat. He can devour bread like a champ and could bankrupt Olive Garden just on never-ending breadsticks alone. He wants to eat his lunch, your lunch, my lunch, and all the lunches. If it can fit into his mouth, he’s willing to chomp it down.
I catch him in the pantry on a regular basis. He scarfs down the open boxes of crackers and, if a box is closed, he will bring it to me. He knows I don’t want him to gobble up all our snacks in between meals, but he doesn’t care. This is what he wants and, if it looks delicious on the box, he wants me to give it to him.
That’s the reason why we keep the kid snacks on the top shelf. It’s also the reason why his doctor’s favorite phrase is, “I’m not too worried about his weight, but let’s just keep an eye on that.”
As I write it out though, it becomes more obvious that this isn’t an Autism story. It’s the same story I had with my daughter at that age. Dinner in ten minutes? “Daddy, can I have some candy?” Bags of chips left on the table, her fingerprints were all over it.
If I’m being honest, we’ve all done it. As a kid, I would sneak a package of Mint Chocolate Chip Soft-Batch cookies from the cupboard and literally eat them until I became sick. By the end of the bag, they wouldn’t even taste like cookies anymore. They tasted like burning and I couldn’t stop. As I shoved them in my face, I’d think, “Why am I doing this?” Then I would shove some more in and want to cry.
So maybe that isn’t all that distinct, but that’s just one moment. There are certainly other things that highlight his differences, right? He doesn’t like to go to bed. That’s one. Although he is usually pretty good when it’s time to tuck in, we’ve had rough nights. If I tap on the comforter and tell him to climb aboard the slumber train, he will take one look at me and run out of the room. I usually find him in the kitchen, looking for a second dinner. Upon seeing me, he puts his arms up in the air and his head down. I’ve come to believe that he thinks it makes him invisible.
Again, though, that’s not about Autism. All kids have rough times falling asleep. My daughter, since she was a toddler, has always viewed her bedtime as the prime opportunity to have deep conversations about everything on Earth. She might spend the entire evening ignoring me only to suddenly want to do a Barbara Walters-style interview at 9pm. Sometimes I still fall for it.
Sure, he might not be asking me questions or using words, but it’s the same concept. Whether food or sleep, Lucas is a kid and his desire to get what he wants is still there. He might go about it a different way, but his motivations are the same. Whether it’s his quest to get a cookie or stay up later, he’s just like her. He’s just like everyone.
It’s easy, though, to get lost in the details. You might look over while he incessantly starts and stops a video on his iPad, all so he can repeatedly listen to a sound he likes. You shake your head and think it’s the most alien thing you’ve ever seen.
Then, you walk away, still singing the same one line from an Eminem song that has been stuck in your head since last Tuesday. Over and over again… “I guess that’s why they call it window-pain.” Ugh!
Almost all of us share common threads that manifest themselves in different ways. Your child might obsess about Roblox while you obsess about This Is Us and your friend obsesses over Roller Derby. We all know people who can’t stop talking about baseball and others who can’t stop talking about politics. Whatever the pastime, we all have our vices. We’re all people. He is too.
I’ve talked about this before and I’ll talk about it again. Out of all the lessons I’ve learned, this is the most important one. My son, while unique in many ways, is far more alike in many more. The world might see the differences, because that’s what the world does. I see the similarities, because that’s what a parent does.
Hopefully, others can see them too. They might not, but that’s why I’m willing to shine a light on them. I’m not offended or upset by their curiosity. If you want to know what makes my boy great, just ask. You’ll find that it’s for a lot of the same reasons that the people in your own life are great too.