Don’t Pity Me For My Child With Autism

Man, it is hard being the parent of a child with Autism. That’s what they say. I should know. My son has Autism and he’s non-verbal. How is it tough? Well, I can tell you all about it.

Some nights, he doesn’t sleep. He’s up, he’s down, and he’s all around the house from the witching hour until the darkest before the dawn. I chase him, call his name, and beg him to return to bed. It can leave me with bags under my eyes and a drag in my step.

Actually, though, it’s not every night that happens. In fact, the other day, he was great. He not only slept through most of the night, but he woke up happy and agreeable. I know from speaking with other parents that sleep issues in an eight-year-old aren’t limited to Autism. In fact, parents to neuro-typical children, so to speak, tell me about nightmares, ER visits, and bouts of illness that affect any child. Also, these bags under my eyes are as much a result of father time and late-night Netflix binges as they are of Lucas.

So, OK. Bad example. Sleep is a bad example. There are others though. There are lots of others. My son has a hard time sitting still. That’s one. I deal with that and, at times, it has gotten intense. We’ve wrestled our way through his sister’s concerts and family gatherings. He’s refused to sit at the table and, nine times out of ten, he’s been ready to run as soon as I deflect my gaze. Yes, that’s something you can pity us for. It’s hard times, if you will. Oh, it’s hard times.

pty.jpgActually, though, it was hard times. I mean, he’s getting older and as he does, my boy has been gradually becoming more mature in his approach to certain events. His instinct to dash off without notice has dashed off, and I’ve noticed. He’s grown and evolved. Today, he sits through most things without an issue.

Ah, but there’s that “most things” line again. That’s the caveat. He doesn’t sit through everything, just like every other eight-year-old does. Wait. That’s not true. I have sat near eight-year olds at concerts and school events. They fuss for the duration of the event too. While Lucas might whine or try to wiggle away, other kids, not on the spectrum, might complain or bargain ways to leave. Sitting still for children of single digit ages isn’t a skill widely seen. While my son’s autism might manifest his defiance to sitting still in a unique way, his desire to leave an activity that he’s deemed boring is not unique in and of itself.

Hmmm. There’s got to be something. Wait…He doesn’t talk! Oh! That’s one without an asterisk. He doesn’t speak. Yes. That’s hard and people definitely pity that. They can look over and shake their head sadly over our lack of conversation. We can’t share deep thoughts or stories. That’s a massive hurdle to jump. Other kids have words, my son doesn’t. Woe is me. Woe is him. Woe is us.

Whoa to that whole thing, though, because in the last few years, I’ve realized that verbalization is overrated. As a kid, my teachers used to check the box marked “chatterbox” on my report cards as if it was a slur. I’d get in trouble for talking at the wrong times, saying the wrong things, and speaking to the wrong people. I’ve been told to watch my mouth, shut my mouth, and be careful about who I shoot my mouth off to. The more I think about it, the more I realize my words have caused me just as much heartache as they have rewards.

That’s not to say that I’m happy my son doesn’t speak. I’d love him to learn, but it’s not really pity-worthy. He has a communication device and various pictures to point to. Even if he didn’t, though, he has a family that loves him. He’s surrounded by support and adulation. He never wants for anything, despite his inability to specifically ask in some cases. I know children who have a million words who still don’t get what they want as often as my non-verbal child does. It’s not about what you ask for or how you ask for it. It’s about who is listening.

Yeah. It’s tough raising a child with Autism. It’s tough raising any child. Heck, it’s tough just being a person. Whether you’re helping a sick relative, caring for a dying pet, or even just struggling to get out of bed in the morning, life itself can be hard. That’s how you know you’re living it. That’s how you know you’re alive.

The bottom line is that pity is pointless.  It’s a disposable reaction that is disregarded almost immediately. It doesn’t buy birthday presents or change lives. It just means that one person is happy that they’re not another person. It adds nothing to the world.

If you have take anything away from my relationship with child and his unique approach to life, take some inspiration. Much like you’d look at my daughter’s improved basketball skills or your child’s rising math grades, look at my son’s achievements from a place of admiration. He worked hard to get where he is. He’s succeeded at things I never dreamed possible – things that experts never dreamed possible. He’s not only persevered, he’s crushed it.

And there is nothing whatsoever to pity about that.