One of the most popular posts I’ve ever written was titled, “I’m Sorry My Son Drank Your Coffee.” It was the tale of how Lucas, my non-verbal Hamburgler with Autism, couldn’t stop himself from taking whatever food was in his path, no matter how hard I tried.
The article generated many responses. There were people who could relate on the most personal of levels. They’d tag their friends with comments like, “Hey Christy, remind you of someone we know? L.O.L.” I, too, would L.O.L. at the thought of other children like mine putting their parents through the most bizarre of situations. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
Popularity of a post brings with it diversity of readers though and, along with the many wonderful sentiments, came some pretty venomous ones too. I heard from people who acted as though I was encouraging this dangerous and rude act on his part. They thought I was laughing it off like an entitled parent. I even had one last week claim that it reinforced her “disdain for Autism”. Some great people out there, huh?
The fact of the matter is that I know my son doesn’t deserve all the food he sees. If he did, I wouldn’t even write about it. I would just give it to him. Why devote a thousand words to a topic that I feel completely justified about? I wrote it because, much like those reading it, I saw the mortifying nature of the entire thing. Watching my boy dive through the air to get at someone else’s pancake or half-finished cup of iced coffee was not something I found cute. It was something I was just as shocked at as those around me. I wanted to write something to explain that.
I likened it to a waiter who dropped your birthday cake on the floor. He’s humiliated in that moment. There are countless apologies and offers to reimburse you for the damage. Then, a week or so later, he tells the story to his friends and they all laugh at the insanity of it all. After the fact, it can be looked back in a different light.
Does that mean he thought it was funny at the time? Does he believe he has the right to throw birthday cakes all over the restaurant? Does he need to be lectured about the jail time he could face for destroying someone’s property? Does it verify your “disdain” for the wait-staff?
No. That’s dumb. It’s because the story is over and, regardless of his best efforts, the worst case scenario played out. As he goes forward, attempting to be more careful next time, he can bow his head and tell the tale to those who might relate and find humor in imagining his initial response.
There’s a bigger reason why I told this story, though. It goes beyond common laughs and shared experiences. It’s about the story itself. It’s about progress.
In the initial post, I explained how one incident involved Lucas and I making pancake faces in his class. We were given treats and candies, all for the purposes of creating edible art. My son, though, saw it as a Tasmanian Devil buffet of sugar. He ate all the candy in his way and even gobbled down another kid’s pancake-face before I could reach his arm. It ended with Lucas, mouth stuffed, on the ground crying. It was incredibly heartbreaking in the moment, but somewhat humorous to hear about a year or so after the fact.
That was then and this is now. On Friday, I went to his school for another round of snacktime-temptation. This time, it was cupcake tins full of candy and gingerbread houses for us to create. The whole way there, all I could picture was him shoving a gingerbread village into his round little face.
When I arrived, though, the scene was different. He was seated at the cafeteria table with his hand resting on his chin and the other tapping on the table. As I sat by his side, he smiled, gave me a hug, and we began to build a home for any gingerbread man who might happen by.
Lucas didn’t devour his house on Friday. He didn’t devour anyone else’s house either. He pointed to pieces of candy, here and there, and I gave him some, but there were no violent outbursts. In fact, I even handed him a few morsels to stick to our creation and he did. In the end, it all came out pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Unlike the last time, I didn’t do it entirely myself.
A year or two ago, this would have been unheard of. He would have flung himself through the table like a deathmatch wrestler and stuffed his face full of food until he was hysterical crying. I would have been embarrassed, apologetic, angry, and sad all at once. All the wonderful parents, who understand the plight of those in our position, would have said it was OK. To me, though, it wouldn’t have been. It never was.
That didn’t happen, though. It didn’t happen because, since that pancake day, we have done nothing but work on him and his will power. Between me, school, and his in-home therapist, my little man has pushed hard to overcome his infatuation with grabbing goodies randomly left behind. It has been a consistent effort and, although it still is not completely over, he’s done better than I ever dreamed possible.
And that is why I told that story back then. It was so that one day, I could hopefully tell you this one. It was to share that we all struggle to better ourselves and it takes work to get there. If you’re busy yelling and screaming about the mistakes you make today, you lose the focus to erase them from the person you are tomorrow. My son has worked harder than anyone I know and I couldn’t be prouder of him for it.
Hopefully, you are too. And that’s why I told you that story.