Ask me what toys he likes or what food he goes out of his way to devour. Question his choice of television shows or learn more about the unique ways he communicates. All those things, as a father, will be subjects I can speak about for hours.
Some people do ask those things. I don’t mean to imply that none do. They’re just not the usual reason why strangers and acquaintances look at me with that upturned eyebrow.
The questions they ask are about things like breastfeeding, vaccinations, family history, environmental concerns, organic baby foods, and a whole host of other possible culprits for his seemingly unimaginable autism. They usually quote doctors I never heard of from YouTube and tell me stories about friends they have with children who miraculously overcame something that they perceived to be on the same level as my non-verbal son. There are bath salts, diet plans, and herbal remedies that I too can order for the low low price of whatever.
It used to make me uncomfortable when this happened. I’d squirm in my chair and try to talk in circles to avoid this, admittedly rude, topic. The premise of the entire course of conversation is somewhat insulting. It portrays my boy as a problem to be fixed rather than my son, whom I love.
On top of it, what good does it serve? How can anyone assume, in a few short minutes of small talk, that they’ve come with a reason that a parent, dealing with their own children day-and-night, hasn’t yet considered, especially in those early days of diagnosis? From genetic history to overdoing epidurals, they’ve all crossed our minds and, for many moms and dads, there are many dark moments where they’ve beaten themselves up over all of them at some point.
For me, that point in time was years ago. It was before I knew my little man and realized that autism wasn’t a fatal blow. It was a personality aspect that, believe it or not, ended up with more good than bad in terms of his demeanor. I love my son and his autism cause isn’t something I’m constantly trying to get to the heart of.
On top of everything else, what good does figuring out the cause do? I don’t have a time machine to go back and change anything. Even if I did, I wouldn’t. To change my son’s autism would be to change my son and, as I’ve already mentioned, I love my son. Would I want him to naturally catch up on the life skills that put him at a disadvantage among a world of people bias to the able-bodied? Sure. Would I want to wave a magic wand and suddenly change who he is tomorrow? No. If he woke up tomorrow as a different person, I would be destroyed. I love the person who’s here.
All figuring out a “cause” does is help me allocate blame. The problem with that? There is no blame. That is where me and this person quoting prenatal health factoids disconnect.
To look for a reason is to imply that something “bad” caused it. If I don’t see his autism, severe or otherwise, as something “bad”, then I have no reason to figure out a cause. It serves me no good to figure out where it came from.
That’s why I no longer squirm. When the subject comes up about Dr. Dingo on Health Fax dot org or genetically modified pop tarts, I simply shake my head and say the truth.
Honestly, I don’t really care what caused it. We’re fine.
And we are.
It goes back to my position on autism awareness. People don’t need to be aware that autism exists. They need to be aware of what autism is and why parents to children on the spectrum don’t constantly wring their hands in agony praying for a magic pill to change their child.
Ask me whatever you want. What iPad apps does he like? Which flavor of Goldfish crackers are his favorite? Where did I get his slick jacket? Save the theories about what causes autism for your friends on the message board, though. You’re free to play health detective on your own, outside of our conversation. I have no opinion to offer and no desire to hear anyone else’s. My kid’s perfect. We can end our discussion with that.