I remember she was young for a teacher, but that made her seem more energetic. My son was still in preschool and, although not yet five, we already had a feeling that his lack of speech was going to grow into more than a delay. Because of that, we had him in a special program where teachers were trained for children with autism and special needs.
He loves this Elmo’s ABCs app on the iPad!
I knew he did, but nodded along. The teacher was so excited as she talked about how sweet my son was, so I didn’t want to shut her down with an, “I know.” I knew because, at home, Lucas would bring that screen to me constantly. The only way to unlock the letter-inspired videos was to trace the letter itself with a finger. He was unable to do it, so my finger was the one he always came for. I made him do it, hand-over-hand, with me. Yet it always seemed to be outside of his wheelhouse, as they say.
I told him, “Lucas, we’re going to do this by the end of the year. I’m going to have you tracing these letters. You’ll see!”
Her face lit up and, as a parent still early enough in my journey that I could have gotten all wrapped up in the hype, I was cautiously optimistic. But I had a feeling that this was beyond his grasp, at least at that time.
By the end of the year! It’s my goal. I told him, “Lucas, it’s our goal!”
He was four when that happened. Today, my son is ten. He still plays the app and he still brings it to me. I make him do hand-over-hand and he still doesn’t seem to get the idea of how he can do it independently.
For some reading, this is the sad moment. Cue the sad trombone, hit the crying emoji on Facebook. My boy might doomed to a life of not tracing letters.
The truth is that there are plenty of things he learned to do that are far more advanced than letter tracing. Routines he’s mastered and concepts that he shockingly understood right away all have been interlaced with the sad letter-tracing struggles.
People like to talk about Autism Acceptance and, while most equate that to others accepting people with autism into their worlds, there are other ways to look at it. For parents to children on the spectrum or with special needs, acceptance is about knowing that there are certain things that might never come to fruition. My boy might never ride a bike, drive a car, or conduct a Ted Talk on quantum physics. I know that and, if that’s what happens, I’m okay with it.
It’s a struggle to get there because, in life, we’re taught that the only happy ending is the one where everyone overcomes their battles and emerge “victorious” , in the classic sense of the word. It’s the outcast becoming prom queen or the little boy, who hasn’t spoken, uttering “God bless us everyone” while Bill Murray stands dumbfounded with shock.
In real life, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes working hard can push people to achieve more but some achievements might just be out of their reach. Accepting that person for who they are is what love is all about. If my boy never does these things, I accept that, because I love him.
There’s also a component in all this that is also about accepting myself. Parents in my position go into superhero mode upon diagnosis. We put on our studious glasses and read things online. With one hand on our heart and the other to God, we pledge to do everything we can to help our children succeed. We say that no matter what, we will make it happen.
When some of those things don’t happen, it can be a major blow. I struggled with feelings of failure and foolishness. I believed I had let my son down and that others were looking at me, as some did early on, like his lack of high fives or speech was my fault. My son just wanted to be a part of the world and, as his father, I hadn’t done my part.
I had, though. That’s the thing. I had done everything I could to teach him things like tracing letters or say hello to people using his voice. On top of it, he had done everything he could to try to learn. We both pushed on, but there was and still are certain things standing in our way. I accept that. I know he has too.
We still try, though. I will try tomorrow and I will try even if he’s a 50 year old man, bringing his iPad to my rocking chair, provided I’m lucky enough to stay around that long. I will be doing hand-over-hand until he reaches the point in his life where he can say, “Yo. Dude. Take your hand off of mine.”
If that day never comes, then we can keep going on. Whether he can do everything in the world or nothing at all, I’ll always love and accept him just the same, because he’s mine.