I have a secret as it relates to my son. It’s one that I feel many parents with special needs children can relate to. He’s not as difficult as many people imagine.
Don’t get me wrong, he has a set list of duties that come with raising him. Lucas is, in many areas, low functioning and there are tasks that many moms and dads long abandoned before their kids reach ten that I still find myself doing for him. I face some tough moments when bringing him along places and he often requires extra care.
That said, in the eyes of some, he seems to be a human anchor who weighs my life down to a grinding halt. They watch from afar, shake their head with pity, and imagine mi vida loca.
I know this to be true because my son has long become a pre-emptive excuse in their eyes for anything I might not want to do. Invitations to events and parties are still freely offered, but they come with a built-in escape hatch. I’m given an out before I even open my mouth.
Yeah. We’re having some people over Saturday. Bring the kids. I understand if it’s hard with Lucas though. So you won’t offend us if you can’t come.
I won’t? Really? Hmmm.
I mean, there have been plenty of parties that I was eager to avoid.. They’ve been around since before he was even born. Many a New Years, I was stuck sitting on the couch with some dingbat husband of a lady I barely like, listening to nonsense stories about his job at the rental car company. Let the good times roll. Many of those nights I want to stay home, under an electric blanket, and watching pro wrestling from a foreign country. There are Wheat Thins to eat, slipper socks to break in, and early sleep to catch up on. It would be great to get out of it. I could easily lump the reason onto my little man.
The problem is that it has nothing to do with him. Most times, he’s not my reason for wanting to stay home. There’s a problem with telling that though. “Nope. Hate you. Hate your stupid house. Hate your dog.” But then they’d look poorly at me. The temptation is there to just go with their offer to blame my boy. He doesn’t care. Right?
That out-clause holds true for early dismissals too. I can bounce any party hours before completion because of him. I don’t even have to explain. I can just walk up to the host and say, “Yeah. We’re gonna head out.” Then I look down at my guy, shrug my shoulders, and they all understand. Poor Dad. His son doesn’t talk.
Now, keep in mind, sometimes he is the reason I have to leave early or can’t make an event. There have been Halloweens and block parties where Lucas was upset or tired or melting down or whatever. He can’t be expected to remain there miserable and those outs are definitely welcome when used correctly. They aren’t, however, a constant thing. Every event I want to skip or duck out on before the coffee is served isn’t all his fault. In fact, most aren’t.
When he was younger, I might have gone along with placing the blame on him. In some ways, I wasn’t sure if that was even true. If I was asked to attend a dinner party but the host suggested my non-verbal preschooler might be tough to bring along, I pondered it. Maybe he was? I still wasn’t sure. He was small and his special needs were still emerging. I was still coming to grips with what he was capable of. Surprises, while still prevalent, were commonplace back then.
As the years have ticked by, however, they’re not. I no longer let him become my excuse unless he’s the genuine reason. I won’t allow those who don’t know him to assume he’s impossible to manage in order to take the attention off of me or my missteps. He’s a person and he deserves respect. I have a responsibility, as his father, to not let people think the worst of him in order to let them think better of me.
So, let’s be honest. It’s not my son’s fault. He’s not the reason I’m bipolar. He’s not the reason I had heart surgery. He’s not the reason I got divorced. Those things fall on the shoulders of me and others. He’s my boy and while all my woes can be brushed under the proverbial rug by saying, “my son has autism”, I don’t do that. I don’t let others do it either.
Of course, for everyone who overestimates the tough times that might come with taking my non-verbal son out for something, there is a counterpart who veers too far in the opposite direction. Being a special needs parent isn’t all doom and gloom, nor is it all puppy dogs and rainbows. Like most kids, he isn’t always good or bad. Some days can be downright overwhelming. Friends and family members who overlook those struggles and refuse to acknowledge them are, in all honesty, much worse than those who overestimate them. At least the latter do so out of caution and care.
When my son is the reason I can’t do something, I say so. When I am, I say so too. It’s my responsibility to take responsibility when it’s my responsibility. I would never put that on him and, if I do so just to make my life easier, the world will never know the real him.
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