My son has autism. When some observers hear that, they immediately get an image in their mind. You might have one right now. People mentally assign quirks and personality traits to him based on that one word. They compare him to people they met or stories they heard. They have a visceral reaction depending on those with autism who have come in and our of their own lives.
My son is also non-verbal. That detail tends to affect the mental image forming in the minds of some. Suddenly, the picture doesn’t include the kid from Bates Motel playing a doctor or Dustin Hoffman begging Tom Cruise to take him to K-Mart. They see a different person altogether. In some cases, it creates a more dire view, that offers a sympathetic approach. In the disgusting words of an educator who I met at the gym, “Non-verbal autism? Oh, that’s the real one.” Yeah. She was a principal in our school district. God help us all.
He’s not dire and he has plenty of moments that he don’t elicit sympathy. The character many create in their imaginations doesn’t match the awesome person living in my house. My guy is fun-loving and huggable. We let shed far more laughter than tears. He might not understand everything other ten-year-olds do, but he understands more than he did when he was nine. That’s all that matters.
The truth is that whatever you’re picturing, no matter how in-depth I label his diagnosis, will never give you a picture that matches him completely. You can’t know him from medical details. As his dad, I’m still getting to know him every day. That’s not because he has autism. That’s because he’s a person.
You can find another kid who checks all the same boxes my son might in terms of how his perceived disability affects him and they still would be very different. “Autism” is as general a term as “parenting.” They both describe something that is deeply personal and different for everyone.
Just as my daughter still shocks me with the shows she watches and the tastes she cultivates, Lucas does the same thing. He evolves every day and there’s nothing typical about him. That stretches beyond “neuro”. That includes his autism. There’s no such thing as “typical autism”.
I know this because I’ve paged through the Amazon section of “autism toys”, purchased them with high hope, and eventually given them away with their original packaging. Things that seemed perfect for a boy on the spectrum and demonstrated by smiling models on the site were met with reckless indifference. There have been more than a few Christmas Trees littered with unwelcome gifts by the 26th.
There was one year that I bought him one of those stretchy body cover outfits. It was the number one toy on the site for autism. The goal was to put him in it, up to his head, and let his body stretch out like a starfish. It looked like a nightmare to me, but he was little. He had autism. This must be what he likes. Nope. He hated it. As soon as I zipped it up, he wanted it off. It sat in his closet for over a year before I gave it away.
I have bags of fidget toys and tons of toy cars. Sensory books are hit and miss. Water tables depend on his mood. At the end of the day, my son’s autism isn’t easily categorized when it comes to his hobbies or stimulation. There’s no “Lucas Section” on Amazon. It took me a few years to realize that.
There’s also no “Lucas Section” on any site. My boy is his own person. It’s one of the things that has made this blog so exciting for me to write. I know that when I put my fingers to the keyboard and begin sharing stories of our lives, there will be many people who can’t relate. My son has slept through fireworks and eaten the salad off of my plate. He’s kissed me for no reason and broken into tears because I made a random turn in my car.
There are so many reactions that are specific to him and few that I ever encountered during a Google search. To those reading, autism might be picky eating and a ton of questions throughout the day. It could include social insecurity or aversion to loud noise. It’s a personal story about a person they love.
And that sentence is the only overlying similarity we all have. Kids are unique. That’s not just children with autism, but children in general. I strive to give my son the best life possible. He might need more care than some children and he might need less care than others. Either way, he is a member of our family and a member of society. He needs to learn to navigate not only his autism, but life in general. It’s my job, as his dad, to help him do that.
It’s also my job to help his neurotypical sister do that. My daughter is 13 and is not on the spectrum. Everything I said above can apply to her too. While I can chuckle at teen parenting memes and relate to other single dads having conversations about girly things that would have made the previous generation cringe, it’s never one hundred percent similar to our own experiences. When it comes to raising her, it’s a personal story about a person I love.
Autism is a big word that catches so many traits in its net. Everyone has a different journey. This one is ours. Hopefully, you can find something here that might work for you. If not, I’m just glad I can tell the world about my favorite people. On or off the spectrum, kids are kids and mine are my favorites.
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