Many people assume that my non-verbal son is happy all the time. For some reason, people unfamiliar with special needs outside of television tend to make that assumption.
The truth is, he is happy a lot of the time but that’s not a special needs thing. That’s a Lucas thing. He’s cool and easy-going. We laugh. We sing. We smile. We’re good.
That doesn’t mean he’s happy all the time, though. That wouldn’t make sense because, beyond being a child with autism, he’s primarily a child. Children are people. People demonstrate a wide range of emotions and reactions. To claim that he only displays the good ones may sound sweet rolling off the tongue, but it implies that he’s different than the rest of us. In this sense, he’s not. He has many moods and many emotions.
I’m not just talking about unhappiness during sensory meltdowns either. I know that’s a common thought and, while he has those, they aren’t responsible for the bulk of his non-happy time.
Sometimes, Lucas is mad…at me. Why? For the same reasons all kids his age might get mad.
Mean old dad makes him do responsiblities.
I went through it with my daughter too. Actually, I’m still going through it with my daughter. Chores and expectations are all done for the greater good, but ultimately come off like a hassle. Yet, here I am making them happen. As Nine Inch Nails so eloquently asked, “What have I become?” A parent.
Keep in mind, I’m not asking my son to stand on his head and clean out the gutters. I’m talking about things like making him drink water. That’s a thing. He gets mad about water.
Lucas loves orange juice. He asks for it constantly. The voice on his device says it weird too. He pushes the button and it goes:
I give it to him now and then, but he needs to keep hydrated without constant sugar bombarding his mouth. So, I push the water option on him.
No, have water now and orange juice later. OK?
I hand him the cup of water. It’s one of those cups with the straws built right in.
As soon as it comes within a foot of him, he takes the back of his hand like a debutante and swats it away. I can feel his actions saying, “Take this vile thing away.” I remain firm.
No, Lucas. Water.
I’m leaving it here. You don’t have to drink it.
At that point, he whines, glares, and takes a brief sip. That’s when – I kid you not – he will pull on the straw with all his might. As soon as it pops out, he hands it back to me, with water pouring from the hole, in two pieces. He has an expression that says, “Oh no. Your water cup is broken. Now, what are you gonna do?”
Water is just the tip of the buzzkill daddy iceberg. There are many life lessons to learn that he doesn’t want to pick up and self-care techniques he would rather skip. My little man just wants orange juice and iPad. When pushed to be the best he can be, he shows the same disdain a verbal child without autism would.
Now, here’s the part that makes his situation unique and differs from his sister. It’s the hardest part of all of this and, no matter how you slice it, always will be.
When dealing with these moments with my daughter, people would assure me that:
One day, she’ll see all you did and thank you.
And I would think, “Yeah. Yeah, she will.”
I’d imagine a big “Thank You, Dad” parade with confetti and streamers. Look at me. Super Dad.
With Lucas, people still assure me that:
One day, he’ll see all you did and thank you.
And I think, “Ehhh. Possibly, I suppose. It would be nice, but I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not? Leaning a bit towards not, but it changes day to day. Not holding out for a thank you.”
That’s not pessimism. It’s just a realistic view of probability. Yet, I keep doing the things I do for him. I help him be the best he cane because it was never about getting a thank you or a pat on the back. Even if his sister, who has all the words to speak them, never says “thank you”, I still would be doing every single parenting thing I’m doing today for both of them.
Positive productive parenting isn’t just done for our kids, but also for the rest of the world. The goal is to not only foster their own independence and betterment as people, but also to help those who will have to share the planet with the grown-up versions of our little princes and princesses. I don’t want either of my children to be falter in their responsibilities to the world around them. For my son, that could mean learning as much as he can to take care of himself so that one day, far off, someone else won’t have to. To me, it’s important.
I know he can take off his shoes. If I take them off every day for him, he learns to never do it on his own. He’ll always have his foot out, looking for some mook to yank them off his feet. If he doesn’t use his own fork or take off his own shirt, then someone else will have to. That’s why I make him do it through the huffs and puffs when I can just do it myself in seconds.
If does have that ability within him, it’s my job to make sure he finds it. That’s my job as a parent to both of my children. That’s the job of every parent to all their children.
Don’t expect them to be completely on board, though. Whether it’s because you make her vacuum the stairs to get her allowance money or you won’t let him eat a second freakin’ breakfast, you’re going to get pushback. Kids are gonna be kids. All we can do is be parents.
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