Many stories I tell about my son start off with a calming look at how happy he usually is in his surroundings. As a non-verbal boy with autism, Lucas will gladly spend his days indoors, clutching an iPad, and clapping with glee.
I’ve learned that there’s a delicate balance with this easy-going attitude. I shouldn’t rip him from his comfort zone just for the sake of doing so. The toys he loves, many of which are long since age-inappropriate, belong in his life. Even if he doesn’t play with them “correctly”, they’re his and he gets to decide what’s correct. While many eleven-year-olds no longer rush to see Sesame Street, he does. These are all his things. I don’t pull him from them.
The balance, however, is not allowing us to settle into that same routine every day. There’s an entire world outside our door. There are millions of places to go and things to do. One of them might be his next favorite activity.
Bowling, track, animals, and outings all await. Even though the allure of that iPad persists, who knows if there’s something else out there for him? It’s our job to find it. Maybe not every day, but when we can.
Sure, people might shrug and ask say “he doesn’t care about that stuff”. After all, he’s content. I should let him sit in the house and swipe away while I veg out next to him during precious downtime. Why make him go to a bowling alley or a mini-golf course when, nine times of ten, he might hate it?
Easy. Because he deserves to try.
This line of thinking isn’t exclusive to non-verbal children or those with special needs. This is an approach to life that we all take. It’s a natural evolution for all of us. We grow. We live. We spread our wings. The world awaits.
I know this is true for a fact. If I hadn’t given myself that same respect years ago, I’d be high in a basement apartment right now playing video games and wondering why life was so unfair to me. It wasn’t until I pulled myself up and learned to experience the world that I found my true passions, loves, and way of life.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s different. After all, my special needs child doesn’t know all the great things that are out there. Right?
Well, guess what. Neither did I. It was a struggle to change and grow. Yet, I made myself do it and searched for my callings because I deserved it. He does too.
Too often, people notice his lack of speech and seemingly indifferent attitude to the things we all deem “fun” and assume there’s nothing out there for him. They fail to notice the parallel it has to themselves and the people in their own lives. They don’t understand that we all go through ruts and moments of isolation. We all settle into being content with things we should never be content with. We all face situations where we fail to grow.
For many of us, it takes a friend or a loved one to give us that nudge. A caring person comes along, sees us being stagnant, and pushes us out the door, either figuratively or literally. In the end, we credit them for helping us along. We point to them as our inspiration or our muse. We give credit where credit is due.
Lucas might never give me credit for doing these things. If I’m being honest, I don’t think he understands the concept of giving someone credit. It’s part of what makes him so unique. I do know, however, that I have figuratively and literally led him, hand-in-hand, into bowling alleys as he cries real tears only to watch him happily roll the ball down the ramp. We try and, as soon as he grows tired of playing, we leave, even if the game wasn’t over yet. For us, it was. We won.
Could life be simpler if I just let him sit at home all day? Sure. Would my schedule be easier without anything for him to do? Absolutely. It would also be easier to let him eat everything he wants and do all of his life skills for him too, but I don’t do those things. It’s my job to give him every opportunity that I would give to his neurotypical sister. It’s my job to give him every opportunity I would want myself. So, I do.
Just because a person is non-verbal doesn’t mean they shouldn’t live their best life. He just doesn’t know what his best life looks like just yet. None of us do. We’re all searching for the things that make us well-rounded human beings. The same is true for Lucas. The only difference is that he’s not as keenly aware of it as some other people are.
But I am. That’s all he needs. I’ll help him on that journey and do everything I can to find his happiest places. They’re out there. They won’t be simple to find, but we’ll find them. He deserves that because he’s my son. He deserves that because he’s a person.