Why My Non-Verbal Son’s Smile Is So Important

I feel like we’ve all been smiling a bit more over here. As life changes are settled into and new directions are less foggy, the outlook becomes better for everyone. It has for my kids and me. These last two years have been a trip.

When it comes to smiling, Lucas might have the market cornered on personal importance. My son may be non-verbal with autism, but he still has a number of ways to express himself. Whether through hand motions or by pressing pictures on his communication device, he can tell us what he wants and how he feels.

But when it comes to non-verbal communication, a smile is worth a thousand pictures.

It tells me so much about his perception of things around him. When I see him smile, I feel like all is right in the world.

The truth is that a look of sadness can mean a million things. It can be jealousy, longing, anger, exhaustion, frustration, and so much more. Happy is happy.

Although he also laughs uncontrollably when he’s really tired. Not sure what that’s about. Just ignore that part. Doesn’t count. Aside from that one thing, it means happy.

autism awareness

I want Lucas to be happy. I feel it’s one of my goals. While I will do everything to ensure that my neurotypical daughter is happy in life, my role will diminish over time. I get that. I’m not going to be cutting up her dinner when I’m at the age that she should be cutting up mine. That might not be true for my son though and I’m totally good with it.

I’m his guy and he’s mine. The place I have in his life will probably always be as important as it is right now. When we’re together, I want to make him the happiest and most supported child there is. I want to do everything I can to give him the best life, both long-term and short, that I can.

Supporting my son doesn’t mean doing everything for him either. Sometimes it’s taking away his fun YouTube Kids iPad when he looks like he’s about to fly away in a ball of nerves. I can see it in his face. Certain looks on his face like that one, much like the smile, can be ones that a parent spots right away.

It means being the bad guy sometimes, just as it meant for his sister. If we’re having dinner and there are no devices, there are no devices. He’s not forced to sit and can get up at any time to go swipe away. But when he’s there, there’s none on the table. That’s the type of support I mean. That’s the type of support that sometimes earns me an anguished yell and one of those overly-hard cheek kisses he does. It’s his way of being like, “What do I need to do?! A kiss?! Huh?! Here! Here’s your’ friggin’ kiss!” Blammo.

What I know, though, is that by bringing him back to homebase during his all-day device-rallies, I’m giving him the chance to enjoy both life and that device time when it comes around again. It’s the non-stop and uninterrupted screen time that leaves him panting and crying. I watch him get overstimulated and it becomes important to take it away for a while. By day’s end, he’s thrilled and returning it to him is met with a different energy than if he had been on it all day. I sacrifice a small smile now to see a bigger one later.

father son autism

Socially, my son has been brightening up too. We spend more and more time with Christian and Lauren, and he’s never been happier. He loves being at their house and runs right in when he’s there. I am so happy they’ve come into our lives. Lucas’s response to them has been everything I hoped for.

Getting him to socialize initially was an experiment. I wondered how he would even be with another kid outside school. Would he play? Socialize? Do three-legged races?

No. No. And, finally, no.

Make no mistake, they’re not joining hands and playing ring-a-round-the-rosey. Although Christian is more apt to come over and try to sweetly coax him to come over, things are mostly parallel play up until now. They do their own thing around each other and occasionally they cross over. It’s adorable when they do.

On paper, it sounds like an epic failure. In execution, it’s a huge leap that has given them both so much happiness. It has led to both Lucas and Christian smiling huge during our time together, barring an occasional off-day. They both love it and the entire success of the visit isn’t measured in anything more than the looks on their faces and their comfort in these different surroundings.

There are a few reasons I hold my son’s happiness in such high regard. For starters, he’s my boy. As his caregiver, it’s my responsibility. He should be happy and cared for. Because of that, seeing a smile on his face makes me so grateful over the life choices I’ve made that have landed us here.

The most important reason of all, though, is simply who he is. My son is kind, sweet, loving, and caring. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone and just craves life’s necessities. He’s not conceited, mean-spirited, or pompous. He brings joy to people he meets and love into the lives of those who know him best. He’s a wonderful kid.

If a person like that doesn’t deserve happiness, then what hope is there for the rest of us?



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