Originally Published: February 20, 2019
The entertainment world has a very distinct way of presenting autism. Summer’s feel-good movies and the very-special television episodes like to show us the error of judging anyone at first glance.
The stories are simple. A character on the autism spectrum demonstrates all the preconceived ideas of how others think they might act. Maybe they stumble over a social situation or can’t join friends for a rousing game of basketball. Everyone hangs their head and joins in the mental pity of how autism has robbed this young person of small talk and foul shots. Cue the sad music.
But then, it happens. This hidden treasure of a human being pops up with a shocking superpower. Look! He might have autism… but he’s a doctor!
He’s not only a doctor…but he’s the best doctor in the world!
The other doctors, all wedged into their neurotypical boxes of thought, can’t see the issues that our main character can. He solves the case, scores the goal, and makes the correct diagnosis all thanks to autism. Everyone is happy. After he does, he refuses to hug anyone because, well, that’s another autism movie thing.
I have nothing against the sentiment in these shows or movies. I get it. Here’s the issue, though. What if my non-verbal seven-year-old son never becomes a doctor? What if he doesn’t rise up the ranks to the shock of many and achieve unexpected success? What if he never does all the magic tricks that my cable box says autism should provide him?
The answer is nothing. Nothing will happen. I’ll love him just the same.
That’s hard to imagine given the themes presented by TV and movies in an effort to jerk your tears. The common message offered is that Autism is a detrimental affliction that only becomes celebrated when the person with it somehow excels in our world. It’s that final moment where the crowd jumps to their feet in applause, the bullies are left with expressions of stunned shock, and the grizzled, yet suddenly awoken, police chief finally approaches and says, “I may not understand your methods, but you’re alright, McGinty.”
Guess what, Captain Television. McGinty’s already alright. He was alright the whole time, even if he didn’t do anything considered amazing in your world.
My son hasn’t solved any medical mysteries or counted hundreds of fallen toothpicks in one glance. I doubt he ever will. Do you know something he did do? After years of being a bull in a china shop with his lunch plates, I watched him, a year or so ago, carefully pick up a bowl of cereal and balance it in his hands as he walked from the dining room to the den. Then in the most ginger manner, he placed it down beside him and finished them. Nothing spilled. It was a crowning achievement.
They don’t have a TV show about that. No hardened police vet is sauntering over with an outstretched hand saying, “Way to go on balancing them Frosted Flakes, McGinty. I guess we were all wrong about you.”
No, but it’s still a huge accomplishment and one that to Lucas, is worth more than any cracked mysteries or science fair ribbons.
I don’t love my child because he might be a doctor or a lawyer one day. If you love your child strictly for that reason, then you are loving your child for the wrong reason.
Sorry to put it so bluntly, but it’s true. Make no mistake, it’s commendable for them to reach success and you have every right to be proud if it happens. You don’t, however, need that validation from the world to tell you that your child is special. They already are.
Hospitals can replace doctors at will. Parents, however, can never replace their children, whether they’re verbal or not. Even the wheels that squeak the least would leave an unimaginable hole in their absence.
People will sometimes see a caregiver to a child like my son and remark that the child gives that caregiver a purpose. They will clench your hand and assure that you are essential. They say things like, “What would he do without you?” They can easily see the value in the person giving the care.
But what about my son’s importance? In so many ways, he gives my life a whole different layer of meaning and responsibility. He’s shown me ways to look at the world and redefined what it means for me to be important. People should say things to him like, “You make your dad feel special. What would he do without you?”
If we wake up next week and Lucas has fingerpainted a masterpiece, directed a documentary, and cured the common cold, I will be proud beyond words. I won’t, however, love him any more than I would if he never says a word in his life. He’s not a potential football player, card-counter, or medical marvel. He’s my boy. That’s what makes him special to me.
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