Why I Can’t Stay Angry At My Non-Verbal Son

It’s early in the morning and the little amount of time I left my non-verbal son to sit in bed with his iPad was way too much. Due to impatience, he has thrown most of the items in his room over the doorway gate and into the hallway. He’s taken his clothes off and knocked the anchored TV off the stand so that it dangles like a flat rectangular bungee jumper. The scene resembles a science fiction movie right after the star has transformed into a monster.

Obviously, I’m annoyed. He does this often. I was just taking a few minutes before going in to get him and wanted one – one – lousy cup of coffee. Once I lay my eyes on the insane scene before me, I break into exaggerated pantomime to show him how unhappy I am. It’s like watching a game of extreme charades as I try to match my verbal energy to my gestures. Any little bit of communication helps. I want him to know this is wrong.

Lucas. No! Look at me. No. We don’t do this. This is bad. No.

He scrunches up his face and wags a finger back and forth to show he understands. Sometimes I think he just does it to shut me up. Still, I persist.

Keep in mind, I’m not screaming or freaking out. That doesn’t help or get any point across at all. Rather, I have to speak firmly and seriously so that he knows I am not happy. From there, I try to show him through motions and facial expressions that this is the wrong thing to do. It takes patience on my part to parse all this out even when I’m at my wit’s end, but it’s the only approach that works. Finally, with a slight huff, I start cleaning up. I have him help by putting things into his toy box.

Then, just as I’m on my hands and knees finding pants and torn books under his bed, I feel a hand under my chin. He tilts my face up to see him standing over me. It’s like a bible story. I peer upwards and expect a beam of light to shine from behind him.

With his hand on my chin, he looks down and smiles.

I sigh.

And I give him a hug. He giggles, kisses me, and we move on with our day.

father son autism

If Lucas was neurotypical, a morning like this would be a full day of awkward side glances and muttered comments about how “You yelled at me” or “I don’t know why you don’t listen.” I know this because my daughter is not on the spectrum and we have had sporadic bouts of that. With Lucas though, conflict is fleeting.  Like Kaysar Soze. Poof – it’s gone.

I know when people read a headline like “Why I Can’t Stay Angry At My Non-Verbal Son”, they assume it’s a commentary on his cuteness. It is and it’s not. It’s more literal. I can’t stay angry at him because he won’t let me.

I love that. It is one of his best qualities and one of my favorite things about how autism affects him. It’s a quality that makes me feel more connected to him than anything because it’s how I like to approach life too.

For as long as I can remember, I just let things go. Sure, there are exceptions, but unless an issue is major or seems to happen repeatedly after attempts to fix it, I’m good after a regular one-and-done conflict. Once it’s finished, I like to drop it and just move on. Can’t change what happened. We can only change the future. As long as we are in agreement and move forward, I don’t need to stew in the corner with a boo-boo face.

Sporadic issues don’t last all day for me. Life is short and my quintuple bypass in 2012 reminded me that the small fight you have today might be the last one you have. One of my best friends died in 2019 and we hadn’t spoken for years when he did. Why? I don’t know. That’s how little that conflict was. What’s the point? I may not know everything I want from life, but I know what I don’t want. I don’t want that.

Lucas gets it. He sees the scene the same way I want to. Something happened. Dad was mad. He made me clean up and showed he was angry. I will try to avoid that next time. Now we smile, hug, and eat Pirate Booty. 

lucas laptop chair

Some people out there might be reading this and thinking, “Well, then how will he ever learn if you just drop it?”

That’s the beauty of it. Lucas doesn’t learn through prolonged discipline or anger. It doesn’t help and he doesn’t respond to it. In many ways, I think he has a hard time tying that lingering attitude back to whatever the initial problem was. Rather, he responds to the immediate reaction I have, and then, once he gets it, he’s done with it. Staying mad doesn’t do any good. It just ruins his day and confuses the message. For my boy, letting go is the best approach.

Me too, pal. I want to foster that attitude and encourage him to never hold a grudge. In those moments of post-wakeup bedroom destruction clean-ups, I never push him off when he tries to hug me or remind him that I’m angry. I embrace him. I let it go. Because, at the end of the day, I correct him out of love. I get upset with his actions because, as his father, I want him to be an amazing adult. But once I express myself and see that he understands, there’s no reason to prolong it. We continue to our happy life and don’t waste time holding on to animosity.

Does autism make him “different” from me in many ways? Sure. But this is one example of how it makes us similar in some of the best ways possible.




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