There’s an irony to the fact that finding the stories of special needs parenting’s most difficult moments is actually quite easy. In fact, that goes for any parenting. Looking for a story about a parent crying when no one is around and wondering how they will make it? They have them everywhere. It’s a bummer.
Stories about the ease of raising a non-verbal child with autism, like my son, aren’t as abundant. The prevailing thought process is that being an adult without children is tough. Being an adult with children is harder. Being an adult with special needs children is mind-blowingly difficult. How could anyone do it? Go find a corner.
Like most things online, the truth washes out somewhere in the middle. As the dad to a boy with, what some would call, “severe autism”, I know the hard parts. I have experienced them, lamented over them, and written about them. They’re simple for many people to see, even if those people don’t share in my situation.
However, for every piece of broken communication or intense worry about my son’s future, there are parts of raising him that, because of his autism, make our relationship a lot simpler to manage. Some moments are much easier than it is with other people in our lives.
Do you know how I know Lucas is happy? He’s smiling. How do I know he’s sad? He’s crying. That’s the way I can figure out his emotions. If A then A. If B then B. There’s logic to my boy.
This flies in the face of most others we run into on a daily basis. While so many people like to plaster on plastic smiles, my son does not. His happiness is on display when he feels it. If he’s not happy, you know it.
There’s no big reveal later that he didn’t like something that he pretended to or was trying to impress his friends by pretending to be too cool for me. Those types of things may happen with his older neurotypical sister or others, but it’s not something Lucas does. He wears his emotions on his soggy chewed sleeve.
That sense of transparency goes for everything he does. As much as I hate my son’s insatiable appetite, I respect how open he is about it. When Lucas is hungry, he asks for food. He may have eaten a Thanksgiving dinner ten minutes earlier, but if he wants cake, he’s demanding it. While it can be overwhelming at times and trying to explain “no” can sometimes cause an issue, I’m glad he’s not keeping his needs to himself for the same reasons most people often do. I know who my non-verbal son is, not because he tells me, but because he lives his own personal truth. I see who he is and what he wants in his actions.
Consider this a paradoxical post because there are definitely times when his persistent behavior can be off-putting. Insisting on a quesadilla at 9:30AM can be a lot to deal with daily. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t get annoying to be forced up from the couch as he places his hand in mine and leads me to a food request that I already know I am denying. However, there’s a sense of comfort in knowing I am raising a boy who is very open about being who he is.
The activities I take him to might be hit-and-miss. Trying out a dog park or a bowling alley could go either way and you never know which ones will bring him joy. Even when they do on one day, there’s no guarantee that it will make him happy the next time.
However, the things I know he definitely likes, I know he likes. Give my boy an iPad with YouTube Kids and it’s like sending him to Disney. That’s all he needs to be happy for hours and he makes no bones about expressing it. I might not get it, but I get it.
The difficulty only comes in when I try to expand his horizons and, in all honesty, that’s incredibly important. Just because the iPad makes him happy for an infinite amount of time doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole world out there. He needs to experience it. We all do. So, I try to show him that.
He doesn’t sugarcoat, mask, or pretend. Lucas is Lucas. It’s all on the table and there’s nothing up his sleeve. He doesn’t make a conscious effort to be this way. He just is this way and I respect the hell out of him for it. Whether autism is the reason why or not, it’s a beautiful personality trait. It helps me feel more secure sending him out into the world.
We all should try to be more like Lucas. Express the feelings you have and be the person you are. Don’t make people dig to figure out your motivations or desires. You do you. I know my son does and I try to do the same.
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