Today is Autism Awareness Day. In fact, April is Autism Awareness Month. So much awareness directed toward something I can never quite forget. You see, my son has Autism. It is as much a part of him as his beautiful green eyes, wavy hair, fantastic sense of humor, and bright smile. It’s not something I’d change about him, nor is it something I think he’d want to have changed.
So many people are unhappy with the way they are. They change their hair, makeup, body parts, clothing, anything, just to be happier with themselves, or to make others happy with them. The Son, at 10, is one of the most self-confident, self-assured, and self-aware people I know. This may change as he navigates his teenage years, but for now he’s comfortable with who he is. He can articulate the intricacies of how autism affects his life, even if he doesn’t realize that autism causes them. What a gift it is for him. He’s comfortable being himself. It’s others, including sometimes his father and I, who have the difficulty of accepting him the way he is.
Being diagnosed with Autism means that the Son get a lot of services from the school. He’s had an IEP since preschool. No one has ever contested his diagnosis. Indeed, his doctor once remarked that the Son was one of the kids the cleaning crew could diagnose. One of the services he’s given is social skills training – teaching him how to get along with others in society. I’ve often remarked that it’s those in the world around him who need the social skills training. We can teach him how to deal with them, but they need to be able to deal with him.
Take lunchtime, for example. The Son explained to me that he was trying to sit alone when some other kids wanted to sit with him. He’s trying to decompress while they are trying to spend more time with him. He’s lucky – he’s quite funny and apparently well liked, but he has very little desire to have friends. How can we figure out how to get him to spend more time with other people while at the same time get them to not spend too much time with him? Such are the mysteries of Autism.
He has it easier at home – we understand him here. Still, we fight to get him to be more social overall. That sometimes means accepting that he’s had enough, and other times encouraging him to spend just a bit more time with us. We get him to have dinner with us at the table, but acknowledge that he has no interest in lingering long past mealtime to chat with others. At the same time, we try to be available when he is feeling social. The ride home from school is prime time for him – he’ll talk nearly non-stop during the pick-up time for his younger sister but then head to his room as soon as he gets home. He needs that time for himself. Other times he’ll come to us for a snuggle and a chat before announcing “end of conversation” and walking away. He’s not trying to be rude, he’s just done with interacting and needs time to process.
Those conversations, however brief, are fascinating. The things that come out of his mouth are often heart-breaking or jaw-dropping. He makes observations that most adults aren’t capable of. Maybe all that lack of socializing gives his brain time to produce genious thoughts? Of course, the conversations are also peppered with 10-year-old-boy-isms. He does have some age-appropriate behaviors, even if he tends to express them in language that often sends us to the dictionary.
We just need to finesse certain behaviors so he blends in with society a bit better. At the same time, we need to realize that just because we have certain social needs, doesn’t mean his are the same. He just has just a different way of doing things. Not wrong, just different. He is an like an anagram – same little boy like so many others, but put together a bit differently. Just like Autism = ‘Tis Ausm. And he is, indeed, quite awesome.