Autism Awareness Month is upon us and as much as I’m delighted that the subject is receiving airtime, the posts I’m seeing are implicitly negative. Sure it’s hard, and remember I have double the venting rights a la the twin factor.
But we’re getting it wrong, people. There is double the joy, too. Funny, when I woke for my usual Saturday bread baking therapy (cheaper than a shrink) to the words “You’ll Find Joy in Every Bag of Flour We Make.” How apt.
Parents, you’ll find joy in your autistic child, too. No matter what. No matter how they wake you at 2 am while they’re raiding the freezer (like last night) and interrupt what precious sleep your fractured life allows. Or how they clog the toilet instead of remembering to “count 3 sheets” as the reminder cue card on the wall says to do (yesterday). Or how they fail to look for moving cars in a parking lot exactly as you’ve just shown them four times a video model (yesterday).
It’s time we open the bag of each day and expect that joy, because when you stop venting about how hard it is – you’ll see the miracle of what is unfolding in front of you, and appreciate that it has been a gift to be taken places no others have gone.
It’s also time we remember that autistic children are our children for life – and they need to be celebrated, heard, and assisted even when they are no longer cute 6-year olds whose behavior we can more readily excuse as childhood.
I penned this a few weeks back on my W and J’s 20th birthday. It guides me even when I’m worn, and helps me see how profoundly better they have made me.
20 Best Things about my 20 year olds with Autism
1). Honesty. The brutal type. “Did you steal that bagel?” “yes.”
2). Purity. iPods bring joy. So do paint brushes, and large slices of pizza.
3). No judgments. My bad hair day is meaningless to you. As is my snappy mouth, because you love me anyway, just like I love you.
4). Lack of mean spiritedness. My kids will never bully or be unkind knowingly.
5). Easygoing nature. That may not be the case for every autistic individual, but I am blessed that my guys inherited their dad’s disposition.
6). Enjoy the quieter path. My guys’ favorite times are often when there’s no TV or entertainment. They can just be. Wow – what a concept.
7). Truly enjoy the simple things. Rocking chairs, swimming pools, cake & candles, a good song, Mommy’s tickles.
8.) Uncomplicated. First shower, then breakfast, then school, then home.
9). Not afraid. While I can’t pretend to know their inner life, they don’t appear to worry when they enter a room of strangers that these pants make their arse look fat.
10). Trusting. When they’re tired and I tell them it’s just a little while longer to do something hard, they know I mean it.
11). Present in the moment. Truly, what a gift this is.
12). Unbowed by social pressure.
13). Sensory. I love the feeling of my hands in bread dough, or the release of a hot shower pounding on my skin. I also love how J. instinctively smiles while painting, and W. has favorite blankets wrapped on his head.
14). They try. Unlike a typical kid there’s no pushback because I’m not in the mood.
15). Laughable. The men’s discussion group at the annual retreat with parents of autistic kids yielded so many hilarious toilet training war stories that our relatives started asking us for this year’s update each time we returned. (happy to share, PM me. :-)) I still regale folks who don’t know us well with the cheese sandwich sneak from a restaurant – or the dropped dozen of eggs as I was on the phone with work on the other side of the French doors and couldn’t do a thing about it.
16). Endearing. W’s standard greeting to me is to lean down, wrap his arms on my shoulders and kiss my forehead. Priceless.
17). Serendipitous. My kids always know more than you think, and when they show it, we revel. J. stunned everyone last weekend at his bakery job when he stopped work as a colleague put coins out on a counter for him from a purchase, put them into his wallet, then went back to work independently and perfectly on task. We never knew he knew what “change back” meant, but I guess he did.
18). Work hard. If you brain didn’t know how to make your hands open a twist-tie or spread butter on your toast, and it took all your might to make it happen – you’d appreciate what every day must be like for my guys. They work so hard to do what you and I take for granted. In our family we joke that we have individuals who got the work gene, and those who didn’t. My guys did.
19). Easy to please. School vacation days don’t need a grand agenda. Time with a favorite pastime and a trip to the local wrap joint are delight enough.
20.) Lovable, however imperfect they are. My sons have brought me growth that I never would have known by parenting my other kind of exceptional neurotypical kid – the kind of kid everyone brags about. Certainly she is our golden girl, and her smarts and compassion are already making the world a better place. But so are all our autistic children – at age 20, or 2, or 95. So are my W. and my J. If only within me.