“He is such a good looking boy” was in the first paragraph of a multipage report spelling out in detail that my son had high functioning autism. You see, it should not have come as a shock. We knew he was a very unusual boy early on. However, having a professional tell you that your son is autistic can still steal your breath. I mean, isn’t this a life sentence?
The countless hours spent building small scale models of museum exhibits. His obsession with ceiling fans. His difficulties with gross motor skills. His need to spin, literally spin through much of his school day. These we were all aware of. Now, we had a name for those behaviors. AUTISM
What we heard with trepidation five years ago has gone from seeming to be a disability to a gift. It does not make my son disabled; it makes him different. So, in this month of gratitude, I want to take some time to not only be grateful for the “good-looking boy” who I get to share life with but also for the very part of him which makes him so special.
My son sees the world differently. He sees minute details that others miss. He can identify species of spiders at a cursory glance. If I can’t find my glasses or keys or phone or ipod – I first ask him. If he has seen it, he will remember with laser like clarity exactly where that item is. His ability to see differently is not a disability; it is a gift.
My son would rather create than consume. He has little interest in using technology for entertainment purposes and instead spends his time using them to create his own content. He involved a whole group of homeschoolers in a B-rated type of horror flick called “Scarecrow.” When his counterparts are up to their eyeballs in video game land, he is creating detailed storyboards for scarecrow’s next scene. Let the murder, mayhem, and fake blood freely run. My son’s desire to create is not a disability; it is a gift.
My son does relate to people differently. Its true. This is where I as a parent have really seen his autism in action. I watch him often with apprehension as he tries to interact with kids of his own age. At times, it does not go well. However, the kids my son does become friends with are some of the greatest children I have ever met in my life. They are smart, tolerant, and authentic. I have learned that my son does have the ability to forge very strong and authentic friendships with others, and again, this is a gift.
I asked my son how he sees his autism – whether it is a gift or not. He told me that he doesn’t like it when people act like it makes him disabled. He has even had kids tease him about his autism in the past, one saying that no girls would ever like him. He said that autism makes him talk differently and that sometimes he likes that but that at other times people misunderstand him – even his own parents.
However, he believes that his autism makes him see the world differently and that he told me is a good thing. He likes that autism leads him to special interests in subjects like science and history and that he loves to research those. And, to say my son explains his autism in this way is perhaps missing the point as well. He didn’t say, “I have these special interests…” He said:
I think about things differently. You know I think about how we get a paper cut and blood flows from that. And I think about how if you cut a tree it is moist but there is no flow. And that is evidence of how our cells differ from plant cells. The plant cells are stuck together but the chloroplasts, which have to do with photosynthesis, do move.
Because you see, that is how my son talks. That is how he sees the world and processes events that you and I rarely even think about. He is not just a “good-looking boy” – his autism has helped shape him into a beautiful boy and I am excited to watch the man he will become.