One of the most curious situations are those in which, after telling my son has autism, I hear people say “Oh what a pity …” or “Gee, that’s too bad.”, always followed by a facial expression of empathy and solidarity, which is very nice … but not necessary. Really. Autism so enriched my life and consequently, of all ‘ around me, I think everyone should know.
The load that the word ‘ Autism ‘ contains ‘ and such, that almost all assume that autism is synonymous with unhappiness. Autism? … damn, tragedy, catastrophe! Actually, I love to see the expression of surprise when, in this case, I tell them I don’t need (nor should they) take pity on me and our family. We’re happier than we would be if we had not the presence of our son in our lives.
I consider it my duty to explain patiently and lovingly to those people, that it is not really like that. I do appreciate their solidarity and empathy, but they need to know that autism can also be a blessing!
Through my (voluntary) work as an autism advocate, I receive many messages from parents of autistic children. Some stories touch me deeply. Mostly, families that have overcome the initial sadness, to enjoy the blissful of unconditional love for their children who are no less than others, but just different.
This concept (unconditional love) has changed its meaning to me, after the birth of my autistic son. Until then, I thought all the love of parents for their children was unconditional. After all, we do it all for them and we expect so little … Yes, we hope, even briefly, for something: that our children are healthy, smart, that they will laugh, learn to sit up, crawl, walk, talk etc. In fact, we (parents) constantly impose conditions to our children; we’re just not always aware of it.
It is so easy to fall in love with that baby who smiles back to us. To love that cute baby who gives his first steps in our direction, looking into our eyes. It’s so wonderful to love that adorable little thing who calls us ‘ daddy ‘ and ‘mammy’. It is also so easy to love that child who is just learning how to write and read, and brings us a drawing done at school. The same one that plucks little flower at the Park and gives it to you, while he tells you are “the best MOM in the world! “.Later, we are proud of our teenager who just goes to College, get a girlfriend, graduates, gets a job, a house and builds a family. Even when our neurotypical kids do not behave according to our expectations, we continue loving them, sure … but always hoping that they will eventually change – which ends up generating conflicts, sometimes as many consider it as a sign that they are not fully accepted. After all, not everyone attends college or get married! But the secret lies in the POTENTIAL of every child. Because even if our children end up not doing what we’d dreamt for them, they CAN (have the potential to) do it. But in our case, life (God?) presents us with a different child, an autistic child. Without any instruction manual, we have to make our minds give an 180-degree swivel to understand how his little head ‘works’. And despite the initial shock and fear for their future, we learn to love her in unimaginable ways to other parents (without special children). For them, it must be difficult to love:
-the 1-year-old baby that still doesn’t smile;
-the other child of 2 years that walks like a little robot and does not listen when we call out her name;
-the little girl of four years who doesn’t speak, instead screams and cries like a baby;
-the boy of 6 years who beats you, screams, throws himself on the floor, leaving us between nervous and embarrassed about the prying eyes of those who witnessed an autistic tantrum;
-the one you child, called by her name that won’t’ look back at you, and sometimes doesn’t even seem to realize that there’s someone around;
– the10-year-old girl who spread poop on the curtains again, or get your vase or plant
scribbles on the walls for the tenth time, during that one minute you go to the bathroom;
-the 12 years old boy of who you need to hide the house key to the house so that he won’t open the door and run away, or jump from the window;
-the odd teenager, with no friends, obsessed by a single interest;
-the young man who, in spite of his intelligence, can’t make friendships and is rejected by classmates for being different.
You – who patiently (or sometimes not quite) collects all the clothes that your son took of cabinets;
You – who don’t dare to take an object from its place in his room;
You – who see your child’s bedroom lights go on and off 10 times while you put clothes (the curtains with poop?) in the washer;
You – who is excluded from some social circles because your child does not behave;
You- who have been changing diapers for longer than a decade;
You – who become a specialist in dinosaurs, aliens or the universe;
And and you, who tries to explain to anyone willing to listen, that you wouldn’t trade your child for any other of this world …
Congratulations: YOU managed to learn the meaning of true UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
We, parents of autistic children, live in a strange and incomprehensible reality to the rest of the world. Whether it is better or worse, will depend on each family’s the capacity of acceptation.
As an individual and the mother of an autistic son – so weird as loved – I refuse to see a ‘half-empty glass’. My son, now 16 and able to talk himself about autism, has taught me that actually, the glass has always been half-full. It depends on the angle we observe the same glass.