What I Tell My Son on the Spectrum When He Feels Left Out at School
Just be yourself. Every parent has said those words to their child. Just be you, and everyone will love you. For many years of childhood, those words can ring true. Then come the preteen years and our children must wonder what the heck we were talking about. It’s hard to tell a child who stands out that being themselves will work out just fine when they’re living the opposite. My son, Jack, is one of the most unique, insightful, hilarious and creative individuals I have ever met. Those qualities aren’t always appreciated by other 12-year-olds. Throw in the fact he also happens to have some social and learning difficulties, and the tween decks are even more stacked against him.
Jack was born a comedian. When he was an infant, his angelic face drew many an admirer on our errand travels. During one such encounter, an elderly woman gazed into his face, cooing with adoration. He responded by blowing a huge raspberry in her face, scaring her half to death. He then broke out his mischievous grin. To this day, his wit is quick and infectious.
When Jack was a toddler, his inner artist began to blossom. I would find Jackie treasures all over the house and in our yard. My candles would be stacked in an artistic tower. There would be mosaics of sticks and pebbles in the garden. The front doorknob would have a smiley face drawn on it. He would yell in protest as I threw out a piece of trash, and moments later, it would be turned into colorful caterpillar.
And then there are the Jackisms. Many of his simple thoughts on life have grown to become cherished family philosophies.
“People are always moving so fast, and they’re missing all the good stuff.”
“When someone is sad or angry, they just need to be hugged. It’s hard to stay mad when someone is squeezing the yucky stuff out of you.”
“Kind people feel warm like sunshine, don’t they?”
Out in the world, he is not afraid to share his love and wisdom with others. He told a grouchy lady ringing up our groceries, “Are you having a bad day?” She smiled and responded, “I’m sorry, does it look like it?” Jack kindly answered, “A little bit. But that’s OK. Everybody has them. Tomorrow will be better.”
How lucky am I to be this boy’s mother? To share my days with him? It’s hard to stay in a bad mood with your very own ray of sunshine living in your home. It’s hard to be unhappy when you’re joined by someone who finds beauty and inspiration everywhere. I often think about the lucky people who will share their lives with him in the years to come. I also think about the unfortunate people who will miss out on knowing him. He doesn’t always fit in so easily, and so many discount those who are different.
Jack is currently in middle school — right in the thick of conformity. Not long ago, Jack came home in tears after someone on the bus told him, “No one wants to talk to you because you’re weird.” I tried to comfort him as best I could. At the end of our conversation, I kissed his button nose and whispered to him, “He doesn’t know the magic he’s missing.”
To Jack and all the magically different children who are trying to fit in, we need you. You color our world. You will write the songs and stories that will inspire us. You will create beautiful art for us to enjoy. Thank goodness we will have your comedic genius to make us laugh when there is so much to cry about in the world. You will create the things we never knew we needed, but then can’t live without.
Right now, you’re in a time in your life when children are afraid to be different. It seems that fitting in is the most important thing. This time will be hard for you. You are too bright and sparkly to hide. But stay strong and be brave because your time is coming. Don’t let the insecurities of others cause you to hide away your gifts. They are afraid. Afraid to be themselves, and therefore afraid to let others be themselves, too.
Before you know it, the tide will turn. The same kids who were trying to be like everyone else will soon be trying to stand out. That will be your time. Your talents and what makes you unique will be right there, perfectly ripe for the picking. That will be the moment to start manifesting your magnificence.
Earlier tonight as I worked on my laptop in bed, a quiet boy snuck up alongside me and placed a folded paper on my keyboard. He knew I had been through a difficult and emotional day. He kissed my hand and said, “Ta-ta for now!” then somersaulted out of my room. I opened the paper. It was a hand-drawn comic strip featuring a maniacal-looking character who first slips on a banana peel, falls off a cliff, gets pinned under a giant boulder and finally ends up in a hospital bed wearing a giant body cast. Underneath were the words, “Things could always be worse. I love you. Jack.” I chuckled to myself. Aaahh, the magic they’re missing.