When People Ask If My Son With Autism Has a 'Special Power'

“So what is Adin’s special power?” a close friend asked me, straight-faced and well-intentioned.

I scrunched up my face. “What do you mean?”

She persisted. “You know, they all have something they are really good at.”

Crickets. And then it clicked. This was the “Rain Man” question! Dustin Hoffman portrayed an autistic man in a 1980’s movie called “Rain Man” that gave much of America its first glimpse of autism. Hoffman’s character lived a life ruled by routines and rituals from which there could be no deviation. He had difficulty making eye contact, engaging socially and was institutionalized. With all of these challenges, he had a special power. He was a savant and could compute complex calculations in his head.

I mumbled sarcastically, “Adin loves to spin the wheels of his toy cars. Oh, and he can also spin the wheels of his toy trucks. I don’t want to brag but he can spin anything that is spinnable. He has a talent for it and he is the best at it. Spinning is his special power!”

The world took a few more turns and another friend asked my wife the same question over coffee. Well aware of the snarky reaction I would get, I thought of Adin’s mastery of  jumping. He is a kinetic wunderkind. He can jump on the couch and off of it, from the tops of staircases to the hard ground below, into a pool and for hours on a trampoline. At jumping Adin has no equal. Jumping is his special power!

When Adin was born, we were a young family with a beautiful daughter, excited by life and the journey we were taking. Adin had other plans. He was diagnosed with autism shortly after his second birthday and is bringing us on a different journey, one we never expected to go on. We re-packed our bags to join him, and I discovered something on the way.

Adin is magic. With limited speech and a blinding smile, he communicates pure happiness. He gives unconditional love, hugs and a kiss on each cheek to those he cares about. He will introduce you to people you may have otherwise never met, like amazing teachers, medical professionals and caregivers working tirelessly to ensure Adin and others with autism and their families have full meaningful lives.

Adin can create a tent out of blanket and then watch a video underneath it and be at total peace. He taught himself to expertly dribble a basketball with both hands while running through the house. He will draw you in with his infectious laugh when tickled or doing something he knows will make you proud like finally putting his head underwater in the bathtub.

Adin teaches that small steps are accomplishments and must be celebrated. Happiness comes from little things like a ride in the car to get fries or an afternoon of swimming together. Adin forces me to take a break from my hectic day so we can watch TV, walk in the woods or play in the backyard.  And when I do, the light in his eyes shows just how proud he is of me, too.

So go ahead, I’m ready. Ask me about my son’s special power.

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