My Son’s Autism Diagnosis Has Helped Me Better Understand Him

The wind is brisk, the animals have fled, the leaves have blown into the neighbor’s yard and there is one sad geranium plant making its last stand on the porch. I live in a place where I will have to wear socks, maybe a few layers of them, for the next five months. As cozy as a warm fire can be, it’s that time of year when I need to consciously remind myself of all of the things I am thankful for: the right to vote, my wonderful and loving family, our snug home, this supportive online community, and my son’s autism diagnosis.

Early on in the journey of referrals, diagnosis and therapy plans for our young son, more than once I lamented, “Why him?” The day that a team of stone-faced adults sat me down at a table and used the label autism spectrum disorder in reference to my child, I was frightened. I struggled to imagine what this meant for his future opportunities and how he would find his place in the world. I left in a stupor and cried onto the steering wheel because, somehow, it changed things.

Two years later, I have come ‘round to a new understanding. I experienced sadness about the expectations I once had, and, I’d like to think, I’ve found some peace. The label really changed very little. I’m still in love with my son. He has challenges and strengths like any other child. The label changed my perspective, but not my son.

Now, there are systems in place to help him and help me. We have a lovely visual, velcro daily schedule that makes our mornings more manageable. We pre-plan acceptable clothing and food choices the night before: no laces, elastic waistband, only crunchy, in the green bag. Is it a gym day or a music day? Check the calendar for the shoe or for the note symbol.

Homemade crossing guard flags
Homemade crossing guard flags

My son does what makes him happy and brings him joy, and I am learning so very much. I am learning the intricate details of the crossing guards at school. “Two whistles means flags out!” I understand exactly how to carry and to re-shelve a library book. I know the body language of wolves. We collect sticks and rocks. There are topics and activities where he is brilliant. His engagement is so palpable to me that I think he physically shines.

To say I never thought I would do these things is an understatement. I never imagined it was possible to be so focused on what could be built using only the black Lego pieces. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a visitor in an alternate world. It has many recognizable pieces, but the rules are a bit unexpected. And sometimes I am pushed to put feelings into very plain words that perhaps I would rather avoid.

I would not change my son for anything in this world. He makes me a better parent and person, bending me to meet him where he is at on any given day. He encourages me to care a little less about everyone else and to appreciate that he is having me practice safely crossing the street. I have begun to find myself thinking, “What if it were not for autism? Would I notice? Would I take the time? Would our relationship be what it is today?”

I am thankful for autism because with the label comes a better understanding of my son, and that is truly a gift.

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