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To My Son: We Are More Alike Than Different

You were born on a warm Tuesday morning in early spring. A teeny little thing with not a lot of hair. A little round face and a cute button nose. You came into my arms during a planned caesarean. I felt in control. I was healing well, breastfeeding was going well, everything according to plan.

As a baby, you fit seamlessly into our routine, and I coped well juggling your needs alongside those of your big brother, who was just 2 at the time. You rarely cried and seemed content and settled.

With time, you grew bigger. And as you grew, I started to notice little differences. You were my baby, and because you were my youngest, I didn’t see you weren’t reaching milestones as quickly as your big brother had. I thought you would catch up in your own time. And you did, Sonny. I didn’t see it as a problem.

You’d already reached 2 years old and were not saying many words apart from “Mumma” here and there. Instead you blew raspberries and babbled away in a language as unique as you. Still, you knew what you wanted, you communicated with me and I learned to recognize what you were trying to tell me.

By the time you were toddling, I noticed you seemed more fearful, trying to cope with situations that seemed simple to me. I didn’t understand the reason for your meltdowns when we went shopping. I didn’t know why we had to walk the same way each day, why you insisted on the same meals each breakfast, lunch and dinner. I didn’t know why sitting down and listening to a story at playgroup could be challenging for you. Crowded, noisy places seemed to trigger you the most. There was no consoling you besides removing you from the situation.

Why couldn’t I tell what was causing you such distress? There were many times I cried because I felt like I was failing you. I was frustrated with you. I frustrated with myself for not knowing what on earth was happening to my little boy. I so wanted to help you, I simply couldn’t find a way.

There is a moment in my memory that stands out from all the others, one I’ll never forget. It was the day that changed everything.

The author's son, drawing in the sand at the beach

It was August 2015, we’d gone to the beach for the day with all the family to celebrate your baby Zachy’s birthday. We’d had an amazing morning on the beach, the sun was shining, you seemed to be enjoying all the fresh air, fun and freedom that the seaside brings.

Later in the day, we decided to all take a walk along the pier, play on the amusements and go on the fairground rides.

We quickly reached the point of no return. We were almost at the end of the pier when you had a meltdown. I wanted to hold you and cry. I wanted to shout and scream myself. I didn’t understand. I wanted to know what was wrong.

I don’t remember too much about the walk back to our spot on the beach, but it must have been calm. Quiet and reflective. My little boy was different. I knew it then. I just needed to know why. I needed to know how I could help him.

For a while I found myself focusing on the things that made you different. The set rules and routines we had to follow. The manner in which we spoke to you for you to better understand us. What seemed like “fussiness” at meal times and having to present food to you in a set way, beige and plain.

The more I learned about autism, the more I understood the reasoning behind your behaviors. I made it my mission not to change you to fit our way of life, but to change our way of life to include you. We were welcomed with open arms into a community I didn’t know existed. I focused less on things that were challenges and more on what you loved. We have worked hard to get where we are. I soon noticed we were more alike than different, you and me.

You see Sonny, Mummy hasn’t told you, but I have anxiety, too. I get anxious to the point I feel physically ill. I prefer not to be swept up with a crowd, and I’m not too fond of noise either. I wait patiently outside your classroom door, nervous to be around people I don’t know, hands fixed in my coat pocket or unnecessarily scrolling through my phone. I smile to myself. For about 10 minutes, I had been spinning the wheels on a mini toy motorbike in my pocket that I had taken from you before you went into school one morning. Only when I think about it do I realize I’d probably been doing it at some point each day with one object or another. Sonny, I too hate food touching other foods on my plate, and I hate other people mixing my food together. It makes me cross and I will eat it begrudgingly.

It’s OK to be different. Different is good. Different is not less.

Sonny, I may not have always fully understood you, but I do now. And I will go to the end of the earth to make sure everybody understands you — until they see you the same way I do.

My little Sonny Shine.

Follow this journey on To Aufinity and Beyond.

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Illustration via Thinkstock Images