My Son on the Autism Spectrum Will Determine His Own Future

When Leo first received his autism spectrum diagnosis four years ago, I immersed myself in all things autism.

I clung to every story or inspirational video depicting individuals with autism who had “overcome” such immensely defying odds. One would be hard pressed not to draw some semblance of hope from their journeys.

I certainly did… and still do — albeit perhaps from a relative distance, now a days.

These stories are shared with increased frequency during the month of April. And I still draw hope, admiring their stories of strength, and in awe of their inspiring journeys.

Whether it be the Carly Fleischmann’s, Kerry Magro’s or Temple Grandin’s of the world — all of whom I adore and greatly admire — their stories have done an incredible service for the autism community. Not simply providing hope, but dispelling myths and stereotypes along the way.

I recently watched Carly Fleischmann on Stephen Colbert’s late night program, interviewing him with her familiar sharp wit, and marveling at her talent, courage and resiliency, as she showed the world she — and others on the spectrum — are capable of achieving their dreams.

So why are these stories now different?

There was a moment, very early on in Leo’s diagnosis, I unknowingly set expectations for my boy and for myself. Looking back, it’s as if autism was my “nemesis.” One I would do everything in my power to sufficiently ensure Leo was able to “overcome.”

My boy would one day soon speak, he would grow up to live a functionally independent life. He would be just like Temple Grandin, or Kerry Magro, or so many other incredible individual with autism, overcome challenges, and stereotypes. He would show everyone he was more than a diagnosis or a set of symptoms laid out on a piece of paper.

Four years have passed and while hopes and dreams for my boy still shine as vividly as the day he was born, the day he was diagnosed with autism — and each day sprinkled throughout — my expectations of what success and happiness mean for Leo have evolved tremendously, along with a deep and abiding sense of pride for everything he has accomplished thus far: the big, the “small”and every moment in between.

Four years since I heard the words, “Leo meets all the criteria for autism spectrum disorder,”and in many ways, the progress he has made has equally magnified the reality of the challenges he faces. Challenges he may always have to face in some way.

I used to pray that Leo would have the opportunity to live independently as an adult, as if this was somehow a true measure of happiness for my boy.

Seven years old is still too early to know with certainty where the future will take Leo as he grows into a man. The only true certainty, as I say so often, is that his future is still so uncertain in many respects.

The one certainty that exists above all others is that love will follow him wherever he goes. That is the one expectation I can rely on freely and without question.

He may not be the next Temple Grandin, or Carly because as parents of children with autism, we all are acutely aware that our children — regardless of the commonalities which may be embedded within autism — are individuals. The fact remains that no two individuals on the spectrum are the same, and they should always be afforded their own individuality.

Leo is unique, and special, hilariously funny and sweet. He is autistic, and I cannot define what happiness is or will be for him any more than a parent of a typically developing child can for theirs.

Leo is so much more than his diagnosis. He always has been, and doesn’t have to prove it for that to be true.

Without any doubt, Leo’s purpose in this world will never be defined or mitigated by my, or anyone else’s expectations for him.

Follow this journey at Life With Leo.

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