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When I Realized I Don't Always Need to Explain My Son's Autism

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Two young boys ambled to the side of the gymnasium where the parents were seated watching the older boys’ basketball game and began to climb the bleachers.

I raised my eyebrows and smiled at them in expectation.

“He told us to shut our mouths and then screamed at us,” one of the boys said.

“So, we decided to stop playing,” the other finished.

I knew who “he” was and nodded.

“Boys, stop!” Their father disciplined, “I am sure he didn’t say that.  You’re fine.”

I looked to their father and stood. I transitioned the items from my lap to the bleachers and spoke, “It’s OK. I am sure he said it.  He says it all the time when he is frustrated.  It just comes from a different place than the way we are used to hearing it.”  And to the boys I added with a smile, “I’m sorry.”  And headed to the other side of the bleachers to find Declan.

Fifteen minutes earlier I was in front of four boys, all asking to go to the other side of the bleachers to play cops and robbers. Biting my lip, I stood wondering what to say.  The boys were vaguely aware of Declan having played with him before.  Most games ended with Declan getting frustrated to tears.  Did they recognize he has different needs?  That his brain operates a little differently?  That he has autism?

Do they even know what autism is?

Four boys stood expectantly waiting.  How was I supposed to explain?  Declan was among them – he surely did not want me to point out that he was different. That almost certainly wouldn’t make him feel good.

I looked to the oldest boy, the one that is so kind and way wiser than his years.  The one most likely to have picked up on Declan’s different needs.

“Are you OK taking the boys over there?” After the boy nodded, I added, “Declan really likes to play with you guys.  I will keep checking on you.  If he becomes too much, just let me know, OK?”  The boy nodded and off they went.

I sat, cautiously watching the basketball game, peeking over to the side of the bleachers every few seconds.  Every couple of minutes, I would go check.

As I neared, I would hear the boys ask Declan, “Why do you spin around so much?”

“Because I like it.”

“Why do you shake your head so much?”

“Because I like it.”

I would give an inquiring thumbs up to the oldest boy, asking if everything was OK.  A head would nod in return – everything was OK.

Eventually, Declan hit his regular frustration point, and the boys finished playing.  I collected Declan and we started for home.

As I was driving, I started to think about the people that may know Declan has autism in that room.  There were only a few.  Maybe the others wondered why he stares at the lights, or shakes his head or spins. Maybe they wondered why he says the things he does, but just never asked.

Sometimes I need to explain.

But I also realized sometimes I don’t.

The boys were asking Declan about himself. He was able to explain himself.

And “because I like it” is a perfect answer.

Declan had a good time with peers away from me.  He was able to express himself – and I was thrilled for him.

I wasn’t the only one happy for his playtime.

On the way home Declan stated, “I played with those boys once in 2017 and it did not go well at all. I played with them again today in 2019 and it went great.  I hope to see them again soon.”

Know what?  Me too!

Getty image by Mutovin.

Originally published: April 3, 2019
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