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Why I Cried After My Son With Autism Pulled Me Into the Kitchen

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My son, Owen, pulled me abruptly off the couch by my arm. Just because he can’t talk doesn’t mean he can’t get his point across. He made it clear he wanted my attention, and anything I was doing needed to wait.

I had my headphones on and was watching a YouTube video explaining the fundamentals of meditation. I set it aside and followed him into the kitchen, feeling only slightly bothered.

“What’s up, buddy?” I asked him.

He climbed on top of the counter and sat on his knees — his favorite way to eat — and pulled over his plate of pizza. Before taking the first bite, he made one of his sweet cooing sounds, reached his arm around my neck and put me in a gentle headlock.

I was surprised at first. My nose was pressed softly in the nape of his neck. It was then he picked up a cheesy slice and took a bite. I could feel the muscles in his jaw moving as he chewed. I stayed perfectly still.

He picked up his cup and took a long drink of water. I could hear the liquid swish down his throat. I dared not move.

He set the cup down and loosened his grip on me just enough to get a good look at my face. He gave me a calm, comfortable smile. He continued to eat and drink, and I continued to savor the moment. I kissed his neck softly, and he smiled as he chewed.

Shelly Fraley the mighty.3-001

There are so many children with autism (and without) who don’t desire physical contact or cuddling. When Owen was diagnosed that was my biggest fear. Would my child want me to hug him or not? I didn’t think my heart could handle it if he didn’t. Sometimes I remember that feeling of fear when he blesses me with moments of physical affection. This was one of those times.

A rush of emotions flooded over me, and out of nowhere, tears streamed down my face and onto his bare shoulder. I whispered, “I love you,” in his ear over and over. He continued to eat.

I finally pulled away to wipe my tears and gather myself. He reached for the dish towel next to the sink, dried the tears from his skin and continued to eat.

I smiled as I watched him. I wondered what it was like to not subscribe to any of society’s norms. He didn’t feel the pressure to ask me why I was crying or if I was OK. Was there a blessing in that?

This beautiful soul, who has brought me to my breaking point and back, is paradoxically also the greatest gift. I have screamed at the top of my lungs with him. I have cried with him and alone. I’ve made bargains with God that I wasn’t even sure I could keep. And through it all, this boy has been my greatest teacher.

To learn to fully appreciate every act of love is one of life’s greatest lessons. Owen taught me how, and I’m forever grateful.

Originally published: August 17, 2015
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