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What I Wish for My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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A wave of nostalgia swept over me as we drove past my 15-year-old son’s former daycare on a cold, dreary January day. It seems like just yesterday I was dropping off my boys (and most of my paycheck) to that glorious setting where they were cared for and loved. But those days have disappeared as quickly as the snowflakes hitting my windshield. As I lingered at the stop sign deep in melancholy,  I wished I could go back, if only for a moment.

I glanced over at my son, sitting next to me in the passenger seat, staring out the window. Although his face is now more mature, wearing glasses and in desperate need of a shave — the look on his face still seems the same. He appeared to be deep in thought, almost concerned, as he stared out the car window. And just like I did all those years ago when he was a toddler tucked safely in his car seat staring out the window of the back seat, I wished I knew what he was thinking.

I smiled as I pointed at his old daycare playground, “That’s where you used to play when you were little.” He looked in the direction of the playground but didn’t say a word. Then I recalled a wish I had in those early days. Every day as I approached that playground at pick-up time,  I wished that just once I would not find him playing alone. I felt that same ache in my chest as I did back then.

Pushing that ache to the side, I took another peak at my boy, who still hadn’t responded but was staring at the playground. I wondered if he was trying to remember when he played there and with whom. It was a long lonely time ago — for me.

I had so many wishes back then when I felt something was “wrong” with my son, but had yet to see all that was “right.” As I watched the daycare, the playground and my son’s childhood slowly disappear in the distance, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear-view mirror. I had no doubt the wishful face all those years ago looked younger and less wrinkled than it does today. But the face staring back at me now is wiser, more educated and more aware.

Ryan and I spent the rest of the ride — as we almost always do — in comfortable silence, so my brain had plenty of time to reflect on how my wishes have changed over the past 10 years.

My wishes then:

For him to fit in.

For him to “be like everyone else.” (Most guilt-ridden wish. Ever. I’m sorry, Ryan.)

For “it” not to be autism.

For him to eat more than one thing.

For him to never need a haircut, his teeth cleaned or a strep test.

For him to talk to me.

For him to know how much I love him.

For him to connect with me.

For him to connect with his brother.

For him to tell me about his day.

For him to say, “I love you” just once after the 50 times a day I told him.

My wishes now:

For him to feel confident and comfortable wherever he is.

For him to be exactly who he is and never be anyone other than that.

For him to feel happy and loved.

For him to be accepted.

For him to find success, in his way, in his time.

For him to believe in himself as much as I do.

For others to take the time to see how fabulous he is.

For the world to be more accepting of different.

I wish I had know then what I know now.

I wish I could go back in time and realize my wishes then were my wishes, not Ryan’s.

Some wishes don’t come true. For that I am grateful. Because you see, most of those wishes I had for Ryan then weren’t really for Ryan, they were for me. Ryan did show me his love, even though he may not have said it. Ryan was connecting with his brother, he just didn’t connect the way I expected him to. Ryan was eating the only food his body would allow, not trying to be difficult. And dental cleanings and strep tests really do suck.

It’s OK to wish, and I still do. Today I make sure the wishes I have for my son are his wishes, because those are the only wishes that really matter, then and now.

Follow this journey on The AWEnesty of Autism.

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Originally published: February 17, 2017
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