I read a popular blog that has a regular feature called What I Want You To Know – a series of guest posts from people who want you to walk in their shoes for a moment and understand what their experiences are like. There has been a post there before about being the parent of an autistic child, but it was disappointing and depressing, all about the challenges for the parent and so little of the good stuff. Of course, there are plenty of those sorts of complaints on the internet, but there was something about the title of the series that made me long to write a counter piece of some sort. This is that piece.
What I want you to know about my autistic child is that I love him dearly, completely, unconditionally, not in spite of autism (or because of it for that matter), but because he’s my child and there’s no part of him that I don’t love. I want you to know that he is sweet and clever and has a delightful sense of humor. I want you to know that although he does get upset sometimes and does get overwhelmed sometimes, he is not violent or “aggressive.” I want you to know that he is curious and always learning new things. I want you to know that he loves our family and his little brother is his best friend. I want you to know that he listens and understands a lot, even if he doesn’t always respond when spoken to. I want you to know that if he screams at you to stop, it’s not because he’s being bratty or rude, it’s because he’s very overwhelmed and really needs to regain control of the situation.
I want you to know that all autistic children are unique, just as all people in general are unique. Don’t assume you know what my son is like just because you’ve heard your coworker’s nephew is autistic or you’ve seen a character on TV who has Asperger’s. My son has trouble with verbal language, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t talk at all, and it certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand what you’re saying. He has a knack for music and he loves machinery, but that doesn’t mean he’s a prodigy or a genius – and he doesn’t have to be. He’s just a kid. You might wonder how to talk to him if you meet my son, how to interact. You really can’t go wrong if you just treat him like a human being – that is, with respect and kindness.
I want you to know that I would rather you ask questions than make assumptions. I’m not ashamed of my autistic child – it’s not an embarrassing or sensitive topic for me to discuss with you. But, fair warning, I might get offended if you say something prejudiced or disparaging about autism. I will bristle and feel annoyed if you recommend any so-called treatments or cures or special diets that you think will “help.” Even so, I promise to politely grin and bear my irritation if you promise to stay open minded and learn something new.
I want you to know that – guess what! – I think I am autistic too. And I like myself just fine. I don’t want to be fixed, though I do wish that I had known earlier that I was autistic. I wish I knew because for most of my life I thought there was something wrong with me that made me feel so different from everyone else. And it’s a huge relief to know that being different is not wrong, it’s just different. I wish I had known there was a name for people like me – some might brush it off as an unnecessary label, but what it really is is a word for what kind of different I am. And in that word I finally found acceptance and a feeling of normalcy.
So if you ever wonder why I’m keen to slap a label on my child, it’s because I intimately know how it feels to know. Knowing that I am a normal autistic person feels like exhaling after 36 years of holding my breath. I want my son to start out where it’s taken me so long to end up – at self-knowledge, and self-acceptance.
What I want you to know is that life is good. There is no tragedy in this house, thank goodness – we are so lucky. We have our ups and downs like any family, and our particular ups and particular downs might be different from yours, but in the end what I want you to know is that we are a happy neurodiverse family.