I did something scary tonight.
I submitted an essay.
Parenting.com is hosting an essay contest entitled, "This Is What Autism Looks Like." It's an effort to make the voices of parents and autists alike heard, instead of letting their stories be told through statistics (and 25-year old movies starring Dustin Hoffman). It's a noble effort, and exactly what I want the media to be looking for: less alarmism, more understanding. Less discussion of "causes" and more celebration of differences.
So, I had to submit. It's scary for me, because I've never really submitted anything before. I've daydreamed and vented and whined here in my safe little haven, but have never really had the guts to put myself out there--beyond my little circle of family and friends and Twitter followers, who are unfailingly nice to me.
I had to, this time.
So, for the parent whose child has just been diagnosed and is desperate for a "cure," for the friend, neighbor or family member who feels they are always on the outside looking in, or simply for the curious: this is our autism.
So many people think they know what autism looks like. The word conjures images of all of the stereotypical symptoms and challenges - the rocking, the humming, the meltdowns. The words that never come, or - worse - arrive, only to vanish in the wind.
Our autism was at first more about what wasn't, rather than what was. There was no rocking, no humming, no head-banging. But neither were there words - any words. No "Mommy," no "Daddy," no baby talk or babbling. There were no typical play skills, no following directions, or even responding to the call of a name.
But then, as we began therapy, the "was"es inched out of their hiding places, one by one. First, there was good eye contact. Then, halting and timid, came speech. There was the joy of hearing "Mommy" for the first time at more than two years old, and the heartbreaking gratitude at the words, "I love you" by nearly three. There was shock and celebration at the first sign of pretend play - the words "I'm a pirate!" were never more precious, nor did two parents ever make more fools of themselves at the sound.
No one knows hard like an autism parent, but no one knows joy and pride in quite the same way, either.
In the time since we received our son's autism diagnosis, we've learned that the things that ARE matter so much more than the things that are NOT. Our autism has revealed to us the strength in family, the support of community, the value of patience, and the payoff of hard work.
Our autism is different today than it was last year, and even more different than the year before. Two years post-diagnosis, our baby boy defies expectations, has a mind like a steel trap, and slays the hearts of family, therapists, and preschool teachers alike.
This is love. This is our autism.