It’s hard to write about this topic because there’s so much I could say. My boys are both teenagers now. One was diagnosed 10 years ago, the other about 4. What a ride it’s been!
Daniel’s autism diagnosis came between first and second grades, around the time we discovered he had such a severe ear infection that he’d effectively lost 90% of his hearing in one ear, and 50% in the other. He never said a word. We knew he was quirky. His first grade teacher didn’t like him very much because he didn’t follow directions, and he did “weird” things. For example, if an older kid asked him to eat dirt, he would, just because it was the nice thing to do. He also sat in the back of the class, disoriented and mostly unable to hear, and thus unable to follow instructions. I think Judi and I still haven’t overcome our dislike for the woman who spent 40 hours a week with our son for 40 weeks, and never noticed there might be something different about him.
In first grade, he went from virtually non-literate in September (he knew a few letters here and there, to reading his first Harry Potter novel in December. He has a very good grasp of content, often remembering things literally. Don’t force him to make eye contact. he doesn’t like that. He can’t take notes–his handwriting was an impedement over the years, but we overcame much of this by introducing him to keyboarding skills at around 2nd or 3rd grade. He loves reading, and he’s hilarious! Whether or not he knows it, he’s the king of non-sequiturs, and he often notices peculiar things about the world that nobody else would.
He struggles with his temper, and sometimes forgets it’s not okay to hit. He’s seventeen years old. No, we didn’t beat this out of him, or set him in a corner until he was fourteen. It’s Daniel. I wouldn’t trade his quirks for a “healthy” brain.
Alexander is also smart, and like his brother, much much bigger than most of the people in his class. He’s possibly a math genius. he takes to it at an intuitive level. He wrote his seventh-grade class project on the Laws of Thermodynamics, because he “wanted to teach African kids more about the fundamental principles of science.”
Yet, for years, he struggled with his emotions. If he received too much stimulation, he’d go fetal under his classroom desk, and start bawling (screeching, really). We had to include a self-advocacy clause in his education program in order for him to be allowed to take himself out of the classroom, and get a drink of water or take a walk, when he felt this coming on. It seemed to work well, and he no longer needs the breaks.
He loves video games of all kinds, and his favorite two websites are Wikipedia and YouTube, where he studies gaming strategies with unrivaled intensity. He loves to laugh, and to interact in groups. He took drama in 7th and 8th grade, and particularly enjoyed improv. This is his fourth year in choir, and he loves to sing.
They’re good boys. They have autism. Maybe autism has them. But, oddly, to me it doesn’t really define them. Daniel refuses to accept the label, and Alex takes it in due course but you won’t catch him reading up on it. There was a sci-fi book a few years back, about a world where someone with autism could take a drug regimen and become “normal.” I am certain neither of my boys would take on such a thing. They are both comfortable with themselves, and the autism doesn’t limit them; rather, it defines them. They wouldn’t trade it. Neither would I. They’ve made peace with themselves and I hope others can too.