Mom, why do you have boobs on your back?” *Gasp* Everyone stopped what they were doing to see my reaction. The youngest kid crouched in a defensive position, anticipating imminent doom. “It’s ok,” I reassured them, “Shay honey, it’s because I’m overweight.” “Oh no Mommy, you’re not fat, you’re beautiful. You just have a large amount of blubber hanging over your belly. But it happens to a lot of people when they get really old.”
Ladies & Gentlemen, it takes a fair amount of grace and experience to look down lovingly at your child and smile, all the while you are wondering just how many yards you could drop kick his body from this distance. A lot of parents probably have these thoughts from time to time, but having a child with Autism ensures that they are a plenty. While each child on the Autism Spectrum is very unique, they do share some basic characteristics. For starters, they get wrapped up in their own world, even obsessed with their hobbies. To top it off, they can be completely oblivious to social boundaries and norms. Yet, it is that out of the box thinking and alien persona that is responsible for some of my most treasured memories. And by alien, I am not referring to the boobs on my back.
Children on the Autism Spectrum can seem and feel out of this world. To cope with these feelings, they retreat deeply into their individual interests. It’s pretty common to walk into their room and see floor to ceiling pictures and diagrams of dinosaurs or locomotive engines. And while other kids are outside playing baseball, mine is on the floor obsessing over the genetic makeup of some rare succulent that only flowers on a blue moon or the second Sabbath in June. Even though these kids usually keep to themselves, they will make an exception to share their knowledge, whether you want to hear to hear it or not. On our last visit to the museum this innocent, college intern was trying to get a group of young, school children excited about dead animal bones. “The Stegosaurus used these long spikes at the end of its tail to fight away the T-Rex.” My son interrupts, “Well actually, the Tyrannosaurus was merely a scavenger. Besides, everyone knows they didn’t even live at the same time. The Stegosaurus is from the Jurassic period and the T-rex is from the late Cretaceous period.” The museum has since asked us to limit our visits for fear we will run off all of their college interns.
Shay’s know it all genius has gotten us thrown out of many a respectable establishment. It’s not that he is bad or rude. Kids with Autism just can’t pick up on social cues and often struggle with the reasons society has certain rules. Shay’s teacher loves to talk about one particularly interesting story time. After failing to get Shay to sit up straight with the group and stop laying on the floor, she tells him to go to his desk. “This is “F ing” Segregation” he shouted at the top of his lungs. Of course, he didn’t say “F ing”. He’s incredibly intelligent and wants so badly to share that knowledge, but the boy can’t carry on a conversation without saying “I know” and “Well Actually”. It’s not easy folks, having a son that knows more than you do.
Thankfully, if you change your perspective, those little quirks can transform into treasured traits. To this day, my son was responsible for one of the funniest and well timed jokes I have ever heard. I needed a lighter for something and I asked my teenage daughter, “Hey K, what are the chances you have a lighter?” She looks at me and pulls one out of her bra. “You keep a lighter in your bra?” Without missing a beat, Shay saved her flame filled brazier with “I usually keep one in my boxers.” The laughs don’t stop there; you need only look at our family photo album. You see, Shay is not the best at taking pictures. The moment you say cheese, he clenches up in these peculiar positions. Needless to say, I have had to rely on taking pictures when he’s focused on other things. Like when he sat outside for an hour with a salt shaker, trying to get his bike tire unstuck from the ice. Or when he got his tongue stuck to the pole in the middle of winter to test the temperature. Of course I poured warm water on it, just after I got the picture with the cell phone. It’s moments like these that really carry you through those tough times.
Don’t get me wrong, we love our son very much and enjoy having him around; when he’s sleeping. He is also a great big brother. He has been taking the time to teach our one year old daughter everything he knows; including her first words. I was telling her to get away from the glass cabinet and she looks at me and says, “I know!” I can just imagine her in a few years when the school is trying to tell her the sky is blue and she interrupts, “Well actually, my brother told me it is a spectrum of colors but your eyes can only see blue.” Even his photo taking abilities have begun to rub off on her. The other day I walked around the corner and found her creating an artistic masterpiece with her diaper. Naturally, I grabbed the camera and said “Cheese!”; a funny look on her face, caught brown handed. At least with these two as partners in crime, we should never run out of stories.
Header artwork by, Kyle’s Art, can be found at: @KyleandFriendspt.2