What You See


Written in December 2016

I was at the pool with two of the kids one evening last summer. It was a particularly grueling, humid season and this was our nightly routine to find a little relief and relaxation.

As we were getting ready to leave, I did what I always do – help my son dry his hair, and wrap his towel around him. It suddenly occurred to me that this could appear to be strange – a mother “coddling” a strapping, 5-foot-tall, 12-year-old child by helping him dry off. But the lessons of this journey never end, and one of the most important thing it’s taught me is that what you see – what you think you perceive – isn’t always what it seems.

You can’t look at my kid and “see” that he’s different. You can’t see his autism or his mood disorder or his cognitive delays. You see a tall, cherubic boy with long, luscious dirty blonde ringlets that leave his sisters envious. You see a kid who, while his speech isn’t crystal clear, can communicate his needs. You see an adolescent child who still needs help drying off.

What you don’t see is that the same kid who needs mom to dry him off at the pool can also visualize a complete, working candy machine made of Legos – and then manifest it into reality. And that he’s got a million solutions to practical everyday problems but lacks the materials, dexterity, and engineering skills to carry them out.

What you also don’t see is that if these things he imagines in his insanely inventive mind don’t work out perfectly when he tries to create them, he could react “normally”, by expressing frustration and then moving on to something else. Or, depending on what’s going on in his brain at the time, could very possibly react as a toddler would – by kicking, screaming, stomping, breaking things, and retreating into a place in his own mind where no one can reach him.

The face of autism and the cherubic face of the physically healthy, creative, sweet child are the same face. They share the same body. Developmental disabilities live inside the same space with amazing, bright, kind children with tons of potential. Our job as autism parents – and siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers – is to help them utilize their gifts despite their challenges.

What do you want people to know about your special child? What don’t they see? Share with me in the comments. This blog is for you. You are not alone!