When I tell people my son is autistic, they instantly feel bad for me. I can see it in their facial expression and the way the tone in their voice changes almost immediately. It’s never intentional, always genuine, and perpetually with concern, but it hurts my heart. My son, who happens to have autism, does not deserve your pity.
The truth is there is a lot to celebrate about his diagnosis, not mourn. Sure, there are some challenges that make our lives a bit different than the average, but what IS average really?
When you have a child with Autism, you learn to appreciate the milestones that other parents may take for granted. Some would say that we celebrate a little too much at the small ones but I’d argue that we celebrate exactly how we should. Clapping his hands, learning to walk, swimming, riding a bike, reading, writing; all these things that make parents proud are far more than just steps along the way for us with Ryder… they’re cause for celebration.
My son waved good bye for the first time today. He’s 5. And I felt like throwing a party.
Yesterday he took his sandals and put them on the shoe rack for the first time. I cried like a baby.
Tomorrow, he might say Mom for the first time. I can feel it. And when he does, I’ll probably hire a skywriter.
We take nothing for granted. When he smiles, we smile right back. Harder, longer, and with a lot more enthusiasm, too. When he pulls us in close for a hug or sloppy wet kiss, we bend him backwards to nuzzle his neck and lengthen the kiss. When he tugs our hands to the cupboard, we make sure to find what he’s looking for with great exaggeration and high-five. We don’t take anything he does for granted, because he may not do them again for a long time. You truly don’t realize just how much the tiniest little things can be so extremely important until they’re not there. And with autism, they come and go without warning.
We appreciate the beauty that is around us every day. Children with Autism don’t have the same filtering capabilities that neuro-typical children do, and often times can get overwhelmed by it all. This will inevitably cause a meltdown, and sometimes, self-harm.
As parents of an autistic child, we’ve become increasingly aware of the world around us because we have had to; because we need to know what Ryder will be facing at any moment. Loud restaurants, busy parks, movie theaters, even grocery stores; too many places can be far too difficult for him to process and it affects what we do every day. Having to do this forces us to slow down and truly appreciate the sights, the sounds, and the smells that surround us.
When we go outside and there isn’t a car in site, we appreciate the peacefulness with him. Without his enjoyment in the stillness, we would probably ignore it.
When we are at the store and Ryder wants to run and laugh, we hold his hand and laugh with him. Without his excitement, we would only walk the aisles putting item after item into the cart systematically and without any joy.
When we are driving in the car and Ryder is lost in the beauty of the flowers and trees that we pass, we enjoy them with him. Without his wonderment, we probably wouldn’t even notice the pretty colors and the gorgeous landscape.
Ryder is perfect because of exactly who he is. It isn’t until others see your child as flawed, or worse, until you start to see your own child as flawed, that you can truly understand what is important. It’s not his disability, it’s not his disorder, Ryder is who he is inside, and that is exactly who he is supposed to be. Ryder is our son. He is our child. And his milestones are just as important to us as any other child’s milestones, we just celebrate them a lot more often, with a lot more excitement.
When Ryder lifted a fork to his own lips for the first time, I ran around the kitchen screaming with delight. I posted a picture and a video on Facebook. I called my Mom. I considered renting a billboard.
When he took a felt pen and started coloring a piece of paper without eating it, I took that picture and framed it. I posted that on Facebook too. And I called my Mom. She considered renting a billboard.
When he helped me put his shirt on for the first time, I yelled for everyone to come watch. Facebook got another post. My Mom had to call me back because she wasn’t home and only got a voicemail of me screaming. I called about that billboard rental.
We celebrate the differences, not just in our children, but in ourselves. We’ve become better people, better parents even, because of Ryder’s diagnosis.
We celebrate each and every single milestone Ryder has from a simple wave of his hand to his inquisitive looks at gardens and forests. And we celebrate them with gusto.
We are pretty busy celebrating autism, because he’s earned it.