One day a young Buddhist on his journey home, came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey, he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The young Buddhist yells over to the teacher, “Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river?”
The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back, “My son, you are on the other side.”
A couple of years after my boy was diagnosed, I wrote a post in which I claimed that I hated autism. My reasons at the time were sound: I believed that my relationship with my son was broken because I would never understand his world. And as a result, I would never understand my boy.
And that knowledge broke my heart over and over again.
In between the emotional cyclone of inconceivable joy and inconsolable tears that might happen at exactly the same time, in between the excitement over a single word spoken clearly and the fear of the absence of the other thousands he would need to fit in, sometimes it would break me.
And I would mourn what might have been.
In all likelihood, you know someone on the spectrum who is just waiting for you to enter his or her world.
There are games to play, trampolines to bounce on, cuts to kiss, hugs to give; in other words, life to live. And when all of that is enhanced by the cyclone that is sometimes autism, time does tend to race.
So I raced along with it.
And while we raced together, I realized something: I don’t hate autism. Like all the best teachers whom you can’t stand while they’re teaching you, I hated autism. But later, sometimes you realize how much they’ve helped you.
That’s where I am with autism today. I’ve found myself on the other side of the river.
Alongside all our struggles to help the boy grow and develop, he’s helping me do the same. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my boy and autism:
1. I’ve learned to shut up and listen.
2. I’ve learned that colors work best in the right order.
3. I’ve learned that when something makes you laugh, you should watch it repeatedly.
4. I’ve learned that bouncing like Tigger is the best thing in the world.
5. I’ve learned that being carried is OK when you’re tired.
6. I’ve learned that making faces is sometimes the best way to communicate.
7. I’ve learned that floating on your back looking at the clouds as they roll by is the absolute best way to spend a day.
8. I’ve learned to laugh when you’re laughing, cry when you’re crying, sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, and play when you’re awake.
9. I’ve learned that when you don’t feel the need to fill every quiet moment with words that people really listen when you do speak.
10. I’ve learned, as The Buddha did before us, there is no side, there is no river, there is no box that everyone should fit in.
Once I saw things for what they were, my boy and I connected. I found my son.
Which isn’t that always the way with every kid, even those who aren’t on the spectrum? If we want to connect with our children, we have to enter their world. My boy’s world may be harder for me to enter (I do, after all, have words to thank for my positions), but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
And for autism’s ability to teach me that, I am forever grateful.
What You Can Do
Since my boy was diagnosed the incident rate for autism has risen from 1 in every 151 to 1 in every 68 children. In all likelihood, you know someone on the spectrum who is just waiting for you to enter his or her world. The Autism Resource Foundation is a great place to start when looking for information about resources but also events, community awareness, leadership, advocacy, and financial assistance.
Once we get outside of ourselves and our own fears and begin the journey to connecting with others, the things we saw as barriers begin to blow away.
Not even the wind moves tonight as I slide the boy into bed.
For the world comes unglued in the stillness,
falling away from me, into night.
And I reach for it
to secure it
draw it into me.
But instead I take his hand
growing into mine.
So I am grounded into now.
Till the wind blows over the moon.
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Dad, hubby and irritator of students and school boards alike, Russell Winn is committed to ensuring that the Huntsville City Schools provide access to the educational support system for every student. When he's not enforcing grammar rules or arguing the ethical minutia of Kant's deontology, he spends his time loving his kids, reading anything by Stephen King or Christopher Moore, and attempting to speak truth to power on behalf of special needs kids. You may follow his rants at www.geekpalaver.com or on twitter at @russwinn.