“Am I glad that I had a *normal* child so that we can experience what we missed?” That’s what I was asked by someone close to me recently. It felt like one of those important moments that in the end left me a little stunned. It is true that with the birth of our second child, a daughter, that we get to experience all the typical things that all parents experience. But when you hear someone else say that out loud it feels very bittersweet. Is it easier with Princess? In many ways yes because she speaks very well, is determinedly independent for a 3-1/2 year old and does not have Johnny’s sensory issues or anxieties. But because Johnny has found some things challenging does that mean his toddler years were lacking? I argue that it was challenging but not in the “terrible two’s or three’s” sort of way. It was “hard” at times because we did not have the resources and knowledge on how to help our son. We were struggling as parents to try and figure things out on our own and grasp in the dark. Our support was an anthem of “he’s 2 he will grow out of it.” “He’s a boy. Boys development differently.” It was also different but not meaning less but in some ways more.
So instead of focusing on what we may have missed with Johnny in the preschool years because he was non-verbal and we choose to think about what he has shown us and his sister every day. He is a happy person who finds joy in the simplest things. Not because being Autistic makes him simple minded but because he literally experiences the world differently. Our world is full of lots of intense stimuli for a person who feels very deeply. You know the sayings “stop and smell the coffee or stop and smell the roses”? Well Johnny IS those sayings. He lives by those sayings every day in every breathe he breathes. He has taught his sister and parents to really look around our environment and not let anything slip by which in a crazy fast paced world we live in now is a great skill to have. The “devil is in the details” saying could have been referring to Johnny. We are standing at the gates of the city zoo last weekend getting ready to depart when someone asked him a question. He looked thoughtful and was not looking our way when suddenly he said “That’s the Rapunzel song Mommy. I can hear Rapunzel singing.” He was smiling while we all stood and shared confused looks because that was in no way even close to the answer to the question he was asked. I have learned to stop and really listen and you know what? I heard the song from Disneys Tangled too called “When Will My Life Begin?” Very ironic in way don’t you think if you think about how she has been locked away in a tower because of her powerful magical hair?
We have had parent training and have been able to attend workshops that we would have probably never attended before. I like to think it’s made us better parents so that our daughter benefits too. But wow we have spent endless evenings away from our children trying to gain the skills to to help our son live to his full potential.
He rarely needs entertaining but instead I have to figure to ways to get him to allow me to do what he is doing. His sister on the other hand knows instinctively how to get involved in his play. On the other hand Johnny is very affectionate and seeks me put often to kiss and big me. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has a natural magnetic ism that draws the children to him. He does not know this yet so he may appear aloof at times but the reality is at that moment one of his ideas was first.
In the end Johnny’s little sister has so much fun with her older brother. She likes seeing the world through his eyes. She is our family’s story teller and loves to do spend many hours doing imaginative pretend play with her dolls. After many years and lots of money not knowing if Johnny will ever enter the world of “make believe” she has taken his hand and he is now going a long with her. I listened last week as she had him diving into their circus tent to get out of the storm in the house and not get wet and try and rescue the dolls from the rain. They would run back and forth and hide from Mommy and then get in to an argument about the baby doll he put to bed whether it was safe from the storm or not. That night it was Johnny’s idea that the big dolls needed their teeth brushed and they should join story time with Daddy too. I honestly can say that I didn’t know whether this kind of play would ever happen for my son. Johnny’s Daddy and I went to different parent training classes and would try and do pretend play Johnny would do a little bit but go off and do his own thing. Maybe its because he’s matured that he is ready for pretend or its the magic of a sibling who he loves dearly and how he calls “my friend.” I truly believe that right now its Princess who is his best teacher right now.
I do not think of what “might ” have because I believe Autism is part of who Johnny is and to truly accept him for the little boy he is. You can not love pieces of him but the whole person. When we weigh the challenges that Autism brings to all the special experiences I would not trade because I would not have my “Johnny” that I know and love and neither would Princess.