I am often asked when I realized you were autistic, and you are almost always with me when it happens. This is how the question is normally worded, “When did you notice something wrong?” I am usually more polite than this because asking questions leads to understanding. I want to encourage others’ understanding, but I need you to know the uncensored answer to this recurring question.
To be honest, I did not notice anything “wrong.” I was too busy snuggling you and thinking you’re happy flapping was adorable. I loved your little cheerful hops too. I loved the way you looked, listened, smelled, and tasted the world. I loved that you were interested in things beyond your years. I even loved that you were content with more alone time than other kids. I still do love all these things about you.
I noticed you were autistic because people kept pointing out your differences. I noticed because people kept saying you should be talking more. I noticed because I shared a video of you flapping and instead of people thinking it was cute like I did, people were concerned. I noticed because people acted like you were something to be fixed, and if not fixed, pitied.
I did not notice anything “wrong” until the world around us tried to make me believe you were “wrong.”
I think that has been one of the hardest parts of autism for me so far—feeling robbed of just enjoying who you are. It seems to get tainted daily. Over the years, I have realized it is because the world is tainted, not you. You expose the wrong in the world, and sometimes it is so hard for me to emotionally process. I may be sad or mad at times but not because of you. I am sad or mad because the world is not as it should be.
I do better on our outings. It is hard for me to let my guard down when we people, but I am much quicker to come around now. Even when someone is unkind to us, I can see positives. I swallow my pride. I extend grace. I prefer questions, even rude remarks, over avoidance of us. At least people are trying to understand. I can work with that, and so can you.
You were diagnosed at three. You just turned six. I am glad we investigated autism. I am thankful for the diagnosis. We have resources for you we would not have otherwise. We do things you adore. These activities allow you to share how glorious you are. We have met and befriended the coolest people. It led us to your phenomenal school and the best teachers.
The diagnosis has given us ways, not to change you, but to help you connect with others and become more independent.
Looking back, you are the same now as before. You were and still are loving, smiley, and warm. You have never caused a fuss about much. You have always been patient and kind. You remind people a few minutes later if they forgot your turn or request after they have tended to everyone else first. You have always preferred the company of animals over people. You are an introvert, but you enjoy people. Your ability to retain information has no bounds; unfortunately, most people do not understand this about you. You have always hated being talked down to. You graciously dismiss people who do that until they are ready to accept you. They are not your people for now.
Your struggles are similar. You have a hard time regulating your body and your words in high sensory environments. At home, you are the coolest, most calm, and relaxed person in our family. But in high sensory environments, you morph into an incredibly squirrely person. You may hop, pace, run, cover your ears, and repeat scripted words. This is normally when we get concerned looks, the desperate dodges, or the interestingly worded questions.
The vocabulary you have is beyond your years, but you cannot have a social conversation. You can answer factual questions. You started answering open-ended questions regularly lately, but you answer in a word or two. You are very coordinated and have great balance, but you have trouble with your motor skills. Writing is incredibly hard for you, but you use your tablet with ease. You were a late talker but were reading at three.
The list goes on, but the theme remains the same with you. You tend to be very early or very late on everything you do.
I did need help navigating your differences. Things that come easily to others, do not come easily to you. Other things that people struggle to learn, you pick up easily. It is never a clear path. Sometimes we need help clearing the brush to find our way. You need a different way for your different brain, and that is more than OK. We both need supporters as we travel the road less traveled.
We are on display, because of the way you are made. Differences draw attention even when you are an introvert like yourself. I have decided to embrace it, rather than fight against it, for an important reason.
The world needs you. I know this. You are a heart-changer.
You do not have an easy job at the age of six—making the world a better place, one heart at a time. But you are so good at it. You have such peace about it. You are comfortable with yourself. You have always been.
As for me, I don’t always have peace, but I am getting better with your help. I normally pray first, and the answer is almost always to follow your lead. So far, you have never led me astray. You have guided me away from bitterness, resentment, and anger. You have pulled me out of considering isolating us many times. I guess I am more like the world than I like to admit, but you, my dear, are not. That is your gift.
Yes, you are different than most, but certainly not less. Yes, you are on the autism spectrum. For you, there is a mix of good and difficult that comes with that. I did not notice anything “wrong” with you, because you have always been right in a world full of wrong, autism and all. Please always remember that I was, and I am still, so proud of who you are.
Originally published on Finding Cooper’s Voice