Yes, I’m talking to you. You know who you are. You have an autistic child in your family. It might be your grandchild or niece or nephew. It might even be your own child. I know you love him. You want the best for this child. I know you grieve for him. If you had it in your power to give this child a “normal” life, I know you would. But you can’t.
You see, all of these emotions are normal. For every family that must contend with autism – in particular severe autism – there is a period of shock, sadness, and feelings of loss. Loved ones may invest a lot of emotional energy and money into finding therapies – all in an effort to give this child as typical of a life as possible. You are hoping and praying for the day when he makes great strides – talks, plays, uses the toilet, and learns to read. That’s wonderful, because hope is what gives us the energy to keep on fighting for our children.
But you seem to be stuck. You are still caught up in the grieving and all the questions that cannot be answered. You haven’t moved on to acceptance. That’s a problem. Because -while you are busy waiting, praying, and worrying -you have forgotten the child who is right here in front of you.
I know he isn’t always easy. The typical children in the family don’t scream when you take them someplace new. They can eat wherever you go. They love the things you buy for them. When you talk to them, they respond. It may seem like all of the fun things you want to do with the autistic child in your life aren’t possible, and that makes you sad. I get that. Sometimes, those moments make me sad too.
The thing is, you have forgotten what your job is here. Your job is to love and accept this child. As he is right now. Like every child in your life, he needs you too. Yet you seem to be waiting. Waiting for when he can do all the things you would like to do with him. You spend time with the other children in the family, but you limit time with him. He isn’t invited to spend the night. And, because he doesn’t enjoy the carousel, the concert, or whatever – he gets left behind. You figure he won’t notice.
The problem is that you might be right, or at least you will be soon. He doesn’t notice you. He doesn’t know you to be someone he spends a lot of time with. He doesn’t run to you when you come to the door. He doesn’t care if he pleases you. He doesn’t know you love him. Because love isn’t something that is simply declared – it’s shown. And because you are busy avoiding what makes you uncomfortable, you aren’t showing it. You are waiting for him to become somebody you understand.
But this child is already somebody now. He has things he likes to do. They just aren’t what you like to do. He gives affection. He just isn’t going to do so on command. He likes to go places. But those places aren’t going to be loud, filled with people, or in the blaring sun. There are so very many special moments awaiting you both, and you are letting them slip by.
If you want to have a relationship with him, you’re going to have to do better. He doesn’t know how to meet you where you are. You’re going to have to meet him where he is. Find out what he likes. Accept his autistic behaviors. Stop focusing so much on what you want him to be and accept him for who he is. Take joy in him now. Because the day you are hoping and praying for may very well arrive. He is still growing and developing. Still making connections and learning how to be himself in a very strange world. And the time may come when he reveals how very much he noticed all along — and asks you where you were.
For both his sake and yours, I hope you have a good answer.
Do you have a relative like this? What are your experiences?