Thursday, April 2, 2015

My son doesn’t know he’s autistic

Wearing blue for #LIUB
Last night while my husband was changing the lightbulb outside to the blue one he’d purchased for Light It Up Blue today, David asked what we were doing.

“We’re lighting it up blue for you tomorrow,” his father told him while wielding the ladder back inside. “You like it?”

“Why for me?”

“Because you’re autistic.”

“I know I’m artistic but what does that have to do with the blue light?”

It hit me then that we’d never actually called David autistic to his face. We’d never sat him down and explained what it means to be on the spectrum and while his entire life has revolved around being autistic to us, he’d never seen it as anything but his own life.

I wasn’t a fan of labels when he was diagnosed. I just didn’t like thinking of people as anything but people and denounced it when he was little. We always spoke of autism with hushed tones in our house not because we’re ashamed of it (quite the contrary if you know us at all) but because I didn’t want people identifying him by a condition instead of his name. I wanted him to just be David, my oldest son, not David my autistic son.

As he got older though, I realized that labels, when self-appointed or used to self-identify could be positive and should be encouraged. When my youngest came out, he wasn’t my gay son but… he was. When my daughter started dating a girl, she wasn’t lesbian, she self-identified as bisexual. But I never thought of David self-identifying as autistic even though, I’d started using the label when talking about my kids to anyone (and everyone as I’m just too damn proud of them not to talk about them to anyone who’ll listen) except that he didn’t self-identify as autistic because he doesn’t know he has autism.

For nearly 19 years, he’s lived his life in a special needs classroom, with kids just like him. He’s referred to kids outside of his classroom as “normals” but not because he thinks of himself as abnormal but because that’s what his classmates call them and he tends to follow the crowd. I realized yesterday that while we have worked hard to bring awareness to everyone he comes in contact with about autism, we didn’t make HIM aware of it.

15 years of school, 3 years old to 18 years old
We didn’t raise him differently than his siblings though he had some modalities in place to help him learn some of the tasks that came naturally to the others. We didn’t emphasize his difference any more than allowing him to work through his tics in public by not drawing attention to him so he could return to the group on his own terms. He didn’t have many meltdowns because we looked for ways to avoid them and we diffused the situation when we saw one coming. He didn’t feel isolated because,  as a child, we always encouraged him to play with others and we encouraged other children to invite him to play without forcing him to participate. We let him go to his room when the parties at home were too loud or the social interaction was too much for him. We participated in his classroom activities like we did in those of his siblings’ and while we knew he was different, it wasn’t until he became an adult that we started treating him differently.

You see, as an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we have to prepare him for a world that’s not as insular as his life has been while in school. He has to work. He has to learn to drive. He has to prepare himself for self-sufficiency and he has to know that others will call him autistic to identify his needs as much as to identify him. I just hadn’t thought he didn’t already know but why would he? He’s David. Just David. Autistic. Artistic. Awesome!