(Photo: Kimberly Ketcham)
Not too long ago, I picked my son, Adam, up from his beloved weekly art class. It was a pretty typical pick-up. I found Adam, in his methodical manner, returning his brushes one by one in order of size to the container. He returned his blue apron to the same hook and rearranged the rest of the aprons in rainbow color order.
He then returned to his easel and carefully removed his art board from the clips, first the right side, and then the left side, and returned it to his art case. He finally adjusted his signature black “engineer” hat, then put on his jacket.
I have learned after many years just to be patient and wait. While he was going through his routine, another mom, who was walking out the door with her daughter, stops, takes a step back and says:
“Oh, Adam is your son! His artwork is beautiful. I would have never known that he had autism. I’ll be that you sometimes wish that he didn’t, right?”
Now, being a mom of a child with autism for almost 12 years, I am accustomed to the looks, comments, suggestions and the input of what people have “heard” and what people have “read.” I am used to smiling politely when people make “suggestions” as to what I should try, how I should “approach.” As an autism mom, you learn to develop a thick skin and learn to let a whole lot of things roll off your back. However, I have to say, this particular encounter with this particular mom really stopped me in my tracks. And it really surprised me, for I am typically not ever at a loss for words. But this time, I was. All I could do was look at her, raise my eyebrows a bit and walk out the door; and, in retrospect, I hope my lack of ability to speak at that moment was a bit more powerful than any word that ever could have exited my mouth.
That encounter happened almost two months ago. I immediately came home, opened my blog site and started pounding on the keyboard of my laptop. The fact is, anything and everything I was writing was just turning into a rant. I really didn’t feel that much better. So there my words sat… in my draft file… until now.
I read a blog post on Facebook last night entitled, “I Know What Causes Autism.” I found it a hilarious account of all of the ridiculous explanations of what “causes” autism. It really hit me in the gut, for as much as I am curious as to what may have caused Adam’s autism, in the end, does it really matter? Do I wonder sometimes why Adam is different than my two older, typical children? Of course. Do I sometimes wish my son did not have challenges? Sure, sometimes. Would not having autism mean that I would not have to:
- make sure that every restaurant that we go to have chicken tenders and fries on the menu?
- run around town, sometimes to four or five grocery stores in frantic search of Blueberry Pomegranate Gatorade, the only “acceptable” vessel to wash down his medicines?
- pack up all of his favorite foods when we visit friends homes or go on a vacation?
- hurl myself like Superwoman, shielding Adam from even a glimpse of the “evil” strawberry?
- worry that he is being treated fairly by his peers?
When you really get down to it, these “inconveniences” are pretty typical, pretty minor and pretty insignificant. Most of you with typical children can probably relate.
But not having autism would mean that I would not:
- have a tour guide who knows every stop in every order of every Chicago Metra train line, for I will never get lost
- have all of the beautiful artwork that I have decorating the walls of my home
- have a “guaranteed” clean bedroom and an organized (by color…a little excessive) closet
- know the exact day of a week that a photograph was taken based on the color shirt he was wearing
- know the exact date, month and year a significant (and sometimes insignificant; for instance, his sister not turning in homework) event took place
- have two incredibly caring, tolerant, patient typical children
- have learned to appreciate “baby steps” in order to keep the big picture in perspective
- have the closeness we have as a family
- have learned the true meaning of patience and acceptance
The list could go on and on…
So, “Mrs. Art Mom,” to answer your (I’m sorry, ignorant — yes, a part of me feels better) question, no, I would not trade my son for the person that he was born to be. Not for a million, trillion years.