Up is my son’s favorite direction. He wants to be picked up, to look up, to reach up, look up and mostly to throw things up in the air. He walks up on his tiptoes and loves to go up on the escalator.
We had a talk the other night about flying. I don’t remember what got us going in that direction but I asked him whether an airplane can fly. “Yes” he answered. “Do birds fly?” I asked. “Yes.” What about people – do people fly?” “Yes” was the answer. “No, no,” I said. “Can you fly?” I asked him. “Yes.” “How about mommy? Can mommy fly?” I asked him. “Yes” he answered.
Maybe this is something all children believe at this age with Tinkerbell and Mary Poppins. I’m just letting him be. Why not? I figure there is no use in crushing a dream just because someone else might think it can’t come true. Maybe he will grow up and figure a way to fly with a jet pack. Anything is possible.
In the very early days of my son’s diagnosis, I wondered if he would be able to get through a trip to the mall without a meltdown. I wondered if he would ever play with other children. If he would sing a song or simply jump. I did not know the extent of his ability. He can do all but play with other children now. I’m still learning his abilities with him. I have things I believe in too and I don’t want them crushed anymore than he would.
You see, autism is different. There is no blood test or scan that will tell you what your child can or cannot master. No one can say my son will not be a mathematician, a novelist, a rock star or (heaven forbid) a lawyer. There is no litmus test that he takes that says he will be able to dress himself at age 4 or be fully potty trained by age 6 or age 10. There is nothing that tells me he will get a driver’s license at 16 or 18 or ever. And yes, there is no such test for any child. For other children, neurotypical (NT) children, there is an average. An developmental expectation based upon other NT children who have come before.
For autistic children, there is a spectrum. Each child’s level of ability and manifestation of disability is different. Each milestone has no real gauge. Some children will meet a milestone before and some long after the “regular” kids do. Some never make it.
Today, I watched a mom and a girl no more than 1 year old play together as they waited for the older sister in my son’s gym class. The baby girl yelled out, “cha-cha” for a toy train. She held up a toy baby to her mom. The mom asked, “Is the baby going to drive the train?” The baby girl put the baby in the train and said, “Ya.”
Watching this, I realized I sometimes still do not get this immediate communication from my own nearly 5 year old son. He can say the words but the response often would not come until the question was asked 2 or 3 or more times. Even then, as for putting the little baby in the train to drive? Doubtful. More likely it would be tossed and the train turned over to spin its the wheels.
Still, my expectations, my hopes and dreams make a detour around the simple communication that I know my son has not mastered and toward great things. This lack of communication does not stop me from believing in his cognitive ability and his desire to succeed. Truthfully, I don’t even know that I would I want him to see things from just one, simple, assumed perspective. Understanding the simple does not lead to greatness. It leads to complacency – knowing what it is, why bother looking twice?
Autism, believe it or not, is part of why I believe in my son’s chances for greatness. Children on the autism spectrum, no matter where they fall, must work very hard. Actually work. Not like the “regular” kids who play. For a child on the autism spectrum to learn to respond when called, to converse, to regulate sensory inputs that are irregular is work. An autistic child has therapies, multiple therapies that go on all day, five days a week like a job, from the time they are very little. They have to compensate for their differences throughout their lives. They must learn how to learn. There are no lazy autistic children.
NT children who are my son’s age go to preschool. They listen to stories, stay quiet, do art projects, eat snacks and talk to each other. But these things come naturally or with some effort. My son could not sit still for story time until he was taught to do it. He could not cut with scissors, stop from talking to himself out loud, or control many impulses until there was therapy and a huge effort on his part. He’s mastered some and he’s working on others.
It’s hard that he has had to work throughout this whole age of four. Children should not have to work at four. But he does it and with minimal complaints. I’m proud of him for that.
So, when I dream, I do it knowing there is basis in reality for it. I don’t give up and neither does he. Sure, he wants to quit working sometimes, but only in the moment for a few moments of break. Like any of us, when he gets something right, the smile on his face speaks volumes about his accomplishments. He loves that feeling. And I love seeing that feeling in his eyes and his smile.
He believes we can fly. I believe we can reach heights that are unlimited by disability if we work hard and focus on what he loves most. What kind of mom would turn off that dream?
I don’t know because I’m flying.