Autism is hard, Guys.
For the first few years, my son and I were practically one being. We did everything together.
He needed me to comfort him, and regulate him. To hold him in just the right way to calm him. To say the magic words in the magic order with the magic intonation that no one else had to connect with his understanding.
I needed to be with him. To protect him. To quite literally save him from accidents, and also to shelter him from lights, sounds and smells that over-stimulated him at every turn.
Yet, for all of this togetherness, there was a chasm of separation between us. I didn’t know if he liked me. I certainly didn’t know if he loved me. And I had no way of knowing–despite my every effort–if he understood just how much I loved him.
I was looking for a moment. A moment where we could laugh together, or have fun together, to be something more than survivors together.
It didn’t come.
For years it didn’t come, and I came to accept that it never would.
It was after I had given up all hope that moments came. Moments a typical family may not note, but ones that made this connection-starved Mama sit straight up and pay attention.
One day, during his support worker’s visit, he turned around and looked for me.
Acknowledgement. That’s it.
He turned around to see if I was there. He wanted to know that I was near, that I was seeing what he was seeing, and hearing what he was hearing. It was the first time I had any proof that I mattered to him.
“Did you see that?” his worker whispered, marking the moment with me. It was huge. I knew it, and she knew it.
One day, at nearly four years old, he called me “Mom” for the very first time. Not just a “mum” sounding syllable of his pre-verbal sound-making (“amumm a mum mum mmmmm”), but a clear “Mom” as he looked at ME, and raised his hands to be picked up by ME.
My heart just about exploded.
At seven, he developed a habit of crawling into my lap with his teddy bear. I would rock him, he would rock the bear. I would squeeze him, he would squeeze the bear.
Recently, at age eight, he joined his little brother and I in a board game.
As I sit here scribbling these words in the middle of the night, and mulling over this concept of human connection, I can’t help but wonder if my boy has something important to teach the world.
I hoped and prayed for connection.
But he showed me what it actually looks like.
My boy taught me that human connection is not simply enjoying common ground with another person. It’s not about mutual likes and dislikes, it’s not about shared activities and interests. It’s not about speaking the same language. It’s certainly not about thinking alike.
What if we all applied my son’s method to people when the chasm between us seems to big to cross?
What if we acknowledged others?
I see you, and I’m seeing what you’re seeing.
What if we made an effort to learn their names?
No longer “us” and “them,” or a statistic, or a number, but a real human with real experiences, emotions, and a point of view.
What if we practiced making a connection, even if we are clumsy and awkward at it at first?
What if we took an interest?
Asked to attend a church service or cultural event as an observer.
Asked to be taught how to make a traditional craft or recipe.
Asked to sit and listen to stories, with no arguing or agenda or picking it apart, but just to learn their history and point of view?
Maybe we would appreciate one another a little bit more.
Maybe we could all become just a little more connected.
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