I see you, your tiny body perched on top of the kitchen table, some small object (a lanyard, a toy spatula, a dangly piece of string) clutched in one equally small fist, held up to dangle in front of your nose. With your other hand you tap-tap-tap your tiny palm firmly against your ear, a gesture misunderstood by those new to you but one that I know to be a sign of intense happiness. Your dark eyes are crossed with the effort of staring so intensely at the special dangly object that has you enthralled. You jump up and down in excitement, a high pitched squeal of delight bursting out of you. I laugh and you turn to me, face open and joyful, thrusting the little trinket up for me to see, eager to share with me your magical, special find. I watch you stim, shaking the object repetitively and jumping up and down, and my mind wanders to the many parents of autistic children who are hell bent on eliminating this very behavior, stimming. I can't begin to guess why they would want to eliminate a source of such unrestrained joy.
I see you, your head tilted down to watch the wheels of your new balance bike, eyes zero percent on the road. Your short legs paddle furiously and your mouth opens and shuts repetitively like a fish, almost like a continuous silent laugh. Every muscle is tense and focused and you careen down the sidewalk, utterly abandoned to the adventure of your bike ride, seeing and hearing nothing else but those wheels, so fascinated to watch them turn that you can hardly stand it. I jog beside you, overjoyed to witness your joy, and gently grab the handlebars to save an unsuspecting neighbor from getting run over. The passerby's face registers yours, your atypical expression and crossed eyes, your repetitive facial tic. Their eyebrows draw down, upper lip curling in an expression of disgust, and my heart clenches. I look down at you, so utterly within your joy, so adorable, and I can't begin to understand how anyone else could look at you and be anything other than charmed? And yet the disdain on our neighbor's face is unmistakable.
Beautiful boy, you are so much more than that close-minded person will ever realize.
I see you, rocking back and forth in your wheelchair, left thumb firmly stuck in your mouth as you gnaw away (it's always the left thumb in the left side of your mouth, your special spot). You rock quickly and purposefully, in a specific rhythm, your other hand whacking the armrest of your wheelchair, like you're keeping the beat, like you're gearing up for something, and I smile to myself and stifle a laugh, knowing what comes next. A moment later the quiet of the doctor's office is broken as you throw your hand out of your mouth and let out an earsplitting scream of joy, your version of "Ta-Da!" You smile with your whole shining face, every tooth on display and a dimple winking in your left check. I'm so moved by that smile that it gives me a lump in my throat sometimes. How can you be as you are, so innocently and infectiously happy?! This world feels so damn hopeless to me at times, this life so relentless, and yet somehow it all rolls over you like waves breaking on the beach and you just remain completely untouched by the struggle. When I see you smiling it makes me believe in the world again. I take your hand and kiss your soft cheek, ignoring those in the waiting room that have turned to stare. Some are smiling but most are looking at me, at you, with pitying "poor thing" eyes. I roll my own eyes; if anything they should pity themselves. They don't know the things that you know.
I see you, talking every day all day about mostly sharks, wanting only shark books from the library, sitting at our old beat up bright yellow kitchen table for hours one afternoon and painstakingly drawing all of the different types of sharks you know and love (over 50 types!) with colored pencils and crayons. The details in the small drawings are amazing and you've carefully written the correct name for each shark beneath each drawing. I marvel at the fact that this work of art was produced by your own chubby little hand, clenched determinedly around the stubby crayons. Hands that flap when you're happy, that your OT says can't always hold the pencil "right", whatever that means. Hands that struggle sometimes to be gentle but fit in mine like a smooth stone, like they've always been there. You tell me about each shark type, tripping over your words partly from excitement and partly from your speech delay, your eyes shining with your passion for this special interest. I look at you, so animated and so smart and so often misunderstood, and my throat hurts with fear of the future. How can anyone not see the potential and sweetness in this little marine biologist? But what if they don't, what if they won't?
Autistic kids. A term that accurately describes 3 out of 5 of the great loves of my life. A term that some people associate with terms like...
Hard to place
Image description: My beautiful neurodiverse boy and I lay on the blue foam floor of our local play gym, wearing our red autism acceptance shirts.
I don't know exactly what needs to be done to fix this, or change it. But something must be done. Because my beautiful autistic boys deserve acceptance, and appreciation for ALL that they are. All autistic children do.
My baby boys with your uniquely beautiful brains, each one of you in your own way is everything I ever wanted in a son. Mama couldn't love you more if it killed me. Don't ever let the world tell you that there's anything wrong with the way that you were made. I assure you, it's the world that has something wrong.
Society wants me to look at the differences as negatives. Therapists and neurologists and specialists (not all, but some) want me to focus on the not-quite-fitting-in-ness of you. Sometimes even fellow parents, eager to play the victim, want to jump on that train, too. The "let's cure autism" train. The "let's get them to look more normal, ACT more normal" train. They all see a fatal flaw, a wrongness, a puzzle that's missing a vital piece, and they want to trick me, your mama, into seeing it too.
Hear me, my amazing, amazingly autistic, sons: I don't, and I wont.
All I see is you.
Autistic kids are overrepresented in the foster care and adoption world, for SO many reasons (lack of adequate support for struggling families whose children are autistic, the tendency of many prospective adoptive parents to prefer non-disabled kids over disabled kids, + a pervasive negativity about autism that permeates our society, just to name a few.) These loves are all autistic, and all waiting to be adopted in my state (Ohio). I know without a doubt that the family lucky enough to be chosen to adopt them (maybe it's you?) will be in for the adventure of a lifetime.
Sweet 9 year old Joshua loves wrapping up in a blanket, splashing in water, and doing puzzles at school. He's been waiting for so many years to be someone's treasured son.
Case # ZH7239292414 on adoptuskids.org
I can't even handle seeing this precious face on that website anymore (Juju's fake twin!) Who wants to convince my partner that we can squeeze one more sweet angel boy into this house?! For real though Trevion is a 10 year old sack of sugar who likes toys that light up (just like his smile). Somebody go give him the life and love he deserves. Case # ZH579958 on adoptuskids.org
Beautiful Raya has an incredible smile! This young lady is still learning a lot of skills and is very young at heart. Sweet girl needs a family to help keep this gorgeous smile on her face! She does very well with other kids. Case # ZH45Rayna on adoptuskids.org
Sweet 17 year old Jen has been through so much and has a story that will break your heart. She has some challenges she's working through, but this girly girl is ready to be someone's treasured daughter and do hair and nails together! Case # ZH485515110 on adoptuskids.org
If you want to learn more about adopting an autistic child, I'm always happy to answer any questions. Next week I'll be interviewing my friend Amy, who's also the proud adoptive mama of an autistic love. While you're waiting on that, you can get to know her and her family here.