Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Talk

And just like that, we took the plunge.

We were in the car. This was a month or two ago now. I'm not even sure what we were talking about, but suddenly Ethan asked, "Why is Uncle Andy not like a regular grown-up?"

And I knew. I knew I couldn't tell him just about Uncle Andy and autism. I had to say something more.

"Well, Uncle Andy has something called autism. His brain works differently than ours, and it makes certain things hard for him, like having a conversation."

I hesitated. "Do you know you have a little bit of autism?"

"I do?"

"Yes. Your brain is wired a little differently than the average person, too. See, Uncle Andy has a lot of autism, which makes things really hard for him sometimes. But you just have a little bit. So sometimes your autism makes it hard to do things like have conversations with people. But other times it helps you to be super good at things, like math problems, or memorizing things, or having really good hearing or a sense of smell."


I waited, but we were apparently done talking about autism for the time being.

For the longest time I'd wondered how and when this type of conversation would take place, and like so many other situations I've learned there are some things in life you can't craft in advance or agonize about too much. You just know when the time is right.

About the semantics here: Is he autistic, or does he have autism? Oh, I don't know. There's so much talk about this. There's been a lot of mud-slinging, actually. I'm at the point where I really don't care. We'll see how it goes. We'll see what he prefers. We'll see if it even matters.

The time will come (it has to, even if things seem far from that now) where Ethan is going to get mad at autism. He might wonder why he struggles in certain areas and others don't, or be hurt by others teasing at his sometimes unconventional ways of communicating and/or playing. This is why I've decided to play up this whole "autism superpower" angle. Not because I want to douse my child with accolades and give him an exaggerated view of himself. I just want to make sure he remembers when he's hurting that there are some pretty cool things that he can do that don't come easily to the average person. Like memorizing every kid in the class's reading level.

Or scripting. It will never cease to amaze me how people on the spectrum can extract a random line from a book or movie and drop it appropriately into conversation. I talk about this all of the time, but it's because I'm darned impressed.

Ethan is still working on fine-tuning his scripting skills. The other day he bashed Anna in the mouth with the swing (not-quite-accidentally) and then claimed we had to take her to the hospital because she was "particularly harmed!" After some digging we learned he had borrowed from a Ramona book (he's quickly becoming a Beverly Cleary fan, too!), although what her big sister had said was that she was "practically dying of hunger," not "particularly dying."

"Yeah, you're gonna have to work on that superpower a little bit," I joked with him. It mostly went over his head, but I don't know. He is taking some of this in. The other day I asked why he was getting so worked up about...I don't know, I can't remember. It had something to do with a TV show. Bottom line, he responded with: "WELL, I have autism!" As if that explained everything.

This will be a fine line to dance, between not encouraging him to be the victim who blames everything on a condition while not expecting him to always see or respond to situations in a typical way. I'm sure we're going to mess this up at times. I'm just glad that for now, he's gaining a little glimmer of understanding. And we're surrounding him with lots of love, and laughter (when we can!) in the process.

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