My son Jack has autism.
Sometimes this makes him sad.
Other times it makes him angry, and frustrated, and scared.
When Jack was very small I had to take him for a lot of tests so we could figure out why he didn’t talk and he screamed so much and slept so little.
We were looking for answers—we wanted to know why he stared blankly at the wall when we tried to talk to him, and why he didn’t play peek-a-boo or point at the airplanes in the sky.
One time he and I were waiting in the hallway for the test to start. We were sitting on plastic chairs and Jack kept hopping on and off and twirling along the tiled floor. It was getting on my nerves but I didn’t tell him to stop because I was too tired.
After about fifteen minutes the—I don’t know, what would I call her? The moderator? The test-giver? The young woman with glasses who was about to spend an hour with my son trying to get him to say something so she could mark it on her clipboard and tell me not to worry?
Anyway, she came over to us and she called his name softly and took his hand. He walked away and never looked back at me. He was wearing blue shorts and a red t-shirt. The t-shirt had hitched up a little bit and I could see the top of his diaper.
Then I followed her into a room and I stood behind a two-way mirror and watched them tell him to point to pictures in a book and roll a ball back and forth and sing to a doll and it was perhaps the most depressing time of my life.
Jack! Jack, buddy. Do you see the dog? Point to the dog. Where’s the dog, Jack?
He did not point, or roll the ball, or sing.
My son Jack has autism.
Sometimes this makes me sad.
Other times it makes me angry, and frustrated, and scared.
Many, many people have autism. So many people, in fact, that April is Autism Awareness Month.
I think this is pretty cool because, you know, people should learn about other people who can be rigid and seem anxious and maybe don’t like to be touched a lot.
More money for research is always good too. I mean, if some scientist somewhere could finally figure out why my son Jack is afraid of the color orange, well, that would make my life a lot easier right about now.
But the thing is, although it’s often considered a journey of one, autism is actually a voyage of many. Along for the ride are people who hope, and hurt, and love, and work harder than they’d ever imagined.
And I have to tell you, loving something with autism, well, it is no ordinary love. It requires patience and determination and strength. It is lonely, and isolating.
Picture a single droplet of water in a large, clear pond. The droplet lands and it makes the tiniest splash, and the splash turns into a million little waves on the surface.
Underneath the waves, people are swimming and working and trying to keep their person with autism afloat. They are going to meetings and making sticker charts and learning about behavior therapy. Every day, they are holding their breath.
This year, Autism Awareness Month is for the teachers who see beyond a diagnosis stamped on a form, and understand the potential within a child.
And for the paraprofessionals—the one-to-one aides who walk beside their kiddos in the hallway and make sure they get to the bathroom on time and remind them to take a sensory break if they get too antsy.
It’s for the father who stayed up half the night researching articles online and looking up statistics and trying to figure out where it all came from and where it’s all going, because sometimes grief demands an answer.
And yet sometimes, there is no answer.
This month is for the dad who is afraid to leave his teenage son alone with anyone else because one minute his son is great and happy and fine and la la la and then all at once, without any warning whatsoever, he changes. He screams, and he rages. He whirls around and grabs dishes and glasses from the counter and hurls them to the floor where they smash into a zillion pieces.
When this happens the dad has to hold his big tall son in his arms and whisper softly in his ear and rock him against his body until they both sink to the floor and the boy is calm again.
Then this dad has to get out the dustpan and the broom and sweep up all the shattered pieces of glass so no one will cut their foot. The floor looks clean—as though nothing ever even happened—yet inside, both father and son are breaking apart.
It’s for grandparents who long to connect with the unusual child in their world.
And for every mother who is watching through the glass and crossing her fingers and praying her little boy will just once—just one single time—point to the picture of the dog in the big book propped open on the floor.
And the mom who walks out of a school meeting trying to hold her tears inside of her heart and then waits until she sits in the car and buckles her seat belt and turns the key in the ignition before she lets them flow like a soundless, private river.
And the autism mama who wants to throw her child a birthday party but can’t think of a single person to invite.
You are not alone. I know it feels it, but I promise you are not, because I am right here with you.
It is for the man who returns home after a long day of work and his wife is frazzled and his son is off the wall and autism occupies the house like a heartbeat and he wants to turn on his heel, and walk right back out the door.
It is for the woman who gave up a career to stay home with her enigmatic child, and now she spends her days repeating words over and over and listening to Elmo and worrying that it will never be enough–that she is not enough.
You are enough. Do you hear me? You are enough.
This month is for every family who is right now trapped inside of autism’s raging blizzard of anxiety and tantrums and rigidity, longing for winter’s long-awaited thaw.
I offer you patience and endurance and bright new dishes in a box.
I offer you cool green mornings, and sunlit afternoons.
I offer you spring.
Share it with us. Share it with him.
You belong here. You belong in April.
Do you have anyone you’d like to honor this April for Autism Awareness Month? Please, leave a comment and share with us all of the special people who show up every day, hold their breath, and swim.