Be a normal kid.
Blow bubbles in the summer breeze and chase waves in the ocean and jump into big piles of autumn leaves.
Go to birthday parties and sleepovers and on camping trips.
What if I can’t, he asked.
Try harder, they answered.
Try with everything you have.
I am trying.
I am all the time trying.
Be a normal kid.
Say hello when someone talks to you.
Hug people good-bye.
What if hugging makes my skin feel like it’s on fire?
Do it anyway. Do it, because it’s the right thing to do, no matter the heat.
Stop flicking your fingers/flapping your hands/rocking back and forth. It makes people nervous.
You make people nervous.
Maybe you should hide who you really are so the rest of us feel good.
What does normal mean?
Sit very still during story time and don’t jump around or ask a bunch of strange questions.
It’s not that loud in here, you’re just too sensitive. It’s Chuck E. Cheese! Every kid has fun here! There are games that make loud chime-y sounds and a big purple mouse and how can you not like it?
Everyone else likes it.
Here, put this costume on for Halloween. You know, the holiday where we all dress up like something scary or spooky with masks and daggers and wander around the neighborhood after dark?
You want candy, don’t you?
You can’t get candy if you don’t wear a costume!
Wash your hands throughout the day.
Just don’t wash them too many times because that is weird and called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and there is medicine for that so your brain stops telling you about the germs and your skin doesn’t turn red and raw.
Only don’t take the medicine because it is bad for you.
It is a quick fix.
It means you didn’t try hard enough.
But what if I need it?
Try with your whole entire self.
Try to squash down all the thoughts that circle your mind so you can’t sleep or think of anything else.
It’s better this way.
I mean, why are you so afraid all the time? It’s just in your head. You need to stop worrying so much. Anxiety isn’t real. It’s something doctors made up as an answer to everyone’s problems.
What you feel is not real.
What do you mean, you don’t play sports? How about basketball, or soccer, or even tennis?
Normal kids play sports. They high-five each other on the green field and they have big spaghetti dinners and they cheer for each other.
You should be more like them.
How come you’re not on the honor roll?
You’ll never get into a good college if you aren’t on the honor roll.
The honor roll tells people how smart they are.
I am smart.
Don’t talk about your diagnosis with people. It makes them uncomfortable. Don’t talk about the doctors and the tests and the words Autism Spectrum Disorder stamped all over the paperwork.
Keep it a secret.
I don’t want to be a secret.
It’s better this way.
You don’t look like you have autism.
You just look like you don’t have any self-control and you are rude and selfish and loud.
Man, if my kid ever acted like you, there would be hell to pay.
I have autism.
Everyone has autism these days.
Kids are just spoiled, that’s all.
Back in the day, kids had respect. They didn’t push food around their plates and suffer from sensory processing disorder.
Just be normal, okay?
Keep your body still.
Lower your voice.
Eat what is served at the table.
But what if the food all mixed up feels like bugs in my mouth?
Just try one bite.
Don’t you want to sit with other kids on the bus?
Don’t you want to play tag during recess?
Don’t you want all the same things the rest of us want?
All the other kids can figure out fractions, and geography. It’s easy. Other kids win spelling bees, and solve all of their math problems on the first try.
Think like us. Move like us. Feel the way we do.
Be a normal kid who will grow into a normal man and marry a normal woman and have more normal kids.
It’s better this way. It’s better for the rest of us. We don’t have to look deep inside ourselves and figure out all the reasons why we are afraid to be different.
Our way is the best way.
But maybe, he said.
My way is good, too.
Show us, they said.
I don’t like the ocean but I do like to swim.
I am scared of loud noises but I love the streaks of color fireworks leave across the night sky.
I am not rude.
I am not selfish.
I am simply a boy with autism.
I’ve heard all you’ve said.
And I don’t want to hide.