What can I say that you don’t already know?
My son has autism. His name is Jack. He is sixteen years old.
I try to answer as best I can. I say that we don’t eat glute-free and he does take medicine to sleep at night and we never did applied behavior analysis.
Then, there are the questions about puberty.
Oh, puberty. Puberty and autism is like—what do the kids say now?—next level. Yes, it is next level.
I would have to say the hardest thing about Jack and puberty was, well, the puberty part. Yes, that was definitely it.
I guess the first thing I noticed was his voice. It changed overnight. One minute he was asking about the wind chill factor in a high voice with somewhat robotic intonations, and the next time he spoke I thought my husband came home from work early.
Then he got very angry. I mean, he’s not exactly a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but from age fourteen until well, about now, he was frustrated all the time.
I know, I know. You want me to get to the good stuff—how we explained changes to his body and times when he needed privacy and of course, all the hair. Then you want to know about the sex talk.
The thing is, Jack’s heart and mind have always lagged about six years behind his body. So I knew we had to tread lightly, and not overwhelm him.
Also, we learned long ago to name everything when it came to this boy—every cloud in the sky, every expression on my face, and every trip outside the house.
The onset of puberty would need the same care, and intention, as we handled everything else. It would require thoughtful planning, and research, and deliberation.
Ha! Gotcha! That sounded so great, didn’t it? Like we knew what we were doing and we planned how to tell him about intercourse and babies and why his legs were sprouting hair like a cornfield?
We had no idea what we were doing. In fact, we ignored the entire thing for as long as we possibly could—until we had no choice but to explain what was going on with his body.
When he had growing pains, he screamed he needed to go to the hospital for leg transplants.
When he noticed hair down there he found a razor in the top shelf of the cabinet and tried to shave it and then he sliced off the tip of his finger.
When we explained how babies are made, he covered his ears and shrieked for us to stop being so disgusting.
That’s autism for you. It is honest. It demands conversation. It insists you set aside the notions of embarrassment and awkwardness in the name of truth.
I can’t say we did anything with care or intention, but we did what we always do when it comes to Jack and autism and change and anxiety. We sat in the room.
We sat in the room and we answered hard questions about sex, and a certain kind of dream, and if he will someday be a father.
We sat in the room when the hormones descended and he raged against himself and our family and life in general.
There were some dark days. I cannot lie. There were days when I was lost and he was lost and I struggled to answer questions that would curl your hair and I was just trying to keep him from bouncing off the walls.
He is sixteen now. I believe the worst may be behind us. He’s calmer. He’s made peace with the hair. He understands how to handle things privately, if you know what I mean.
Looking back, it was hard and sad and trying and stressful. These days, it’s better. We’ve moved on to other worries, mostly that his childhood is behind him and adulthood looms large, and largely unknown.
That’s how this whole thing goes, isn’t it? One day you’re changing diapers and meeting with specialists and worrying about kindergarten.
The next day, you are waving as the bus pulls away and meeting with more specialists and worrying about independent living.
Autism is the ultimate trick of time.
Just when you think the two hands on the clock could not move any slower, in the blink of an eye, your son sounds like his father. There are long showers, and closed doors, and whiskers in the sink.
There is so much I want to say. I am watching this boy’s body transform into a man, while his spirit stands somewhat still. It is breathtaking, and ordinary, and every single thing in between.
I am proud of him. That’s what I want to say. I love him fiercely.
For me I do not think. I’ll be a father.