Can’t you be a normal kid?
Blow bubbles in the springtime and chase waves in the ocean and jump into big piles of autumn leaves.
Go to birthday parties and sleepovers and 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 like us.
Say hello when someone talks to you.
Hug people good-bye.
What if hugging makes my skin feel like 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.
Be like us. Be normal.
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.
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.
Are you a savant? Like Rainman?
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 field and they have big spaghetti dinners and they cheer for the homerun.
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.
I have autism.
Everyone has autism these days.
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?
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 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.
Okay, he 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 sky.
I may be afraid, and yet I am fearless.
I have autism.
I don’t want to hide.
What is normal for a cloud is chaos to the sun.