Some have said that having a child with autism is like living on a roller coaster. While that may be true for some, I don’t find parenting an autistic child to be exhilarating or consistently fun. Rather, parenting a child with autism brings with it the profound experience of living the full range of life’s emotions often in a span of mere hours, but always within the same day.
The sun begins to rise with my nearly 14-year-old son who will not get dressed for school while his younger sisters do so willingly. While the morning routine doesn’t change, his seeming inability to get ready for school independently is a source of great frustration.
As the early morning ticks closer to a ringing school bell, we experience happiness: two months ago, our son learned how to tie his shoes independently … sometimes. And despite a long list of life challenges, he generally shuffles off to school with a bellowing laugh. I also experience great happiness with our risky decision to move our family 90 miles away into a school district that better understands the needs and challenges of autistic children.
As the school day turns into late afternoon, emotions flip. Emotions are now rooted in sadness as our son rarely receives unsolicited phone calls or invitations from other kids to play, hang out, or do the things that most 13-year-olds do after school. We experience sadness at the many miles of social, scholastic and occupational challenges that lay ahead.
As the afternoon segues into evening, we sometimes experience disgust when our child is the innocent target of snide, reprehensible and outrageous comments from intolerant and ignorant persons while we attempt to integrate our lives within the community.
As the evening turns into our kids’ bedtime, we transcend the day’s challenges and now experience surprise, hope and the deepest love; my son surprises us with his growing vocabulary, wonderful sense of humor, and a smile so full and wide it has gravitational pull. As long as our son continues to grow, develop and learn, we also have hope.
As the evening wanes into night, I often go to bed with the final emotion of the day. Fear. Who will care for and attend to our adult child after my wife and I pass? How will we finance his care?
My son has taught me that the little things matter and must be revered. Perhaps it is because we often experience every emotion within a single day that we feel more attune to life’s nuances, subtleties, and the vapidity of daily life. Or maybe, and like my autistic son, my senses are heightened to a place where the colors seen are more vivid, sounds heard are crisper, foods tasted are sharper, things smelled are more pungent, and physical touches tenderer.
Regardless as to the reason, my son has made me into a better man. And he has brought me closer to humanity and bestowed upon me the virtue of humility. For these lessons, I am forever his.
– Steve Geskey, father of Dominic