You may not know this, but a couple of months ago I un-friended you on Facebook.
I mean, we weren’t exactly friends in the regular sense. We never met for coffee or talked on the phone or texted each other. We don’t even live in the same state, and I haven’t seen you in over ten years.
I did enjoy scrolling through my newsfeed and seeing your name pop up every once in a while, and looking at pictures of your family and your dog.
But then one day you posted a joke about someone riding a short bus, and my stomach kind of flipped. I was surprised, and sad.
Did you know my son Jack has autism?
Maybe you didn’t. You only met him once, when he was less than a year old and we hadn’t yet heard the diagnosis that would change our lives forever.
Mrs. Cariello? I believe your son has something called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
I bet your children are healthy and whole and they would never flap their hands or yell out f&^% when the grocery store doesn’t have the right kind of frosting.
He is healthy.
He is whole.
He does flap his hands and yell bad swear words in the grocery store.
But he does other stuff, too.
He bakes cakes and he puts his hands over his ears when fire trucks go by and at bedtime he lines six pillows along the side of his bed. I don’t know why.
Every morning he takes a bath at exactly 6:30 am, and then he checks the battery on my laptop. If it’s low, he plugs it in for me. Then he makes himself breakfast—this week it’s two egg whites with toast because he heard on the radio that egg yolks are bad for your cholesterol.
He is funny and interesting and surprising and mysterious.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m not interested in convincing you to like him.
I’m only interested in convincing you to step back, and make room for him.
Did you know we have to point things out to him all day long? I don’t mean trains and birds and little brown puppies walking down the street—although we used to have to point stuff like that out when he was little, so he would look at us and then look at the puppy and realize we were talking to him.
Jack, Jack! Look at me. Look at Mommy. Do you see the dog? Woof-woof, dog!
Now we have to actually name feelings and emotions for him; things you and I take for granted because we can figure out if someone is angry or frustrated or worried by the way they twist their mouth or move their eyebrows.